The 5 Types of Online Prospects, and How to Sell to Each of Them

The 5 Types of Online Prospects, and How to Sell to Each of Them

If you’re producing content to promote your services, physical products, or digital offerings, obviously you want a return on investment for the time and effort you put in.

On the other hand, you’ve probably noticed that if you spend all of your time relentlessly selling, you’ll alienate a good portion of your prospective audience.

The tricky problem for content marketers is that various readers are at different awareness levels, depending on how long they’ve been reading and how much exposure you’ve provided to your offer.

And the way you approach your offer will change, depending on which stage your prospect happens to be in.

Eugene Schwartz tackled this issue in his classic book Breakthrough Advertising back in 1966.

Schwartz broke down prospect awareness into five distinct phases:

  1. The Most Aware: Your prospect knows your product, and only needs to know “the deal.”
  2. Product-Aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn’t sure it’s right for him.
  3. Solution-Aware: Your prospect knows the result he wants, but not that your product provides it.
  4. Problem-Aware: Your prospect senses he has a problem, but doesn’t know there’s a solution.
  5. Completely Unaware: No knowledge of anything except, perhaps, his own identity or opinion.

As usual, we often find that the “new” challenges we face in digital marketing have already been thought through decades before by bright people like Schwartz and David Ogilvy.

That means we don’t dive into directly selling to every audience member who engages with our content. Instead, we use a variety of strategies — both direct and indirect — to make a case for the offer when the time is right.

Let’s take a look at how the five stages of awareness contained in a 50-year-old book can help you craft content that works for your marketing goals.

The five stages of reader awareness

1. The Most Aware

These are long-time readers who aren’t customers or clients yet.

These are the ones you can speak most directly with, but you’ll need to make sure that those direct messages are not hurting your chances with those at different awareness levels.


Take these readers “off road” for periodic offer-specific messages designed especially for them, such as a high-value sales funnel.

You can also do occasional offer announcement posts in between regular content, or tack on a P.S. to a relevant article.

2. Product-Aware

These people are still not sure if what you offer is right for them, even though you’ve educated them about it with some creative content marketing.

They don’t want to be pummeled with offer information, because they’re hung up at an earlier stage of the conversion process.


If your content hasn’t made your case for you, you probably need to take an approach that more fully addresses prospect questions and objections. (The basic email autoresponder is an excellent tool for this.)

As always, the key is to deliver real content with independent value that also demonstrates a benefit of your offer … with a link, of course, to a well-crafted landing page at the end.

3. Solution-Aware

This person has a need, perhaps subscribes to your blog, but doesn’t yet know you offer a solution to their problem.

This is where content marketing will shine for you. This is the perfect person to offer a white paper, free report, multi-post tutorial delivered by email, webinar, or other high-value content.


Be sure you’re engaging this reader’s attention, normally via an opt-in email list, so you can let them know about everything you have to offer.

Keep the ratio of content to offers high, to keep their interest and build rapport.

4. Problem-Aware

This person knows they have a problem … but they don’t know you.

They haven’t yet been convinced to subscribe to your blog and begin a relationship with you. They might have arrived via a search engine or through a social media channel.

The key point is they don’t yet know or trust you.

Strong content with independent value is critical to everyone in your audience, but it’s these people who most need to see the value up front to get on board as a subscriber.


We’ve covered this topic quite a bit, so if you’re a new reader, sign up to get free access to our proven marketing training.

5. Completely Unaware

This is your typical cold social media traffic, the kind that might come in from Twitter or Pinterest.

They aren’t necessarily looking for anything about you or your offer … they’re just responding to a piece of content you put out.

This is why I don’t favor click-baiting with off-topic content.

Sure, you might get some links and shares, and that’s good. But it’s a whole lot better to get your perfect audience, not just whoever shows up.


When you’re creating content that is specifically designed to attract attention, keep it related to your ultimate goals.

Traffic just for the sake of traffic is a waste of time when you’re selling something other than ads — and we all know the advertising game is a tough one to win online.

Value first

No matter which stage you find your prospect in, the content that attracts audiences in the first place has to offer value — it’s as simple as that.

Pitching relentlessly from your content platform is a business-killing error for most (if not all) of us.

Again, you’re creating content to promote your business, and there’s no reason to be shy about that fact.

But if your posts don’t offer independent value (telling more than selling), you’ll lose your audience’s trust … and that means that soon, you won’t have much of an audience at all.