Do Better Writing Blog

Optimize Your B2B Content: Use the 5 Stages of Awareness

Heads collage

When I wrote articles for regional business newspapers back in the day (they were called business journals, i.e., Springfield Business Journal and Lincoln Business Journal), one criterion for the assignment was word count. I needed to stick to that number and get to the point before my word limit was up.

Every two months, my article would make the front page, and it needed to fit in the upper right section, starting above the newspaper’s fold.

Today, we don’t have to squeeze our words into printed newspapers’ limited space. The Internet offers freedom! And yet, as business-to-business companies, we’re still obsessed with word count.

In describing the project’s scope, a chief marketing officer often says, “I only want 500 words.” Why only 500 words?

There is disparity about how long content should be. In a blog post, Neil Patel breaks down the word count for each industry’s content. And he concludes no magic number exists.

“Word count is not a standalone ranking factor. Word count only has merit if the content quality is high!” says Neil Patel

So what do we need to pay attention to instead?

Our reader’s level of awareness.

Consider this report about visitors’ behavior when they go online:

“People are not likely to read your content completely or linearly. They just want to pick out the information that is most pertinent to their current needs.” How People Read Online: The Eyetracking Evidence report, 2nd edition

And according to Kate Moran, a User Experience expert for Nielson Norman Group:

“The #1 biggest mistake in writing for the web is not understanding the people who will be reading the content.”

The first question to ask yourself is:

Who is your reader?

And do you know the second question to ask?

Michael Masterson and John Forde, master copywriters, say this question is often unasked by marketers, yet makes the biggest difference in engagement and sales.

What does my prospect already know?

Asking this question at the start will help us avoid the curse of knowledge, a natural psychological tendency that happens when we assume everyone has the same level of knowledge as we do about a product and service.

Too much information confuses and overwhelms our reader. They stop reading and look for another company to help them.

“(We) should be giving you (the reader) just enough information to be useful, then a little more, then a little more,” write Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

And when we do this well, we’ll begin to chip away at the greatest challenge of business-to-business: being customer-focused.

“Gallup research shows that fewer than three in 10 customers (29%) across B2B industries are “fully engaged,” meaning they are emotionally and psychologically attached to the B2B companies they do business with.

The other customers are indifferent (60%), not caring about a company one way or the other, or they are actively disengaged (11%).” Gallup

Gene Schwartz’s 5 Stages of Awareness

In his book, Breakthrough Advertising, the renowned copywriter, Eugene “Gene” Schwartz, explained you need to determine your audience’s awareness level before you begin writing marketing copy.

We need to think about our goal. And our goal helps us decide what to say. It’s the foundation of writing messages readers will read and understand.

He described 5 primary stages, or states, of awareness that your visitors or prospects may have:

5 Stages of Awareness

  1. Completely Unaware
  2. Problem Aware / Pain Aware
  3. Solution Aware
  4. Product Aware
  5. Most Aware

My fellow business-to-business copywriter, Joel Klettke, summarizes the framework in his blog post.

“For each stage, you meet the prospect where they’re at and help them move along the stages of awareness before you can close the deal.”


How do the stages of awareness work in real life?

Let’s take an example. Imagine you are the owner of a local bike shop. A person called Mike lives in your town. He isn’t your customer (yet), but you would like him to be. Here are the stages Mike experiences on the journey to becoming your customer.

Stage 1: Completely Unaware. Clueless.

Prospect: “I don’t have a clue.”

The prospect is not aware of his need for your product or service. This is a cold prospect. As Melissa Bolton, copywriter, says:

“They don’t know who you are, what you sell, or even that they have a problem that needs solving.”

Mike hasn’t heard of your shop and doesn’t know he’s missing out on the benefits of bike riding. “What is a bicycle?” Mike asks. So talking about bikes – brand names, prices, or features — is a waste of words.

Stage 2: Problem Aware / Pain Aware. Painful.

Prospect: “I have a problem.”

Here, the prospect is becoming aware of his problems. He’s facing his pain. He recognizes he has a need. He hasn’t yet connected your product with resolving his pain, however. Ted Vrountas, content writer at Instapage wrote:

“Before your prospect can choose a solution, they must first realize they have a problem.”

Mike is pondering, I don’t have a car and I don’t want to ride public transportation. I’d like to be more physically fit, but I don’t want to jog to work. How will I get to work every day?

At this stage, Mike is expressing his needs for alternative transportation and better fitness. Your communication needs to center on his pain and problems.

Stage 3: Solution Aware. A solution exists.

Prospect: “I’m seeking a solution to solve my problem.”

Not only does the prospect know his problem, but he also realizes a solution exists to help him solve his problem. He knows the results he wants but is unaware that you or your product will deliver what he needs.

