The difference between copywriting and content marketing

Vanessa Green
July 29, 2022

When you don’t spend your days working in a specific industry, chances are you’re not going to know (or understand) the nuances of the discipline.

For example, I still don’t really get the difference between bookkeeping and accounting because I am not an accountant* (THANK GOD. No offence to accountants, I just suck at numbers).

For many business owners, writing is writing is writing. Which is fair. Most don’t have the time to try and understand all the subsets of business writing.

But here’s the thing - if you run a business (and you’re spending money on marketing), you need to know the difference between two very crucial types of writing: copywriting and content marketing.

Many people (including those in the biz) use these terms interchangeably, which makes sense because they are similar, and it’s not like we have some universally-accepted marketing dictionary that clearly defines what each term means (though that would be a VERY helpful thing to have. Note to self: create marketing dictionary).

So what the hell is the difference between these two terms? Let me enlighten you.

What is copywriting?

First of all, it has nothing to do with copyright (the rights creators have over their artistic works). To be honest, someone should have renamed one of these terms long ago because the confusion between the two is never-ending. /rant

Anyway, I digress. Copywriting is writing connected to the act of promoting or selling a business, organization, brand, product, or service. The words are specifically crafted to persuade a person to do something and to take action (often referred to as direct response copywriting).

This action could be to ‘buy now’, but it could also be something less obvious like ‘sign up for a consultation’, ‘subscribe to a newsletter’, ‘download an app’, etc.

Copywriting should always tie back to your brand objectives – what are you trying to sell? A product? A service? A lifestyle? A mindset?

And it can be found everywhere, from website landing pages to social media captions to digital ads and email promotions.

A copywriter (like me) is someone who is paid to write “copy” – words designed to communicate an idea and prompt action.

Alright, smartypants. So what’s content marketing?

Content marketing is designed to inform, inspire and educate your audience. It is not designed to sell. Sure, it might help support your overall sales process, but unlike copywriting, its primary purpose is not to get someone to take action, it is to feed their brain.

Content marketing pieces include blog posts (your blog is not an opportunity for you to sell - that’s what the rest of your website is for), explanatory videos, white papers and guides, thought leadership pieces, webinars, workshops, etc.

The whole idea of content marketing was borne out of the idea that prospective customers often need to be educated on a topic before they’re ready to buy. Content marketing helps to put what you’re selling in context.

Alright, so give me an example of content marketing and copywriting in action

So demanding! OK, say I’m going to buy a new office chair (which I desperately need. RIP my back.). The first thing I’m going to do is research what I need to look for in a good office chair. Notice at this point I am at the education stage - I’m not ready to buy. I need to learn more about what I need in a solution.

If I were a smart office chair manufacturer, I would likely have a post on my blog called: What to look for in your next office chair (other possible titles: The definitive guide to choosing an office chair, How to choose an office chair, Ten things to consider before buying an office chair, and so on and so forth).

Notice the point of this blog is not to get the reader to buy a chair right then and there. It’s to educate them about the exciting world of ergonomic office equipment.

If this is your blog, maybe you have an exit pop-up or banner at the top of the page that references your promotion for new customers: 10% off our best-rated office chairs. This is copywriting.

And after reading your blog, I say, “Well, hot damn, I’m going to take a look at that office chair promotion because you have provided valuable information, you clearly understand the complex and fascinating topic of office chairs, and you have now established trust with me as a customer.”

If only it were that easy.

You can understand, then, how annoyed I would be if I were to start reading a blog post about how to pick an office chair, and I discovered that it was actually just a thinly veiled attempt to sell your specific brand of chair.

A beautiful marriage of marketing writing

And that’s why it’s important to understand the difference between copywriting and content marketing. Both are incredibly important, incredibly powerful and a necessary part of your marketing mix.

But knowing how and when to use each is crucial, my friends. Crucial. Copywriting and content marketing do not compete - they are friends. They complement each other. When businesses understand how to use copywriting and content marketing properly, that’s when their marketing sings.

And now I will break my own rule (because I'm a rebel like that), but if you need someone to help make your copywriting or content marketing sing (and I can do both!), hit me up.

*And also just not really smart about a lot of things

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