Many marketers use the Stages of Awareness to determine what marketing messages their customers need. By understanding what stage your prospect is in, you can ensure what you’re saying is right before worrying about how to say it.
This concept is useful for copywriters, content strategists, SEO specialists and more. However, I’ve noticed lots of marketers struggle to identify which stage of awareness their prospect is in—if that’s you, this blog will walk you through it.
But first, a quick recap on why this is important.
Effective marketing starts with understanding where your customers are at in the buying journey
Picture the scene: strolling past a car showroom one day, you decide to walk in and test drive one of the vehicles.
The salesperson walks up to you with a smile on their face.
Everything seems normal, until they speak:
‘Have you heard of these things called cars? They help you get to places faster.’
Being asked the wrong question for the situation isn’t just unhelpful—it’s downright weird.
The question didn’t make sense because if you’re in a showroom, you’re already aware of what a car is. What you’re not aware of is which car is right for you—and that’s where you need the salesperson’s help.
In other words, the salesperson chosea message that didn’t match your state of awareness.
What are the five stages of awareness?
In his classic book Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz outlined five stages of awareness that prospects must pass through before they become customers.
Unaware: the prospect might be feeling a pain but doesn’t yet consciously realize they have a problem they need to address.
(This could mean anything from a physical pain, like toothache, to a business-related problem, like ‘doing my accounts takes too long’.)
Problem aware: the prospect is aware of a problem they’re experiencing but aren’t aware of the solutions for it.
Solution aware: the prospect becomes aware that there are solutions that can solve their problem. They don’t yet know they need a product.
Product aware: the prospect is aware that there is a product (or several products) that can solve their problem.
(But they’re not yet sure how effectively your product can solve their problem, orhow well-suited to their situation it is.)
Most aware: the prospect is aware that your product is the most suitable. (The prospect is now in the ideal state of awareness to buy—but may still be held back by pricing, timing, or low motivation.)
How to identify which state of awareness your prospect is in
The simplest way to do it is by looking at the questions the prospect is asking.
These can be hypothetical questions, of course—prospects aren’t always actively seeking information. However, you can predict what questions they might be asking themselves based on their situation.
If they’re asking questions that help them identify, explore, or deal with a problem, they are problem aware
· ‘Why is it so hard to get to sleep?’
· ‘Why does my team seem so unhappy?’
If their questions seek more information on a method for solving a problem, they are solution aware
· ‘What’s the best type of yoga for reducing stress?’
· ‘How can I gather anonymous feedback from my team?’
If they’re asking for details of a specific product, or trying to compare several products, they are product aware.
· ‘Which yoga studio in my area does morning classes?’
· ‘What’s the best employee feedback app for a small business?’
If they’re asking questions about your product’s pricing, availability, or delivery options, they are most aware.
· ‘How much is membership at my local YogaOne studio?’
· ‘Where do I download the Team Feedback app?’
Let’s see how the prospect’s questions help us identify their stage of awareness in a real scenario
To do this, we’ll consider the hypothetical questions asked by Anna, a 52-year woman dealing with back pain.
1. Anna starts to become aware of discomfort in her back. She doesn’t consciously realize that she has a problem yet,so she isn’t asking any questions. She is unaware.
2. Next, Anna begins asking herself ‘why does my back hurt?’ After reading a blog on back pain symptoms, she realises that her back pain is probably a result of being overweight. She is now problem aware.
3. Anna’s next key question is ‘how can I lose weight?’ She is now seeking ways to solve her problem, and she learns that she needs to diet. She is now solution aware.
4. Next, Anna learns that two companies have created dieting services specifically for her age group and body type. Anna begins to ask ‘which is the better for me – Atkins Online or Slim Club?" She is now product aware.
5. Anna learns that Slim Club is the right service for her. Her main question now is ‘where can I get Slim Club discount coupons?’ She has finally reached the most aware stage.
How can different types of content and messaging walk prospects through each stage of awareness?
Depending on your industry, you won’t always need to take the prospect through all the stages of awareness. Going back to our earlier example, anybody walking into the car showroom is already solution aware.
