I’ve been a writer for a long, long time. I’ve written something every day for around 30 years now. (Okay, I took about a week off when I had a C-section.)
I’ve been a content marketer since 2004, even though we didn’t call it that back then.
These days, I’m a Chief Content Officer — a job title that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
I love and respect writers, and I know a lot of them. Some are successful; some are struggling.
And I have some thoughts on what can make the difference.
You may know that we run a program to certify excellent writers as Certified Content Marketers.
What does that mean? What’s the difference between a good writer and a good content marketer?
(Spoiler alert: I kind of spilled the beans with the post image.)
But first things first: What is this content marketing thing, anyway?
Here’s how I’ve defined it in the past:
Content marketing is the strategic creation of text, imagery, audio, or video that delivers a relevant, interesting message to a customer or prospect, while at the same time paving the way for a sale.
Good content requires excellent writing. But the elements of strategy and structure need to be in place to get it to work as marketing. Which is, after all, what we get paid for.
So, here are five elements that separate high-quality content marketing from material that’s well-written but might not deliver the same business value.
1. It has to move the audience
You may have noticed that at Copyblogger, we often talk about audience, rather than prospects or leads per se.
The audience is made of people at many stages, including those who aren’t in the market for what you do or what your company does, but can spread the word about your content.
And audiences don’t stick around for weak commercials or carbon-copy content. They need to be moved. If your content doesn’t do it, they’ll go elsewhere. It’s a big web out there, full of delicious distraction to tempt them away.
This is where your art comes into play. If you want to take your marketing writing to another level, consider working on plays, screenplays, fiction, or poetry. Anything creative designed to create an emotional response will improve your professional work.
And yes, you can move your audience even if your topic is “boring.” Use humor, stories, or frustration. Everything we do as people creates mini stories — you can use those for content, even for technical topics like law, medicine, manufacturing, or accounting.
2. It has to earn attention
This is one of the core beliefs of a professional content marketer:
You are never entitled to the attention of your audience. You have to earn that attention every day.
Among your clients and employers, you may find that founders and CEOs can have a tough time with this. They often assume their businesses are riveting. It’s your job to help them see that the audience doesn’t have the same passion for the business that they do.
If your content isn’t successful, if it isn’t gaining attention — it might not be good enough. You may need to put in more work — find better angles, craft better headlines, and find the right tone and voice for that particular audience.
How can we tell if our content is worth consuming? If people consume and feel driven to share it. If it works for your audience, it works.
3. It has to have spark
The biggest problem I see with content is cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers stuff.
Our Certified Content Marketer training program teaches you structure and formula, but it’s your job to find the spark.
If you’re writing for a company, somewhere in your organization is someone with a passion. It might be the founder or a salesperson or a support person. Someone cares desperately and can show you where the spark is.
And if you can’t find anyone … you need to look for another company! I don’t say that flippantly. Companies without G.A.S. don’t tend to last long. And even if they do, they’re no fun to work with.
(Been there, done that. Not worth the t-shirt.)
As a professional writer, you are the scribe of the business you serve. It’s your role to take their beliefs and passions and give them a voice. I take this very seriously, and I think you should, too.
Be part of everything. Be curious about everything. Become a lifelong student of everything. It’s all material.
4. It usually relies on proven structures
Getting spark into your content doesn’t mean “winging it.”
There are structures that have been shown to work better, because they make your ideas easier to perceive and understand.
Here’s a nutshell structure for effective content. Copyblogger has lots of posts on these points, and of course we also cover them in depth in the Certified Content Marketer training progra.
Effective content is marked by:
- A headline that instantly commands attention
- A few sharp, focused introductory sentences that pull the audience in
- Useful information that solves a problem the audience cares about (think about magazine content)
- A single, focused point or “moral of the story” that the content is trying to teach. This could address a specific objection to purchase or a belief the prospect needs in order to buy, or it could lead to a call to action
- Stories, metaphors, case studies, examples, and other techniques to engage the audience and illustrate that point
- A well-crafted call to action that tells the audience how to take the next step
5. People have to know how to think of you
You may be more than able to handle everything above — but you also need to convey that to your clients or employers.
