A common question among business owners is ‘what is copy?’. And most of the time, the follow-up question is ‘how is copy different from content?’. It seems like the answers to both questions should be straightforward but, as with so many things in life, it’s a little complicated.
What is copy?
So, first things first – what is copy? Well, it sort of depends on who you’re talking to. You see, in advertising, marketing and other similar fields, copy is defined as text that’s primarily used to advertise or market a product or service. In the broader publishing industry, however, copy usually refers to any written text.
Sometimes you might see people differentiate between ad copy, body copy and display copy. In this case, ad copy is the text used to advertise something, body copy is the main part of any text (that is, everything after the introduction and before the conclusion) and display copy is the headline and captions or other accompanying text.
No wonder people get confused!
Unfortunately, the confusion doesn’t stop there because it can be very difficult to define what is going to be used for advertising and marketing purposes. As an example, if you write a blog post about a problem your ideal customer has, you might assume that’s not advertising or marketing. And in some respects that’s true because it probably doesn’t directly advertise your product or service – it probably doesn’t even mention what you’re selling.
But what if you write the blog post with the intention of capturing the attention of your target market and then funnel them through a series of blog posts that educate them about possible solutions to their problem and finally send them to an article that explains how your product/service is the perfect solution to their problem? If you do this that first blog post could easily be considered a part of your marketing. Does that make it copy? Some would say ‘yes’ but others would vehemently disagree.
How is copy different from content?
You see, I told you that was a common followup question! And it’s not hard to see why because once copy is defined, it can be difficult to see at first glance why it’s different from content. Indeed, all copy is a kind of content just like all squares are rectangles. But it’s important to understand that, just like not all rectangles are squares, not all content is copy.
You see, content is much broader than written words. It also encompasses other visuals like photos, drawings and videos. Audio, such as songs and spoken words, is another form of content. Content is really any information or experience that is geared towards an audience. So, an interpretive dance would also be a type of content. Admittedly, in this digital age, you’re probably more likely to share a video of an interpretive dance than you are to physically perform one but that doesn’t exclude it from the classification.
Those people that define copy as being only advertising and marketing text, will also classify all other written words as content but not copy.
If you hire a copywriter, they will only write content for you (unless they’re also something else in addition to being a copywriter). Whether they only write advertising and marketing copy or whether they also write other written content depends on the specific copywriter.
If you hire a content writer, they will likewise only write content (unless they too have other titles). Whether they write all types of written content or whether they choose to write only words that don’t directly advertise a product or service is, once again, up to the individual content writer.
If you hire a content producer or other kind of content professional, they may write wonderful words or they might produce graphic, audible or kinaesthetic content. Or they may produce a combination of some of these things.
The key message here is that there can be a lot of overlap between content and copy depending on who’s defining the terms. If you want to hire someone to produce copy or content, be certain about what you’re after and clearly communicate that to your prospective hires otherwise you might be very disappointed.
If you’re interested in becoming a content writer or a copywriter, make sure you clearly communicate the scope of work you’re willing to produce. Not everyone will define copy and content in the same way as you, so you’ll need to find a way to speak the same language as your target market.
Have your say
How do you define copy and content? Let me know in the comments.