The 5 Stages of Buyer Awareness [+ Infographic]
Before you write a single word of sales copy, you need to figure out two things: Who your reader is, and what your reader needs. If you don’t know who you’re talking to or how you can help them, then you’re just putting words out there and hoping for the best. That’s not much of a plan.
Understanding who your buyers are and what they need will tell you what their pain or problem is, how it affects them, where they are in the buying process, what type of promotion to present, and how most appropriately to speak to them.
In 1966 master copywriter Eugene Schwartz penned Breakthrough Advertising, a book that’s since become a cult favorite of writers everywhere. In it, Schwartz broke down buyer awareness into five distinct phases. Think of these stages as you would a sales funnel. Each phase is separated by the next psychological wall. As a copywriter, marketer, and seller it’s your job to bridge the gap.
Here’s what they are and how it’s done.
1. Completely Unaware
Schwartz says: “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 verbalized.” [pg. 23]
This stage represents the outer edge of the buyer awareness spectrum. Your visitor may have arrived on your page from a piece of content you put out, from a referral link, or perhaps they landed there completely by accident. In a retail shop, this is the equivalent of someone strolling along the street and sliding into your shop based on something that sparked their attention from the window.
Someone in the completely unaware phase has not yet experienced or recognized a problem, need, or issue exists. Or, if they have noticed a pain or an issue it didn’t concern them enough to seek a solution. Because the pain is not a compelling factor in their lives, it is safe to assume they would not see you (or anyone else) as a solution to this seemingly irrelevant pain of theirs. They may not even know there’s a better way to do what they’ve always been doing.
This particular pool of prospective buyers might be a great fit for your offerings eventually, but right now, they’re not in buying mindset. These are the coldest of prospects. They don’t know who you are, what you sell, or even that they have a problem that needs solving. And so, in order to even consider selling to them, you’ll have to move them through all of the stages of awareness. And, while not impossible, it’s a time-consuming and often tedious undertaking.
You would gather this level of prospective customers by casting a very wide net. For example, you might be trying to drive as much traffic as possible to your website in hopes of capturing potential leads, you can try to put out a cryptic Facebook ad that speaks to the widest potential audience you can serve in hopes of sifting your ideal customers out once they land on your page.
How to move them to the next stage:
So many of the landing pages or ads you arrive on will begin by headlining the name of the product and/or its price, regardless of the stage of awareness you arrive at. This couldn’t be more wrong. Selling to the reader too quickly feels off-putting and does not showcase your empathy or understanding of the reader or their pain. It comes off feeling like you’re just looking for a sale. At this early phase, you are still cultivating trust, so it’s best to start simply and slowly.
Right now, your reader is still not familiar with the name of your solution and maybe not even aware of your brand yet. As such, it’s best to eliminate using the name of your product or service in these early stages of the funnel. And because the cost doesn’t mean anything to someone who is unaware of your product and doesn’t yet know whether they even need or want it, it’s best not to mention price quite yet.
This is the time and place to talk TO your reader ABOUT your reader. Address your market directly. Nurture them through this top-of-the-funnel phase with some artful explanations and brilliant storytelling designed to capture their attention and pique their interest.
Schwartz says: “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.” [pg.21]
This phase is also known as ‘pain-aware’. In other words, the buyer knows or senses they have a problem, even if they’re not quite sure of how to pinpoint or articulate exactly what that problem is yet. They’re not quite in the solution-seeking mindset yet.
How to move them to the next stage:
Here, the reader knows they want to alleviate or eliminate their pain, but is unfamiliar with your particular solution. The best plan of attack in this phase is to lead with their want, goal, or need and work your solution into the copy conversation as you go along. Continue to reflect on their painpoint as you highlight the value you provide.
Schwartz says: “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.” [pg. 19]
These buyers know what their problem is and are aware that there are solutions available to them to solve it, but aren’t quite sure what they are yet. They need solution guidance. As a seller, this is a good place to be.
Chances are they may not have heard of you or your brand or offerings yet. In this stage, they know the result they think they want but aren’t yet aware that you or your product can provide it for them.
How to move them to the next stage:
Your job here is to find a way to be the ideal segue between their pain and your solution. How can you position yourself as the segue between where they are now and where they hope to be?
Schwartz says: “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.” [pg.16]
In the Product Aware stage, the buyer is aware of your solution but isn’t yet sure if it’s right for them. They may also be familiar with your competitors’ offerings, but they haven’t yet made the leap to purchase anything from anyone yet. This is most often because they’re just not sure which solution is best for them. They need the solution explained or demonstrated for them so they understand how it works. Great copy can and should bridge this gap.
How to move them to the next stage:
When your reader knows your product, you should lead with your product, not their problem or their pain. You can pepper in assurances like social proof and testimonials here, along with your brand promise. This is an opportune time to share any buying incentives you’ve got. You can also utilize scarcity if it applies. Find a way to position your solution as the answer they’ve been looking for.
5. Most Aware
Schwartz says: “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.” [pg.16]
In general, these are those who are already familiar with you and what you offer. They might even be existing customers, be a subscriber to your newsletter, follow you on social media, and attend any events you put on.
Buyers in this phase are already familiar with and enthusiastic about your offerings. They know what you sell, they understand how it works, and they’re pretty sure it’s for them. Now they just need to know how to get their hands on it.
Here, it’s all about facilitating. Your reader is most aware and ideally, they’re coming to you with high purchase intent. Right now you should do whatever you can to make it as easy as possible for them to commit and make a purchase. Give them a buy button and instructions on how to pay. The less clicks, the better.
Prospects at different awareness levels have different needs and desires. In general, the less aware a prospect is the more information and education they need before you can start selling to them. Start selling too quickly, and you’ll lose them.
Thus, customer awareness level is a handy device for determining what type of promotion will work best for different segments of your target audience. All you have to do is determine which awareness levels your audience falls into.
How To Determine Customer Awareness Level
It’s easiest to determine their awareness level if you know what brought them to you. For example, if your buyer arrives on an ad you placed on Facebook promoting your solution, then it’s safe to assume they are solution aware or pretty close to it. If your ad teased their problem and did not mention a solution, it’s likely they are problem aware. But sometimes you don’t have this information, so you’ll have to start by asking more questions.
Ask questions about:
- How well known is your brand?
- How is your brand perceived in the marketplace? What’s your reputation?
- What are you known for? Is this in the wheelhouse of what they may expect from you?
- What are the chances this buyer has heard of your brand or your solutions?
- How did they get there? (Did they arrive via an ad, a referral, a Google search, or maybe even by accident?)
- What is their problem?
- Do they even know they have a problem yet? (This is a big one. If they don’t know they have a problem they’re less likely to be on a mission to solve it.)
- How commonplace is their issue?
- How much does this issue affect them?
- How important is it to them to solve?
- What other options are available to them?
- How well-known are the competition’s solutions?
- What is the sense of urgency surrounding solving it?
- How well-known is it?
- How does it help?
- Why is it the best option?
- How does it defeat competitor solutions?
- How will their lives be better after having bought it?
Digging deeper will help fortify your understanding of your prospects’ overall awareness level. When you figure out what the buyers already know about your solution, you’ll be better able to figure out where they are in the buying process, and how to best address and solve their issues.
Questions or thoughts on the Stages Of Awareness? Drop them in the comments.
I’m a Brand Therapist® providing psychology-based branding, copywriting, and consulting to individuals and micro-businesses in the creative arena. My signature services will help you discover and articulate your most authentic self so you can tell better stories, make meaningful connections, and do more profound work.