The difference between writing and copy writing

I was chatting to a friend recently about her job. She’s a marketing manager at a small international charity and is desperately trying to get her boss to agree to bring in an external copywriter to help them define their brand voice guidelines and then create content for their blog.

His response so far has been, “Why can’t you do it?”

And it’s true that my friend can write. She can spell and stick to the rules of grammar and punctuation. She can make her point and communicate effectively through the written word.

But…that does not necessarily make her a copywriter. And she knows it. The problem is, her boss doesn’t.

Here’s what I’d tell him if I ever got the chance.

Copywriting has a business purpose

You could argue that all writing has a purpose. A newspaper article is written to inform, a birthday card to convey love. But there is no measurable business goal involved. Whereas with copywriting there is and a good copywriter will know this and ensure that it informs the writing.

Every blog post, e-book, script or Tweet we write is done with an end goal in mind, whether that be brand building or lead generation. Online this includes thinking about SEO and how our copy can support that. It is not enough to write well, a copywriter needs to write with purpose.

Good copy drives action

If you’re writing a novel, a poem, even a letter to a friend, you don’t need your reader to do anything beyond read the words and, hopefully, enjoy them. But because copywriting has a business purpose, in many cases there is a need for the reader to do something once they’ve finished reading.

That might be sharing a blog post, signing up to an email newsletter or buying a product. Even getting someone to open an email by constructing an intriguing and attention-grabbing headline is an example of good copywriting in action.

Copywriters will structure their content in a way that leads up to the ask and will then deliver that ask – or call to action (CTA) – in the most effective way possible.

A copywriter is a critical piece of the puzzle

What I mean by this is that a copywriter knows that his or her work won’t be read in isolation like a novel. Copywriting is part of a wider creative process that can involve everyone from campaign managers to voice over artists.

If we write website copy, for example, we understand that it will be laid out by a designer along with imagery. This means that we will consider things like how to use H1 and H2 headings to break up big chunks of text, and we’ll include pull quotes or testimonials to give the designer something to use to add interest to the page. Or with video and animation scripts, we’ll think about how the words we write can be interpreted visually in order to make the film maker or animator’s life easier.

And we’ll also mark up the copy so that whoever is next in the creative chain knows what to do with each element of it.

Good copy is well structured

As I mentioned above, the layout of copy on a website is almost as important as the choice of words used. The same goes for flyers, brochures, adverts etc.

Skilled copywriters understand the science of how we read, especially online. We know that people tend to scan and, more than that, they scan in particular ways – the F shape and the layer cake scan are just two examples.

Because we know this, we also know the techniques that can be used to stop this happening and ensure that your audience actually engages with that copy.

The difficulty copywriters have in proving their value is that good copy – like good design – is almost invisible. It points to the brand rather than its own cleverness. Like a ballet dancer nailing the perfect pirouette, it only looks easy when it’s done really, really well.

If you’re a marketing manager and you’re struggling to bring in the copy support you need because you just can’t get the buy-in, maybe print this off and leave it on your manager’s desk!

You never know, they might sign off that budget after all.

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