The Difference between Content Marketing & Copywriting
“Content marketing” in the digital sphere has been around since the Internet became a household staple, when users slowly started to grasp how they could leverage the World Wide Web to share information. In the 2000s, blogs rose through the ranks to become the go-to resource for anything you needed to know, whether it was personal style tips or how to remodel your house on your own. Fast-forward to 2016, and content marketing is at the top of everyone’s to-do list, from Fortune 500 companies to Aunt Jane with her handmade soaps.
In the marketing world, it’s an especially hot topic, and it’s been steadily gaining traction for years. Clients are asking for it, agencies are touting its magical capabilities and every industry publication is reporting on how to do it. A quick Google search around the term turns up 4.8 million results under “news,” with topics ranging from how live video will save your content marketing to a thousand principles, best practices and tips for creating the Best Content Strategy Ever.
With all the hype surrounding it, you’d think content marketing is some big secret the industry has suddenly tapped into that will save companies, win agencies awards and bring about world peace at the same time.
Except it isn’t.
In an effort for companies to keep up with competitors, and for agencies to keep up with the industry, everyone has jumped on the content marketing hype train, and it’s got no brakes. We’ve reached “peak content”—aka, there is too much shit on the Internet. And yet, content marketing is still the Big Thing right now.
But content marketing for the sake of content marketing isn’t helping your agency or your clients. It’s adding more noise to an already full and very chatty barrel of monkeys. If you want to break through and actually get noticed, you can’t just write to satisfy SEO gods and plaster a brand name all over the Internet. You have to write for the person on the other side of the screen.
Finding Perfect Copywriter Heaven
As a copywriter, your job is to hit the sweet spot where the wants and needs of your agency, client and audience all intersect.
Your agency has a set of tools they want to use and best practices they live by to get great results for their clients. This is where your endless hours of research into targeted search terms and trending social content all come into play.
The client always wants to make more money. They want new customers, loyal customers, tell-your-friends-to-bring-their-friends customers. They want to increase awareness around their product or service and convince buyers to trust in them and their business. And, of course, to purchase their product or service.
No matter what the fancy user personas you create for your target audience members look like, and no matter what industry you’re targeting, all consumers want the same thing: to not waste their time. Everyone knows consumers are fickle creatures with the attention spans of goldfish. Waste their time, and they’re on to the next shiny thing before you can even show them the special you’re running on free shipping for Memorial Day.
Typically, copywriters have found this sweet spot by reading the numbers. We find trending search terms and look at keywords and shared social content to see what’s performing well. Then we use those numbers to inform our content strategies and decide what content to create. And, when it’s over, we use more numbers and metrics to show pageviews and conversions and social shares to prove what we’re doing is working.
Sure, these numbers are useful. It’s good to know what the industry is talking about and what readers are finding useful and enjoyable. Clients love numbers—they’re more likely to approve an idea if it’s been successful in the past than they are to take a chance on something entirely new. And without these numbers, it would be almost impossible to prove our efforts are having an effect. But too often, we stop at the numbers.
For the numbers to be really useful, we have to dig into them. Why is that keyword trending? What do people really want to know about that term? How can you use a post on that topic to make lives better?
The answer to that last question is how you break through the noise. That’s how you find copywriter heaven. You create content that adds value.
Always. Add. Value.
Before you write your next blog post or landing page based on trending keywords, figure out how those terms relate to what your client is doing to help customers and why those problems need to be solved in the first place.
Then leverage that keyword in a post that entertains or educates your target audience. Appeasing the Google gods? Check. Creating something people want and need to engage with? Check. Making your client happy because of all the pageviews and social shares you get? Double check.
The value of your post doesn’t have to be life-changing. Hell, those BuzzFeed lists of adorable animal photos are a pretty valuable use of my time. But you can’t ever forget there’s a real reader on the other side of the screen. There’s a human being with hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties who is looking to get something out of your content, whether it’s a good laugh and some stress relief or a detailed explanation of how to protect their small business from credit card fraud.
If you’re adding value with the content you create, it will naturally be successful. It’ll be read, shared and interacted with to its fullest potential—and that means those big, shiny numbers we all love so much will automatically follow. Pageviews will climb, social shares will soar, and your client will get more exposure and, ideally, more revenue because of it.
But for those benefits to last, you need to make sure what you’re writing is worth it—that your blog post or landing page is worth showing up on that first page of search results and worth being read by hundreds of people. Otherwise, you aren’t setting your client up for lasting success. Consistently creating valuable content that builds a growing group of loyal followers is always better than getting a short pop in numbers.
Finding new ways to add value is something all copywriters will struggle with, but the one way to add value consistently is to utilize your most valuable asset: your creativity.
Be a Creative First
We can’t be copywriters and play by the numbers. To add value for our audiences, we have to come up with what’s new and exciting and what’s going to get people talking. We have to push the limits on what are sometimes boring, confusing or over-worked topics and find new ways of making them relevant, useful and personal to our audience.
We have to trust our abilities as storytellers. Copywriters bridge the gap in the marketing world between digital and creative. Numbers can give us a lot of insight, but sometimes we have to trust our gut and go with what feels right or what we’re excited about. Even if the numbers aren’t there to back it up, we have a good eye for what works. We’re constantly consuming various forms of content, which lets us see trends while they happen, and we should be building off those trends to create something new and valuable.
The secret to content marketing isn’t creating more content. It’s creating better content.
If your boring blog posts aren’t getting traction, then stop churning out four a month. You want to be timely (especially with reactive content), but not if it means sacrificing quality. Take the time to create really epic shit. Come at it from a new perspective, present it in a new medium, take a risk on something that might not work. Consistently creating amazing, thought-provoking, industry-leading pieces, even if it’s just once a month, is better than creating four pieces that are just wasting Internet space.
Break Old Habits
The only way for content marketing to really succeed is for copywriters to focus less on the numbers and more on what’s really important: helping the person on the other side of the screen. Maybe it’s the built-in superiority complex that comes with being a writer, but I think copywriters are in a position where we can make really epic shit that also serves a larger purpose.
The next time you’re working on a new editorial calendar or content strategy, ask yourself who you’re helping with your content and why. If you can’t come up with solid answers, crumple it up and start from scratch.