A successful content marketer knows how to market her own business, as well as her clients’ or employers’ businesses.
Let’s face it. You aren’t going to find the perfect gig that will keep your bills paid and your brain happy forever. It’s not how the world works anymore.
You need to position yourself for today and for tomorrow. You need to market yourself as the smartest, best solution. You need to take all of the authority and technique that you use for your clients and treat yourself as your most important client.
That doesn’t always come naturally to us, but it can be taught — and when you learn it, you will appreciate the benefits.
At Copyblogger, we love writers. We respect writers. And we want writers to be paid what they’re worth.
You run the show. The web revolves around words — and you are the creator of those words. We want you to get the respect (and pay) you deserve.
Are you a writer who wants to become a Certified Content Marketer?
Inside our Content Marketer Certification program, we’ve got a lot more for writers.
We designed this program to help writers make the most of their careers — to help them position themselves and their offerings, so that they can build profitable freelance writing businesses.
And we’re opening the program soon. Drop your email address below and you’ll be the first to hear about it.
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on April 28, 2015.
Image via picjumbo
Reader Comments (29)
Mania Mavridou says
Great content, as always!
But nothing is perfect! I think an “m” is missing:
“Copyblogger has lots of posts on these points, and of course we also cover them in depth in the Certified Content Marketer training progra.”
Thanks for sharing Sonia.
Absolutely. Hitting the nail on the head.
Move the “Audience”- not the buyer”, that is a serious point, because we don’t know who the buyer cold be. Sometimes, writers tend to write to sell but in today’s world, buyers are smarter and the decision making journey is so different compared to the those days where you send a case study and they are ready to get convinced.
“Have a spark” – True. Need to have the G.A.S , else organizations die. ( I actually went all the way to the article about G.A.S, to learn what it is.) You are 100% correct about this. The spark needs to be lit up and start sharing the light with others in the organization who also believe in the same, and spread the spark.
Lesley de Olival Nicolau says
I really enjoyed this article – you really got to the bottom of it – and you have a lovely friendly style of writing, makes reading it easier.
Awesome! and BullsEye! Just can’t do without the tips/expert (is there a superlative for an expert 🙂 guidance mentioned here very basic but a backbone for one’s business or as an individual contributor.
Thanks a ton Sonia Simone! Always amazing to read Copyblogger…every word Counts!
Masum Haider says
Really your post helps to know difference between professional writer vs content marketers. After reading your suggestion, I want to be a content marketer.
Hassaan Khan says
That was epic. You know, once a lecturer told us that the ‘filmmaker’ makes a film with his mind and leaves the rest of the matter on the audience. So, it more or less depends on the audiences that how they perceive it.
Similarly, Copyblogger does a similar job. In fact, goes one step ahead. Not only do I learn copywriting skills, but I also observe the way content marketing is being practised at Copyblogger. It’s phenomenal.
I actually loved the way you, Sonia, crafted this blog post, injected the product, shaped the message, and delivered the value. It’s amazing. So glad to see that.
Sonia Simone says
Brian Clark started that tradition here long ago — actually doing what we write about, and encouraging readers to observe our advice in action. 🙂
Josh Manion says
Thank you for taking the time and effort to write this post. Great breakdown of the aspects making them different. =)
I really like the first point about moving the audience. I think this is really relevant.
I recently interviewed Darren Rowse on my Productive Insights Podcast in a two-part series and we talked about the “before” (they consume your content) audience avatar and “after” (they consumer content). He explained it very beautifully especially the part where he talked about taking people an attorney from the first page to the second.
