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Everybody talks about “copy” and everybody talks about “content”, but what do those terms actually mean? In today’s episode, I’ll explain what copy is, what content is, and where the difference matters.

Where does copy go? Where does content go? Can something be copy and content at the same time? All this, and more, will be revealed. Give me less than 10 minutes, and I’ll explain… copy vs. content.

Just click play, and I’ll meet you there.

Transcript & Shownotes

Naomi Explains... Copy vs. Content

Welcome back to Naomi Explains Marketing, the show where I help coaches, consultants, experts, authors, and other associated nerds, geeks and misfits sell the contents of their brains for cash money.

I am your host, Naomi, and today we’re talking about copy vs. content. What’s copy? What’s content? What’s the difference? Does it even matter? This episode comes by request from Mike, in Ontario.

Let’s do this.

First, regarding copy and content, what are we actually referring to right now? In this context, we’re referring to written words on a page, and whether those words are considered to be copy (sometimes called copywriting), or content (sometimes called content marketing).

There are two areas in which copy and content are different.

One matters a little bit, but not really. The other matters one holy heck of a lot.

The first area, the one that doesn’t matter as much, rests in whether the words are considered static or dynamic. Usually, copy is static, and content is dynamic.

What does that mean?

Static means it doesn’t change. Of course, everything CAN change, and eventually does. But there are pieces of writing that tend to change all the time, and there are those that tend not to change very much at all.

The words on your home page don’t tend to change. The bio box at the end of your blog posts doesn’t tend to change. Your social media channel descriptions don’t tend to change. Your sales page doesn’t tend to change. So those are basically static.

As a rule, if it doesn’t move, it’s copy. Yes, there are some exceptions. For example, if you don’t have a blog but instead you’ve got a list of articles, they might be static, but they’re still considered content. But as a rule, if it doesn’t move, it’s probably copy.

On the other hand, dynamic content does move. The blog post at the top of your blog isn’t the same as it was recently, and it won’t be the same when you blog again. It’s dynamic.

Social media is the same – it’s always moving. What was on the top this morning has been replaced by this afternoon. It’s dynamic. People comment, you comment back. It’s alive and living and changing. If it moves, it’s probably content.

That’s the first component, or criteria. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a pretty good guideline. If you’re hiring a copywriter, you’re probably paying her for words that don’t move. If you’re hiring a content writer, you’re probably paying her for words that do.

Now, let’s move on to the second criteria, the much more important one. This is the difference between selling and marketing.

Selling is a direct activity. Marketing is an indirect one. In almost all cases, copy sells, while content markets.

Here’s the layperson’s definition.

Sales, in general, is designed to get a person to do one particular thing, ideally right away. Buy this product. Sign up for a package. Check out my store. Register for this class. Its goal is usually to get immediate conversion. Maybe it succeeds, maybe it doesn’t, but its purpose is to lead to conversion as a direct result of the words written – the… copy.

Think of sales like someone trying to sell you a car. They’re not trying to improve your overall opinion of Toyota over time. They’re trying to make a commission today.

Marketing, on the other hand, has a different objective. Marketing is designed to contribute to sales over time. It’s designed to move people further through a process, or draw them further into the brand’s culture and world.

If the sales page for my next class is copy – actively designed to get you to register – then my blog is content. The content is designed to move qualified buyers through a journey, to get closer to ultimately doing something I’d like them to do.

Maybe if you read enough of my blog posts, you’ll know, like, and trust me more. Maybe you’ll move further down the AIDA process. (That stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action, and we’ll cover that in a future episode.)

Maybe I’ll be top of mind for you. Maybe you’ll start recognizing my name more. Maybe you’ll look forward to my new posts. And if you ever need help with your business strategy, maybe you’ll hire me as a coach, or register for one of my classes.

If sales is a person selling you a car, marketing is like the car commercial. Most car commercials are not designed to get you off your couch and into the dealership by this evening. They’re designed to influence your opinion over time.

Marketing often doesn’t have a specific, unique goal in mind.

Often, it just wants to contribute to good business things happening. If you like my blog and ultimately register for a class, that’s great. Marketing for the win. If you ultimately refer someone, that’s also great. Marketing for the win. If you ultimately write an article about me, or invite me onto your podcast, or ask me to do a joint venture with you, or speak to your mastermind group… these are all wins.

At the marketing level, it often doesn’t really matter what good thing happens, or even necessarily when. I don’t have a particular agenda.

That’s usually what content is for. That’s why it’s called “content marketing”, not “content selling”. That’s also why you might have heard people say not to sell on social media. Social media is assumed to be content, not copy, and selling in content can get kinda weird. It can be done, but it’s hard to do it well.

Now, one more thing before we move on – sometimes content and copy combine in the same piece. If you write a guest column on a website, that column is content. But… if you have a pitch in your bio, with a call to action? The column is content, but the bio, in this case, is copy.

Now, does all this matter?

And if it does matter, why?

Primarily, this is about what goes where. If you’ve ever read anything about copywriting techniques, it’s helpful to know what counts as copy and what doesn’t, so you’re not using copy techniques where they’re not really appropriate. Using copy techniques in content can be dissonant. It can put pressure on a reader when there’s no need for it. Too much copywriting stuff can be exhausting to read.

On the other hand, content writing tends to be much more relaxed and casual. Jokes, asides, links, distractions… those are all lovely. And that’s great… in content.

But if you were to use that same content tone or structure in sales copy, it could end up being SO relaxed and casual that it wouldn’t communicate effectively.

That person selling you that car? They may seem friendly enough, but if they want to feed their kids this month, they don’t want to relax too much. Remember, they’re not trying to improve your opinion of Toyota over time. That’s the marketing department’s job. Today, they’re trying to sell you a car, and it’s perfectly acceptable for them to act like it.

And voila. Copy and content, sorted. In our next episode, we’re talking about welcome sequences. What are they? Do you even need one? You’ll find out soon! I’ll see you then.

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