The term “content marketing” has come into its own.
Although the concept was allegedly started in 1996 when a journalist led a roundtable discussion for the American Society for Newspaper Editors, the idea of using the written word to acquire customers isn’t a new one.
Image source: Content Marketing Institute
The Internet has breathed new life into content marketing. Companies throughout the world are starting to realize that if they don’t publish helpful content for their prospects and customers, they’ll soon be irrelevant. Profits now go to brands who engage, educate and persuade.
Which has caused me much pondering over why it’s more important than ever that copywriters go big with content marketing, or (as the saying goes), go home.
The difference between journalists and copywriters
I’m still evaluating this topic and may adjust my opinion in the future, but here’s what I know so far.
Most companies really don’t understand what a copywriter does.
The reason I say this is because of the articles I’ve read on content marketing (including the book, Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less by Joe Pulizzi).
Article after article focuses on why companies need to look at hiring journalists for their newly-hatched content marketing departments and how the goal of “storytelling” is a journalist’s specialty.
No offense to journalists, but such articles tells me one thing: the writer doesn’t know the difference between a copywriter and a journalist. Nor do they realize that copywriters are indeed “storytellers” who have been sharing company brand stories for centuries, long before anyone was calling it that.
Journalists report news stories. At least that’s the “old-school” definition. When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein tackled the Watergate scandal in 1972, journalists everywhere were inspired to pursue investigative reporting.
Suddenly journalists weren’t just trying to report a story, they were now acting as detectives to expose “the truth,” interpret the news and at the same time, produce the news.
Yes, journalists dig for answers. Yes, they know how to interview people. But these skills aren’t that different from what a copywriter does.
Journalists may be able to tell a story, but a copywriter will sell your story.
That’s a huge difference.
So all this talk about “engaging the audience” and “telling a story” doesn’t mean much to a business unless that engagement leads to a sale.
And that’s where copywriting comes in.
What a good copywriter does that a journalist doesn’t do
Journalists aim for awards. The Pulitzer Prize is the highest honor a journalist can achieve. It is given for published works of excellence in public service, breaking news reporting, investigative reporting, explanatory reporting, local reporting, national reporting, international reporting, feature writing, commentary, criticism, editorial writing, cartooning and photography.
In other words, recognition from their peers for a job well done.
Copywriters aim for sales.
A good copywriter is testing her copy, tracking the results and studying the response rates of the copy. Her “award” is a blockbuster promotion that showed a 151.282% lift over the control by using her revised sales letter.
Copywriters are concerned with response rates. They want to see results (as do those who pay them). However, journalists are unfamiliar with such measurements.
A good copywriter studies the psychology of why people say “yes.” Whether it’s persuading a website visitor to sign up for a free download or a letter recipient to order a book, persuasion is both a skill and an art. Copywriters have been honing this skill for a long time, relentlessly testing what works best to get the sale.
What good copywriters and good journalists do
I recently came across this article, which listed ten things journalists can teach content writers.
The list, and my comments:
Know your audience — Journalists always keep their audience in their mind but so do copywriters. The great copywriters such as Claude C. Hopkins, David Ogilvy, John Caples, and more didn’t write any copy until they understood their audience and put themselves in their readers’ shoes.
Write an alluring headline — Of course newspaper stories rely on great headlines. Editors know that if the headline doesn’t get noticed, the article will go unread. Copywriters are acutely aware of this truth. Many copywriters have improved the response rate of their copy by just changing the headline.
Keep your topics fresh — Copywriters know that they have to find another way to describe what’s already been described at least ten different ways. Both journalists and copywriters understand that the biggest threat they face is boring the reader.
Tell a story — This is where I part ways with the assertion that a business needs someone to “tell a good story” and that this person should be a journalist. For many years, copywriters have closely studied what people want, what they really desire (or fear), and then spun those insights into copywriting gold for a business. A journalist looks for “the story.” The copywriter knows the real story is what a customer wants – and finding a way to give it to him.
Go back to the basics — Journalism basics are who, what, where, when, and sometimes how and why. Copywriting basics include identifying emotional trigger points to persuade a reader, capturing the reader’s attention with compelling copy, appealing to the right audience for the offer, and supporting proof that the offer is worth purchasing. There may be some overlap between what a journalist does and what a copywriter does but both sets of “basics” are good to remember.
Be succinct — Both journalists and copywriters know that you only write what is necessary. Don’t gum up the works.
Tell the truth — Journalists and copywriters live and die by their reputations. But for a copywriter, it is especially important. A good copywriter could be full of integrity but if she writes copy for a shifty business that defrauds people, her reputation could wind up in a trash heap (not to mention thrown in jail). Or if she stretches the truth, she could run into trouble. Credibility is supremely important when attempting to gain the trust of the public. If a copywriter wants their copy to sell anything, they know they better tell the truth and tell it in such a way that it will attract the reader to their offer. Otherwise, their copy is toast. Journalists may risk the reputation of their publication but a copywriter risks the bottom-line profits of their client. Perhaps a slight difference but one worth mentioning.
Do your research — Copywriters obsessively pursue knowledge of their target market. They want to know the age of the reader, gender, political and religious beliefs, hobbies, professions, the worth of their homes… and on and on. No detail is too small. Journalists and copywriters have to conduct stringent fact-checking. Both know that if one piece of information is found to be inaccurate, the rest of the copy will be questioned. This is often “un-sexy” work that most would rather avoid but it can come back to bite them if they avoid it.
Create remarkable content — Of course if writing is bad, people won’t read it. This holds true for news stories and for copywriting, not to mention books. Copywriting has to be hypnotic. If a reader turns away then all bets are off. Whether it’s a journalist “telling the story” or a copywriter asking for the sale, the writing needs to be sharp and informative. It has to interest the reader. Otherwise, there is no point.
What copywriters need to do to go big
I’m going against the grain to say what I’m about to say. Many copywriters believe that it’s a waste of time to try to educate a client. They’ve been coached to only go after clients who understand their value.
However, I believe this may have been acceptable in a marketplace that didn’t have the term “content marketing” floating around. Today, things are different. And if copywriters don’t take the time to get in the game to share with everyone what a copywriter does, there’s a very good chance they’ll be left out of the game altogether.
Many companies believe that copywriters only write brand slogans. Like “Just Do It” or “The Cold, Crisp Taste of Coke.”
And many of these organizations that are building content marketing departments are looking for writers who understand how to tell a story, but also how to connect their audience to their brand’s offer.
These organizations aren’t looking for copywriters. They’re now looking for “content marketing” writers.
And although copywriters have typically written sales letters and ad copy for many years, they also write case studies, white papers, articles, web copy, and all manner of marketing collateral for businesses. Copywriters have been doing this for a very long time.
The time is now for copywriters to remind businesses that they’ve been here all along and if they really want to engage audiences with an eye on sales, they need to understand what a good copywriter can do for them.
It’s time to go big or go home.