August 9, 2006
Liz published this at 8:44 am
The Pigeons and the Preacher?
When we were first married, my husband I were walking through a city park. The lawn was filled with pigeons. He voiced the most unusual thought. “Why are pigeons always the same size?” he said. “What if they are all baby pigeons and a great mother pigeon lives up on the roof of one of those buildings?”
Shortly thereafter we passed a young man in scruffy clothes who told us that the world was ending. He asked us to change the way we were living. He offered us the reasons and joys of how living his way would make our lives wonderful and give us peace forever. I wondered whether he’d heard the conversation about the pigeons.
If the two messages had been written as text–one would be content; the other would be copy.
Do know see the difference? I don’t mean to hold you hostage. But ignore the difference at your own risk.
[Note: I'm using the most traditional definitions of writer and copywriter for this article.]
Content and Copy
In the olden days, it was easy. It still is in print world silos. Product folks live in one end of a bulding far from marketing, sales, and advertising, who live in the distant reaches of the other end. The two are allowed to talk every third Thursday in a visitor’s room with a guard watching over them. That way content and copy don’t get crossed or cover the same subject in anywhere near the same way.
Now we have the blogosphere. The publisher is writer and marketer of the same business. We refer to all text as content, but really it’s not, not in the traditional sense — much of it is copy. The rules for writing content and copy are different. The major difference is purpose. It shows itself in subtle nuances. What it comes down to is this.
Content — Writing to Tell
1. Technically speaking, content is text written to inform, argue, or entertain about lasting topics. A writer knows how to present a topic in ways that readers understand it.
2. Traditionally content was meant to last and made in the form of books, journals, magazines, and white papers.
3. Content takes itself seriously, even when it’s being funny.
4. In content personality, authenticity, and credibility count. The writing is about the writer’s voice and a relationship with the audience. Words such as I, me, and we are used artfully to establish the audience as positive and equal. Bad examples are stated with I, and great examples are stated with you or we.
5. Content is a presentation of thoughts and ideas that might illicitit opinions or further information via discussion. That is the purpose.
6. Effective content connects with readers, gets them thinking, or leaves them with a satisfying feeling of having read something that affects or affirms their world view.
Copy — Writing that Sells
1. Using the same technical viewpoint, copy is text written to sell, market, promote, raise awareness, or advertise. A copywriter knows how to position and sell the benefits of a product or service.
2. Copy is meant to last in the mind of the audience.
3. Copy takes the product and the brand seriously even when it presents it as adding fun to the life or lifestyle of the user.
4. In copywriting credibility and authenticity count. Personality of the writer is distracting. Copywriting is about the relationship between the customer and the benefits of the product and the company that provides it. When a copywriter is persuading an audience to buy, you is the only pronoun necessary. I, me, and we don’t belong. Customers don’t care about the writer. They care about benefits — what the product does for them. Therefore, because becomes implicitly necessary if not outright explicit.
5. Copy is intended to move an audience to do or buy something. That is its purpose. Therefore, a call to action — a buy now, do this, click here — needs to be there.
6. Effective copy entices readers, points out their needs and desires, or leaves them wanting to improve their lives with a help from where the writer sends them.
Knowing the difference between the content and copy is critical for today’s online business writer. To be considered a thought leader, we need to understand how to present solid, informative content without an offputting sales pitch. We need to weave in well-written benefits of doing business without selling so hard as to “buy it back.”
The Risk of Not Knowing
Readers can tell whether we’re flexible in writing both content and copy. Disregard the difference and they find it confusing. Too many “yous” in the middle of a discussion makes them feel us looking down at them, when using “we” would tell them that we share the same problems.
When we can switch from a content to a soft copy voice, readers are happy to go along with us. When we speak, we change voice and approach without thinking, based on the purpose of our conversation. That’s really what changing from content writing to copywriting is. The key is knowing when you are doing it.
The pigeon conversation was imaginative content. The preacher was offering sales copy. Knowing is understanding the relationship of the conversation that is happening.
Copy or content. Two ways to talk or write clearly. Capisce?
–ME “Liz” Strauss