What is the Difference Between Content and Copy?

Content vs copy - photo of a sunset on a vacation postcard

Content is not copy, did you know that? While the terms have become almost interchangeable in the last couple of years, there remain several crucial differences between these two text products. At least from my humble point of view.

Content and Copy Differ in Form

Copy writing — a function that originated in the advertising industry — refers to the short, often witty text pieces which effectively capture a brand and persuade a consumer to act. Copy writing is snappy, concise, explosive — able to distill an experience down to a few words, powerful enough to get a casual visitor to click/buy/recall.  Thus,copy writing typically produces names, taglines, ads, brochures, flyers, button text, direct mail, sales emails, and the like.

Content writing on the other hand refers to lengthier explorations, informational products that inform more than they entice. These text products tend to be explanations or articles, catalogs or brochures, press releases or legal disclaimers, ebooks, white papers, PowerPoint decks and of course blog posts! Initially, content may be the articles that make people’s eyes glaze over or the 12-page service brochure that a prospect skims through because they have no time. However, if they need to seriously study an option before buying, they won’t be reading your copy for information. Content is the only thing that will satisfy them then.

Content and Copy Differ in Intent

Copy pushes the consumer to act. The clearest example I can give you is from my GMail inbox. One of the subject lines declared that Amazon would shave an extra $100 dollars off the already discounted price on a Kodak camcorder. That got me to click right away.

Content informs. Continuing my previous example: I would later look up the product page for the Kodak camcorder and read through the reviews of owners who gave the product 5 stars– as well as those reviewers who hated it and gave it only 1 star. The product page was eye-opening, not just for specifications and accessories, but mostly because of the reviews. Now I’m convinced I don’t want a Kodak camcorder because of the information I gleaned from that product page. That’s content.

For Complex Sales, Content Must Be There to Support Copy

You might consume content on its own and come to a buying decision. In fact, you’ve probably done it already: say for example, you read a blog post reviewing a DVD and went out to buy it the next day. But for more complex sales (i.e. more expensive sales that require more involved research prior to buying) you very rarely convert based on copy. I mean, have you ever bought a car simply based on an email a dealer sent you? Not without consulting online reviews, or reading the product literature, or researching whether there have been any malfunctions or recalls in the recent news.

So, content must be available as back up and as support to whatever copy writing piece got a prospect to your door in the first place. Imagine sending out sales emails to prospects touting a promotion on your web design services. But your website doesn’t have any info at all on the promo, no customer testimonials to convince them further, or no portfolio of past projects. Your email will fail miserably.

Are there any more differences you can suggest? Feel free to hit the comments!

Photo credits: Original photo “white lake, north carolina at sunset” by Y-Its-Mom on Flickr.??


2 thoughts on “What is the Difference Between Content and Copy?

  1. Very interesting read sir. I’ve always been notoriously interchanging the two 😀 Now I know better!


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