Emily Aborn Content Copywriting and Consulting Services

Pain, Problem, Solution Aware

Levels of customer awareness and why it matters

What is it? 

How do I fix it? 

Can YOU help me fix it? 

Those are three very different questions that our clients and customers ask at different places in their journey. Depending on what their level of customer awareness is, your clients are asking these three different questions and you can’t just answer them all or speak to them all at once. 

In this blog, we’re getting into the differences between pain aware, problem aware, and solution aware, and how it can help you consider your marketing so you can connect and love them no matter where they are now!

The Customer Awareness Journey

Do you know where your clients are right now? 

I don’t mean ACTUALLY where they are right now! But do you know where they are in their journey of realizing they need or want to work with you? 

In old sales slang, they use the terminology warm leads, cold leads, hot leads… 

It’s kind of like that, only this is a new way to think about it. This is about understanding that people come to us not only with different intentions to buy or not to buy, which is where the temperature leads come in, but also with different awareness levels around WHAT they need to buy. 

In SEO, copy, and marketing speak, we call this: Pain Aware, Problem Aware, Solution Aware. 

Sidebar: I left out two other phases which are unaware and product aware. The five full stages of awareness are from the great copywriter Eugene Schwartz. To keep it simple, I’m focusing on three. 

Because depending on where people are and what they’re experiencing at all these points in the journey, the way we speak to them is a little bit different. 

Let me use a medical example to depict what pain/symptom awareness looks like… 

I once had a headache that lasted a total of 23 days. If you or someone you know is going through this, you know that headaches and migraines are no joke. For me, the pain was through the roof and there was no break from it. Day in, day out, I woke up and went to sleep with a headache. I was well aware I had pain, but despite hours of visiting the office of Google Doctor, I couldn’t figure out my problem and what was causing it. I just knew it hurt and made me feel like garbage.

During this stage of pain awareness, you might also know the headache increases with loud noise, light, etc. But you still don’t know the actual problem, the underlying cause.  

Becoming Problem Aware

I finally and stubbornly went to my doctor. He performed a bunch of blood tests, stuck me in an MRI machine or Cat Scan (whichever is more expensive), and asked me a bunch of questions. 

Finally, we got the results.

My doctor told me I had something called a cluster headache which he said could continue going on and on indefinitely if I didn’t do something about it. 

Now I was PROBLEM aware, I knew what my pain was telling me was wrong. 

Next up, he offered me some solutions. He told me I needed to break the cycle, as it was a serotonin dysregulation, and stop the pain in it’s tracks. I was a little scared of what he gave me as a prescriptive solution, so I did some more research to find others solutions as well. Finally, I decided to try a solid dose of ibuprofen. I also read further that it could be due to a lack of minerals and I started focusing on more mineral rich foods. The ibuprofen did the trick, and the mineral rich foods seemed to keep it away. So now, I knew the SOLUTION(s). 

I had choices and didn’t feel hopeless anymore. 

Now let’s walk it through from a business perspective. 

Pain (Symptom) Awareness may look like: 

For an Interior Designer’s clients: Everyone is grumpy in the morning, tripping over each other trying to get out the door. Mornings are sheer and utter chaos with people climbing all over each other. The client feels scattered and disorganized and can’t settle down at the end of the day.

Travel Agent’s clients: Exhausted, run down, tired of winter, disconnected from family or spouse. Grumpy every day at work, going into hermit mode and sinking into a bit of a depressive funk. 

Website Designer’s clients: Business has slowed down significantly, when they get on calls, people say they were really hard to find or it was hard to figure out how to schedule the call. 

Now, for all of these examples, we know the PAIN points, but we’re not entirely sure what’s wrong. 

There could be a number of things causing the pain! 

The family that’s on top of each other every morning could need therapy, or a productivity coach. The exhausted run down couple might need therapy, or a coach, the person not getting clients might need marketing help, etc. 

But for the sake of this argument, let’s say each of these people is chatting with a friend, and they’re friend says, “Oh, it sounds like you have a function and flow problem in your home!” “Oh, it sounds like you need to get away from it all for a couple weeks!” “Oh, it sounds like your website is probably the culprit here.”

So, now we’ve become aware of the problem. 

We see the pain awareness stage often in marketing copy. Detailed descriptions of what the challenges, frustrations, and struggles are. You’re probably well aware of most of these with your own clients. We need to also balance this by speaking to their problem itself and also showing when it’s a problem we can help them to solve. 

When you’re talking to a potential client and they start talking about their pain and symptoms, you can ask questions to help understand if the problem is indeed one that you solve. You don’t want to assume what’s causing their pain, or that they’re having a problem they’re not, so you need to diagnose it a bit. 

Consider what questions they’re asking themselves in this stage – it will look different depending on your business, and answer those questions in your content and marketing. 

Once you or someone else has made them aware of the problem and clearly identified the cause of the issue, it becomes a little easier. 

You can talk in the language of the problem: 

  • Looking for a website designer who works with you to design a website that makes you money instead of costs you money? 
  • Looking for a copywriter who takes the hassle and confusion of writing for your business off your plate? 
  • Looking for a getaway that will restore, rejuvenate, and give you the break you’ve been looking for? 

We get to explain what we do to help fix it. How they will feel after we fix it. Maybe there are a couple solutions/options for fixing it that we can present. Or a couple paths they could take that you can help them with. 

I find that this stage of awareness is a good place for additional resources, education, tips around the problem and sharing answers to actual questions they have about the problem, or things they need to know before they solve it. 

You want to do understand everything you can about the problem so we can then move to the next phase of awareness which is… 

SOLUTION awareness! 

Ta-Da! It’s your lucky day, ideal client, because your solution is right here! Me! In front of you. 

In a dream world, everyone would know the solution is you or what you do and then go search for the right candidate, which is obviously. YOU. 

But often, when people are on the hunt for the solution – when they’ve become solution aware, they aren’t quite sure who to choose to help them with the solution and/or how you offer the solution. There may be multiple solutions to their problem, so you need to show clearly what you offer and who you are. 

You want them to identify you as the right fit. 

On social media and in your content, a great way to do this is case studies, testimonials, client stories, sharing about your process, specifically who you help or a niche you have, or results you get for XYZ type of client. 

They now have an idea of who to hire or what they need, and they just have to decide you are the who they’ve been looking for. I personally believe this is where personality content comes in as well. Many of my clients choose to work with me because they like me, or someone they know likes me. 

The know, like, and trust factor is no joke throughout the phases of awareness, but especially in the solution phase. 

Two tips to get you started: 
  1. Make a list of your 3 most recent clients. Consider where each one was in the journey when they found you. Jot down some notes as to where they are in the phase Pain, Problem, or Solution aware and then write a post as though it was to them. Write as though you’re writing to just that one person and be as specific as you can. 


  2. Remember when you’re creating content that not everyone knows what their actual problem is, they sometimes don’t know what your fancy title means and how that’s at all related to their problem. Challenge yourself to speak to these three different levels of awareness on a regular basis throughout your messaging and consider where they might interact with your content depending on where they are in their actual journey. 

As always – I love getting your emails, feedback, questions, and comments! So send them my way emily@emilyaborn.com or connect with me on instagram or Facebook or LinkedIn and send me a little message. And of course, if you want to listen to the episode that correlates to this blog post, make sure to download Content with Character at the link below or find it on your favorite podcast app.