Last week, I was creating a new Google AdWords campaign for a client of ours, a very large (multi-billion) medical device company.

As I was brainstorming hooks for the ads, I was reminded of  Eugene Schwartz’s book Breakthrough Advertising – one of the best books ever written on the topic of copywriting, in my opinion.



One of the smartest pieces of advice Schwartz gives is to tailor the headline of your advertisement based on the stage of your customer’s awareness of your product.

The headline is the most important part of your ad because it either succeeds or fails in attracting your prospect’s attention. And without your prospect’s attention, you have nothing.

Below, I’ve paraphrased Schwartz’s concept of awareness and how I use this concept when writing headlines.

What Stage Is Your Prospect In?

1. Pre-Need.

In the earliest stages of awareness, your prospect does not even know he has a need for your product.

An example of pre-need awareness is when you are advertising a brand new product in a brand new category with no direct competitors.

When it comes to online advertising, you’ll typically reach these prospects via Display advertising, such as the Google display network or Facebook advertising. And you’d target your advertising based on the type of customer you’d like to attract.

The job of these ads is, first and foremost, to make the case for the need for your product. This is the most challenging type of advertising because you have to educate your prospects before you can present an effective sales pitch.

2. Need

The next stage is where the prospect is aware of a particular problem or need, but isn’t sure how he’s going to solve the problem. He is likely already looking for a solution.

In this case, you are usually advertising a product in a market with several existing competitors.

When it comes to online advertising, the easiest place to reach these prospects is when they are searching in Google for keywords related to the need. You can also reach them when they are surfing on websites related to the need, such as keyword-targeted advertising on Google’s display network.

The job of these ads is to present your product as superior to your competitors. Your ads should focus on your Unique Selling Proposition – why buy from you, versus the other guys?

3. Desire

The final stage is where your customer is aware of your product and has a desire to purchase your product — but has not purchased yet.

You can reach these prospects when they are searching on your brand name. You can also reach them with remarketing advertising, where you display ads to prospects who have already visited your website but did not buy.

In this case, because your audience has already demonstrated an awareness of your products, you’ll usually want to lead with your offer to nudge them off the fence and buy. The simplest form of offer is to provide a discount, although there are other options.

Back to the example… Our client is a very large company, with a ton of brand awareness. For that reason, I decided NOT to focus on the benefits or USP of their product; instead, the ad headline focuses on making an offer.

Entering the Conversation

Another advertising genius, Robert Collier, famously wrote that ads should enter the conversation already going on in the prospect’s mind.  Schwartz picks up where Collier left off and takes it a step further by explaining how to tailor your ad based on your prospect’s awareness of your product and the need it fulfills.

Here are the questions I consider before writing headlines:

  • What conversation is going on inside the prospect’s mind, related to the product, the product category, or the need the product fulfills?
  • What stage of awareness does the prospect have when it comes to the product: pre-need, need, or desire?
  • What headline would best connect with the prospect at that stage of awareness?

You should always test multiple headlines because you never know what message is going to connect best until you test, but if you first answer these questions, you’ll have a much greater chance of connecting with your prospect and making the sale.

Get the Book

Breakthrough Advertising has been in and out of print… I bought my copy on Amazon used for about $100. If you’re serious about creating effective advertising, you should definitely get it.