Content Marketing

The 5 Stages of Customer Awareness and How to Create Content For Each

Dean Mackenzie
Dean Mackenzie

When it comes to marketing, the number five seems to pop up a lot.

For example, you’ve got the 5 Ps of Marketing, otherwise known as the Marketing Mix.

According to Harvard Business Review, there are 5 marketing “superpowers”.

Want to know the secret to better marketing? It just so happens there are 5 Ts that give you  consumer-centric insights.

And of course, you’ve got 5 stages of customer awareness, as outlined by Eugene Schwartz in his copywriting classic “Breakthrough Advertising”.

  1. Unaware
  2. Problem Aware
  3. Solution Aware
  4. Product Aware
  5. Most Aware

But what does this have to do with content marketing?

Buying — beyond simple transactions or impulse buys — don’t typically happen in a binary, off/on kind of way.

More often than not, customers follow a “journey” of awareness, from a point where they haven’t even acknowledged they have a problem or need, to deciding whether your product is right for them. So, for each stage of that awareness journey, your content’s goal is to move your prospect further along that journey.

When your content does this, you’re not just nudging them closer to a buying decision. You’re also…

●      Building a relationship with your audience long before they become customers

●      Positioning yourself as a trustworthy source of assistance and authority

●      Pre-positioning your product as the logical solution to that person’s problem

Gartner’s eBook for C-level executives positions the company as “go-to” business experts

A “Hedgy” Look At The Awareness Journey

Take this scenario: you’ve just moved into a house with a front-yard hedge that wouldn’t look out of place on “Love Your Garden”. Every morning, you emerge from the house and pause for a moment to admire your hedge before heading off to work.

At first, you’re blissfully ignorant that the hedge is growing untidier every day. But after a month, you notice straggly twigs that mar the hedge’s once-symmetrical shape. And for a house-proud person like you, this is unacceptable.

The next day, you jump online to find out the best ways to look after your shrubbish pride and joy…

…and uncover a plethora of options, from five different types of pruning shears to electric hedge trimmers

But which one’s the best for you?

After shelving the problem for a week, you resume your hunt, stumbling across an in-depth blog post that reviews the major tools against different hedge conditions.

r your hedge, it seems the Shape-Sculptor 5000 is the obvious choice. A visit to the Shape-Sculptor website, where you watch a couple of videos, confirms this.

The trouble is, it’s expensive. You sign up for their email list in case they have promotions.

Three weeks later, having read emails that explore “5 tips to have your hedge in tip-top shape” and “Shape-Sculptor 5000 vs Power-Hedge 3.0: Ultimate Trimmer Showdown”, a 30% off email lands in your inbox.


* * *

That’s one brief example of how people move naturally through the awareness spectrum.

The question remains: how do you help potential customers pass through each stage? What kind of content moves them not just towards the next level of awareness, but a decision in your favor?

Let’s go through each awareness and how to target your customers-to-be with stage-specific content.


“Unaware” folk are just that: not aware they even have a problem, let alone knowing anything about potential solutions. By sheer volume, they’re the largest segment of the awareness spectrum, but they’re also the most challenging to market to.

How do you market to someone who doesn’t realize they have a problem or need?

The first time they bump into your content provides an opportunity to shift them out of their “unawareness”. This first contact might be them finding you on social media, seeing one of your ads or even stumbling across one of your pages through search results.

(Tip: make the effort to pinpoint how people first find you, as you can focus unaware-based content through these channels.)

Whichever they come across you, show them they have a problem. Not in a manufactured or false sense, but a way that educates and enlightens them.

This might be highlighting something like how the first pangs of a sore back come from slumped posture while sitting at a desk, or how a poor night’s sleep can cause weight gain and other health problems.

Unaware-Centric Content

Educate prospects on the problem they have yet to acknowledge or accept. The format is less important — though where possible, discover your audience’s preferences and cater to it — than theme and direction.

Short videos and other “snackable content” that walk through a problem are ideal, as your audience isn’t yet at the point where they’re ready to dive in to discover more.

Which Format Works Best?There is a panoply of formats you can use to create content, no matter what stage your prospect is at. If you’re not sure what works best, experiment. However, you should carefully watch to learn which formats most grab your audience’s attention.Do they pounce on videos? Ponder your blog posts? Share your tweets?When you have an idea of what resonates with readers, you can then tailor your content production to suit them. If you need some inspiration, check out these ideas from our content’s a short list that just scratches the surface when it comes to content formats… ●      Blog Posts●      Videos●      Social Media●      Long-form content (reports, whitepapers, guides, eBooks)●      Infographics●      Podcasts●      Newsletters●      Webinars●      Presentations●      Emails[DM1] 

Problem Aware

Your prospect has woken up to the fact they’ve got a problem. But this is only the beginning of their journey.

They’ve got questions. A lot of questions.

The obvious thing to do is explore their problem, asking things like…

●      What is it exactly?

●      Where did it come from?

●      Are there effects I’m not aware of?

●      Do others have the same problem?

●      What can I do to fix it?

Like 99% of us, your prospect’s likely to start with Google or other broad search avenues, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop there.

