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Copy and content: What’s the difference, and can they work in harmony?

Posted by Michelle Keefe on August 13, 2014

Reading through a direct response campaign, a consumer likely won’t notice the differences between copy and content. It’s all writing, and it’s all trying to pitch a product. But a copywriter knows that one cannot succeed without the other. The differences between the two might be slight, but they’re worth exploring, especially if you’re trying to establish marketing goals for a successful direct marketing campaign.



In marketing, content is information people search for. If a consumer is in the market for a car, a copywriter should include valuable, product-specific facts in the messaging. Content for an automotive campaign might list statistics on fuel economy, vehicle size and built-in technology. Readers will spend time with content if the information satisfies their interest in a product. Content generates interest when it focuses on consumer needs and preferences.


Copy, on the other hand, engages the consumer in a more creative way and often appeals to the emotions. If a product deals with consumer safety, the copy might take on a frank, parental tone to underscore the benefits of a product and persuade the target to act. Copy is meant to be persuasive. It goes a step beyond content by cleverly engaging the target with pointed messaging. A smart marketer will establish marketing goals for copy and content in the concept development phase to guide the direction of the writing.



A marriage between art and data.
Copywriters can take some cues from novelists and journalists when developing copy and content. Novelists are driven in part by the desire to capture attention and mesmerize their readers, and journalists make it their business to objectively inform the public. Engaging consumers on multiple levels through messaging is key to a successful marketing campaign.


To highlight the distinctions between copy and content, let’s examine a successful direct mail campaign for Consumers Energy, a leading electricity and natural gas utility in Michigan.


Michigan residents are no strangers to extreme weather. They get hit with lake-effect conditions that can push their furnace, air conditioning and other appliances to the breaking point. It’s a story they know all too well.


In this case, the job of the copywriter is to frame the need for a reliable appliance service plan for Michigan homeowners in a creative and compelling way.



Establishing marketing goals for copy and content.
Campaigns tell a story. They have a beginning, middle and end, just like your favorite novel. Campaigns also educate consumers. So for Consumers Energy’s Appliance Service Plan campaign, which aimed to increase enrollments, the content put long-term costs into perspective while the copy painted a picture of the realities of a costly appliance breakdown.



Here is a copy sample from this campaign:
“Whether it’s an older furnace that stops working during the coldest month of the year or a hot water boiler that bursts when you’re getting ready for work, any number of appliance breakdowns can happen unexpectedly.”


In keeping with the goals of copy, the line above skillfully and creatively taps into the consumer mindset by playing to their emotions. The impact is immediate and strong because the scenario described above is familiar to so many. The copy is also highly relevant to consumers’ concerns because it speaks their language. Readers will not spend time with copy unless they’re immediately engaged and marketed to. A successful direct mail campaign depends on the persuasive powers of copy.



Now here is an example of content from the same campaign:
“53,060 of our Appliance Service Plan calls from last year were made for furnace and air conditioner repairs. These repairs would have cost members over $7.2 million without their plan.”


This is information that consumers shopping for utility and electric suppliers would want to know. It’s factual, detailed and relevant to the consumer’s search. It’s also the kind of information a consumer would expect of their marketing communications because it provides a meaningful and compelling reason to act. Content appeals to the rational side of consumers, so supply them with facts and figures they can use during the purchase process.


Strong copy and content increase response when they work in harmony. One should always support the other. Together, they can persuade the consumer to respond to your product, but they can also be used to drive consumers to a main campaign website or personalized URL. The aim of copy and content is to educate consumers and get them to act, whether that means completing a purchase or visiting a company website.


To learn more about how to optimize your marketing communications, download our multichannel direct marketing assessment. And be sure to our visit our blog page, where you’ll find more articles on content marketing and driving response.


Topics: Direct Marketing

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