The 5 stages of awareness | Atomic Automation
5 stages of content awareness.

The 5 stages of awareness

Shane Herring
Shane Herring

Automation Wrangler at Atomic Automation


What happens when a prospect doesn’t want to buy your product or service right away?

You’ve crafted your nurture emails and web copy to educate them about your business. You’ve told them all about the products or services you offer. You’ve written about how you can solve their problem. You’ve made sure they know how it can help them. But they’re just not ready to buy.

How do you continue to earn the right to stay in front of them, without coming off as salesy, spammy, or continually sending them the message about how your product can help them?

They already know!!!

The problem is that many businesses only have one message.

The tricky problem for content marketers is that various readers are at different awareness levels, depending on how long they’ve been reading and how much exposure you’ve provided to your offer.

The problem with having only one message

You need to consider that your leads and prospects are at different places in their buyer’s journey. You need to help them on that journey by crafting different messages to match the stage they’re at. Using your sales funnel is the perfect place to start.

Start by grouping them based on what stage they’re at. For example, how much they know about you, your company, and your offerings. What problem are they having and how does your product or service help them solve that problem.

If you’re not thinking about what stage of awareness your customers are in, your marketing is likely getting ignored because you’re talking to everyone the same way.

When you don’t craft the right message to the right person at the right time, you could end up treating prospects who know you as if they are beginners. This tells them you don’t care enough to address their needs. You could also, at the same time, be sending a message that is going over their heads to people who don’t really know you. Think offering a solution to a problem they don’t even realise they have.

If you don’t understand what stage of awareness your audience is at, your marketing is likely getting ignored because you’re talking to everyone the same way. But if you understand this concept and get it right, you’ll always know what to say to your prospect, at any stage, at any time.

The man behind these stages of awareness

OK, this isn’t my concept. The concept of the 5 stages of awareness was first introduced in a book called, “Breakthrough Advertising” written in 1966 by Eugene Schwartz. I don’t have a copy, but I have read articles that talk about his concepts.

He wrote the book long before digital marketing existed. It was an era of radio, television, and print advertising. Once you really understand his ideas, you will see that they can be applied just as effectively today in a variety of modern marketing channels.

Schwartz established five stages of awareness for leads and prospects:

  • Completely Unaware
  • Problem-Aware
  • Solution-Aware
  • Product Aware
  • Most Aware

The 5 stages explained

In this article, I’ll talk about each of the 5 stages of awareness and how it relates to the customer journey. I’ll also give examples of how you can tailor your marketing message to someone who is at that stage.

Using this approach, you will be able to give the right message, to the right person at the right time.

Completely Unaware

About this group

“The most difficult. The prospect is either not aware of his desire or his need- or he won’t honestly admit it to himself without being led into it by your ad- or the need is so general and amorphous that it resists being summed up in a single headline – or it’s a secret that can’t be verbalised.”

~ Eugene Schwartz

This group are at the outer edges of your marketing universe. It’s not impossible to market to them, but it is time-consuming and often not an exciting group to try to market to. This is because they don’t even realise that they have a problem and/or they are in denial.

They’re not searching because they don’t know they have a problem. It’s this group that you target your Facebook ads by using their demographic information and how they describe themselves. For example, if you offer services to small business, you would target people who identify themselves as business owners. Because they’re not searching, it’s a waste of time trying Google ads. Google ads only show up in search results.

Generally, it’s not worth the time or effort to market to this group. You may disagree because it’s such a large group. Remember, they don’t think they have a problem so the amount of work it takes to lead them through admitting they have a problem, identifying what it is, educating them about your services, and choosing you as the solution, is often not worth it.

The marketing goal

Because the audience isn’t aware that they have a problem, the goal of your marketing is to convince them they have a problem and educate them why it needs to be fixed. There’s not much point in trying to sell to them. How can you sell them a solution when they don’t even know they have a problem?

Best content types

  • Short, entertaining articles
  • Social media
  • Infographics

Problem Aware

About this group

“The prospect has not a desire, but a need. He recognizes the need immediately. But he doesn’t yet realize the connection between the fulfillment of that need and your product.”

~ Eugene Schwartz

They suspect or know they have a problem, but they don’t know that there is a solution.

Because they don’t know that there is a solution, they don’t know about you. It’s here that your goal is to start showing up on search results. It’s also here you need to focus your copy on acknowledging that the problem exists. You content needs to be crafted to show that you understand their problem, educate them as to why they need to fix it and how they can start solving their problem. Preferably with your solution.

The marketing goal

You need to show genuine empathy. Your audience needs to understand that you understand their pain. Do this by describing their problem, help them understand the problem, and show them why it needs to be solved.

Now is not the time to be talking about your product or service.

Your message is usually longer and more in-depth at this stage because you’re helping your audience identify and understand their problem. Then, point them in the direction of your solution.

Best content types

  • It’s here that you start creating content that follows best practice SEO strategies
  • Create copy that is highly relevant, shows them that solutions exist, and tells them the next step that they should take
  • Email marketing to build the relationship
  • Video content

Solution Aware

About this group

“The prospect either knows or recognizes immediately, that he wants what the product does; but he doesn’t yet know that there is a product -your product- that will do it for him.”

~ Eugene Schwartz

This group knows the solution they need. They just don’t know you can give it to them.

