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Copy vs. Content

See the whole picture to create content that converts more effectively

When I threw my question to the winds of the LinkedIniverse, I thought it was pretty straightforward: “What’s the difference between ‘content’ and ‘copy’?”

Then I got back the answers. And wow. They spanned the waterfront.

“Content is the copy of the under-thirty crowd.”

“How about … copy = words, content = story.”

“Copy is a headline. Content is everything else.”

“Copy: words. Content: […] buzzword created by under-employed, coffee-house-dwelling hipsters to legitimize their latest Insta post.”

Yep. Turned out to be a more polarizing a question than I initially thought. But there’s a bit of truth in all of it. Even asking “Which is more important, copy or content?” showed a dead-even split.

Organizations looking to drive change need content that’s properly targeted, useful to the audience, and designed to connect on a truthful and meaningful level. Not surprisingly, content like that doesn’t conform with pat definitions.

Expand your definition of ‘content’

As your business is concerned, it’s helpful to think of content this way:

Content is everything you push outside the four walls of your business that your customers see, read, watch, share, download, fill out, submit, experience or otherwise interact with.

Or more simply:

Content is storytelling and experience in service to commerce.

Doing a complete bulleted list here would make the indexing bots think we were trying to keyword-load this article. And this widened definition certainly blurs the lines between all of the disciplines within your marketing and sales operations.

Why? Because every marketing discipline must rally around a shared goal and agreed-upon approach:

  • Strategy defines what you’re trying to accomplish and how
  • UX charts the journey from a consumer’s first inkling to a glowing online review
  • Copy gives the strategy a voice as Design gives it form and action
  • Interactive, Video, Digital and Print Production bring the thing to physical life
  • Brand Activation pushes it out the door and into the hands of the consumer

As you can see, every discipline has its role. But because content sits at the center of any effective marketing initiative, copy and design have an outsized responsibility to work in concert.

Expect more from your creative

There’s no question that different creative teams bring different strengths to the table. A workgroup that built fantastic long-form content may struggle with paid digital advertising. The writer/designer pair who nail your email campaign may underwhelm on collateral. That said, you can increase your chances of success by cultivating values in your creative staff that get them focused on solving the core business problem.

A drive to get to the emotional core. Great content happens when your teams demonstrate the ability to look at a creative brief and the background that created it. That foundation enables work that connects at an emotional level and compels action. Emotion drives a choice. Information affirms the decision.

A voracious appetite for data. Great content creation teams are deeply curious and eager to engage with the business challenge at a fundamental level. Which means they should be clamoring to see the research. Read the user interview transcripts. Make the factory visits or head out with the sales force on the northwest Nebraska leg of sales calls on their customers.

A surprising, design-informed approach. The writing can be brilliant, but without design, no one will read it. With 73 percent of respondents to Adobe’s 2018 Digital Intelligence Briefing saying they’re “investing in design to differentiate their brands,” and organizations who define themselves as “design-driven” being 66 percent more likely to have exceeded their previous year’s sales goal, your copywriters must write in close concert with your designers to create content that converts. Creative that hooks the reader takes more than simply asking “What must we say to close the deal?” It must ask “How can the look and feel compel the reader to act?”

A zero-tolerance stance on quality control. Across the digital and physical marketing space, Big Data and below-market-price content are driving down overall content quality. There’s really only one good fix … the eyes, ears and pencils of strong editors and proofreaders. And as tempting as it may be, you shouldn’t expect a team to edit and proof its own output effectively.

Trained in-house editors and proofreaders are ideal; here at iostudio, we’re blessed to have three of them. In the absence of dedicated resources, however, learning your way around the AP Stylebook and creating internal copy style books for reference will go a considerable distance toward giving your brand and marketing efforts a clean, consistent voice and identity across every channel you touch.

Seek help along the copy/content continuum

When your creative strategy is solid—bolstered by objective, verifiable data—and your creative teams are closely aligned, your content cannot fail to compel action. That said, even the best teams know when to seek out resources to bolster existing capabilities.

Here are some that iostudio’s content staff have found to be particularly useful:

As the effectiveness of traditional advertising and marketing channels continues to fade, the importance of flexible thinking grows. Instead of focusing too deeply on the differences in copy, content and every other creative channel, you’ll be most effective at helping your company drive positive change by seeing the entire integrated picture.

While good content is about seeing, reading, then acting, great content starts with a conversation. Preferably over a hot or cold brewed beverage of your choice. Drop us a line and let’s get to work.

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