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Stages of Customer Awareness: Strategies to Guide Customers 

Have you ever wondered why some customers discover and research your business long before ever making a purchase, while others seem to show up and buy out of the blue? Eugene Schwartz sought to explain this customer journey towards purchase with his awareness stages model in his book “Breakthrough Advertising”. 

According to Schwartz, customers progress through 5 defined stages on their road to buying a product: 

  1. Unaware 
  1. Problem Aware 
  1. Solution Aware 
  1. Product Aware 
  1. Most Aware 

In the first stages, customers are oblivious to their need or the solutions available. As they progress, they recognize issues they face, research options, and evaluate offerings. In the final phase, they become loyal brand advocates. 

Understanding where customers fall in these stages is crucial for businesses seeking to guide them on their journey. With insight into audience awareness, you can tailor content and campaigns to move high-potential customers toward a purchase. Get messaging wrong or fail to address critical concerns at any stage and you risk prospects never reaching the final phase. 

In this post, we’ll explore Schwartz’s 5 stages of awareness in depth.  

We’ll look at customer mindsets and behaviors at each phase along with marketing strategies and examples tailored to each stage. With the frameworks and examples provided here, you can assess your customers’ current awareness and nudge them positively toward doing business with your company. 

Unaware Stage 

In the first stage of Schwartz’s model, potential prospects are completely oblivious to the problem or need that your product or service can address. 

For example, small business owners may be completely focused on day-to-day activities without realizing how much time and revenue they are losing from inefficient customer relationship management (CRM).  

At this point, they are happily maintaining spreadsheet customer records or manual filing systems without recognizing the impending chaos. They are blissfully unaware of the underlying issue. 

For businesses, individuals in the pre-contemplation phase pose significant challenges: 

Difficult to identify and target: They do not recognize they have a problem, so you cannot rely on purchase intent signals. 

Resistant to traditional advertising: Without knowing they have a problem, they will ignore most ads for solutions. 

Need non-traditional education: Rather than focusing on your product, unaware customers require content, stories, and resources educating them on the problem itself. 

Marketing Strategies: 

  • Educational blog content and videos orienting customers to common problems 
  • Retargeting and content campaigns focused on problems without pitching solutions 
  • Surveys and data highlighting difficulties customers may be facing 

The objective with unaware customers is not to sell to them instantly but to gently guide them towards acknowledging they have an underlying issue to resolve. Once the problem comes to mind, they will transition to the Problem Aware stage where they open up to your solutions. 

Problem Aware Stage 

Once customers recognize they have a problem, even if they aren’t yet committed to solving it, they enter the Problem Aware stage. For example, the small business owner may gripe about customer spreadsheet difficulties to peers or worry about details falling through the cracks. 

In this stage, the individual realizes there are pitfalls in their current approach that will eventually require attention.  

Common mindsets include: 

  • Accepting there is an issue but doubting its severity 
  • Admitting it’s a nagging problem but lacking motivation to prioritize it 
  • Identifying there is a problem but feeling overwhelmed at the thought of addressing it 

For businesses with solutions, problem aware customers provide huge potential. 

Your content should resonate with their current mindset, empathizing with their doubts while illustrating the importance of tackling the problem systematically.  

Useful marketing tactics include: 

  • Blog posts and guides extensively covering the problem space 
  • Paid search ads focused on high-intent keywords around the identified issue 
  • Retargeting ads reinforcing the problem’s consequences 

Curiosity and desire for change are becoming top of mind. Lessening friction to trial while demonstrating seriousness is key to nurturing customers forward through emotional readiness for real solutions evaluation. 

Solution Aware Stage 

When customers reach the solution aware phase, they have both identified their problem and committed to addressing it – now they need help picking the right solution. For example, a small business owner admits their makeshift CRM is costing sales and time. They begin googling or asking peers about proven systems. 

In this evaluation stage, potential prospects feel motivated yet slightly overwhelmed by options. They wonder: 

  • What types of solutions should I consider first? 
  • What features matter and which are secondary? 
  • How do I shortlist tools to evaluate further? 

With focused solution research underway, businesses should provide content demonstrating deep category and product understanding.  

Useful tactics include: 

  • Comparison blog posts covering different classes of solutions 
  • Tools helping customers build shortlists and issue RFPs 
  • Free trials, demos and ROI calculators conveying the value of your offering 
  • Evidence like case studies and expert reviews reinforcing product excellence 

While education remains important, businesses must also ease friction to trial and sale at this key point. Customer discovery calls, responsive sales teams, and pricing/package flexibility enable customers to visualize adopting your solution. 

With substantial evaluation advisor roles and friction reduction, you can nurture informed, high-intent leads toward the final stage of firming product interest and purchase rationale. 

Product Aware Stage 

By the time customers reach the product aware phase, they likely have narrowed down to a few potential solutions under consideration. However, they remain unconvinced about which option best fits their needs and budget. 

For example, the small business owner feels oriented to mid-market CRM systems like Salesforce or HubSpot but finds both have pros and cons.  

With substantial research done, they will have questions: 

  • Is this product really the best for my specific use case? 
  • How does my shortlist really compare on key criteria? 
  • What happens if I choose another tool and regret it? 

Now with brands clearly on their radar, businesses must eliminate lingering doubts.  

Useful tactics include: 

  • Content covering product strengths for the customer’s main objectives 
  • Tools allowing comparison across top product criteria 
  • Reassuring, risk-reversal focused offers like free data migration or generous return policies 

While they are unlikely to return to square one, failure to provide confidence could result in choice paralysis or renewed solution search. Positioning your unique strengths while mitigating perceived weaknesses can solidify brand affinity at this pivotal stage. 

Thorough evaluation coupled with risk reduction clears their final hurdles towards becoming a customer. They now turn to rationalizing their selection through purchase terms and incentives. 

The Most Aware Stage 

The final stage of awareness includes current customers who actively engage with your business by renewing, upgrading, referring others, or providing feedback.  

For example, the small business owner has implemented HubSpot CRM and now evangelizes it among peers while expanding features used. 

With successful onboarding and adoption, business efforts now focus on: 

  • Upselling and cross-selling additional products 
  • Providing expansion resources and training 
  • Building loyalty programs and communities 

Top-of-mind brand affinity drives word-of-mouth and improved retention. Rather than more educational or promotional content, customers want guidance on fully utilizing solutions and interacting with other users. 

Useful initiatives at this phase include: 

  • Webinars or help content on advanced feature configuration 
  • Referral and affiliate promotions incentivizing sharing 
  • Loyalty rewards reinforcing retention 
  • User groups facilitating peer learning 

By nurturing established customers upwards and outwards, their tenure, spend and advocacy generates substantial lifetime value. Renewal, expansion and referral revenue streams make this group a primary engine of predictable growth.

Wrapping Up 

Following customers on their journey – from not knowing they have a problem to becoming fans of your brand – is key for businesses.  

Schwartz’s 5 stages of awareness give a model for moving audiences through this progress. By matching content to what customers need at each stage, businesses can guide them along.  

Educational resources make way for comparison tools, trials and incentives as buyers climb each rung of commitment. Successfully transitioning customers along these steps leads to purchases and lasting brand affinity.  

Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, customizing messages and removing friction is key. With this roadmap of awareness in mind, marketers can plan initiatives leading prospects from unaware to loyal customers. 

Need Help with Your Strategy? 

Does mapping marketing to customer awareness levels resonate but feel overwhelming? Our digital marketing agency can help! Contact us today to get started.