Copywriting vs. content writing: what’s the difference between the two?
Copywriting vs. content writing—it’s all the same, right?
No, they are most definitely not the same. It’s not exactly the difference between apples and oranges—more like oranges and tangerines—but close enough. For young writers looking for work, it’s incredibly important to know the differences between the two; each presents a unique set of challenges and skills to do well. Here, we pinpoint the major differences between copywriting and content writing.
The greatest distinction between copywriting and content writing lies in its purpose. Copywriting is selling your personas on your brand; content writing is subtly telling them about it while delivering valuable content.
Copywriting is the art of selling people on an idea, brand, or ideology. The best copywriting fuses the products and ideology of a brand together to create branding. Copywriting is advertorial in nature as its intent is to pitch customers to use a brand’s products and/or services.
For the Mad Men fans out there, this is what Don Draper and Peggy Olson did all the time at Sterling Cooper (or whatever agency they were with at the time). They weren’t selling products, but ideas and emotions that were tied to products.
Content writing is the art of creating content. It needs to either inform, educate or entertain; it needs to have a clear purpose and/or reason behind the piece; it needs to represent the brand’s voice; it needs to be a good read. The best content writing is focused on the quality of the editorial, no matter if it comes from a brand or a publisher. For brands (and some data-driven publishers), content writing aligns with strategic business and marketing goals to attract audiences and potential customers.
Here’s one way to look at the two: content writing passes information along to your audience while copywriting reveals what your brand is all about.
The two, of course, do share similarities. For one thing: goals. Both copywriting and content writing ultimately seek to convert a reader into a sale or a lead. Another similarity: they both need to be well-written. What is well-written for one differs from the other, but quality writing, for whatever purposes, entices readers to keep reading.
Bottom line: The ultimate objective of copywriting is to sell an idea whereas content writing aims to create valuable content to help the audience understand your brand and generate interest.
A truism: copywriters write copy and content writers write content. If you’re confused at what this means, then you should know all shall be explained. Another distinction between copywriting and content writing lies in the job description.
A copywriter is a professional whose job is dedicated to producing copy. This can come in many forms (see below), but the general idea is that a copywriter writes marketing material for a living. It is their trade, craft, skill—whatever you want to call it.
Now, a content writer can be anyone. They are not necessarily a professional writer, but someone who produces content. Thanks to the democratization of the internet, anyone can write now, including professionals, executives, authors, bloggers, software engineers, CEOs, brands, etc. Of course, the best content writers understand the craft of content writing, but it may not be their trade.
Bottom line: A copywriter is a professional who writes marketing copy; a content writer can be anyone producing content.
Types of writing
A copywriter writes marketing material, a content writer writes content—but what kinds of marketing material and content? This is the last major distinction between the two.
Traditionally, copywriting was limited to advertising in the days of yester-yore (again, see Mad Men). But the internet changed the scope of what copywriters can write for beyond witty slogans. Today, the list includes, but is not limited to:
- Ads, online and off
- Slogans and taglines
- Web page content
- SEO content
- Email campaigns
- Television or radio commercial scripts
- Video scripts
- Press releases
- White papers
- Sales letters
- Direct mail letters
- Jingle lyrics
- Social media
Copywriters today see plenty of overlap with content writers and technical writers, but remember: the point is to sell you an idea as part of a marketing campaign.
Likewise, content writing has plenty of opportunities to write different kinds of content, including, but not limited to:
- Blog posts
- Newspaper articles
- Magazine features
- Email newsletters
- Print magazines
- Social media posts
Yep—even TV and film is considered content these days, just a different kind (but that’s another story).
What you really need to know is that brands of all kinds need copywriting and content writing to stay fresh, so there’s plenty of opportunities for writers out there to try their hands at both. It’s just a matter of seeing which one you have a knack for and sticking with that one.