EP22: Unaware Audiences

by | Mar 21, 2023 | Marketing, Podcast, SaaS

Image courtesy Regis F from Unsplash.co.

At DemandMaven, we work with early-stage SaaS companies to help them reach their first growth milestones.

Recently, I was on a discovery call with a company founder and was surprised by their view on the market. They said they felt like they’d hit the market cap and there was nowhere else they could go in terms of growth (even though they were only at $3K MRR). To solve this, they were thinking of shifting all their focus to unaware audiences.

To me, this was a huge red flag. For the majority of software companies, going after unaware audiences should be the very last tactic on the list. You should not be even considering targeting unaware audiences unless you are a unicorn already making billions of dollars. And if an agency suggests going after totally unaware audiences is the move, run. Run far away.

Since there seems to be some confusion around unaware audiences and what it actually means, I want to help clarify the definition and when it might make sense to target unaware audiences.

What are Eugene Schwartz’s Five Levels of Awareness?

You’ve probably seen Eugene Schwartz’s five levels of awareness before, but let’s clearly define it.

Stages of Awareness by Eugene Schwartz

The first level is unaware. These are people who don’t think there is a problem. There is no pain or frustration they experience. If you tried to explain the problem and your solution, they wouldn’t be able to grasp the scenario because they simply don’t have the experience to understand.

The next level is problem-aware. Problem-aware people are experiencing pain and frustration. There’s something about their circumstances that make what they’re using or doing no longer ideal, which creates a lot of stress and problems. However, they often don’t know what to do about the problem because they don’t think there is a solution.

They enter the next level, solution-aware, when they decide to look for better solutions. They’ll consider using anything that makes the process easier or faster. However, the solution has to remain valuable and timely enough for them to take action.

When a solution-aware person starts the process of finding a better way, they are probably going to start with a Google search or asking a friend or coworker with relevant experience. They’ll start investigating other solutions — both direct and indirect competitors along with competing alternatives — and move to the next level: product aware.

When someone becomes product-aware, this is when they’ll become aware of your product. This usually means they’ve landed on your website or read some product reviews.
They’ll start acquisition and activation activities, meaning they sign up for a trial or book a demo of your product. They might also sign up for your newsletter, consume some content on social media, or download a resource. That’s when they become most aware. They’ll do all of the most critical things: attend a webinar, try the free trial, read documentation, go through product tutorials or educational content, and use the product in some way.

At this point, they’ll consider whether or not the product solves their problem and in what way.

They’ll know the brand and the product, and they will compare and contrast your product and product experience to others.

What is an unaware audience?

Imagine you have a product and want to get it in front of the right people. However, you aren’t sure who the right customer is or how to find them, and don’t know who you are either.

For example, you’ve built a storyboarding tool for executive-level designers and want to get them using your product.

Let’s say most designers currently have a manual storyboarding process where they use Illustrator or InDesign to manually create artboards. They probably have a few templates they’ve created or downloaded to make the process easier, but over time they have a use case where building it manually doesn’t make sense anymore. This can become quite painful for them, but they don’t ever think there might be a software that does this.

You might think this is an example of an unaware audience. However, in this scenario, the designers are actually problem-aware. They know there is a pain point, but they don’t know that there are solutions out there.

Again, unaware audiences truly don’t think there is a problem. An unaware audience would be a designer who is happy to do their storyboarding manually and sees absolutely no issue with how they are doing things. You can present the problem to them and from there, they can decide if they want to act on it or not, but chances are, a truly unaware person doesn’t experience the slightest hint of pain and likely won’t until something in their context shifts.

Why shouldn’t you target unaware audiences?

When it comes to buying and selling goods, you generally want to sell to people who have a problem. Unaware folks, however, are truly unbothered and will take an enormous amount of effort to educate them around the pain. There’s no amount of marketing bombardment or sheer force that is going to make them care unless their context changes, causing them to go from unaware to problem-aware, and from there to solution-aware.

In the storyboarding example, the context that might switch when someone gets a different job, a promotion, or their responsibilities change. Once the context shifts, that triggers people to become problem-aware. However, as a marketer, there’s nothing you can do and no amount of money you can spend to shift their context. All you can do is wait until they agree they have a problem and decide to solve it. And even then, you cannot guarantee results.

Many marketers believe if they just show up enough, people will check them out and see if they have a problem, but this just doesn’t happen. Of course, there are some circumstances where people have spent a bunch of money on awareness campaigns and gotten really lucky. But in most cases the truth is that anyone who comes across your product and decides to try it isn’t actually unaware. Chances are they are problem-aware and didn’t realize that solutions existed and or that they could solve it.

When does it make sense to target unaware audiences?

When you have exhausted the problem-aware segments in a market, then it makes sense to start looking at expanding into unaware audiences. This is the only scenario where it might make sense to target unaware audiences. But even then, it’s a strong “might.”

There are scenarios where startups and SaaS companies have to start marketing to truly unaware audiences (granted, this is still technically very rare since most audiences actually are problem aware — they’ve just never considered solutions before).


Unaware Audience Case Study

HubSpot is a great example of a company that spends a lot of time and investment on unaware audiences. However, let’s think about who HubSpot is.

HubSpot is a huge, multi-billion dollar company. They are one of the most well-known marketing automation platforms out there, and you’d be hard strung to find a marketer who has never heard of HubSpot these days. They are truly a leader in the market.

Therefore, they are now focusing a lot of their energy on making sure that unaware people are aware of their products so when they do have a problem, they will check them out.

Keep in mind, though, that this strategy is a several-year process. It’s not something that happens quickly and there they are still not guaranteed to see the end result. And on top of that, it costs an absolute fortune. HubSpot has played their cards right over the years and is a huge company that can now take that risk.

But for almost everyone else, it makes more sense to start with the problem-aware folks, get them to consider your solutions, and ultimately work on getting them to go through conversion, retention, and expansion.

Key Takeaways: Targeting Unaware Audiences

So, while there are some successful use cases for large, established companies, most companies should not bother focusing on attracting unaware audiences. Truly unaware audiences are simply that — they have no idea about the problem and there’s nothing you can do about that until something happens to them that makes them care about solving it. You can’t control this.

Here’s a personal example to help reiterate this point. I recently ran a 5K and while I was at the expo picking up my number, I was approached by someone who provided home repair services. I told him that I rent an apartment, and he immediately backed down because he knew I hadn’t experienced the problems of home ownership and therefore didn’t need his services. He gave me some swag and told me to “remember us when you buy.”

In my mind, I knew I was going to throw away the swag because it wasn’t sustainable or useful to me. Already, I don’t even remember the brand name.

In this case, I was an unaware audience. The man didn’t waste my time because he knew that I am truly unaware of the problem and not experiencing it. I will continue to be unaware until I buy a home and experience the frustration. There is nothing he can do to change my situation (context) or and he cannot control when I will buy a home. Until then, I am a completely worthless audience to his business and there is no benefit in targeting me or my demographic. And even when my context does change, I am not going to call him.

Why would he waste any more time, effort, or money on me, who wasn’t in the context of the problem?

So, in conclusion, early-stage SaaS companies should almost always start by targeting problem-aware folks and solution-aware folks instead of unaware audiences, because the aware folks are the people who are open to solutions and will ultimately become customers.

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