The 5 Types of Prospects You Meet Online, and How to Sell to Each of Them

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If you’re producing content to promote your services, physical products, or digital offerings, obviously you want a return on investment for the time and effort you put in.

On the other hand, you’ve probably noticed that if you spend all your time relentlessly selling, you’ll alienate a good portion of your prospective audience.

The tricky problem for content producers 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.

And the way you approach your offer will change, depending on which stage your prospect happens to be in.

I was reminded by John Forde of Copywriter’s Roundtable that this is not a new problem.

Jack pointed out that Eugene Schwartz tackled this in Breakthrough Advertising back in 1966. Schwartz broke down prospect awareness into five distinct phases:

1. The Most Aware: Your prospect knows your product, and only needs to know “the deal.”

2. Product-Aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn’t sure it’s right for him.

3. Solution-Aware: Your prospect knows the result he wants, but not that your product provides it.

4. Problem-Aware: Your prospect senses he has a problem, but doesn’t know there’s a solution.

5. Completely Unaware: No knowledge of anything except, perhaps, his own identity or opinion.

As usual, we often find that the “new” challenges we face in marketing have already been thought through decades before by bright people like Schwartz and David Ogilvy.

That means we don’t dive into directly selling to every audience member who finds our content. Instead, we use a variety of strategies — both direct and indirect — to make a case for the offer when the time is right.

Let’s take a look at how the five stages of awareness contained in a 40-year-old book can help you craft content that works for your marketing goals.

The five stages of reader awareness

1. The Most Aware

These are long-time readers who aren’t customers yet. These are the ones you can speak most directly with, but you’ll need to make sure that those direct messages are not hurting your chances with those at different awareness levels.

Strategies: Take these readers “off road” for periodic offer specific messages delivered via another channel, such as a high quality email newsletter. You can also do occasional offer announcement posts in between regular content, or tack on a P.S. to a relevant article.

2. Product-Aware

These people are still not sure if what you offer is right for them, even though you’ve educated them about it with some creative content marketing. They don’t want to be pummeled with offer information, because they’re hung up at an earlier stage of the conversion process.

Strategies: If your content hasn’t made your case for you, you probably need to shape your content to more fully address prospect questions and objections. (Again, the email autoresponder is an excellent tool for this.) As always the key is to deliver real content with independent value that also demonstrates a benefit of your offer … with a link, of course, to a well-crafted landing page at the end.

3. Solution-Aware

This person has a need, perhaps subscribes to your blog, but doesn’t yet know you offer a solution to their problem.

This is where content marketing will shine for you. This is the perfect person to offer a white paper, free report, multi-post tutorial delivered by email, webinar, or other high-value content.

Strategies: Be sure you’re engaging this reader’s attention, normally via an opt-in email list, so you can let them know about everything you have to offer. Keep the ratio of content to offers high, to keep their interest and build rapport.

4. Problem-Aware

This person knows they have a problem … but they don’t know you. They haven’t yet been convinced to subscribe to your blog and begin a relationship with you. They might have arrived via a search engine or through a social media channel. The key point is they don’t yet know or trust you.

Strong content with independent value is critical to everyone in your audience, but it’s these people who most need to see the value up front to get on board as a subscriber.

Strategies: We’ve covered this topic quite a bit, so if you’re a new reader, check out these resources:

5. Completely Unaware

This is your typical social media news traffic, the kind that might come in from Twitter or Pinterest.

They aren’t necessarily looking for anything about you or your offer … they’re just responding to a piece of content you put out.

This is why I don’t favor link baiting with off-topic content. Sure, you get backlinks, and that’s good. But wouldn’t it be better if you got links and boosted your audience too?

Strategies: When you’re creating content that is specifically designed to attract attention and links, keep it related to your ultimate goals. Traffic just for the sake of traffic is a waste of time when you’re selling something other than ads — and the advertising game is a tough one to win online.

Value first

No matter what stage you find your prospect, the content that attracts audiences in the first place has to offer value — it’s as simple as that. Pitching relentlessly from your content platform is a business-killing error for most (if not all) of us.

Again, you’re creating content in the first place to promote your business, and there’s no reason to be shy about that fact. But if your posts don’t offer independent value (telling more than selling), you’ll lose your audience’s trust … and that means that soon, you won’t have much of an audience at all.

Editor’s Note: This is a Copyblogger Classic post, originally published in October, 2007. We’ll be republishing classic content from the archives from time to time, updated — as this post has been — to be sure the advice is as relevant as ever.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger, CEO of Copyblogger Media, and Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer. Get more from Brian on Google+.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for your insight. Indirect selling requires that you stand armed and ready to meet the individual needs of each of the five stages.

    The key is to know how to handle each stage in such a way that your web visitor feel enticed to come back for more.

  2. Great information. Until now…I never realized or understood how to break down potential clients/customers and then how to deal with each. Speaking from limited experience, I’ve only attempted to target types 1 and 2; it looks like I should think a bit further as to who I try to reach and how I attempt to reach them. Thanks for the great post.