Social media is an obvious destination for problem-oriented research, with Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, and Quora potential treasure troves of information. Niche forums about their subject are another common searching ground.

Problem-Centric Content

Research around the web, jump on forums and find out what people with the problem you solve are talking about.

Answer the Public is a great site to check out which questions people are asking.

Then, create content that does two things…

  1. Identify their problem: they want to know more about the problem, and if your content doesn’t have them nodding, they’ll just move on
  2. Start to give answers to the problem. It’s not the time to go into “Product X is the answer”, but instead, write helpful answers that address their initial questions.

Prospects aren’t dummies. If they find valuable content that’s shedding light on their problem, they’ll be happy to learn more from the same source.

Solution Aware

The good news is your prospect now knows they have a problem or need, and they’re starting to get answers… including how to fix it.

The bad news is that they still know practically nothing about you or what you offer.

Here’s the silver lining: at this stage, they’re looking for ways to sort things out. In other words, they’re becoming solution aware, exploring potential fixes for their problem or desire.

This is when your prospect starts to get “warmer”. They may not be at the point of pulling out their wallets, but they’re edging closer.

And it’s at this stage that you can subtly slide your product or service under their noses.

Solution-Centric Content

Proof that your offering can solve their problem is paramount, because that’s what they want right now: a solution that works. Case studies and success stories are ideal vehicles for showing your reader just how well your solution does that.

App Annie uses both text and video to create a short but compelling case study for readers.

Product Aware

Your prospect’s now looking at all the options, yours amongst them.

Now’s the time to show them why yours is the one to pay attention to. And it’s where your lead-up work, taking them from Unaware to Problem Aware to Solution Aware pays off.

If they’ve come along the journey with you, you’re someone they can trust. Now that you’ve got their ear, you want to do two things:

  1. Show your prospect how their problem is solved with your product
  2. Make your product shine when it comes to the competition

At this point, you’re showcasing your product and giving them reasons to choose yours, first and foremost.

However, this isn’t a reason to go into “pitch mode”. Just as you’ve been doing with your content in earlier stages of awareness, make your content valuable and engaging.

You can also introduce future pacing into the mix by showing them how to use your solution (and how easy, effective, and complete it would be).

Product-Centric Content

To satisfy those twin goals for Product Aware prospects, you can deploy an array of different content. Product comparisons and reviews give readers an in-depth look at how your product stacks up against the rest. How-to guides, demos and product walkthroughs can show your reader exactly what your product will do for them.

SmartSheet, an online work platform, compares its spreadsheet function against a host of competitors.

Most Aware

Congratulations! You’ve taken your prospect from not even knowing they had a problem to the brink of becoming a customer.

They know who you are, they know your product is perfect for them… but they just need a final nudge to pull out the credit card.

In that sense, they don’t need the same content as people in previous phases. In fact, you may not use content at all. Incentives that encourage them to buy, like free shipping or bonuses, can give your prospects that last reason to choose your offering.

Most Aware-Centric Content

It’s time to give your prospect a little push over the fence. Use things like free shipping, bonuses, bundled offers or discounts (such as BOGO) to get them over the line.

If you do want content for this crowd, discover objections that might have buyers hesitating, then write articles, create videos or post FAQs that address those last-minute heebie jeebies.

Sometimes, giving your audience a direct incentive to buy can be the best “content”, as AWAI demonstrates.

BONUS! Repeat Customers

After doing the hard work, you want your Most Aware customers to become repeat buyers, fans and advocates.

There’s a good reason for that. Adobe’s report on existing online customers showed that 40% of revenue came from repeat buyers, even though they made up only 8% of the visitor total.

The incentives used for Most Aware prospects still work at this stage, but you also want to keep engaging them too. That’s where content comes back into the picture. Show them how to get the most from your products, or offer exclusive deals or content for being a loyal shopper.

“Keep Them Coming Back” Content

When creating content to have customers boomeranging back to you, you’ve got more than a few options:

  • In-depth how-tos or advanced guides are a great way to educate your customer so they stick with you
  • Loyalty or reward programs that offer exclusive content (along with other advantages, such as discounts)
  • Email marketing, segmented for different customers, is the perfect vehicle to deliver your content (and also works well in earlier phases, like Product and Most Aware)

Where Does Your Content Fit?

Anyone can write a blog post or create a video that vaguely talks about what their prospects want. With a little research, you can hit “pain points”, wax lyrical about benefits or throw a BOGO offer out to your email list.

It’s another thing to create content that matches where your audience is in their awareness journey, then actively move them along that journey and towards a decision in your favor.

Most importantly, awareness-based content isn’t about “salesy” selling or gimmicky techniques. It’s about:

  1. Connecting with your audience at the right stage
  2. Helping them understand what they need to know right there and then
  3. Showing how your product solves their problem once they’re at that point

Is your content doing that?

Dean Mackenzie

Dean Mackenzie

Dean Mackenzie is a freelance conversion copywriter — in other words, he writes copy designed to sell. He tends to work on landing pages, emails, sales pages, and lead magnets. He's fond of talking about himself in the third person, a good cup of tea, and cheering "jolly good show" while watching his football team.