The Evolution of Copywriting in the Content Marketing Era

With the rise of the internet now three decades in the making and the very nature of the written word changing with it, the nature of copywriting has obviously undergone changes of its own.

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(Photo credit: Flickr user crafty_dame)

The field of copywriting was once a specialty built on an educational background in liberal arts and experience writing for publications and creative agencies, with the ultimate goal to accumulate a comprehensive portfolio of work. If you were published, you were successful. Writing credits in major publications and ad campaigns for well-known brands enabled copywriters to charge more per word.

However, with the democratization of content through global access to the internet, the world of copywriting has drastically changed. Here, we explain the difference between copywriting and content marketing, and how combining the two makes for good marketing nowadays.

Copywriting

In general, writing has one of three purposes: to entertain, to inform, or to persuade.

Historically, copywriting was a kind of commercial writing that persuaded or influenced readers to do something. It had an overt, promotional tone. It was the stuff of marketing and advertising professionals who were describing a product, a service, or a brand. It was an art form practiced by a small field of writers who mostly specialized in advertising and marketing copy. Often, they had at least a four-year degree in English, literature, journalism, or another liberal arts discipline. They were considered experts and worked for creative agencies.

Some famous ad campaigns changed how products were marketed, such as when Leo Burnett coined “searching for the inherent drama” of a product and when Albert D. Lasker developed the “reason why” behind advertisements.

Now, copywriting concerns print or digital text that encourages a reader to take a desired action. In the digital age, millions of websites and blogs have appeared, and suddenly it seems that anyone believes he or she is qualified to become a copywriter. The rise of content mills, for example, gave people with no professional qualifications an outlet to write about any topic. (Not to mention the oversaturation of personal blogs on the internet — everyone has their respective outlet.)

Modern-day copywriting now takes the form of blog posts that encourage readers to submit their contact information on a website form via a call-to-action, or a landing page that collects emails for newsletter subscriptions, for example. Other examples are product descriptions and blurbs that appear on advertisements and brochures and in marketing letters and annual reports.

However, writing remains a distinct profession for people in the U.S. with a median wage of $58,850 in May 2014, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

Content Marketing

Many misperceptions surround the meaning of text used in content marketing. The simplest way to describe it is as a kind of text that, say, website owners create and share online to start a conversation or attract prospective customers to their website, blog, or social media profiles.

This kind of writing typically has an educational tone, and it needs to be free of grammar and spelling mistakes. Text for content marketing is more subtle and under the radar, but still encourages readers to take an interest in a topic or a brand because of the underlying value the content provides.

This text typically appears on a website or blog to attract a larger readership, but can extend to e-books, white papers, social media content, newsletters, social media posts, press releases, tutorials, forum posts, and scripts for video clips. Content that takes any of these forms encourages writers to explore.

When content marketing works as it’s intended, the text effectively converts readers into customers, but it takes a sustained effort. In January 2016, eMarketer.com predicted that more B2B firms would focus on content marketing this year.

Ideally, the same customers who have discovered a company this way return to make additional purchases on the same site after having earned the customers’ trust through educational content marketing as a credible source for important information.

Adapting to Changing Expectations

With this evolution from text for print to text for the digital audience, the expectations for “good copy” have changed.

The reasons for the shift are many, including the rise of the internet and the digital age, and the accompanying result that most of the pertinent information exists online. Other reasons include the popularity of online shopping (think Amazon and eBay) and the influence of websites, blogs, social media, etc. on branding in general.

The commercial definition of “copy” referred to text for magazines, newspapers, advertisements, marketing mailers, brochures, catalogs, and other print publications. Today, text appears everywhere, from mobile devices to digital billboards.

Sure, copywriting seems to be phasing out with the rise of content marketing and a more subtle form of advertising. However, the directness of copywriting still has a place in the content marketing landscape — just how can copywriting and content marketing be combined successfully?

Marrying Copywriting and Content Marketing

We live in an age in which customers drive how companies from manufacturing to aeronautics reshape their business models, no longer the other way around. One way to think of content marketing is that it is one part of a multi-channel communication strategy to meet the needs of the Buyer 2.0.

Everything you write must address consumer behaviors and pain points, to keep pace with marketing trends and stay relevant to the consumer. How do you know what they’re searching for, and what those pain points are? Ask. And if you can’t ask, rely on predictive analytics to generate blog topics to help solve those pain points.

The best way to get customers to read blog content and take action afterward is to find the right blend of copywriting and content marketing. You can be a total content marketing whiz, post about every subject under the sun that interests your prospective customer, but if your copywriting skills aren’t razor-sharp, too, you’re going to have a lot of bounced visitors and no leads on record.

For a call-to-action or landing page to convert visitors into leads, flexing those copywriting muscles is necessary. Concise, direct copy is what converts. Do not leave it up to your reader to decide what to do next. Want them to view a related blog post? Sign up for your newsletter? Say it, and quick. Rambling text is a sure bounce.

Becoming a well-rounded modern marketer means knowing both copywriting and content marketing intimately and the role each plays, which can change by the hour.

Keep up.


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