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.
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.
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.
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:
- 10 Effective Ways to Get More Blog Subscribers
- Four Simple Steps to More Blog Subscribers
- How to Get 6,312 Subscribers to Your Business Blog in One Day
- The First Rule of Copyblogger
- The free Copyblogger marketing course: Internet Marketing for Smart People
5. Completely Unaware
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.
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.