But let’s look at how our imaginary diet club, Slim Club, created content to walk Anna through all the stages of awareness:
1. In the problem aware stage, Anna does a Google search asking ‘why does my back hurt?’ Slim Club has already published a blog post titled ‘the 5 most common reasons for back pain’ and it grabs Anna’s attention.
2. The blog has a section on being overweight, and Anna finds that the problems described match her symptoms. As she realises that her back pain is probably caused by her being overweight, Anna enters the problem awares tage.
3. The blog includes a link to another blog—also by SlimClub—called ‘How to lose weight without going to the gym’. Anna clicks through to this blog, continuing her information journey.
Upon reading this article, Anna now realises her best option is to start dieting. This second article has bought Anna to the solution aware stage.
4. Some days later, Anna sees a banner ad in her social media feed from Slim Club, offering free diet plans. Anna visits the Slim Club website and gives her email address in exchange for a free ebook.
Anna enjoys the ebook but realises that diet planning is more complex than she thought. She notes that Slim Club also offers a paid-for service whereby she can receive ready-to-cook meals in the mail.
Anna finds this appealing but wants to consider more options. She does some more Googling and also finds blogs from Atkins Online—a competitor to Slim Club—outlining free diet plans. Finally, Anna notices that Atkins Online also offers a similar paid-for meal service.
5. After a week of trying to plan diets herself, Anna decides it’s too hard and that she needs a paid-for service. She Googles ‘What’s better, slim club or atkins online?’ and finds various reviews of both services.
She also finds a video created by Slim Club explaining how it compares to Atkins Online. Anna decides that Slim Club is the right option for her, entering the most aware stage.
However, Anna is also busy with other things in her life, and she forgets about choosing diets for a while.
6. Over the next couple of weeks, Anna receives some emails from Slim Club. Remember that she previously gave Slim Club her email address in exchange for the ebook.
She appreciates the helpful approach of the Slim Club and keeps reading the emails. Eventually she receives an offer of 25% off the Slim Club membership fee. This well-timed offer is perfect for Anna, and she finally makes a purchase.
This example is fairly typical of how many businesses operate online. Slim Club had the right content to help Anna keep moving through each of the stages of awareness, supporting her entire journey.
Plus, because Slim Club had a more sophisticated content strategy—with the ebook, videos, and email sequence—it ultimately beat the competition and won Anna’s business.
Is it possible to target customers who are in the unaware stage?
Sometimes, yes—providing the prospect has some awareness of a pain. In this case, you can build content or marketing campaigns that speak to the pain they’re feeling.
However, this is often quite challenging, especially because it’s difficult to target prospects who are not actively looking for answers.
Marketing to unaware customers is slightly easier today with targeted adverts on platforms like Facebook or Youtube. These digital marketing platforms let you target ads at customer demographics who might be experiencing specific problems.
For these ads to be effective, they’ll generally need to empathise with your audience and talk about the specific pain prospects are feeling. (We’ll see an example of this in a moment.)
Raising brand awareness also helps businesses pre-emptively appeal to prospects in the unaware stage. If people are familiar with a brand, they’ll be more open to it later when the problem becomes apparent.
The day you learn you’re going to become a parent, those diaper commercials you always ignored might just spring to mind!
What kinds of content marketing materials are best suited to each stage of awareness?
Here’s a quick overview—we’ll see some real life examples in the next section.
· Targeted adverts that touch on a specific pain point
· Social media posts
· Educational content that’s findable via search engines (e.g blogs and videos)
· Social media posts + infographics
· Educational blogs and videos
· ‘How to’ guides and ebooks
· Planners and checklists
· White papers and reports
· Educational email campaigns
· Podcasts + webinars
· PPC/retargeting ads
· Blogs with product guidance (‘how todo X with our product’)
· Case studies
· Comparison pages
· Pricing guides / comparisons
· Product walkthroughs
· Product demos
· PPC/retargeting ads
· Sale announcements
· Special offers + Discounts
Real examples of marketing messages tailored to the prospect’s stage of awareness
Let’s have a look at some real-world examples of marketing materials and how they help customers in different stages of awareness.
