If you ask someone to buy from you too soon, you could lose them forever.
Sound dramatic? It is a little—but only a little. Knowing when it’s time to transition from attracting leads and trust-building to sales is crucial, and making an offer at the wrong moment really can lose you customers.
How do you know when your customers are ready to buy? How do you move them from window-shopping to credit card dropping?
You’ve probably heard of the buying cycle (or buyer cycle or buyer’s journey or whatever the hottest new term is). Awareness, consideration, decision, etc. etc. Those stages can be useful to figure out what marketing tactics to use.
But what do you actually say?
This post covers three marketing ideas that can help you turn eyeballs into checks. You’ll learn:

  • How to “mirror” a prospect’s stage of awareness, to get them closer to the sale
  • When to say things like “leverage initiatives” and when to say “do stuff”
  • Why buyer’s journey stage isn’t enough to sell—and the crucial missing piece of information

All the while, I’ll pull in real-life examples of websites and messaging that illustrates each principle.
Let’s talk about stages of awareness, sophistication, and intent.

What are stages of awareness?

Eugene Schwartz was one of the greatest copywriters and marketers ever to live.
Responsible for high-converting headlines like “Do You Have the Courage to Earn Half a Million Dollars a Year,” and “Give Me 15 Minutes and I’ll Give You a Super-Power Memory,” Schwartz ads reportedly sold over a billion dollars of product.
One of his most important contributions to the field of marketing is his book Breakthrough Advertising, in which he describes the five stages of awareness.
Breakthrough Advertising

Source: Amazon

It’s hard to find a copy of Breakthrough Advertising for under $125, but many top copywriters consider it a necessary expense. Stages of awareness is one of the most valuable ideas to come out of the tome (which is a dense read).
Stages of awareness refer to the degree to which your prospect knows about their own pain points, general solutions, your product, and your product’s ability to solve their problem.
What’s helpful about Schwartz’s stages of awareness—and the reason it’s captured the imagination of copywriters and marketers—is that knowing your prospect’s stage of awareness gives you a framework to move people from just reading to the point of sale.
Here are the five stages of awareness.

  • Unaware: A person doesn’t know they have a problem, and it’s usually not worth marketing to them.
  • Problem Aware/Pain Aware: A person knows they have a problem, but doesn’t know there are solutions to that problem.
  • Solution Aware: A person knows there are solutions, but hasn’t chosen one and doesn’t know about your product.
  • Product Aware: A person knows about your product, but isn’t totally sure it solves their problem.
  • Most Aware: A person knows a lot about your product. They are on the cusp of buying, but need to know the specifics.

When you know your prospect’s stage of awareness, you know exactly what you need to say to them.
A pain aware prospect isn’t ready to hear about your products. They don’t even know that there are ways to solve their pain—so before you push for a sale you need to

  • Reflect their pain back at them, to show you understand them
  • Show that there are solutions to that pain
  • Introduce your product as one possible solution
  • Prove that your product is the best answer for them

This is easier to understand with a specific example, so let’s imagine two different prospects who are both trying to lose weight.

  • Mike, a 40-year old man, was in great shape back in his 20s. But since his career and family started taking up more time, he’s gained some weight. He’s ready to lose it.
  • Joe, a 40-year old man, has been overweight his whole life. When he turned 40, he decided that he wanted to lose weight once and for all.

Mike has been in shape before. He knows how to work out—or at least knows that it can be effective—so he doesn’t need as much convincing before we sell. He’s solution aware.
For Mike, we might say something like this.

“You want to lose weight, so you need an exercise program.

This program combines strength training, healthy diet, and encouragement to get you results.

You can get the program, plus one-on-one training help, for $50 per session.”

Joe is another story. Joe has never been in shape. He doesn’t know how to work out. He might feel nervous about going to the gym, or not really believe that exercise can work. Or just not understand how it works. Joe is pain aware.
For Joe, we might use something like this.

“You feel uncomfortable in your own skin. Enough is enough – you’ve decided to lose weight.

If you’re thinking about losing weight, you’re probably looking at exercise routines.

Did you know that exercise can only get you so far? Diet is actually the key to shedding pounds.

When you combine diet with a great strength training program, you train your body to burn fat for energy. It takes energy to build and maintain muscle, and that energy comes from the food you eat. So if you build more muscle and eat less food, you lose weight.

This program combines strength training, healthy diet, and encouragement to get you results.

