Copy vs. Content – a guide for brands

Copy vs. Content – a guide for brands

These days, everyone is a copywriter.

It started with the invention of the email. All of a sudden instead of scribbling a memo, popping your head around a corner, or picking up the phone, everyone was writing more. With the rise of blogging, and social media, it has become a natural part of peoples’ lives for them to write, sometimes daily.

When you have a written dialogue with a person you know, that’s great, and fine and appropriate. But what happens when you need to write an account of an event, or create a newsletter? At what point does writing become copy, and when do you need to call in an expert?

We’ve come up against this quite a lot recently, particularly working with high growth businesses. In many instances, our clients have chosen to ask us to craft words on their behalf. But there are times when that’s impractical (for micro businesses as well as world-leading brands), and you need to be able to write the words yourself. Some options we have successfully offered to clients include running internal writing workshops, and creating a verbal style guide.

Here’s our quick guide to copy vs. content …

Copy and Content are not synonyms

But it is true they are both different to ‘normal’ transactional writing where you are just communicating basic information.

What makes them different is that they are both written in a deliberate and conscious way to create a very deliberate and conscious effect.

But one of them has a relatively straightforward and simple “purpose” – while the other has complex, layered and (usually) multiple objectives.

Basically, the old adage is true: “Copy sells, Content tells”.

Content has one simple purpose

The role of content is to interest people, engage them and hold their attention. To ‘tell a story’ (in the widest sense) and to be a narrator. Often today terms like “telling brand stories” are used to cover this sort of writing, but it typically include things like blogs, postings, newsletters, articles, videos and so on.

Copy has many jobs to do!

Copy, on the other hand is doing more than this (probably several things more). Copy is something that is deliberately written to get a response. Not any old response, but a very precise and particular one. It probably isn’t literally “a sale” (though it could be) but copy will always be aiming to get some sort of response which performs some important function on the ‘path to purchase’ (again, probably several functions).

First things first

To get copy right, you therefore need to know more than just the subject  matter you are communicating. You need to know about human psychology, you need to understand the context your copy will be read in and, most importantly, you need to understand exactly the mind-set, motivations, attitudes and moods of the target market (who you may never have met) and the zeitgeist in their industry/demographic at the moment (which you might not have direct experience of). And because the aim of copy is a response, its success (or lack of it) is fairly quantifiable (all of which explains why copywriters tend to be paid more than content writers).

So it’s worth starting before you write by deciding WHY you are writing. Is it Content? Or is it Copy? This decision means you start with a clearer idea of what else you need to be doing apart from simply communicating subject matter.

These tips are taken from an article by Steve Cook, Creative Partner at BHP.

To find out more or to request a copy of our latest PDF with more handy tips:

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