Content development, content marketing, content writing, copywriting. We’ve been seeing these terms thrown around a lot and sometimes used interchangeably. While related, they are not the same thing—and understanding the difference can help you develop a more effective content strategy.

  • Content development involves researching and writing or editing anything from social media and blog posts to emails, brochures or videos.
  • Content marketing, aka content writing, is content development done strategically to build familiarity with, and trust in, your brand or organization.
  • Copywriting—aka marketing—pushes people to act.

Content marketing pulls people in and builds a relationship between them and your organization or brand—a relationship that (you hope) may lead to a future business transaction. Good content provides value or fills a need and creates familiarity. It warms up your cold contacts. For trade associations, content marketing is a way to reach prospects that have never been a member or attended your conference or trade show, and give them a sense of how you serve the industry. Content may take the form of an infographic illustrating the highlights of a recent research report, a tweet sharing an interesting statistic, or an interview with an industry leader, presented as a webinar. Like a good friend, good content will ask nothing in return—but that’s not to say you don’t get anything out of the relationship. You establish trust, gain credibility and develop a reputation as an expert.

This is valuable stuff! Don’t risk losing the benefits by sticking your ask in where it doesn’t belong. Offer the infographic without any mention of purchasing the report (nothing more than an unobtrusive link to the report’s web page). Offer the webinar for free. You want to be seen as an industry leader, not a needer. However, you can ask for feedback. Give people an opportunity to tell you what their job is, whether they found the information you provided useful, and what other topics they are interested in.

Moreover, don’t risk losing ground by underestimating the skill set required. Professional content development will make you look your best. An adept content developer will identify various personas in your audience, speak their language and target content to their interests or needs. A professional writer will also prevent you from making spelling and grammar mistakes or poor word choices (such as saying “less” when it should be “fewer”)—and from sounding unnatural, like you’re trying too hard (such as saying “utilize” when the correct word is simply “use”).

A talented content developer will create a cohesive, on-strategy voice for your organization, which is much better for branding than the disparate voices of individual contributors. A professional writer will provide catchy, clever, creative flair.

Which leads us to copywriting…

Copywriting doesn’t just ask, it impels action. It’s the push that complements the pull of content marketing and seals the deal. Tactics such as an email campaign with a call to Register, Join Now or Buy work best when the recipient has either opted in or is a past customer, attendee, member, sponsor, etc., which allows a copywriter to focus on the why rather than the what. This is a copywriter’s specialty.

Copywriters provide valuable perspective on your offerings and how they will benefit your prospects. In the trade association world, it’s easy to get caught up in programming and operations—in what you offer. When your in-house staff can’t see the forest for the trees, a copywriter can. They get inside the mind of your audience. They speak to people’s hopes, fears and objections.

Copywriters know how to sift through a lot of information and zero in on what is most important—or zoom out to reveal an overall benefit. This saves readers the trouble of having to do so themselves. Copywriters can see what needs to be said and what doesn’t, and can often say in 10 words what might take you 30—a crucial difference in a world where people don’t stop long to read anything, let alone an ad or an email.

After a great design catches someone’s eye and content marketing builds familiarity, it’s a copywriter’s words that ultimately convince your prospects to act. And that’s really the point, isn’t it?

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