This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no cost to you. Read my full disclosure.)

How aware are your clients that they even have a problem that needs to be solved?

I know, weird question, but in reality, many people are walking around unaware of what their problem really is or that they even have one.

And if you’re trying to sell a website to someone who doesn’t know they need one… well, that’s a really hard sell.

This is where the five stages of client awareness, or the “buyer’s journey” comes in. In today’s post, I’m breaking them all down for you!

The five stages of client awareness

This concept was created by Eugene Schwartz back in the 1980s, and is a huge basis for marketing even today. Like all good marketing strategies, it stands the test of time (unlike tactics, which change with alarming frequency).

A graphic showing the awareness stages from least aware to most aware. The stages are: Unaware, Problem Aware, Solution Aware, Product Aware, Most Aware.

Understanding how aware your potential customers are that they even have a problem will make a HUGE difference in how you approach marketing to them.

You can’t sell your solution to someone who has no idea their problem exists; you’ll have to educate them first.

And if your client is already aware of the problem, they don’t want to be held up by education. They just want to buy.

Let me explain by breaking down the stages.

Stage One – Unaware

In this client awareness stage, potential clients don’t even know that they have a problem.

For example, maybe they are new to business and created their own website. They’re not realizing that it’s ugly, the copy is terrible, the photos are atrocious, and without traffic they can’t even try to make sales with it.

They might think that all they needed was a website, and now they have one, so they’re done.

These types of clients will be very hard to sell to.

Without educating them on all the problems that they have, they won’t understand that they need to do something better.

And worse, because they are so blissfully unaware, they may also be HAPPY with what they have. They might be insulted if you try to convince them to hire you because you’re telling them that what they have isn’t good enough.

Stage Two – Problem Aware

In this client awareness stage, potential clients start to realize there’s a problem.

Maybe someone told them their website was ugly and the links were broken.

Or, another person told them their content was confusing.

Maybe they looked at a competitor’s website and realized that the photos they took with their cell phone aren’t really that great.

Or maybe they just learned that they’re only getting five people on their website every month.

They’re now starting to worry that their website, which they used to think was great, might be letting them down…

At this point, these clients are still difficult to sell to. But, they are starting to warm up a little to the idea that they might need to take action. 

Although difficult, if you happened to fall into the lap of a client at this stage with a free or inexpensive offer, you’d likely be able to turn them into a client–eventually.

Stage Three – Solution Aware

Stage three is when a potential client starts actively looking for a solution. They know there’s a problem, and they want to solve it. They’re just not sure how yet.

They might start by reading blog posts, watching videos, or joining communities where they can ask questions.

Maybe they download a free or cheap website template.

Or they read a blog article on how to write their home page.

Maybe they take a free class on cell phone photography.

Or maybe they start posting to social media in order to get traffic back to their site.

At this stage, they’re still investigating and may not be willing to invest much in a solution–if anything at all. This is where you can really start warming them up with content and messaging that educates them and positions you as the expert they should hire when they get to the next stage.

Most sales funnels start here because potential clients are actively seeking out a solution. Offering them a free download or inexpensive offer that gets them into your funnel will help them easily transition to the next stage—as long as you’re able to deliver a good result!

Stage Four – Product Aware

In this client awareness stage, the client is not only aware that they need a solution but that you have it.

Maybe they are ready for a custom website.

Or maybe they want to hire you to write their website content.

Maybe they’re ready for their first photoshoot.

Or maybe they realize they should hire someone else to manage their social media.

This stage is relatively easy to sell to, but most clients will still need you to tell them why YOUR solution is the best fit. They’re likely comparing options, so you need to make sure your messaging is on-point and speaks directly to them.

Stage Five – Most Aware

This is the client awareness stage at which the client already knows who you are and what you offer. They trust that you are the best option for them.

You just have to tell them what they need to do to get started.

This stage is made up of your biggest fans, past clients, and newcomers whom you were able to connect with quickly via your marketing. It’s definitely the easiest stage to sell to because these clients already trust you and are ready to buy.

But, Stage Five is often a very small segment of your audience. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to only target this segment.

How to use client awareness stages in your marketing

How aware your customers are of their problem will change your marketing strategy. While you’ll eventually want to target most of these stages with your marketing, you’ll quickly find that it’s a lot easier (and faster) to target customers who are actively looking for a solution. Instead of convincing potential clients that they have a problem in the first place.

For that reason, when launching a new service or product, I recommend starting by offering it to your Stage Five customers first–your loyal fans. Use them to test your offering and make any changes before offering it to a wider audience.

This can be done as a “beta round” of the service. You can let your clients know that you’re offering it to them at a discount to get their valuable feedback and create the best solution possible.

After you work out the kinks of your new service, go back and create a funnel for your Stage Three and Four potential clients. These are your solution-seeking-people. Offering them something for free (an opt-in freebie for joining your mailing list, for example) that will deliver them a result quickly will let them test out working with you before making a big investment.

Once you have them on your list, you can nurture and educate them on your product and why YOU are their best option and funnel them toward hiring you.

Should you bother targeting the early stages?

Whether you go lower than Stage Three is totally optional. I personally would not concentrate on any stage lower than Stage Three. At least not until you’ve perfected nurturing and selling to the higher stages.

The lower level you go, the more education and time goes into turning a potential client into a client. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But be prepared for months if not years of educating clients at the lower levels. Automate as much of this education as possible so that you spend your time and energy instead on those who are ready (or nearly ready) to buy.

For marketing to the first two stages, I recommend problem-focused content (like blog articles) that shows how what they are currently doing is hurting their progress and educating them in a way that funnels them into Stage Three, where they join your mailing list and get further education on how to solve their problems.

Tl;dr:

Understanding the client awareness stages, from unaware to full recognition of both their problem and your solution, is essential for crafting a successful marketing strategy.

Starting with your most aware customers allows for valuable feedback and refinement before expanding to a wider audience.

Offering free or low-cost solutions can attract those actively seeking answers, nurturing them into paying clients.

While targeting clients in the earlier stages is possible, focusing on those already seeking solutions is going to give you more bang for your buck… or time.

By tailoring your approach to each stage of awareness, you can effectively engage with clients at every step of their journey, guiding them towards recognizing their needs and choosing your solution.

Dive Deeper