I recently read a blog post where someone referenced Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. In his book, he listed five groups of potential customers with ideas for selling to each of them. When I read it, it reminded me of the relationship between educators and the knowledge we “sell” our colleagues and students.

Here are the five groups:

  1. Most Aware: Your prospect knows your product, and only needs to know “the deal.”
  2. Product Aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn’t sure it’s right for him.
  3. Solution Aware: Your prospect knows the result he wants, but not that your product provides it.
  4. Problem Aware: Your prospect senses he has a problem, but doesn’t know there’s a solution.
  5. Completely Unaware: No knowledge of anything except, perhaps, his own identity or opinion.

To make sense of the groups, here’s a quick set of examples:

  1. Most Aware: This would be like Tesla or Apple. As soon as they announce a product, people are ready to buy it.
  2. Product Aware: This would be like Sony or Panasonic. People know they make TVs but are not sure which model is right for them.
  3. Solution Aware: This would be like people realizing they want to be entertained, but aren’t sure if they should get a TV or a ping pong table.
  4. Problem Aware: This would be like people realizing they’re bored, but not realizing that they don’t have to be bored.
  5. Completely Unaware: This would be people who are not even aware that they’re bored because that’s the way life always is.


Applications in Education
Reading this made me think about whether this had applications in education when working with students and/or teachers. For example, there have been times where I shared an idea at a training that I thought was game changing. For example, I love using Desmos’ Polygraph as a way to introduce a need for vocabulary. I thought that when I shared it with teachers, they would love it and immediately incorporate it into their classrooms. That’s definitely not what happened.

Looking back now, I wonder if I made incorrect assumptions. Maybe I thought the teachers were “Most Aware” and as soon as I mentioned anything Desmos, they’d want to know how to use it in their classrooms (and certainly some were). However, I think in reality the teachers were closer to the “Problem Aware” stage. They knew that students did not seem to like learning their vocabulary, but didn’t know that there was a solution to this problem.

Similarly, I’ve taught students lessons on how to use coupons to save money where I treated them like the “Most Aware” group. I expected them to crave this new tool, but that didn’t happen. They didn’t really care about coupons (probably because they were still children) and were probably in the “Problem Aware” or “Completely Unaware” group with little to no knowledge of this even being a problem.

Clearly, neither of these are ideal situations if your job is to convince others that the information you’re providing is something they want and need. So, where do we go from here?


How To Deal With Each Group
I’m still trying to think through this section of tips for dealing with each group, and would appreciate your feedback. My hope is that by meeting teachers and students where they’re at, we’ll be able to provide them with not only what they need but also with the kind of messaging that will make them understand why they’d even want it.

1. Most Aware

We don’t often work with teachers or students in this group, but it’s pretty awesome when we do. It’s more likely to take place in situations where the participants have chosen to be there. For example, students who signed up to be part of a robot engineering club have a pretty good idea of what they are getting into and are probably eager to learn more. Some presenters who share their content online may have situations like this at a conference where attendees may already be a fan of their ideas and are ready to learn about them.

Strategy: If you’re ever lucky enough to have a “Most Aware” audience, you can spend less time convincing your students/teachers about why they need your information and more time letting them learn.

2. Product Aware

Teachers and students in this group may know what your training of class is about, but they don’t know if will help them achieve their goals. For example, will integrating programming into your math class help students make more sense of mathematics? Perhaps attendees have had experiences where it felt like what they were learning was not what they needed.

This is a very common audience for teacher conferences where attendees may have read your session’s description but need convincing that it will meet their needs. This is less common for students, unless you teach an elective where the students can chose their class. They may be hoping it’s going to be beneficial but come in with some initial skepticism.

Strategy: This is a great opportunity to use Dan Meyer’s headache/aspirin metaphor as a guiding principle. If what you will share/teach/present is the aspirin, what is the headache that would make them ever want to take it.
For example, if you’re presenting about Which One Doesn’t Belong, make sure teachers are in touch with how frustrating it can be to have mathematical conversations in class. With that in mind, they’ll be more interested in learning about something that will make that pain go away.

Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to be teaching a class that students chose, make sure to highlight the problems that your class makes go away. For example, art classes give students a way to express themselves, communicate with others, and make others happier. If you’re teaching a math modeling elective class, you can highlight how they help students make tons of money, find a job, make apps, etc.

3. Solution Aware

Teachers and students in this group know the results they want but don’t know that you are the person that can help them. For example, teachers in this group might realize that they want their students to be better problem solvers, but there are so many people and products that claim to achieve this result. Why is yours any different? Students in this group may realize that they want to be successful in life and competent mathematicians, but how is your class going to help them when they’ve had mixed experiences previously?

Strategy: This group would appreciate you helping them sort through the available options. What are the pros and cons of each possibility? Who is a good fit for what you’re sharing and who is not? For teachers, this might include comparing a variety of options for teaching a topic and helping them pick their preference. For students, it might occurs more often when they have choices, for example, what math classes they can choose from later in high school and the pros and cons of each.

4. Problem Aware

There are a great many teachers and students in this group, and they are likely to be uninterested in what we have to share if we don’t proactively address it. Many have a combination of a fixed mindset about what is and what could be and/or limited experience with other possibilities.

Teachers in this group may realize that kids are not making sense of what they’re teaching, but as far as they’re aware, that’s the way it always has been and maybe always will be. Students in this group likely realize that they are underperforming, but they may think that they are bad at math and not much can be done about it.

Strategy: Teachers and students in this group need to become more aware of the possibilities that exist. For example, as I’ve mentioned in this short blog post about Febreze, one problem for teachers is that for many, it’s been years since they spent a period observing another teacher or had another teacher spend a period observing them and sharing feedback. As a result, they come to accept this false reality and not realize the alternatives. To break them out of this situation, consider opportunities like taking them to teacher conferences to become inspired or trying #ObserveMe at your school site so they can become more aware of what’s out there.

For both teachers and students, it’s important to encourage a growth mindset. I’ve seen teachers and students alike think that they can’t improve, whether it’s with their own instruction, their students’ learning, or with understanding math in general. When you have a fixed mindset and think nothing could change, why would you care to learn anything new?

5. Completely Unaware

This is often a challenging group to work with. Think of people in this group as effectively living on an island. They are unaware of what could be and generally continue to do things the way they always have.

For teachers, their strategies may or may not be effective, but they keep using them every year because that’s just what they do. For students, they may see school as a mandatory requirement and be more about minimum compliance than anything else. For both groups, they tend to see growth and learning as an inconvenient obligation rather than a choice.

Strategy: It will be challenging for any strategy to be immediately effective here, however one option is to help the person by painting a picture of what could be versus what is. Help them realize what other possibilities are out there and support them as they become curious. Realize that this will likely be scary for them as accepting that they can grow means making themselves vulnerable.


I’m certainly trying to push our thinking with this blog post and imagine that not everyone agrees with my perspective. Do you think I’ve gotten a group wrong? Have you thought of a strategy that might be effective? Please let me know what you think by posting in the comments.


  1. I bet I’m not alone when I say that as I read through each category, a teacher or students face came to the forefront of my mind. I would say that for the final one, the most challenging to work with, I would try something to spark something inside of them to see how different things CAN be. I might flick them a puzzle or counterintuitive problem and say something like, “hey check this out” or “I’d love your thoughts on this” – something they have to work through and experience for themselves. I think these people can come from a place where they’ve defended their method for so long, they’ve lost sight of considering any alternative. Great post, Robert – very intriguing!

    • Thanks for coming along with me on this journey, John. It’s definitely a nontraditional approach but I thought it could be helpful for how we convey our message. I like your ideas to. Getting them to see what can be is critical.

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