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The Differences Between Copywriting & Content Writing and Why it Matters

The world of online marketing can be a confusing place. Hyperbole, bold claims, and mixed messages make figuring out what works and what doesn't challenging. Even when considering something as simple as copywriting vs. content writing, it's easy to conflate the two. In reality, there's a real difference—and understanding it can have a tangible impact on your success. 

At issue is not the dictionary definition of either approach, but something more basic: the fundamental difference between selling something and marketing it. We know you're thinking: "but aren't they the same thing?" Copywriting is important for selling things, but content is vital for marketing and educating buyers in ways that ultimately make copywriting more effective. 

Let's break it down. 

Selling and the Implied Pressure of Sales 

Copywriting is important for selling things, but content is vital for marketing and educating buyers in ways that ultimately make copywriting more effective.

We know when someone wants to sell us something—and we understand that their motivation is to make money. Some might even say the goal isn't to make money, but to take your money. The philosophers can have that debate; what's important is that, to some extent, a degree of pressure always exists in sales. 

You have something you want others to buy. How do you make them buy it? Well, you'll have to persuade them, you think. You'll need to be direct and deliberate in convincing someone to make a purchase. This sort of approach to sales, where it becomes almost adversarial, isn't ideal, even though it remains common. 

It's not the best idea. Most people don't want to be told explicitly why they must buy something immediately. In one study, a majority of respondents, about 57% said they are more likely to buy from a brand when there is no attempt to create sales through pressure. Keep that in mind. 

Marketing is More About Education Than You Might Think 

Here's where the divergence occurs: sales focuses on trying to induce an action. Marketing, by contrast, should focus more on informing buyers and leading them on a journey. The ultimate destination, of course, is sales—but your goal should be to let buyers arrive at that stage independently rather than dragged along by aggressive campaigning. By the time someone reaches the end of your funnel, your marketing should have prepared them to engage sales with interest. 

We can learn something about this desire for educational marketing by examining how traditional sales calls work. In one study, 58% of leads wanted to know about product or service pricing on the very first call. Almost as many want to hear about functionality. Yet in both cases, less than a quarter of sales professionals—just 23%—were willing to have those conversations in their first conversation. 

Prospective buyers don't start out eager to hear a practiced sales spiel—they want cold, hard facts. 

What Does All This Have to Do with Copywriting vs. Content Writing? 

Copywriting is sales-focused. Content writing allows for educational marketing. That's it—that's the difference. 

When you invest in copywriting, you're usually trying to convince a reader online to take action: buy the product, subscribe to the service, and here are all the reasons why. That's important, but just like in traditional sales, it's not a winning play if all you do is spin the same story. Buyers can feel the pressure when you over-focus on how amazing the product is or how much the reader needs it. 

Good copywriting has its place, especially for people who are far along in their buying journey. Content writing, however, is a powerful tool at every stage for buyer education and effective marketing. Sometimes, it won't even connect directly to your product. Creating your brand image and fostering buyer confidence through interesting and relevant content can prime readers to want to know more. 

Good content answers questions and gives readers quick access to the key facts they need to make their own decisions. When combined with effective copywriting, the result is a more finely-tuned sales process that's more buyer-oriented than seller-centric. 

Unify Your Approach and Build More Effective Campaigns 

Without drilling down to the specific differences between copywriting vs. content writing, it's impossible to build a truly effective strategy. It's important to recognize that both have their place, and that finding the right balance is a process unique to every business. Are you pushing your readers too hard? Are there opportunities to educate and generate curiosity? You'll need to evaluate and answer these key questions for yourself.