I also interviewed Joe Pulizzi (founder of the content marketing Institute) and he talked about creating content to meet customers where THEY are in their lives (as opposed to creating content around products). I thought this was extremely relevant too!
Can’t wait to have you on my show as a guest Sonia Simone!
I know we discussed this before and I’m sure you’ve been busy but I’m really keen to have you on because it truly would be an honor!
I hope we can do it soon 🙂
Dave Nevue says
I really enjoyed this article Sonia, I respect your comment about letting your artist side come out. As a professional artist I often struggle with words. I have been writing daily for over a year and I am finding it much easier and actually enjoyable. Your key points are great reminders of what an article must provide.
Anna Ross says
Love the article Sonia, I am going to be sure to implement this advice in my writing right away. I really do appreciate it.
Matt Rose says
I agree as well!
Anwar Hossain says
Thank you for the post Sonia!
Rosie Tesmenitskaya says
I’ve generated more than $5 million worth of gross sales for our clients.
It doesn’t have to be different.
Both need each other.
If you good at copy writing, you can sell more.
If you good at content writing, you can grow your influence.
Which means, both are husband and wife. They are meant for each other.
Good tips. But I associate the term “professional writers” with authors of fiction and nonfiction. I think a better title would be The Difference Between Marketing Communications and Content Marketing.
Sonia Simone says
Always interesting to see the connotations we attach to various terms. The term marketing communications tends to be used more often (in my experience) within organizations — the freelancers I’ve worked with are more likely to identify as professional writers.
And of course many freelancers and agency folks identify as copywriters — another term that shades differently depending on who you talk with. 🙂
Francis Quarshie says
Powerful marketing post, Sonia.
You’re a great content marketer.
Writers who market with their writing are content marketers. Is that right?
Sure, this post is bookmarked, to be used as a guide.
Thank you, Sonia.
Seth Morrisey says
Simple, but probably the best definition of content marketing I have ever seen.
“Content marketing is the strategic creation of text, imagery, audio, or video that delivers a relevant, interesting message to a customer or prospect, while at the same time paving the way for a sale.”
I especially like the last sentence because at the end of the day it’s all about generating sales. Great food for thought today, thanks!
Sonia Simone says
As you might imagine, over the course of my career, I have spent a weirdly large amount of time thinking about that definition. 🙂
Sahadath Hossain says
I have enjoyed a lot your article. I wanted to be a content writer but couldn’t. Now I am trying to be a blogger. I think every blogger must have knowledge about content writing and content marketing skill. Because both are inter-related.
Promoting the content is one of the tough yet simple if someone learn how it works!
Article writers usually can not market and promote the content. They can only write great articles! Promotion and Marketing is another job and usually done by professional marketers!
Sonia Simone says
That’s one reason you can be a quite good article writer, but you may not have the complete tool set to be an effective content marketer.
Good article writers do, however, know to ease up on the exclamation marks.
Sandeep Jethwa says
Thanks for sharing a real difference between Content writer & marketer.
Manidipa B says
Very useful post indeed. Today’s buyers are smarter than ever. So for a marketing content, it must be able to convince them, and not just a good piece. Thanks for sharing the tips to be a better content marketer.
Johannes Poscharnig says
I would like to talk about another point.
For me its important to say that content marketers love there topic with everything they have.
Thanks so much to Sonia Simone! Always amazing to read Copyblogger. Every single word is important
Wonderful post as always Sonia. This really helps me improve my writing for thousands of people so I appreciate it very much.
Karen Lange says
Sonia, thank you for sharing your insight and experience. Looking to stay on top of my game, always sharpening skills – this is what I needed today!
I love number four. I’m not a content marketer by any stretch, but the writing I do to promote my site and blogs does take that same structure which I’m happy about!
I’ve try and use metaphors more because I think they really help get the point across and if you can do that consistently and clearly, you’re surely onto a winner.
Abuku Orode says
Thanks Sonia. This is a great post that will help me improve my writing skills with easy. Kudos.
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