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Hook and Tell: The difference between copywriting and content writing

Imagine you are browsing through the food stalls at a local market, looking for someone to feed your craving for fish and chips. You find a stall decorated with fish images and the tagline ‘Fresh with a pinch of happiness’, but there is no further information about the product.

Sure, the branding is impressive, and they have a brochure with the founder’s story and the benefits of supporting sustainable fishing practices, but you have no idea what they sell. Across the way, you see the words ‘Fish and chips’ scribbled on a chalkboard, and you head for that stall without turning back. There is nothing fancy about this message, but at least you know you have found what you are looking for. 

Sometimes a simple approach is best, especially when we step away from the physical world and into our screens. The digital world is filled with information and competing brand messages. A clear message is likely to catch the attention of your audience in the wave of competition. There are many marketing channels offered to us, but one thing is clear: clear copy converts, and knowing how to write clear copy takes practice. 

Copywriting versus content writing

To write good copy that supports clear objectives, we need to understand the difference between copywriting and content writing. 

Copywriting is a direct conversation with a potential customer to encourage them to buy your product or pay for your service. It encompasses everything from the copy found on the home page of your website to the subject line of an email, and everything in between. 

The objective of copywriting is to sell. It can also entice someone to take a specific action and the art of persuasion is often used to achieve this. 

Content writing is any other form of writing that is not directly linked to a sale. According to Rob Stokes from Red and Yellow Creative School of Business, digital content is all copy on your website or social media accounts that educates, informs, or entertains your audience. The primary objective of content writing is not to make money, but rather to support copywriting. Once someone reads your copywriting in a Facebook ad and clicks through to your website, content writing works to speak to the person in a way that resonates with them. Content writing is there to immerse someone in the brand story

Knowledge is power

It is not enough to understand the difference between copywriting and content writing when writing good copy that converts. We also need to understand audiences. 

The message can be the same, but you must adapt the way you communicate it to the context in which you speak to your audience, just as you would change your style of fishing if you were fishing on a freshwater lake rather than trolling out to sea. 

Let’s continue with the fish analogy for a moment to unpack the difference between copywriting and content writing. 

Copywriting is the hook that catches a fish whereas content writing is the fishing line that connects the fish to the boat. 

There are thousands of fish swimming the waters of our world, each species with its diet and water preference. You are unlikely to find a sardine swimming in a pond, just as you are unlikely to steal a glimpse at a koi fish swimming amongst a kelp forest. It takes time to understand your audience and put together copy that speaks to them. Once you have the fish hooked (copywriting), you can use the line (content writing) to bring them closer to the boat and, finally, onboard (your brand story).

Copywriting should not aim to hook, line and sinker. We don’t recommend stretching the truth or using forces of deceit at all to secure sales. Be clear on your objective and speak with clarity and confidence. Leave the descriptions to blog posts and Instagram captions, and call in a wordsmith if you need more help. If you are ready to work with a strategic marketing partner when it comes to all forms of content, reach out to us at Yellow Door – our team is quite the catch!

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