  3. Hello Brian…

    This article is top-notch and arrived at the right time for me…

    Sincerely, you could apply this information on both on your web site and blog. Hey, you could even apply it to any type of product (free, or paid), service, and even to a free newsletter, ezine or opt-in list…

    What do you think?

    Regards,
    Codrut Turcanu.
    “Succeeding Against All Odds!”

  4. I will keep these tactics in mind now that I’m selling Blogging Fingers, they may come in useful.

  5. Great advice. I have subscribed to your blog in my Google Reader. I’m learning a lot and your copywriting tips really helps.

  6. I meant to say your copywriting tips help (not ‘helps). Please correct if you accept my comments. Thanks.

  7. I agree entirely that the kind of selling we may do on a blog should be indirect, people are not subscribing to be sold to, they want to learn something, or at least be entertained. Direct selling is a turn off to me when I go to other people’s blogs.

  8. Thanks, Brian. I was just talking to a client this morning about making sure you’re giving visitors to your blog (or site) something of value. This is great reinforcement for what I was selling earlier today!

  9. I don’t completely agree.

    At Psychotactics.com, we give away loads of information absolutely free. And yet, clients don’t always make the leap between editorial and sales. And while some people may consider website sales and blogs to be different, in essence they’re the same (just different technology).

    So yes, you can take a customer to water, but you have to let them know where to drink. Most bloggers believe otherwise. And there’s a flaw in their sales thinking. You can tell. And you can sell. In the same post. In the same email newsletter. On the same page.

  10. Yes Sean, of course. All good content of this sort will be selling as well as telling. That’s the point of the exercise.

    But as you well know, it’s about perceived value. Does the reader feel you’re selling more than telling? And are they at a stage of awareness where that’s ok?

    So, I guess I’m not clear which part you’re not agreeing with. Is it something I actually said, or just your feelings about bloggers in general? :)

  11. Matt, are you really selling Blogging Fingers, why and for how much?

    If you have any other suggestions
    or comments, let me know :)

    Cheers,
    Codrut Turcanu.
    “How To Succeed Against All Odds!” Break The Ice!

  12. This is consumer behavior at it’s best.

  13. This is an interesting post.

    I facilitated a retreat recently. And one woman told me that she found my blog first. She liked what I wrote, decided that maybe my music didn’t suck, got my music, and then eventually decided to come to a retreat. I’ve witnessed this evolution of my “customers” quite often. But I do very little to push it. I make it available – free song download, autoresponder, mailing list.

    The challenge of being the product AND the blogger is a huge one for me. And walking the line between being the creator and the salesperson is weird too! So, thanks for this.

  14. Oh, no two ways about it. Value needs to be prominent, especially if you’re going the route of education first, and then sales next. What I can’t understand however, is the fact that most bloggers are afraid to sell off their blog.

    They see a post as purely educational. And yes, there’s nothing wrong with that post being purely educational. But right under that post, there’s no harm with putting a link to resources that may be products or services.

    It’s not something you said… :)
    It’s just bloggers in general.

    When the Internet first rolled out websites, there was this quaint concept of ‘websites that didn’t sell’ too. And that’s changed so much. Now of course, we run into bloggers who won’t sell either (mostly because they’re afraid to). And that’s what I think is crazy.

  15. What I’m saying is that the sales don’t need to be indirect. They need to be direct and overt. Sitting side by side with your content. As you have done with your post, where you’ve sold the ‘membership site secrets’.

    Most bloggers don’t and won’t do that.
    And that’s just plain silly.

  16. Providing useful and thought provoking information has been my most successful marketing tactic. There’s an increasing amount of web users that don’t respond well to hard sell marketing tactics, especially on blogs.

  17. Thanks for the tips. I know banner ads just don’t cut it. My blogs get as much traffic as my affiliate sites and I haven’t yet found a way to get 10% of what I get from other sites out of them.
    This may be the way.

  18. I never really thought of like this before. This some great info I will start to implement some of this in to my business plan and I will post back to let you know how it worked out for me.

    Thanks

  19. Relentless pitching rarely works, unless your pitches and your content are so integrated that it’s impossible to be offended or annoyed. That’s a delicate art.

    I think one solution to mutliple levels of awareness is to immediately start breaking your lists up into at least smaller autoresponder lists.

  20. One of your best posts Brian.

    I keep my copy of ‘Breakthrough Advertising’ by Eugene Schwartz close at hand anytime I’m releasing a new product. The simple formula he’s laid out perfectly sets the compass on the marketing efforts.

    (Btw… I have a couple private David Ogilvy books, that I’ll be sending your way for doing the interview series with Ogilvy and I. It’s great stuff from their archives.) :)

    - Todd

  21. Thanks Brian,
    Lovely to see you dig up a bit of classic material and twist it into shape for today.

    The more I read of the discussion about selling, telling, sharing value… the more I find myself coming at all this from a different angle.

