(Creative Display Blog, October 2014.)

The “awareness ladder” is something mentioned in one of the packages we send out to our clients who want to know more about digital-out-of-home advertising, but it’s not something we’ve ever had the space to explain for those who are unaware of advertising tactics.

In essence, the awareness ladder is how you gauge your hypothetical consumer’s perception of you. Everyone defaults at zero: you start out and nobody knows about you, your product, or your company. Often times, they are unaware about why they would even need to care about you. If you’re selling hair gel, there may be millions of people out there who want their hair to look a different way, don’t know that hair gel might help them get there, and don’t know that you are out there trying to solve that problem. Different advertisers and marketing textbooks switch up between whether there are four or five rungs on the ladder, but we are going to keep it to four and do a twist on the fourth (top) level.

Level One: Customer Unaware of the Need.

The customer is unaware that they have a need for your product. At this stage, the prospect is not aware they have a problem, so they’re not looking for a solution. Most critics of advertising take exception with this right off the bat, claiming that someone who is not aware of a need does not truly need it, and any attempt to make them feel like they have it is coercion or psychological manipulation. It should be noted that the default state for a decent person is not ignorance, and if this were the case society would never change. This is where you make someone aware.

Level Two: Customer Aware of the Need, but Not About the Solution

The customer recognizes the need, but not the connection between the fulfilment of that need and your product. They recognize that the need exists, they recognize it has value, but they have not recognized why you specifically can fulfill the need. Level two and three switch between each other very quickly because at the same time you’re convincing them a need exists, you’re also beginning to convince them that your solution is the best way to fulfill this need.

A lot of activists and non-profits get stalled out in this area: everyone knows there are social issues, but many are not convinced that Charity X is the way to solve it.

Level Three: Aware of Solution, Unaware of why Your Solution is Best

This is where differentiation starts to be executed. At this stage, the customer recognizes immediately that they want what the product does, but they don’t know that there’s a product that will do it for them. Why should they choose you? Keep in mind that if they choose you, you’ve started the process of customer loyalty and you may have this person for life.

Now, you have to move them to the next step where they will not only know but will also believe that they should be your customers. The key to this step is instilling credibility in your brand, your product/service and your solution. If you’re not competing against other brands now, you may be doing so someday soon.

Sometimes people put an extra level between three and four called “Benefits,” and this is where you can further express what is good about using your product or service specifically. It’s difficult to pinpoint when this takes place in many buying processes when the specific solution can be built into the need, and the benefits can be built into the solution.

Level Four: Aware of the Need and Aware that you Can Solve It.

This last step can become two steps depending on what marketplace you’re located in. At this level, the customer is fully aware of what the need is, they know who you are, and they are aware that your product or service fulfills that need. In the broadest terms, this is the last step. You’ve achieved your goal. If the need is specific enough and there are no other direct competitors to what you’re selling, this can be the end of it. You created a job that needs to be done, and you’re the one to complete the job.

In markets where there’s a lot of competition and the values you’ve expressed are vaguer, you may need to go one step further than awareness and make it appeal more uniquely to them as an individual. This is done with the advertising, which is why graphic design and marketing experts are crucial to the outreach process.

In these cases, the earlier steps on the ladder might be easier to do. For example, if the “need” is to appear young and professional, you won’t need to convince anyone this problem exists; there are already people walking around searching for that solution. They may be aware that you fulfill the need in general, but you need to go a bit further and show how it fulfills it for them. This can be done with imagery, marketing, consumer profiling, and everything else. This is the level that watch manufacturers play on.

Now that you have a better idea of what the Awareness Ladder is, you’re closer to competently reaching out to your consumers and you can open up new markets more easily.