One problem in copywriting I often see is the fact that the audience is not targeted for the offer. An untargeted, unqualified prospect won’t buy, no matter how good the copy is.

Or at least, they will ask for a refund once they smell the coffee. But that’s not the topic I want to discuss…

It’s the second biggest copywriting problem. Which is the fact that the copy doesn’t speak to the customer at the stage of awareness at which they happen to be.

This is absolutely essential to ensure that the copy is long enough, and strong enough, to appeal to, qualify, educate, and sell the prospect. It’s about connecting with them.

What are these “stages of awareness?” There are four.

I’ve used these before I ever learned about their existence. Mostly unconsciously through researching a target market while writing copy. I know, for example, that Eugene Schwartz talks about this and at great length in his book, “Breakthrough Advertising.”

Schwartz discusses the various stages of awareness and sophistication of a certain market, but I prefer to use an acronym so it is easier to remember and follow.

I call it “OATH.” As in, “Is your prospect ready and willing to take an oath?”

It’s a cool mnemonic to help you remember how aware is your market about the problem, their need for a solution, and of course, your solution specifically. Here’s what I mean.

Depending one where your reader is at, and the level of education, credentialization, and agitation you need to provide (and the length of copy you need to write, to a certain extent), depends very highly on how knowledgeable and aware your market is.

Maybe they’re hurting right now. Maybe they’re not there yet. “Not there yet” means they may be hurting, but do they really know they are hurting, and by how much?

That’s what their awareness level of the problem means. And it’s also how educated they are about the solution — let alone your solution — and how sophisticated they are.

Granted, this is answered to some degree by how targeted your audience is, which is the first problem I mentioned earlier. But the sales copy should flow from, and follow with, that stage of awareness in order to bring them to a successful outcome.

I like to look at it this way: how prepared they are to take an oath, meaning how ready, willing, and able they are to buy, is based on any one of those four stages.

Here’s what “OATH” means…

OThey’re oblivious.

At this stage, they’re unaware about the problem let alone a need for a solution. They don’t know they’re hurting or could be hurting (i.e., that there’s a potential problem they don’t know about and should prevent with your solution).

So in this case, you need to educate them a lot — about the problem or potential problem. You need to bring it to the top of their minds. If you hit them too hard and too fast with the solution and particularly the benefits of the solution, without knowing they have a problem in the first place, you’re only going to confuse or lose them.

Often, this is what happens with copy that’s too short or too presumptive.

Do they really know they’re hurting? Even if they simply have an unmet desire for something, unbeknown to them they’re still hurting at some other level. As my friend and copywriter Craig Perrine once said, “An unmet desire is also a problem to be solved.”

AThey’re apathetic.

They know they have a problem, but they’re indifferent about the solution. Any solution. They simply don’t care for whatever reason. Perhaps the problem is not important enough or urgent enough to them. Perhaps they’re not hurting enough.

So you need to blow up the problem — or the risk of the potential problem, which is a problem in itself. You need to aggravate it. Make it more real, more present, more urgent, more vivid. You need to pour salt into their wounds, so to speak.

More importantly, you need to make them feel the consequences of their inaction. Because good copy doesn’t really induce action. Good copy, in reality, is meant to prevent procrastination — and procrastination is the biggest killer of sales!

This is particularly true with higher stages of awareness, for the more aware they are, then the more their inaction is about procrastination than it is about the lack of desire.

TThey’re thinking.

They know they have a problem and that there is a solution, but they don’t know about your solution. They’re shopping around, considering other offers or just thinking about whether they should be doing something about their problem in the first place.

So at this stage, you don’t need to sell them too much on the problem or the solution. After all, they’re thinking about it. But you do need to sell them on your solution.

What is it? Why is it a good solution? Why is it important to them? What makes it so unique, different, or valuable? What makes your offer so compelling above over all other alternatives, including unrelated ones? With the latter, I mean indirect competitors.

An indirect competitor may be a totally different solution, a different product or service, that soothes the same pain. So you need to build value in your solution, too.

HThey’re hurting.

At this stage, they’re desperate! They know they have a problem and how bad it is, they may know about the various solutions that exist on the market, and they even know about your specific solution. But they haven’t gone ahead for some reason.

Perhaps they don’t know how to go ahead, or why they should go ahead right now. Perhaps they’ve used other solutions unsuccessfully in the past and are afraid.

Their inaction may be they’ve seen other offers but they’re overwhelmed, distrusting, skeptical, or suspicious, or they’ve been burnt by other, substandard solutions or scams.

Think of it this way: if they’re desperate, then clearly they’re already sold. So why haven’t they bought, yet? What do they need to get over the remaining “hump?” What’s stopping them? What objections do they have left or what questions remain to be answered?

So here, you need to increase proof, urgency, and the value of your specific solution. No need for a lot of education here. Just sell them on reasons why on getting your solution and getting it now. Build perceived value, proof, and urgency.

At this stage, procrastination is the culprit. Often, it’s based on fear. Whether it’s the fear of the unknown (they don’t know you from a hole in the wall), the fear of making a bad decision, or the fear of buying — such as security concerns, for example.

You need to allay that fear. To do so, you need to truly understand your customer at a deeper, more intimate level. You need to learn why they haven’t gone ahead yet or what they need to go ahead. And finally, you need to give it to them.

In a nutshell, that’s my OATH formula.

So the bottom line is, by and large your audience may be oblivious, apathetic, thinking, or hurting. Granted, this may not be true all of the time, but if your targeting is done properly, then the vast majority will predominantly fall into one of them.

Knowing this will tell you a lot about not only how much information you need to gather and provide to educate your reader, but what kind of information, and what kind of offer, that will stimulate them and transition them into buying your solution.

And remember, it all starts with your market. Copywriting is more about knowing your audience and helping them to buy, than it is about knowing your product and selling it.

Michel Fortin

Chief Experience Officer at, Inc.
A copywriter and consultant for close to 30 years, Michel was instrumental in selling millions worth of products and services. His most notable success is a salesletter that sold over a million dollars online on launch day. Today, Michel is a best-selling author, in-demand public speaker, and highly sought-after marketing consultant. Get his free report, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," at

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