Copywriting vs editorial: what’s the difference and why does it matter?

What do product descriptions, ‘get ready with me’ (GRWM) videos, long-form editorial pages and thought-leadership pieces have in common? No, it’s not a bad joke…

The answer is, they’re all ‘content’. And that’s a problem. 

Having a single term to define, basically, everything you can read, watch and engage with on the Internet isn’t helpful or illuminating when it comes to content marketing. 

Take the above list: they each serve their own unique marketing purpose. They offer audiences different services, experiences, information, have different types of ROI and require different skillsets and processes to produce. 

It’s essential for marketers to consider these distinctions when developing a strategic content plan. But besides the obvious – that they’re different content types – how are they different in ways that matter to marketers? 

That question can be answered by going back to basics, to the craft of content creation itself: to the distinction between editorial content and copywriting.

Taylor Anderson

Content Editor

What’s the difference between copywriting and editorial?

Put simply, copywriting offers information and/or answers a question about a topic, usually in a persuasive way. It has the underlying goal of eliciting a response – selling a product, getting a newsletter sign-up, encouraging a social share. 

Compare that to editorial content, which takes a position on a topic. Its goal is not to sell, but to inspire, entertain and motivate. The intention is to create and deepen connections and engagement between brands and readers through conversation and idea exchange. 

When it comes to content strategy, editorial and copywriting work in tandem: they appeal to readers in different ways, at different points in their decision journey. One is not innately more engaging or impactful, because context matters immensely.

Depending on a reader’s knowledge of a subject or product, their intent when searching or scrolling or simply the mood they’re in, one particular type of content will resonate more deeply with them than another.

This is why you won’t hear us say ‘content is king’ at iCrossing… because context is.

There’s a lot of overlap, so understanding what makes each a success is essential both in strategic content plans and during content production, when briefing internal or external teams and creators. It’s vital that you offer your audience both to create the right kind of content that appeals to the right people, at the right time. 

Not only do editorial and copywriting serve unique and equally valuable purposes, they both require a variety of skills, creativity and insight to produce – one is not easier or cheaper to produce than the other.

What is copywriting?

Copywriting tends to be most effective in the early and late evaluation and purchase stages of the decision journey, to hook you in and then sell. It lives, among other places, on product and FAQ pages, in social captions, and in short-form video scripts.

Copywriting is direct, concise and compelling; simplifying complex ideas and information.

That doesn’t mean it’s dull or (even worse) sales-y. Good copywriting captures and holds your attention and, crucially, makes you want to act based on what you’ve just learned. 

A good copywriter has a strong vocabulary and an analytical but creative mind – they take complicated, dry or technical information and bring it to life (usually in 20 words or less). They transform ‘a fitted woolly jumper’ into a ‘a wool design with a clean round neckline, long tapered sleeves and an ever-flattering fit’. 

Production-wise, copywriters need access to comprehensive information about a brand, clear audience profiles and data on search habits, as well as deep insight into the wider market a brand is operating in. All this material will ensure the content they create is impactful, modern and relevant.

They also need time to perform desk research, ideate approaches and craft copy, plus additional time to take in feedback from key stakeholders. Finally, there should be a layer of testing, learning and optimisation of content. With limited copy, it’s imperative to ensure every word works as hard as possible.

What is editorial?

Editorial content tends to have the most impact in the exploration, early evaluation, post-purchase and loyalty stages of the decision journey, to build brand relationships with readers. It’s found on blogs, in newsletters, and, as with copywriting, in social captions and video scripts, too.

Editorial takes a position and dives a little deeper. It offers a perspective and gives you a reason to engage with an idea or topic. 

To create good editorial content, you need an outside-the-box mentality to come at ideas from an interesting or fresh angle. You need to look at a topic from all sides and offer readers subject matter expertise. Depth of expertise allows you to dig in and explore the theme in a smart, insightful and engaging way. 

Using our woolly jumper example, a simple editorial take on this topic could be: ‘Why your winter wardrobe is incomplete without a wool jumper’.

For a premium or heritage fashion brand, for example, this piece of editorial content could take the form of a first-person exploration of important moments a treasured jumper featured in a fashion writer’s life.

Alternately, for a high street fashion brand, it might be more aligned with audience interest, to use this editorial take as the basis for a styling video on Tiktok – a handful of winter looks all featuring a single wool jumper.

When it comes to the production of editorial content, in addition to the same insights needed for copywriting (brand, audience, search and market data) editorial creators need brainstorming time to come up with fresh and creative approaches. This would ideally be done alongside other content creators and/or subject matter experts, to deliver a range of ideas.

Editorial content also requires research (anything from desk research to interviewing) writing and editing, as well as time to make amends based on stakeholder feedback.

Offering the full spectrum of content 

Understanding the distinction between editorial and copywriting allows you to ideate and produce the right type of content in the right context for the right audience. This is the foundation for a truly comprehensive, impactful and effective strategy. 

If you need help with your content strategy and production, get in touch.

At iCrossing we help our clients with:

Audience journeys and outcomes: who you’re talking to and why

Messaging matrixes: what you’re saying and why this has value for both the brand and audience

Creative territories, editorial focuses and content formats: what content types to produce for your desired outcomes

Voice guidelines: how you’re talking to audiences via copywriting and editorial

Platform playbooks: where content lives and how your audiences find it