Mike is thinking to himself, Riding a bike is what I need to do. I can ride a bike to work, and I’ll get more fit doing so. What do I need to know to choose a bike? What do I need to ride a bike?

As this stage unfolds, Mike is seeking answers to his questions. Your goal is to provide resources that address his concerns, worries, and doubts.

Stage 4: Product Aware. A product fulfills my needs.

Prospect: “Which product or service is right for me?”

Gene Schwartz wrote:

“Here, your prospect isn’t completely aware of all your product does, or isn’t convinced of how well it does it, or hasn’t yet been told how much better it does it now.”

At this point, the prospect knows about competitive products, but he’s still gathering information. He’s learning more about the products available and what they deliver.

So Mike is weighing his options. He’s asking, “Which bicycle is right for me?” He’s discovered a hybrid (a mix between a road bike and a mountain bike) is good for commuting. After some research, he forms a wish list:

  • Hybrid bike with flat handlebars
  • Upright rider position
  • Black metallic aluminum frame
  • 21-speed drivetrain
  • Mudguards, a rack and lights

“Most marketers believe prospects need more content to make a decision that they actually do,” according to Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for Corporate Visions, Inc., in his compilation of 18 CMO.com exclusive insights that every marketer should know:

So be careful. You want to give prospects not only the right amount of information, but also the right message that helps them choose you. He says:

“You want to zero in on those areas where you do something that is important to the customer, and it is unique or advantaged capability – or you deliver it in a better way.

We call this finding your value wedge. In short, resist the instinct to pile on more information than your prospects and customers need.”

Stage 5: Most Aware. Hyperaware.

Prospect: “What’s the offer and when can I get it?”

Oh, hurray! The prospect is fully aware of your product or service. He is ready to buy. So give him the name of the product and the offer. Then, get out of his way, so he can choose you.

Mike knows what he wants. He comes into your store and says, “I’m buying a Giant Escape 3 flat bar hybrid bicycle.” Because you demonstrate excellent customer service, Mike becomes your bike shop’s biggest fan.


Concentrate on what your reader knows

Define your reader and focus on his state of awareness. Write the words you need to write to guide him along the 5 stages of awareness from being a clueless prospect to a happy customer. And remember…

“People don’t want to waste time or effort online. As long as we’re designing content that acknowledges that reality and helps to direct people to only the information they want, we’ll be on the right track.” Nielson Norman Group

What is a good example of content that fits your level of knowledge when you were seeking information online?

Image: Heads, a collage by Claire Downey

Why You’re Not Grabbing Your Reader’s Attention

The nuance of selecting the right word

By Shannan Seely

“See, the best interpreters are part linguists, part diplomats. They have to know the politics behind each word,” Danny Hajek, National Public Radio reporter.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a prospective customer.

How do you want him to feel when he visits and reads the copy on your website? Like you’re speaking directly to him? So he feels like you understand him, can relate to his concerns and have the knowledge to solve his problems?

Do you want him to think, “These people get me!”

Many writers inadvertently fail to foster these feelings online with a prospective customer. Let me explain the three reasons why and how you can fix it. Continue reading Why You’re Not Grabbing Your Reader’s Attention

Search 10x Faster in Google

magnifying glass

I watched a movie recently about Saroo Brierley, a boy from India who fell asleep and rode on a train 1,000 miles from his home. When Saroo got off the train, he was lost. Only five years old, Saroo found himself in another part of India where a different language is spoken. He also did not know the correct name of his hometown, and encumbered with language barriers, could not return home.

It’s an astonishing tale and one I can’t keep thinking about.

Saroo wrote about his journey from India to an orphanage, then to adoption in Tasmania and eventually his quest, 25 years later, to seek his family in India. The book, A Long Way Home, inspired the movie, Lion, and earned six Oscar nominations.

Here’s a Google Earth: Saroo’s Search video describing his fascinating journey. (Spoiler alert: Stop the video at the 1:30 minute mark if you don’t want to know the ending and prefer to watch the movie or read his book first.)

Saroo’s story also inspired me to share some tips on how to get the information you want faster in Google Search. Let’s be more savvy in our searching, shall we?

1. Simple works best

In Google search, one or two word search terms will usually give you the broadest results. Start with short search terms, then refine your results by adding more words.

Example: sunflowers Continue reading Search 10x Faster in Google

Creating a Picture in Your Reader’s Mind = More Memorable Content

Paint and paint brushesWhen I rewrite my drafts, sometimes I get impatient. I cross out filler words and clichés and still, the content is blah. The words I use are so boring that I’m easily distracted by our family cat, Coco, or the contractors pounding on the roof shingles of my neighbor’s house across the street. (Do they need to pound at 8 o’clock in the morning?)

