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How to Create Awareness With Your Content Funnel

To determine your content funnel, focus on your user’s current stage of awareness and next steps. To help you, remember this acronym called the OATH formula.

In marketing, there are different levels of buyer awareness or “marketing awareness stages.” They go from one end of the spectrum where buyers are unaware of the problem they’re experiencing (or will experience), to the other end where they are fully aware and intend to solve that problem.

It is critically important to know and understand this about your market so you may build brand awareness. That’s why I created an acronym called OATH, which means the buyers are:

  1. Oblivious about the problem.
  2. Apathetic about the problem (i.e., they’re aware but don’t care).
  3. Thinking about the problem (i.e., they’re considering solutions).
  4. Hurting (i.e., they want the problem solved).

When I teach the OATH formula, I tell my students to think of it as, “How prepared is your market to take an oath?” It’s a simple way to remember.

In fact, I use mnemonics often. And since learning that I have ADHD and that it affects short-term memory, I now know why I love using acronyms and mnemonics so much. They’re tremendously useful tools.

I came up with the acronym to help me remember. But I got this idea after reading Eugene Schwartz’ magnum opus Breakthrough Advertising, in which he discusses the five levels of market sophistication. In short, they are:

  1. The Claim
  2. Amplify The Claim
  3. The Mechanism
  4. Amplify The Mechanism
  5. Market Identification

Here’s a summary (also, this video explains it well)…

At the first level, the consumer is completely unaware of the product. So when marketing to them, you’re going to be making a claim.

The second level is where they’re aware of your claim. But they’re also aware of your competitors’ claims, too. So now you need to elevate your claim and make it better than the competition.

At the third level, you need to more than just better. You need to differentiate and make your claim stand out. You need to educate your market about your “unique mechanism,” according to Schwartz, or your USP.

Level four is where competitors are all doing the same. Everyone has a USP or unique mechanism. So now your goal is to prove the superiority of your mechanism and elevate it over others.

At the fifth and final level, this where a saturated market becomes skeptical, jaded, and numb. Your goal is to identify with your market, to create relationships with them, so they buy, remain loyal, and even evangelize for you.

These five levels are essentially the stages through which new products and services enter the market and become adopted.

But I prefer to be problem-centric than product-centric.

The reason I specifically created my personal formula was not just for helping me remember but also for helping me strategize how to approach, educate, and persuade audiences based on their awareness stage.

Not to boast (well, maybe I am a little), but I created this formula back when I taught marketing management in college, circa 1999-2000. The concept of “marketing funnels” wasn’t as popular back then.

But I can’t take credit for the idea. Remember, Schwartz wrote about it in 1966. Some even contend that the AIDA formula predates it when Elias Lewis first mentioned it in 1898 (i.e., Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action).

Whether it’s AIDA, sophistication levels, OATH, levels of buyer awareness, or marketing awareness stages, or whether it’s marketing funnels, content funnels, customer journeys, or sales pipelines, it’s all essentially the same.

You’re breaking down the buying journey into distinct stages and moving the buyer through them. It doesn’t matter what you call them.

Today, the common marketing lingo, especially in SaaS circles, is “top of funnel” or TOFU (not the soybean curd kind), “middle of funnel” or MOFU, and “bottom of the funnel” or, you guessed it, BOFU.

(I’m French-Canadian. “BOFU” sounds like a clown’s name to me.)

I like this explanation a little more because funnel sections often describe the four types of content that will serve as catalysts throughout the buyer’s journey.

Before people hit the funnel — let’s call them “out of funnel” or OOFU (I’m creative, I know) — they are oblivious, completely unaware of the problem. At TOFU, they are now aware of it. At MOFU, they are aware of the solution, too. And at BOFU, they are now product or service aware.

Therefore, the goal of your content should be to take your audience from being unaware of the problem (i.e., they’re oblivious) to being fully aware and in need of the solution (i.e., they’re hurting). To take them from unaware, to problem aware, to solution aware, and eventually to product aware.

What does this mean to you?

It means that, when you’re creating a content marketing strategy, particularly thought leadership, remember that each piece of content has a goal and serves a purpose, which is to raise awareness and, ultimately, drive actions.

If you have funnelized your marketing, which you should, then you know what content you need. If not, here’s an example to give you an idea.

OOFU (Oblivious) Content

This is content that invites your audience to come forward and enter your funnel. They want to know more about the problem they’re experiencing.

By now, if they’re not aware of the problem (the real problem), it makes no sense to hit them over the head with your solution right away. They’re not hurting yet — or better said, they’re not aware they’re hurting.

For example, if you want to specifically target people with hairloss, saying you’re the best surgeon will fall on deaf ears — particularly if they’re not interested in doing something about their hairloss. (Remember, hairloss is not the problem.)

When I wrote ads for these doctors, the best headlines were not the ones that said, “we offer advanced hair transplant procedures” or “the most natural-looking results.” The best ones more often than not said, “Do you have hairloss?” Or better yet, “Are you suffering from hairloss?”

As a doctor, I would recommend writing articles about the causes of hairloss and helpful tips on how to treat it — including all the solutions possible. The goal is to get those who are interested to raise their hands and ask for more information (i.e., to enter your funnel).

TOFU (Apathetic) Content

This is content that, once inside your funnel, teaches your audience about why they need to do something about their problem. You’re exploring the problem in depth, the risks involved, and the gravity of the problem (or of ignoring it).

You can write an article such as:

  • “10 reasons to consider hair restoration,”
  • “7 factors that make you a candidate for surgery,”
  • “The risks and costs of hair transplant procedures.”

Remember, hairloss is a problem but not the real problem. In this scenario, they’ve entered your funnel so they’ve admitted their hairloss bothers them. Outdated procedures with less-than-desirable results are the problem.

The goal is to get them to care about it. It’s to take them to the next level where they’re aware your solution, which is more advanced, more natural-looking, less risky, etc than the alternatives.

MOFU (Thinking) Content

Your content introduces the solution, makes them aware of the benefits, and motivates them to consider solving their problem.

Essentially, they want to do something. While they’re considering the solutions, the goal is to get them to think about your solution. Therefore, your content needs to point out what makes your solution the ideal solution for them.

Using the same example above, you can educate them about your procedure, what makes it better than others on the market, and what are the specific results it produces. This is your “unique mechanism,” a la Schwartz.

For example, if you use powerful microscopes to transplant microscopic follicles instead of traditional, unsightly plugs, this is where you can discuss it and offer more detail in order to differentiate yourself.

BOFU (Hurting) Content

They’re hurting and want to solve their problem. So your goal is to move them into action. You want to provide them with enough information to help them decide (e.g., case studies, social proof, ROI, etc).

For example, that doctor can explain pricing, share before-and-after photos, answer objections, describe what to expect, offer financing options, and discuss next steps — such as how to book the surgery.

A final point and a caveat.

In the end, remember that these are just examples and not the example. Plus, these stages are not perfect. The lines between them often blur, and they’re not meant to fit people into neat little boxes or put labels on them.

A common objection I get is, “Where does my client fit in?” Or, “What if [this] or [that] puts them in one category when they should be in another?”

The thing to remember is, knowing your audience’s different marketing awareness stages does not mean you must define your audience according to one specific stage or to fit them neatly into one stage more than any other.

It’s to understand what they need in terms of information to help them get to the next level and eventually solve their problem — and to give it to them.

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By Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is an SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor. For the better part of 30 years, he helped hundreds of thousands of professionals and businesses increase their online visibility. He is the Director of Search at seoplus+, an award-winning digital marketing agency in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.