One problem in copywriting (or any kind of communications, for that matter) that I often see is the fact that the audience is not targeted for the message, or the message doesn't march the intended audience.
When it comes to copy, for example, an untargeted, unqualified prospect won't buy, no matter how good the copy is. Or at least, they will ask for a refund once they smell the coffee.
When the message is targeted, however, it can still miss the mark because it doesn't speak to the customer at the stage of awareness at which they happen to be.
This is absolutely essential to ensure that the copy is long enough and strong enough to appeal to, qualify, educate, and sell the prospect. It's about connecting with them at their level of awareness.
What are these “stages of awareness?”
There are four. I've used these before I ever learned about their existence. Mostly unconsciously through researching a target market while writing copy. I know, for example, that Eugene Schwartz talks about this and at great length in his book, “Breakthrough Advertising.”
Schwartz discusses the various stages of market sophistication, but I prefer to use an acronym so it is easier to remember and follow.
I call it “OATH.” As in, “Is your prospect ready and willing to take an oath?” It's a cool mnemonic to help you remember how aware is your market about the problem, their need for a solution, and of course, your solution specifically.
Here's what I mean: depending on where your reader is at, the level of education, credentialization, and persuasion you need to provide depends very highly on how knowledgeable and aware your market is of the problem, the solution, and their desire.
Maybe they're hurting right now and need a solution fast. Or maybe they're not there yet, which means they may not be aware they have a problem in the first place. Maybe they are aware, but they don't appreciate how big the problem is or might become, and the reasons why they should solve it.
Granted, this is answered to some degree by how targeted your audience is, which is the first problem I mentioned earlier. But the sales message should flow from, and follow with, that stage of awareness in order to bring them to a successful outcome.
I like to look at it this way: how prepared they are to take an OATH — meaning how confident, ready, willing, and able they are to buy — is based on any one of those four stages.
“O” is for Oblivious.
At this stage, they're unaware of the problem let alone a need for a solution. They don't know they have a problem or a potential problem. So in this case, you need to educate them about the problem. Bring it to the top of their minds.
If you hit them too hard and too fast with your solution and the benefits of the solution, without being aware of the problem in the first place, you're only going to confuse them, push them away, or create unwanted hostility toward you. Often, this is what happens with copy that's too short or presumptive.
Even if they simply have an unmet desire, they're still hurting at some other level. They're just not aware of it yet. As my friend and copywriter Craig Perrine once said, “An unmet desire is also a problem to be solved.”
“A” is for Apathetic.
They know they have a problem but they're indifferent about it. They simply don't care for whatever reason. Perhaps the problem is not important or urgent enough. So you need to make the problem more real and concrete in their minds.
This could be the risk of not preparing for a possible/potential problem, which is a problem in itself. You need to make the problem more real, more present, more vivid, more urgent. You need to pour salt into their wounds, so to speak.
More importantly, you need to make them understand the consequences of their inaction. Because copy, in reality, is meant to prevent procrastination. The more aware they are of the problem and the need to solve it, the more their inaction is about indecision than it is about the lack of desire.
“T” is for Thinking.
They know they have a problem and the need to solve it, but they don't know about your solution. They're shopping around, considering other offers, or just thinking about whether they should be doing something else about their problem.
So at this stage, you don't need to sell them too much on solving the problem. After all, they're thinking about it. So less copy is required. But you do need to sell them on your solution. This is where you have to build value and differentiate your offer.
Why is your solution the best solution to their problem? What makes it so unique, different, or valuable? What makes your offer so compelling above over all other alternatives? An alternative may also be a totally different solution that soothes the same pain.
“H” is for Hurting.
At this stage, they're desperate. They know they have a problem and how bad it is, they may know about all the various solutions that exist on the market, and they even know about your specific solution, too. So your job is to help them take action.
If they haven't gone ahead for some reason, perhaps they don't know how or what options are best. Perhaps they have fears you need to assuage first. Maybe they're overwhelmed, skeptical, or suspicious, or they've used other solutions unsuccessfully and are afraid.
If they're hurting but haven't they bought yet, what do they need to get over the remaining hurdle? What objections or unanswered questions do they have So you need to increase proof, reduce risk, and remove fear. No need for a lot of education at this point.
At this stage, procrastination is the culprit.
Often, it's based on fear. Whether it's the fear of the unknown (they don't know you from a hole in the wall), the fear of making a bad decision, or the fear of buying from you, such as security or credibility concerns, for example.
You need to allay that fear. To do so, you need to truly understand your customer at a deeper, more intimate level. You need to learn why they haven't gone ahead yet or what they need to go ahead. And then you need to give it to them.
That's the OATH formula in a nutshell.
Bottom line, your audience may be oblivious, apathetic, thinking, or hurting. Granted, this may not be true with all your clients. (If it isn't, then you need to separate and segment your market.) But if your targeting is done properly, it will appeal to the vast majority within a certain stage of awareness.
Knowing this will tell you a lot about not only how much information you need to gather and provide to educate your reader, but what kind of information and what kind of offer that will stimulate them and transition them into buying your solution.
It all starts with your market. Making sure your marketing message hits the mark is more about knowing your audience and helping them to buy, than it is about selling your product right out of the gate.