The 5 Levels of Market Sophistication For Effective Marketing

Marketplace Sophistication

What’s the single biggest reason why marketing campaigns fail?

It’s not the competition, although that is part of it.

It’s not the investment you make in your marketing campaign.

It’s not the copy or the ads.

It’s this.

It’s not knowing your marketplace’s sophistication level.

If you know your marketplace’s sophistication level you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding with your marketing campaigns.

By knowing your marketplace’s sophistication level you’ll understand why some claims and promises work while others fall flat.

What is Market Sophistication?

Market Sophistication is a term used to describe the level of awareness of your marketplace. It was a term first coined by Eugene Schwartz in his groundbreaking book Breakthrough Advertising.

How many similar products/services has your market been told about before?

Basically, has your product/service ever been sold to this market before?

There are 5 levels of sophistication.

From Level 1 the least sophisticated to level 5.

I am going detail each level and provide you with the best strategies for each level from Eugene Schwartz’s book.

Level 1 “The Christopher Columbus Level”

You are first.

You are a pioneer.

There is no competition. This can be a blessing or a curse. This usually happens when there is a technological breakthrough or when an existing product is found to solve a problem in a different market.

Kind of like Viagra was supposed to treat blood pressure instead of what it is used for today.

From Eugene Schwartz:

“Be simple. Be direct. Above all, don’t be fancy. Name either the need or the claim in your headline-nothing more.  Dramatize the claim in your copy-make it as powerful as possible. And then bring in your product; and prove that it works.”

Level 2 What is it Level?

You are no longer first.

The competition has caught up.

The simple claims you were making in Level 1 are no longer as effective.

“If you’re second, and the direct claim is still working- then copy that successful claim- but enlarge on it. Drive it to the absolute limit. Outbid your competition.”

Here are some headline examples from the weight loss niche. These are old headlines but they can work in certain places today.

“Lose Up To 47 Pounds In 4 Weeks- Or Receive $40 Back!”

“Who Ever Heard Of 17,000 Blooms From A Single Plant?”

It can take years until these claims are no longer believed.

Or it can take months. It depends on how saturated the marketplace gets. For example, 4 years ago a simple ad on Facebook with a freebie offer would have been very effective. Now, depending on which city you are in this is no longer the case.

Market Sophistication

Level 3 “The Blah Level”

At this stage, your marketplace has heard it all. The claims you were making before are no longer as effective. Marketplaces that tap into a recurring desire of all reached this stage.

Women will always want to lose weight, men will always want to be seen more with more vitality, etc… If your marketplace addresses people’s core desires of wealth, health & wellness, and love then you can be sure that your marketplace is at this stage.

What’s the best strategy for this stage?

From Eugene Schwartz:

“If your market is at the stage where they’ve heard all the claims, in all their extremes, then mere repetition or exaggeration won’t work any longer. What this market needs now is a new device to make all these claims become fresh and believable to making them again. In other words, A NEW MECHANISM- a new way to making the old promise work. A different process- a fresh chance- a brand-new possibility of success where only disappointment has resulted before.”

It’s no longer about what your product/service does but HOW it works. Eugene Schwartz describes this as the “Unique Mechanism”

What is the Unique Mechanism?

The unique method, system, or process behind your products/services that brings your prospects the outcome they desire.

Here are headlines that introduce the unique mechanism.


Subheadline: “Read the Astonishing Experience of New York Food Expert with the Famous Eat-and-Reduce Plan.”

Level 4 “The arms race level”

At this stage, your competition has caught up. Your competition is bolder, bigger, and more sophisticated. New and bigger claims are made every day. At this stage, you will see direct side by side comparisons of two products.

Mac vs. PC. McDonalds vs. Burger King.

McDonalds vs. Burger King.

What’s the best strategy for this level?

From Eugene Schwartz:

“If a competitor has just introduced a new mechanism to achieve the same claim as that performed by your product, and that new- mechanism announcement is producing sales,  then counter in this way. Simply elaborate or enlarge upon the successful mechanism. Make it easier, quicker, surer; allow it to solve more of the problem; overcome old limitations; promise extra benefits. You are beginning a stage of embellishment similar to the Second Stage of Sophistication.”

The biggest challenge at this stage is believability. Once you have exhausted all the benefits from the same mechanism then you’ll reach the final stage of sophistication.

Level 5 “The Rebirth Level”

Your marketplace has been assaulted for years with claims and they no longer believe you. This is the most challenging level and it’s where marketers make their money count.

“The emphasis shifts from the promise and the mechanism which accomplishes it, to identification with the prospect himself. You are dealing here with the problem of bringing your prospect into your ad-not through desire-but through identification.” -Eugene Schwartz

What’s the biggest emotional benefit that your prospect will get when they buy your product/service?

What things can your prospect identify with your product/service?


This is one of the most important strategies you will ever learn. The best way to learn your marketplace’s sophistication is to research. Make sure to conduct a thorough competitive analysis.

Take a look at the claims being made by your competitors. What promises are they making?

What unique mechanisms are they using?

After you’ve scoped out your marketplace you should get a much better understanding of what level your market is. Then you can work on crafting your message.

Check out this video from Todd Brown in which he goes over this concept.

About the Author

My name is Mauricio and I'm the founder The Cardenal Group. I write about online marketing, sales, and entrepreneurship.

Leave a Reply 2 comments

randy berg - December 26, 2016 Reply

Mauricio… it is a genuine pleasure to get a GOOD article that I can use, esp. since you are a LinkedIn connection and you are not trying to spam me. That happens too many times.
please let me know how I can help you.
regards and happy holidays!
Randy Berg

    Mauricio Cardenal - December 26, 2016 Reply

    Thank you, Randy!

    I’m glad you liked the article.

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