    Who do you want to work with? With whom do you want to do business? What sort of company do you want to keep?

    These sort of questions drive me. I don’t want to sell to everyone. There are only certain kind of people I’m prepared to give my service to. If the “wrong” sort of person come looking to buy my services, I steer them elsewhere.

    I use my blogs to reveal what sort of person I am. That ensures many people don’t approach me in the hope I’d work for them. I have no wish to spend lots of time putting people off directly. So I use the blogs to clarify the ground on which I stand. This puts some people off from even trying to give me business.

    It’s important not to waste other people’s time. Important not to give the impression that I’m looking for work from whoever has money to buy me.

    Perhaps I speak from a different position from most (I hope that’s true). I certainly feel I choose my clients carefully, and vet them before entering into any agreements with them.

    Use your blog to bring vital matters out into the open. Blog to explain your business practices & especially your values. Blog to share your ambitions for the kind of world you intend to live in, and leave for future generations.

    I long for the end of advertising – the death of advertising. It may never come but I’ll do my bit to help it on its way.

    My business couldn’t satisfy all the demand I could attract if I tried another way. I’d have to build an empire of associates, staff, partners – and I no longer wish to spend my time managing others. [I've had plenty of practice at supervising others - I now wish to practise the art of building reputations & imagination management.]

    To all of you I offer this thought: there is something not-quite-right about the paradigm Buy & Sell. I can’t yet quite figure out an alternative solution to the problem of replacing it with better thinking – but I’m working on it.

    Thanks.

  22. “Great article, Brian! This John Forde guy sounds like a genius!” Uh… okay… so that’s me. Call me late to the party… and yet, in a way, I was the first one to arrive (on this page, anyway)! I went searching for other copywriters’ insights on “indirect” selling and stumbled across my own. Or rather, the insights I swiped from Gene S.

    Anyway, as old as this conversation is, Sean’s note made me want to kick in. Good old Sean. I can actually see what he’s saying, that a blogger shouldn’t be afraid to sell. It’s a real problem for many, and an ironic one for those who blog about any aspect of marketing.

    That said, there’s undeniably the inverse issue, of bloggers so uninhibited about selling that they forget to do anything else. This is what I imagine Brian was reacting to.

    But if I may step sloppily into the middle of this stew, I think what Gene — and by extension, I — was saying was that of course you can sell as often as you need to. However, WHEN you sell, you need to know how ready/aware that person your writing to is to be sold.

    Say someone types “Copyblogger copywriting course” in Google. Well then, they’d better land on a blog or sales page or even order form that begins, “Double your freelance income for half price — copyblogger.com’s famous copywriting course on sale for 50% off until this coming Friday” or some such.

    Offers will be made and made fast. Anything more would waste a reader’s time.

    On the other hand, there are some that might get here by searching for “roundtables” that know nothing of Brian and the site, nothing of the course, and maybe nothing about the world of freelance copywriting. They will be a much harder sell and arguably a less likely one.

    What they won’t be, most probably, is interested in a direct out-of-the gate pitch to buy a course. Rather, you’ll need to find a way in that surprises them, so that by the time you get to the pitch you’ve crossed that gap between where they and you reside. Maybe that means opening with a story. Or a news item. So long as you get in there in some way, without letting on immediately that there’s a product you’re about to sell.

    Selling to the right awareness level is another way of saying you’re selling to the levels of trust. If trust levels are high, you can certainly sell in every post. If they’re not, then you’ve got some relationship building to do. Maybe that’s a more complete answer?

  23. You want to create content that appeals to all types of potential customers. Since each person has different needs, they need different information. You’ll be able to walk them through the process no matter where they are.

  24. It’s important to know which demographic you are targeting……think I’ll avoid #5!

    • You can always choose who you’re going to talk to, but obviously we don’t choose who shows up. :) You’re right that you don’t want to spend lots of time creating messages for #5, since they’ll tend to come and go and only a few will start to progress up that ladder.

  25. Brian,

    Thank again for a great article. I’m about half way through your Smart People course, and you and Sonia have done a top-notch job. As a budding service provider, I’m adopting your content marketing strategies and have been having some success (it’s still early). But the different types of buyers have been bugging me for a while…your post here really helps clarify things.

    Keep up the great work!

  26. Brian

    My ideal client is a variation of Solution Aware. They need my service yet dont have the time to read any of my content at all.

    The way I work around this is making sure that when I talk to them online my content is top notch and related to their specific needs.

    Ainslie

  27. Nicely placed and informative post. Knowing about different types of prospects will definitely help a marketer streamline his promotional efforts. As we cannot decide the people who will buy from us, it will be really profitable to know different types of potential customer. It will help in offering just what they need. This will maximize the return on investment. The post is something really unique. Thanks a lot Brian for sharing this unique and informative post..