On Content Marketing Semantics: Can’t We Just Get Along?

Over a year ago, I started a discussion in a LinkedIn copywriters group* asking members what they saw as the

content marketing vs inbound fight

Hopefully no one gets this mad.
Image via Tambako the Jaguar on flickr.com

difference between the terms copywriting and content marketing. I was surprised to learn from the comments on the post that:

a) Many of the people in the group had an opposite idea of the difference in meaning for the two terms than I did. The idea that content marketing was a subset of the larger term “copywriting” was popular – although I (and presumably, most content marketers) would see copywriting, or even content writing, as one part of the larger content marketing whole.

b) People were very opinionated on the subject.

I guess that latter point shouldn’t have surprised me, but the level of defensiveness of the term people were most used to and dismissiveness of something different was significant.

Every so often, a discussion with a similar tone (very much including the aforementioned defensiveness and dismissiveness) comes up around the terms content marketing and inbound marketing. Sometimes terms like online marketing and permission marketing get thrown into the mix just to make the whole thing a bit messier.

The result inevitably includes a lot of passionate comments, strong opinions, and lengthy explanations on why varying opinions are more correct than others.

These discussions have been happening with these particular terms for at least five years (exhibit A, from 2010, but for more examples of the tone described, see exhibit B, from 2011). As far as I can tell, everyone I’ve encountered who practices content marketing also considers themselves to be practicing inbound marketing, which makes the passion and disagreement on display in these discussions more than a little confusing.

Here’s my take: I don’t have any interest in defining the differences in the terms, because for all my intents and purposes, they point toward the same sort of work and goals. Some people think term A includes term B, but is broader. Other people argue the same, but with the equation flipped. I think it doesn’t matter much either way.

As a content writer, I relate a bit more to the term content marketing(it’s also the term I came across first, which probably makes a difference), but I immediately related to the ideology behind inbound marketing once I found my way to it. We’re all just trying to create content good enough, people would pay for it (as Jay Baer so memorably put it) on the path getting more customers and establishing better relationships with them.

While it’s valuable to argue semantics up to the point that you confirm you and your audience are on the same page, beyond that it can get more destructive than useful. Both terms were made up within the past few years and both will evolve to mean something different in the years to come. In the meantime, let’s just focus on doing quality work that helps clients and customers alike.


*The link to that discussion is here, but I don’t think you’ll be able to access it unless signed into LinkedIn and a member of the group.

Time for a Change

austin freelance copywriter

If you’re here, then you’ve probably already noticed that the writing and marketing blog of Kristen Hicks has changed from Hicks Marketing to Austin Copywriter. You may have also already seen the new and improved Austin Copywriter website.

In the past year of offering freelance copywriting and marketing services, I’ve gained a greater knowledge both of where my personal strengths lie, and the services likely to be of the greatest value to small businesses. The shift to the new Austin Copywriter brand is indicative of these realizations.

Quality content is the key to increasing online visibility and defining how consumers perceive your brand. The change to Austin Copywriter conveys an increased emphasis in my offerings on the importance of content marketing to generate new leads and foster ongoing relationships with customers.

Check out the new website and contact me with any questions, suggestions or to discuss ways I can help your small business.


10 Questions Copywriters Should Always Ask Before Starting a Project

Being a good copywriter goes beyond the ability to write well. To produce writing that businesses will happily pay for, a copywriter needs to be able to communicate effectively with the client before starting an assignment.

Not all clients know from the moment they commission work exactly what they’re looking for.  When a copywriter comes into the initial planning stage equipped with the right questions, in addition to communicating an impressive level of professionalism, it can also the client gain a better understanding of what they want. If you take the right approach the first time, it can save you the time and trouble of multiple re-writes later.

The 10 questions provided below might need to be slightly tweaked or made more specific according to the type of writing project, but they offer a good starting point for subjects you should be sure to cover in an early meeting with a client or prospect.

1. Who’s your target audience for this piece?

Is it aimed at current clients, prospective clients, PR people, journalists, internal employees, some combination thereof or another group altogether? Are there any particular demographics you’ll be writing for in terms of age, gender, class, etc.?  Your writing style and the information conveyed should vary according to who will likely be reading it.

2. What is the response you’re hoping for?

Should the piece be aimed at driving the reader to a desired action, or is it meant to be primarily informative? What does the company consider the best metric for the success of the piece: how many people view it, how many websites link to it, how many people download it, how many sign up for more information, purchase a product, something else?

3. What is the primary goal you hope to accomplish?

For some writing assignments the main goal will be SEO, meaning the aim is to write something other websites will link to in order to increase the website’s search engine ranking.  For other assignments the goal will be gaining contact information for future marketing, otherwise encouraging the reader to take a direct action, or be more focused on general branding and gaining greater attention for the business in the industry.

Of course, many of the possible goals have some overlap, but it’s crucial that you gain a sense of what the company most wants your writing to accomplish to be considered successful.

4. What are your plans for distribution?

The method of distribution correlates to the likely audience and goals of the piece. A blog post should be treated differently than a whitepaper, a physical mailing or a handout meant to be distributed at a conference.

5. Do you have any stylistic preferences?

Different types of companies prefer to put off different vibes. A tech company made up of employees mostly in their 20’s and 30’s will likely prefer a more casual style of writing than a large Fortune 500 company. Likewise, the writing style of a blog post is generally pretty different than that of a press release. Get a feel for the client’s preferences in advance.

6. What materials can you provide me about your company and products so that I approach this assignment well informed?

If the writing is meant to promote a particular product the company provides, you’ll want to gain a thorough understanding of the product and what problems it solves before working to promote it. Ask for access to any videos, scheduled webinars, current client testimonials, cases studies and any other previous marketing materials the company has available.

As an added bonus, their response to this request may let you know of any current lacks in the promotional materials they have, offering a hint of future opportunities your current project could lead to if you impress the company.

Also ask for information about competitors, knowing what similar companies are doing can provide additional ideas as you’re working.

7.  How often would you like me to check in?

Does the client want the opportunity to offer feedback while you’re in the process of working on the project, or would they prefer to wait until the copy’s virtually complete before reviewing it? Do they want weekly status updates, to feel confident you’re working on it, or are they happy as long as it’s in front of them by the deadline?

This is also a good opportunity in the conversation to clarify how many re-writes you’re willing to do covered by the agreed upon price. You don’t want to end up working on something for months that you expected to have finished in a couple of weeks.

8. When do you need it completed by?

Have a clear deadline so you and the client have the same expectation for completion.  Of course, once it’s established, stick to it!

9. What kind of budget do you have in mind for this?

For most of us (definitely for me!), talking about money’s likely to be the least comfortable part of this meeting. Sometimes, a company may be willing to offer up more for a project than you would think to ask for, so getting a sense of what they have in mind from a budgetary perspective can be valuable

10. What kind of length were you hoping for?

This is another fairly basic question to ensure you and the client are on the same page and also helps you formulate a sense of how long the project is likely to take.


Communication is the most important part of most business interactions. By asking the right questions before pursuing a copywriting project, you can approach the material more prepared and have a greater chance of producing results that match the expectations of the client.