Before a customer lands on your site, they’ve been on quite the journey—not just online, but in their mind. Don’t worry, we’re not going to get too deep here. That being said, a basic understanding of the psychology behind purchase decisions is vital if you want to create copy that converts. In this article we walk you through the consumer awareness cycle, and how you can integrate it into your content strategy to increase traffic and sales. Let’s get started!
What is the awareness cycle?
In the world of marketing we love a good pattern that we can apply to consumer behaviour. You’ve got the sales funnel, the buying cycle, the purchase funnel, and plenty more of the same ideas in slightly different packaging.
The consumer awareness cycle certainly has some crossovers with these models. What sets it apart, though, is that it is heavily based on teachings from neuroscience and starts at a point where the potential customer isn’t even aware that they want or need a particular product or service. Understanding the buying process from this angle opens up a wide range of opportunities for marketers.
In the box below you can see how the five stages of consumer awareness develop:
Unaware → A catalyst makes the consumer problem aware → The consumer does some research and becomes solution aware → Further investigation makes the consumer product aware → The consumer settles on their desired criteria and reaches the most aware stage → They are ready to make a final purchase decision.
By anticipating the customer’s needs and desires at each stage, you can play a key role in their decision-making process. Many marketers are aware of this cycle, of course, but for some reason a lot of content strategies fail to target some of the most potentially lucrative stages.
Where could you be missing out?
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A lot of marketers focus on targeting customers who have already reached the later stages of the awareness cycle. This is understandable, as it’s much easier to tailor your content to those who are already product aware or most aware, because you can skip explaining why they need your product and get right down to its competitor-thwarting benefits.
Sometimes, though, it pays to play the turtle rather than the hare. Jumping to the end and focusing on those who have already gained a significant level of awareness means you are missing out on a lot of potential sales. The biggest audience can actually be found at the problem aware stage. In addition to this, if you’re able to get yourself in a position where you’re educating the customer along the awareness cycle, your brand will be far more ingrained in their mind by the time they are ready to make a purchase.
Try to avoid the pitfall of producing marketing content that heavily focuses on outright selling. Instead, meet your potential customers where they’re at psychologically. If you’re successful at this, you can gently navigate them in the right direction (towards viewing your product or service in a positive light).
How do you know what stage a customer is at?
Telling you to cater to customers at every stage of the awareness cycle is all well and good, but how are you able to tell where your customer is at? The answer can be revealed through keyword research. Look at the specific search terms people are using to research products and services similar to yours. A lot of the time, the level of awareness is evident in the details included in these searches.
For example, if you work for a company selling heating pads for back pain, customers searching, “What helps back pain?” are clearly at the problem aware stage. Individuals asking Google, “Which back heating pads are best 2021?“, have reached the solution aware stage. Those asking queries such as: “Is [insert brand name] heating pad better than [insert brand name] heating pad?” have evidently arrived at the product aware stage.
When targeting the later awareness stages, you can also start to look into the search terms that bring people to your site. Google Analytics provides some really useful and specific metrics for this in the acquisition section.
Creating content for each stage
It’s possible to plan content around each stage of the consumer awareness cycle. Once you understand who your target customer is and which stage they’re at, you can strategically match content to their needs. Keep in mind that the customer journey can be long and may take place across various platforms and devices. The key is to not force customers to move to a different stage before they are ready.
The unaware stage
It all starts with crafting detailed customer personas based on your target audiences. You should be able to put together a solid profile of the people most likely to use your product or service. Once you are able to focus on specific demographics (like age range, region, income bracket, etc.), you should have an idea of where and how to target ads and content.
At this point, the customer isn’t even aware that they require your product or service. Your content’s job, then, is to act as the catalyst that makes them problem aware. The research you’ve done on target customer profiles should mean that you understand their likeliest trigger or pain points. Use this knowledge to create emotional content that educates those who can be categorised as unaware.
Let’s say that your target audience is left-leaning, middle class, millennials with families and you are selling eco-friendly toilet paper. A great way to nudge them towards being problem aware is with a blog article or newspaper ad highlighting the negative environmental impact of common products consumed in bulk by the average UK family.
The problem aware stage
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Now that you’ve sparked an interest in the relevant subject matter with the potential customer, they’re going to do some research to further educate themselves on the topic. This kind of research takes place both on and offline. While Google is certainly likely to come in handy, they might also discuss the issue with their peers.
In terms of the offline activity, the only thing you can really do is make sure your brand name is out there. For instance, if you invest in some social media advertising to get your name in front of the relevant audiences, there’s a chance your brand may be brought up in discussions on the subject.
When it comes to their online research, you can make sure that your site offers educational materials. Reference scientific studies and provide real world examples to increase the validity of your work.
At this point its useful to create content that targets keywords that include what, why and when questions. For the eco toilet paper folks this could include queries like, “Why is toilet paper bad for the environment?“, and so on. Round off this content by showing how your product or service swoops in and provides a solution.
The solution aware stage
When a customer reaches the solution aware stage, they weigh up both the practicality and emotional appeal of investing in a product. After all, we’re aware of many things that would improve the quality of our lives, but that doesn’t mean we run out and buy every one!
Content you produce for this stage should really convey how much solving this problem will pay off. You also need to show how your product or service provides a complete solution. Get creative here and paint a picture of what having the product would do for them. That toilet paper, for example, turns a mundane, daily activity into a little reminder that they are doing something good for the planet. Plus, they can recommend it to friends to really earn some eco points!
At this stage you should still ease off the heavy selling rhetoric. This can be off-putting when the customer hasn’t even decided if they’re willing to part with money to gain a solution.
The product aware stage
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Reading about available solutions takes the customer to the product aware stage. They know which brands and products are out there, and want to decide which is the best option for them. This is where budget and reputation become very important factors.
The first cuts are usually made at the pricing up stage. If the customer is not convinced that your product is worth the price tag, or it’s simply not within their price range in the first place, you can wave goodbye to that prospect. The latter should rarely be an issue, because you consider the income bracket of your target audience when setting a price. It can pay off to explain pricing decisions if you want to sway those borderline customers to part with more money than they may have intended. Factors like ethical sourcing, unique designs and durability can be persuasive here.
For the product aware customer, you need to create content with your main competitors in mind. Weigh up the various pros and cons for them, and explain why your brand is the favourable option. Reiterate key benefits in an entertaining way and keep all necessary information in the same place, so that the customer isn’t tempted to head elsewhere. You can now start to include clear CTAs in your content, as the customer should only need a small nudge to get them to the final stage.
In terms of reputation, social proof is the best way demonstrate your trustworthiness and reliability. This means including positive customer reviews and stories on your site. A few choice quotes and links to your pages on review sites may suffice for some small businesses. Others might want to include full case studies based on real customer experiences.
The most aware stage
If a user is on your site and at the most aware stage, you are very close to seeing a potential customer become a paying customer. The only thing that can get in the way is site experience. You need to ensure that the purchasing process is smooth and simple—no dead ends and no slow-loading pages. Take the customer by the metaphorical hand down towards your checkout page.
At each step, you can include small reminders of your product’s value. This could come in the form of snippets of positive reviews in the sidebar, for example. Tactics like this can reduce the number of abandoned carts.
Your work doesn’t end once the customer has made a purchase. Now it’s time to switch to a focus on repurchase and retention rates:
- Include a sign up form on the payment confirmation page to make their next purchase even easier
- Check-in with them regarding their experience via email a few days later
- Ask them to consider recommending your product or services to friends
Space out these interactions to avoid bombarding the customer or coming across as pushy.
And that’s how to cater your content to the consumer awareness cycle! For more handy guides like this, head to the Supersede blog.