Preamble: I wrote this article back in 2003 and I rewrote it in early 2005. Back then, it was meant primarily for a copywriting audience. Now that I specialize in SEO, and seeing how the concept of “funnels” is gaining popularity, I took the liberty to slightly update it.
One problem in SEO, copywriting, content, or any kind of communications, is that the audience is not targeted for the message or the message doesn’t march the intended audience.
When it comes to SEO, if the content doesn’t match the search intent and fails to align with what the user’s searching for, the user will bounce back and search engines will conclude that your website doesn’t meet the user’s needs, which will impact and lower your rankings.
When it comes to copywriting, an untargeted, unqualified prospect won’t buy, no matter how good the copy is. If the content is targeted, 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.
It is absolutely essential to ensure that the your content or marketing message appeals to, qualifies, educates, and converts the user. 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. For example, 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 what stage of awareness your reader is at (determined by their knowledge of the problem, the solution, and their desire to solve it), the amount of education, credentialization, and persuasion you need to provide will vary.
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.
With SEO, this is answered to some degree by the search intent. The way they search Google will say a lot about their awareness level. Your content or sales message should flow from, and follow with, that stage of awareness in order to bring them to the next stage.
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?
The answer 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. Or they don’t know that they don’t know. In the world of marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-unaware.
So in this case, your content needs to educate them about the problem. It’s to bring it to the top of their minds. If you hit them too early with your 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 when your copy is too short or presumptive. Or when your content discusses your solution as if they’re already fully aware of it. If they simply have an unmet desire, an unmet desire is also a problem to be solved. But they’re still unaware of it.
“A” is for Apathetic.
They know they have a problem but they’re indifferent. They don’t care, don’t care enough, or aren’t aware of how important it is (or that it can be solved). In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-aware.
So your content needs to make the problem more real and concrete. Your content must educate them on the seriousness of the problem. It could be about the risks or drawbacks of not solving the problem, since inaction is a potential problem, too.
When you understand and cater to your user’s stage of awareness, copywriting won’t seem pushy but merely an attempt at preventing procrastination. The more aware they are, the more their inaction is about the need for reassurance than it is about the lack of desire.
“T” is for Thinking.
They know they have a problem and they’re thinking about solving it. They’re shopping around, considering solutions, and investigating options. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as solution-aware.
So at this stage, when it comes to SEO, your content should take them from thinking about the problem to wanting to solve it. With copywriting, they’re considering solutions, so you need to sell them on your solution and why it’s better than others.
This is where you have to build value and differentiate yourself. Why is your solution the best solution? What makes it so unique, different, or valuable? What makes it better than 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 want to solve it. They’re convinced they must fix the problem. They’re acquainted with all possible solutions and considering your solution specifically. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as product-aware.
So your job is to convince them, reassure them, and provide information that they can use to make a decision and take action. Perhaps it’s understanding the risks and guarantees; your expertise and credentials as a medical professional; or social proof with before-and-after case studies.
Perhaps they don’t know how or what payment options you offer. 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.
At this stage, procrastination is the culprit.
If they’re hurting, what do they need to get over the remaining hurdle? What objections or unanswered questions do they have? Your content may need to increase proof, reduce risk, and remove fear.
Often, it’s based on the fear of making a bad decision. Your content or copy needs to allay that fear. To do so, you need to truly understand your patient at a deeper, more intimate level. You need to learn what information they need to go ahead, and then you need to give it to them.
In SEO, their search intent is often dictated by their level of awareness. Here are some searches as an example:
- Oblivious: “hairloss” or “what causes stretch marks”
- Apathetic: “how to stop hairloss” or “how to get rid of stretch marks”
- Thinking: “micrograft before and after” or “tummy tucks Chicago”
- Hurting: “hair transplant pricing” or “book consultation Dr. Smith”
That’s the OATH formula in a nutshell.
Bottom line, your audience may be oblivious, apathetic, thinking, or hurting. In other words, they’re unaware of the problem, aware but don’t care, aware of the various solutions, and finally aware of your solution and ready to solve it.
Knowing this will tell you a lot about not only how much information you need to give your reader, but what kind of information and what kind of offer that will transition them into buying your solution.
It’s not about serving content that meets their awareness level. If that was the cause, your patients would only need Wikipedia. It’s about meeting them at their stage of awareness and taking them to the next.