They may never have heard of your solution specifically, but they’re pretty sure there’s a solution out there. These people are in the research stage, so this is your chance to educate and indoctrinate them. It’s NOT a time for a hard sell.

The marketing goal

It’s here you need to be talking to them directly. You need to get into their head and showing that you understand how they feel. Help them make the decision that you can solve their problem.

You need to be telling the stories that, when they read them, they’re saying to themselves “They’re talking about me!”.

Best Content Types

  • Blog posts, content marketing, videos
  • Answer their biggest questions
  • Educational and how-to content
  • Lead magnets
  • Email sequences
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews and guest posts

Product Aware

About this group

“Here, your prospect isn’t completely aware of all your product does, or he isn’t convinced of how well it does it or hasn’t yet been told how much better it does it now.”

~ Eugene Schwartz

This group knows that you sell the solution to their problem. They’re just not sure your solution is the right one for them. It’s here they’re comparing your solution with the solution offered by others. They’re comparing benefits, testimonials, and reviews.

They’re trying to figure out the best option for their situation.

The marketing goal

You need to show they can trust you. Prove that you can do what you say you can do. That means using every possible way to show what it’s like using your product or service. How to articles, YouTube videos, case studies.

Here it’s time to do some risk reversal. Offer money back guarantees, free or low cost trials, free consultations. Offer them something that helps reduce the risk for them. Remember to make it relatively low cost to you but high perceived value.

Best content types

  • Case studies
  • Process docs showing your approach
  • Product or service demos
  • Product tutorials
  • Product reviews
  • Brand videos, documentaries
  • Testimonials
  • Strategy session
  • Podcasts

Most Aware

About this group

“The customer knows of your product -knows what it does- knows he wants it. At this point, he hasn’t just gotten around to buying it yet.”

~ Eugene Schwartz

This group know who you are, what you sell, and that it solves a problem they have.

They’re just looking for an excuse to buy from you and you need to give that to them.

These people fall into one of two groups: those who have never purchased but are about to (prospects) and those who have purchased before (clients/customers) and you want to sell them something else.

They are some of your biggest fans who are most influenced by you. They open your emails, read your posts and are the first to check out any new products you have to offer.

What you need to do is keep them up-to-date on new products and services, so they’ll pull the trigger.

Your marketing goal

You need to give them an offer they can’t refuse. Something that encourages them to take action. What do you want them to do? It could be make a purchase, schedule a call, or something else that converts to a purchase.

You need to make it as easy as possible for them to buy.

Best content types

  • Direct or customer emails
  • Discounts or deals to encourage them to buy
  • Product & price sheets
  • Test offers or other ways to work with you
  • Upsells
  • Time-sensitive offers

Value first

Regardless of the stage your prospects are at, your content must offer value above everything else. That’s it.

Have you ever gone to a car yard? We all dread it because we know that we’ll encounter the hard sell. But that is changing. Slowly. Relentlessly asking for the sale is a tactic that rarely works or if it does, it’s not a sustainable strategy.

Don’t get me wrong. You should be creating content that promotes your business.

But if your posts don’t offer independent value (telling more than selling), you’ll lose your audience’s trust and continuing to do that means that will lose your audience.

Putting it All Together

Now that you see how each stage works, let’s put it all together. I’ll use my business as an example.

Here is a simple example of the 5 stages in action.

For people who are unaware they have a problem, make them aware. Setup Facebook or LinkedIn ads that target business owners. “Did you know that a poorly designed and implemented website is hurting your business?” Now explain why.

Now that they are pain aware, you need to send them to a landing page on your website. It’s here you give them the tools they can use themselves. “Here are the guidelines you need to give your web designer.” “Make sure your website is working effectively with these 5 tips.” “Sign up for our newsletter and get website tips and advice.”

When they are Solution Aware, offer them resources they can use to check if their website is working a peak performance. Now show them that you have those solutions “We are web designers who will check your site for these common mistakes. We also build web sites. We make sure you have a web presence you can be confident works for your business!”

Now they know about the products or services that can solve their pain. Show them specifics. Get them to your product page. They are now searching for the type of solution that you offer. They’ll be comparing your business with others. You need to make a strong case for why they should choose you. Create an offer that reduces their risk. “Complimentary check of your website.” Don’t get too technical here. They’re looking for someone to buy from. They don’t need to know the details of each and every one of the 25 checks you do on a website.

People who are ready to buy will end up on your pricing page. It’s here you really do need to have a call to action. “Ready to start getting your website looking its best? Schedule your consultation today.”

Adjust the channels you use for your marketing. Not everyone wants to use Facebook, or email. Some want to talk to a real person before making a final decision. Use the marketing channels that suite your needs. The messaging is the same, your channels need be the ones where your potential clients are.

The 5 stages of content awareness with examples.

Now all this is a lot of work, but it forces you to understand your prospects. It does pay off. Because you understand where your prospects are in their journey, you can deliver the right message.

Now think about how your business will look to a prospect compared to a competitor who isn’t doing this.

Wrap up

You have work to do. Start by looking at your existing content, blog posts, emails etc, and list which of the 5 stages of awareness it maps to. Doing this will help you identify gaps in your marketing and the stages that need content.

You will have gaps. Some stages will have more content than others. This is normal as we tend to create content around stages where good at.

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