How to truly “get” your customers: A five-point scale from a marketing genius

With this simple approach from copywriting legend Gene Schwartz, you’ll have a much better understanding of where your customer’s head is.

With this simple approach from copywriting legend Gene Schwartz, you’ll have a much better understanding of where your customer’s head is.

Gene Schwartz

Gene Schwartz

It’s hard for me to think of a better advertising copywriter than Gene Schwartz. He’s a legend, and I don’t use that term lightly. In fact, nearly every accomplished copywriter I know—including famous ones—list him as one of their top three influences.

A little background on him… Schwartz was born in the late 1920s in Montana. After college, in 1949, he moved to New York and joined an ad agency as a messenger boy. He quickly worked his way up, eventually landing the coveted copy chief position. By the mid 1950s, he went into business for himself and subsequently made millions writing mostly direct response. His work is famous for its response rates… and still swiped from after all these years.

Schwartz spent much of his money collecting fine art and donating it to museums around the globe. In fact, when he died in 1995, his New York Times obit primarily covered his contributions to the art world.

Schwartz wrote 10 books, the most famous being Breakthrough Advertising, which is nearly impossible to get in print without paying a small fortune and/or donating an organ of some sort (I handed over more than $100 for my copy, but no regrets. I learned more from a single chapter in that book than MONTHS on any job. And I still have both kidneys.) By the way, Breakthrough Advertising is now public domain. You can download a PDF of it here.

I’ve read Breakthrough Advertising probably 10 times, and I’ve referenced it countless more, because it’s a bounty of advertising awesomeness on every page. Today, I’ll share just one concept from the book, which I think applies EVEN MORE now than it did in Schwartz’s day. It’s completely transferable to digital marketing.

The five levels of customer awareness

To Schwartz, the most important question for a marketer to ask him or herself is: How much does my potential customer already know? Good question. Does the person you want to sell to have any inkling of your brand, products or the problems you solve? Schwartz maintained that there are five levels of customer awareness about any product or service. Where your customers fit on that scale can and should have a direct impact on how you communicate to them:

Schwartz Graphic Let’s look at each…

1. UNAWARE – Never heard of you or this problem.

What you need to know: This is the toughest customer to crack, but there could be an untapped market here, too. They basically have no clue that you, your product or the problem it solves even exists. You not only have a sales issue, but a sizable education hurdle to jump, too.

Best approach: Be direct. Throw the problem and solution right at them, no apologies. Strong headlines, powerful visuals… think very direct response. If you go soft here, they’ll never even see you. Ads, direct mail, outdoor and banner ads work well.

2. PROBLEM AWARE – I’ve got a problem. Is there a solution?

What you need to know: This customer probably has some anxiety. He or she knows what’s wrong, but doesn’t know that there’s something he or she can do about it.

Best approach: Be sympathetic. Highlight their problem, show them you understand and get it. Then position your product or service as a solution. Testimonials are a time-tested approach here, as are questions like, “Do you suffer from X?” SEO can play a critical role, too, because people will often Google their problem in hopes of finding an answer. Make sure you’re there.

3. SOLUTION AWARE – Someone out there has what I need.

What you need to know: This customer is more hopeful than our “problem aware” dude. He or she knows there’s an answer, it’s just a matter of finding it.

Best approach: Be educational. Show him or her a clear path from problem to solution. This is a great place for content marketing, educational videos and the like—anything to show how to finally put this problem behind them, and, less directly, how you and your solution make the most sense. The goal here should be to lure and attract.

4. PRODUCT AWARE – I know you, but are you right for me?

What you need to know: These are the customers that just aren’t convinced. The tire kickers, stallers, and fence sitters. It may be a matter of them not fully trusting you yet. They need some more persuasion, so they don’t go somewhere else. Often, though, these are easier customers to win over.

Best approach: Be informative and forthcoming. Show them comparison charts… customer reviews… testimonials that highlight satisfied customers. Offering a great guarantee can often pull a doubter over the line, too. Just make sure your product and customer service deliver—if you fail them, they’ll never come back, and likely do damage to your brand on every social network known to humanity.

5. AWARE – I know you, love you and I want to buy.

What you need to know: This is the ideal. Your “20” of Pereto’s 80-20 principle. They’re the ones you’ve proven yourself to, they like and trust you, and all is good. Some, like Apple and Pixar, have taken this level to an art—where people camp out for days to buy their latest gadget or advanced tickets to the opening weekend.

Best approach: Be connective. You want to foster that relationship with awesome content marketing, social media, rewards programs, great stories, behind-the-scenes videos and more. Remember, the loyalty is won—it’s just a matter of nurturing it and “building your tribe.”

Many times, great thinking is timeless, especially when it comes to human understanding. Gene Schwartz was acutely aware of how people thought and reacted. He empathized and understood. And even now, nearly 20 years after his death, he’s still having an impact—whether it’s in advertising, or in countless art galleries around the world.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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