Content vs. Copy In Marketing: What’s the Difference

Recently I was a guest on the Ladies Who Launch podcast to discuss the difference between Copy vs. Content in marketing. The distinction is an important one for small business owners.

Many people call themselves content marketers. I do not. I call myself a copywriter & marketing strategist because I make the promise that I will bring in more leads. Content doesn’t necessarily do that, copy does.

Content is any information you craft for your audience. It can serve a variety of purposes: warming them up to buy, pre-emptively answering their questions, or simply filling space on your social media feeds and blog.

Copy is designed to convert. These are words that are so persuasive, they direct action in the reader. It’s more expensive than content, because it’s more valuable. It’s like bourbon and whiskey: all copy is content, but not all content is copy.

Content is King?

Over the past ten years, “content” has become the marketing buzzword. There are many companies putting out great information and entertainment, content that may indeed attract clients. Or, it may not.

That is the problem with content. It’s like hosting a party. You can send the invitations and make the food, but it’s only good if people choose get into it and have a good time.

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Copy is more like planning a concert. It’s more expensive and challenging to produce, but your audience is people who have bought into your vision, (i.e. they bought tickets) so it’s easier to predict their enthusiasm for what you have planned.

Similarly, making content may draw readers, but using copy ensures those readers are in their seats, paying rapt attention and ready to cheer.

The Algorithm is Screwing Us Over

In the early days of social media, it was easier because the actual number of humans reading your words was much higher. These days, the sheer volume of content people produce has grown exponentially. Combine that with social media algorithms that show your content to just over 5% percent of your followers, it’s getting harder to rely on people gaining an affinity for your business based on the information you put out.

This is particularly important to consider for small business owners, because we don’t have the marketing budgets large corporations have. So it may seem inexpensive to hire someone for content creation, because they are often less expensive than other kinds of marketers. However, if you calculate the return on investment it can cost you more, because content is difficult to rely on for generating qualified leads.

Copy That Converts

The key word there is qualified leads. Qualification is the important step between warming up your audience with information, events or resources they enjoy or find helpful, and actually closing the sale. It involves isolating the customers who are serious, and making sure they are open to hearing your sales pitch. Basically, qualification means they’re ready for the sale. Simply providing information or entertainment does not qualify customers.

A copywriter knows what to do to qualify people. We are experts in using words to trigger action. For me, this training was honed by writing for TV news. Broadcast writers are trained to write with clarity and purpose, because viewers stop watching if we don’t. You quickly learn what makes people take action, like what you can say that will make them keep watching for an upcoming report that seems too exciting to miss.

If you as a business write in a way that qualifies potential customers, you make lead generation seamless. It’s a difficult skill to master, so writers who can consistently, demonstrably convert customers tend to charge more. However they often pay for themselves with the business they bring in.

What to Look for in Good Copy

There are 4 main qualities that define good copy:

  • Consistent messaging;
  • Call to action;
  • A clear promise (but don’t overpromise); and,
  • Making the audience “the hero.”

I will go over these in more detail in a future column. The most important thing you need to do this week is consider your marketing efforts and expenditures. Are you offering content? Or copy? If you have a content strategy that doesn’t take specific steps to convert, you’re missing good sales copy. Examine your website, social media presence and other marketing materials for the four qualities above, and you’re on your way to creating qualified leads that make you money.

Picture of author, Bridget Brown