You can get the program, plus one-on-one training help, for $50 per session.”

What are the key differences here?

  • The second message is much longer—Joe is only pain aware, so we need to do more work to get him to buy
  • Both messages start by matching the stage of awareness. “You feel uncomfortable in your own skin” and “you need an exercise program” are the things that our prospects currently believe.
  • Each message progresses from the starting stage of awareness towards most aware

When you understand stages of awareness, it gets a lot easier to organize your marketing materials. Here’s how to speak to prospects in each stage of awareness.

Unaware: Good luck

Is it impossible to sell to unaware prospects? Of course not.
But you do have your work cut out for you. If someone doesn’t realize they have a problem, how on earth are you going to be able to buy a solution?
Whenever possible, it’s preferable to work with prospects that are at least pain aware. But if you have to reach unaware people, there are two things you can try.
First, highlight a “problem” that you know everyone has.
Legendary copywriter Claude Hopkins did this when he needed to figure out how to sell…toothpaste.
In Hopkins’ time, toothpaste wasn’t as widely used, so he had a devilishly tricky challenge ahead of him. Here’s what he came up with.

"UnawareSource: Heleo

Have you ever wished for whiter teeth? Thank Hopkins.
Run your tongue over your teeth right now. The brilliance of this campaign is that everyone has a slight film on their teeth between brushes. The alarmist headline suddenly takes people from unaware to pain aware.
The other, less alarming way to talk to unaware prospects is to talk about people “like” them.
You don’t have to reach far to find ads like this. “[INSERT CATEGORY OF PEOPLE HERE] are scrambling to get their hands on the latest craze!”
When you talk about people as a group, you activate social proof. You create the internal monologue “if everyone like me is doing [THING], maybe I should worry about that too.”
And your prospect becomes pain aware.

Pain Aware: Mirror pain, push towards solutions

When your prospect is aware of their own pain, you can start pushing them towards most aware. You do this by meeting them where they are, and gradually guiding them through each stage.
Here’s an example of pain-aware messaging from a sales page by Ramit Sethi. (Because this comes from my personal swipe file, I’ve added some annotations).

Pain Aware landing pageSource: IWT

Ramit Sethi has assembled a team of outstanding copywriters, and it shows. This sales page, and his others, begin by matching exactly how the prospect feels.
When you match a prospect’s pain, you get to join their inner monologue. You can chime in on the conversation that’s already going on in their head—and once you’re working in that space, everything you have to say becomes much more persuasive.

Solution Aware: Highlight benefits that favor your product

A solution aware prospect knows that there are answers to their problems—they just don’t know about your answer to their problem.
How can you join the conversation in this person’s head? Help them make their decision.

Solution Aware contentSource: Casper

Casper Mattresses does a lot of very smart marketing, and their mattress sizing guide is no exception. Someone who is solution aware knows they want a better mattress, but they don’t necessarily know how to choose a good mattress.
So help them out. Once you have their attention, you have the opportunity to highlight features of your product that other products don’t have—when you finally do introduce your product, they’ll be primed to buy.

Product Aware: Why you’re the best

They know who you are!
Your work to this point has been successful. You’ve attracted enough attention and have high enough brand awareness that someone has heard of you. Or you’ve successfully moved a prospect from earlier stages of awareness.
Either way, you’re almost ready to sell.
At this stage, your prospect knows about your product, but they’re still comparing you against a bunch of other products. Your job now is to show some teeth—why are you the best?

Product Aware landing pageSource: Price Intelligently via Swipe File

ProfitWell drives home the benefits of their platform on this sales page. Further down the page you’ll see them lay out step-by-step processes and benefits, which keeps pushing people towards most aware.
This is the stage of awareness where most marketers already excel. It’s time to sell! It’s time to talk about benefits and features! It’s time to convince your prospect that your product is the best fit for their needs.

Most Aware: Make ‘em an offer they can’t…resist

If you’ve got most aware prospects, pat your marketing team on the back.
Most aware prospects already know what you do. They already think that you’re the best answer to their problem. All they need to do is hear your offer.

Most Aware landing pageSource: Sketch via Swipe File

Sketch’s offer here is going out to existing customers—who by definition are already most aware. They know that their customers already understand Sketch’s value, so they don’t belabor the point. Just make an offer.
The biggest mistake people make for most aware prospects is saying too much. Get out of the way! Make a great offer, include