As writers, what can we do to engage our readers, even if the readers are ourselves? Here’s one easy trick to make your content and my content more memorable. You already know this powerful editing tip, but do you use it regularly? Continue reading Creating a Picture in Your Reader’s Mind = More Memorable Content

The Three Actions You Need to Take to be an Effective Content Marketing Team of One

439H (1)

I admit it. Business-to-business and healthcare companies who only have one or two people responsible for content marketing is a boon for me. It’s true. Small teams need, hire and value freelance copywriters. But it’s also true that I hate seeing clients run themselves ragged trying to keep up “feeding the content marketing machine.”

So consider doing these actions if you or you and one other person are responsible for creating content in your organization. Continue reading The Three Actions You Need to Take to be an Effective Content Marketing Team of One

How to Blog Consistently: Create a Blogging Habit

How’s your blog doing?

Remember in high school when the cheerleaders would spell the letters out loud for the word CONFIDENCE to the crowd? They’d yell “C-O-N … F-I-D … C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-C-Eeeeeeee!” The cheerleaders wanted people in the stands to join in the chant and encourage their team to victory.

For blogging, I think the word we need to pay attention to is C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y.

If your company has a blog, and you’re not publishing consistently, then you’re probably:

  • Losing followers.
  • Missing new leads.
  • Losing online authority.
  • And your website may be penalized by search engines, including Google, for the lack of fresh content.

Maybe you’re feeling a little regret. A year is almost done and your company has missed the lead generation gusto a regularly published blog can bring.

Do you want a different result next year? Continue reading How to Blog Consistently: Create a Blogging Habit

Read This if You Take Writing Seriously

Shannan with Ann Handley2
My picture with Ann Handley, after her presentation at Content Marketing World 2017

Were you assigned to write a blog post that’s due next week? Oh, horror of horrors! Are you worried about starting with a blank page? Do you dread writing a story from scratch?

Every bit of writing in marketing has an objective. And that can be worrisome if you don’t know your objective. If you think the words matter, then you take writing seriously. So if you’re in this camp, you may want to keep reading.

I’m sharing some pointers from Ann Handley’s presentation at Content Marketing World 2017  – Writing Secrets from Productive and Prolific Writers (the Jerks!): How to Create Better Content When No One Has Enough Time.

Her advice just might boost your writing today.  Continue reading Read This if You Take Writing Seriously

We’re more likely to act now if a party is in our future

How about this news bit? Some of us are planning ahead. I listened to the news today and learned 76 trees are being planted in Philadelphia’s Independent National Historic Park to be mature by the nation’s sestercentennial. By the way, I had to look up what “sestercentennial” means. It’s the 250th year of United States of America’s independence.

The birthday date is July 4, 2026. Doesn’t that seem like a long time from now? But yet it’s less than nine years away.

The Daughters of the American Revolution have donated the cost of $380,000 to plant the trees over several years. Hooray to people thinking and taking action for the long term. I applaud you. Of course, the critics say the trees needed to be planted 20 years ago to make a significant presence. Oh, well, there will always be fault-finders among us.

Just wondering …

Could this be a nudge for us to invest in our professional development now so we can enjoy a celebration of opportunity later? And strengthen our independence?

Why Defining a Strategy and Not Wavering Works

At Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Amanda Todorovich gave a talk – How to Build a Killer Content Marketing Strategy – on Cleveland Clinic’s effort to grow an audience for the organization’s Health Essentials newsletter.

Todorovich, director of content marketing, manages a team of writers, designers, digital engagement strategists and project managers. Her team is responsible for the #1 most-visited hospital blog in the country.

The newsletter started at 0 visits and grew to 5 million visits per month in October this year.

I was inspired listening to her talk. She does not minimize the effort required or the mistakes made along the way. You hear about the trial and error. Her presentation shows the possibility of building an audience in a highly regulated field. Health Essentials is a living example of what happens when you do the work, persist and continue to do the work. Eventually, you will earn good results.

So how did she and her team reach this readership? Continue reading Why Defining a Strategy and Not Wavering Works

No One has Time to Read Ambiguous Messages, so Get to the Point

1448178195_5780cfd315_o.jpg
Photo Credit: “Point!” © 2007 a2gemma, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

BEEP! A notification chirps from your smartphone. You pull the phone out of your pocket, wipe your fingers on your cotton jeans and swipe the smooth screen to unlock. Tapping open the email app, then …

BANG!

BOOM!

CRASH!

The emails clamor in your inbox. Each email is screaming at you. Look at me! Look at me! Read this now. Do this now. Emails are reminders of your unfinished tasks.

And your inbox is bursting. Continuously flooding with messages, the inbox is a cacophony that will never be silent.

When you acquiesce and scan the first email, trying to understand the long message on the little screen, do you wish the sender had written more words?

Probably not. You wanted the writer to be brief, concise and clear. Please get to the point, you beg.

If this is what you want, imagine what your client is thinking. Continue reading No One has Time to Read Ambiguous Messages, so Get to the Point