To Sell or To Tell: The Differences Between Copy and Content

Author Josh Womack holding a copy of his first book, titled "I'm not a copywriter, but..."

I met Josh Womack when he presented at Literary Cleveland’s Inkubator conference in 2016. He talked to us about how his background in comedy contributed to his career as a copywriter. While I don’t know where my notes are from that day, I do have his handout, which includes: “Unique about me: Short, Middle child, Zumba.” Josh and I have been friends for seven years now, and as his book editor, I can confirm he still jokes about being short. But I haven’t heard anything about Saturday morning Zumba sessions since.

Part two of Josh’s debut book (I’m not a copywriter, but…) talks about the act of copywriting. He urges, “Seek out people that push you to be more concise, and keep practicing at it.” Conciseness is foundational to copywriting. While I focus on content marketing nowadays, I still value brevity, but content writing can be a bit longer than copywriting.

Copy vs. Content

These two genres—copy and content—share some tenets but don’t take the same approach. For example, within a piece of content, you utilize conciseness to get to your point more quickly within each paragraph. Copywriters want to reach a call to action in as few words as possible.

Lists of genre characteristics of copy versus content writing

When you break it down, copy is about positioning and driving sales quickly (e.g. radio, TV, and digital ads). Content tells a story in order to connect with your clients long term.

Do I need copy or content?

When you’re looking to hire a copywriter or content marketer, it’s important to understand what type of writing support you need. Copywriters handle ad campaigns and landing pages while content marketers conduct interviews and develop case studies. The potential project lists for copywriters and content writers are long, and unfortunately, everyone has their own opinion of where the line is drawn. But a good rule of thumb is to assign content writers anything over 500 words. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a starting point. Make sure you have an honest conversation about the person you’re considering to hire and understand their specialties and limitations.

Copywriters and content writers often work in conjunction so your business can get customers in the short term as well as build your growth strategy. Basically, your combined approach shouldn’t be entirely in-your-face sales nor should it be all about telling stories. Find a combination of copy and content that meshes well with your company.

Josh and I recently finished editing his second book, You are not that funny, which is kind of like him becoming a content writer for a moment in time—telling stories about his stand-up days in Cleveland. We had our little full circle moment in which he wanted to keep a story short, and I told him he needed additional details so readers could understand his point. We settled on something in the middle, which fused his copywriter brain with my content marketer brain. And we’re both more effective professionals for it.

Author Josh Womack holding a copy of his first book, titled "I'm not a copywriter, but..."