Ahrefs uses blogs to target problem-aware prospects
Blogs can cover all of the ‘stages of awareness’ journey, but they’re often designed to target problem-aware prospects.
If you’re a business owner trying to build your online presence, ranking badly in Google is a major issue. And if you search for ‘How to rank higher in Google’, this blog appears high in the listings:
Ahrefs, an SEO tool, uses this content to bring prospects into its sales funnel when they’re tackling a common SEO problem.
Notice that the blog (which has since been updated) starts by empathising with the pain the reader is feeling. It’s an effective way to capture their attention:
The article gives helpful advice while also attempting to move prospects to the solution aware stage. Because the blog demonstrates how important it is to have the right tools when doing SEO work, the reader will see tools like Ahrefs as part of the solution.
tye uses a comparison blog to attract (and convince) product-aware prospects
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a blog post designed for product-aware prospects who are trying to decide between various products.
Email data cleaning product tye uses its comparison page to help users choose between tye and two other competitors. While this page is hosted on tye’s blog, it could easily be found in Google by prospects who are searching for ‘Cloudingo vs Ringlead’.
Of course, this blog isn’t just about capturing traffic. It’s also tye’s method for positioning itself effectively against two strong competitors in a crowded marketplace.
Whole Man Academy uses pay-per-click ads to target unaware prospects
I mentioned earlier on that it’s possible to market to people in the unaware stage by a)targeting specific demographic groups and b) empathizing with problems they might be having.
This is a great example of a Facebook ad doing exactly that.
I’ve never engaged with the Whole Man Academy before. But they are no doubt using Facebook’s demographic targeting to show this ad to men in their 30s (i.e me).
The ad appeals to unaware prospects by talking about a pain—’feeling bored, unfulfilled, and like life is passing you by’—in the first sentence.
People who click through on this ad are taking to a sales page that then clarifies the problem, leading them to the problem-aware stage.
(Let’s look at that page now.)
Whole Man Academy’s sales page takes prospects through all the stages of awareness
This sales page from whole man academy starts in problem aware and moves the reader all the way to most aware before asking for the sale.
The intro starts to hint at what the problem is here:
The full ‘problem description’ comes a couple of scrolls later:
The page then takes us to ‘solution aware’ by describing how the author raised his testosterone (the solution) and began to go on adventures again.
We’re then in ‘product aware’ territory when the page introduces us to the course that’s on offer.
The page then ends by asking visitors to sign up to the course.
What’s worth noting here is that to get from product aware to most aware, you don’t have to show that you’re better than competitors.
This sales page (correctly) doesn’t mention competitors, and it doesn’t need to. The idea on a page like this is to get the prospect so excited that they move to the most aware stage without even thinking about competitors.
DigitalMarketer appeals to most aware prospects with time-sensitive email offers
This email was aimed at people who had already shown an interest in DigitalMarketer’s training but hadn’t purchased a product yet. It’s clearly intended to capture prospects who are in the most aware stage.
How do we know it’s for most aware prospects? Because it tells us nothing about the products themselves—so it’s clearly intended for people who already know and want them.
Guarantid’s home page appeals to product aware prospects
In general, website home pages cater to prospects who are in a product aware stage.
Notice that in this website, guarantid gives visitors a reason to pick their company over other guarantor providers(by implying that other providers don’t ‘have your back’):
Of course, some customers will find your company before any others. For this reason, home pages should also appeal to solution-aware prospects by giving a clear explanation of what the company does and what problems it solves.
Use the stages of awareness to refine your content and copy define
Hopefully you now understand how to determine which stage of awareness your customer is in—once you understand the concept, it’s pretty simple.
· If you're a content strategist, use the stages of awareness to determine what marketing and sales messages your prospects need at each stage of their journey. Choose content types that will let you reach your prospects (or help them find you) and keep them moving forward through the stages.
· If you’re a copywriter, figure out your prospect’s stage of awareness before you plan or write any marketing materials. Everything from your headline to your final CTA should be tailored to your prospect’s current understanding of their problem.
· If you’re a copywriter, figure out your prospect’s stage of awareness before you plan or write any marketing materials. If your message isn’t matched to their journey, you’ll end up coming across like the weird car salesman we met earlier!