What Is Market Sophistication? The 5 Levels of Direct Response Awareness (Including Examples)

Welcome! Today’s session is about market sophistication, and what your market already knows (or doesn’t know) about your claims. What is market sophistication? How sophisticated is your audience so far? What have marketers before you said about products like yours? Today, it’s high time we answered all of these questions.

We’ll develop your working knowledge and mindset about marketing to the right audience.

Learning this will bring you a huge advantage in your business. For some reason, Direct Response Marketing is becoming a bit of a lost art, especially with the big guys.

I’ll show you today a few Direct Response Marketing examples that smaller businesses can plug in to smash the larger competition. It’s really the number one thing you should leverage as a small business owner.

What Is Market Sophistication?

So here’s the thing…

Competitors will always get smarter and try to one-up you, but if you actually learn what market sophistication is, then you’ll be able to think multiple steps down the line with this knowledge.

Plus, they’ll never acquire the overarching principles that you will. They might not even know about the five levels in the first place! Let’s hop into what these five stages actually are:

Long term, this approach will bring you consistent profit, freedom in your lifestyle, and the ability to steer your business to whatever heights you choose.

Before we start, a quick market sophistication definition:

 Market Sophistication – Each market and product will go through five main stages of awareness. Your prospect has heard certain claims before, and they slowly lose their leverage. Overcoming market sophistication road blocks is about using new approaches to match the awareness level of different types of prospects.

Marketing to the right prospect goes far beyond knowing the target, the demographic, their fears, needs, and desires. These are all (in themselves) thousands of words, and hours of content. Wait patiently in the future for those…

To make marketing work, you need to know mindset, human behavior, and psychology deeply. For now, so my fingers don’t fall off while delivering these concepts, we’re going to cover market sophistication.

Breakthrough Advertising & The True Origin of Market Sophistication

Market sophistication was a concept originally introduced by a Direct Response Marketing god named Eugene Schwartz, in his legendary book, Breakthrough Advertising.

Breakthrough Advertising, an out-of-print blockbuster of a book is now sold for ungodly amounts of money, worth every penny. It’s packed with strictly actionable strategy.

It’s proven by decades of research from the likes of David Ogilvy, Stanley Resor, Raymond Rubicam, Eugene Schwartz and Claude Hopkins. Many of these legendary firms still stand today, including Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, and Young & Rubicam.

This should show you that proven tactics work, and have always worked. Now if only more businesses practiced their concepts, perhaps they’d be much more profitable…

Anyway, Eugene Schwartz’s perennial book received world-renowned status, along with another legendary book called Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins.

The Only Two Books You Need, to Master Market Sophistication

There are thousands of copywriting and marketing books, and hundreds of direct response books. If I had to keep it 80/20 on you I’d simply tell you to read these two. Scientific & Breakthrough Advertising are all you need to get started!

But literally none of them (except Breakthrough) highlight the stages of market sophistication!

So, let’s hop into what market sophistication is, what it means to you, and how you can use your audience’s sophistication level in your advertising.

There are five main levels when speaking about market sophistication. A “level of sophistication” relates to how many products have gone before you. How much noise has been shouted into your marketplace.

Who else likes dessert first? Me too…

We’ll descend in marketing difficulty and start with the hardest sophistication level. The closer we get to number one, the easier it will be to market to your prospect.

The Five Levels of Market Sophistication, In Descending Order of Difficulty

Beginning with number five, the biggest challenge, requiring the largest box of tools and biggest savvy…

Stage 5 – The “Rusty Old Product” & How to Revive It

This fifth and final sophistication level is when your market isn’t hearing anything you’re saying. They’ve heard it all before. They don’t believe you, and they don’t care much about what you sell.

It’s the most aware stage so far.

Hence in this example, it’s the hardest to get out of, yet not impossible.

Since your market has heard every promise in the book, it’s now up to you to shift from promises, hopes, and dreams of the mechanism, to identification.

Again, a very condensed and abbreviated form of explanation, a mechanism has much deeper meaning and application.

For brevity purposes in this example, we’ll keep it quick – check out number three to see what a mechanism is.

You are here dealing with the problem of bringing your prospect into your ad – not through desire – but through identification.
Identification is an insanely valuable, actionable strategy.

 Identification – Identification has two major roles: character and achievement. By getting the prospect to identify with your product, either through who he is or who he wants to be (character or achievement) you 10x the power of your sales copy and persuasion.

These terms will be outlined later on, in a new post on Direct Response Marketing examples.

Stage 4 – A Competitive Market… With A Chance

This fourth stage is where your products and services still sound a bit tiring to the prospect, but there still remains hope.

The competition can only be beaten so much by advertising at this point, as they are a very aware market.

What you’re trying to do throughout these stages is “elaborate and enlarge” the mechanism.

Within a few months, the third stage of [market] sophistication passes into a fourth stage – a new stage of elaboration and enlargement. But this time, the elaboration is concentrated on the mechanism, rather than on the promise.

What you make larger than life is the mechanism’s claims. For example, you let your “bubbling soap” do all the work, or the “secret chocolate blend” in your mud pies.

You channel the energy of what your prospects need, through a product mechanism. But this time you make it larger, faster, stronger. Thus, you bring all that passion and desire back onto your product once again.

Make your newer mechanism easier, faster, better, require less commitment, etc. This time around, for whatever you sell, leverage a better mechanism than the competition might be using.

Enlarge and elaborate.

Stage 3 – “They’ve Heard It All!” … And How to Break Through the Noise

This third stage is still a pretty aware market. They’ve heard the claims that amplify their desires, they even know some of your persuasion and copy tactics. Maybe they’ll even buy some products from the competition.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with using persuasive copy, as long as you’re selling a valuable product, and still ethically influencing others with your mission.

The mass desire – the tremendous profit potential – still exists. But it cannot be tapped by the old, simple methods any longer.

The power in this stage of market sophistication lies in the restoration. Maybe it is a market that wants to reduce: fat, old friends, old stuff. Perhaps it’s a market that wants to renew periodically: light bulbs, spark plugs, candles.

What is the return rate of this market? How quickly will they restore their needs?

Finding Your Mechanism

It’s time to find or create a mechanism for your product, rather than merely reiterating the old claims and inflations of desire.

Product Mechanism – A mechanism is something within the product that you can highlight specially. It is the point you leverage for successful completion of your product’s purpose.

This mechanism should be a brand new way to satisfy that same old desire. Whether it be to lose weight, make money, travel, or learn how to invest or build a business, find a mechanism.

It should focus on the properties that mechanism itself will complete.

A fundamental change to make here is to move from what the product actually does for you, to how it works, through mechanistic performance.

Characteristic performance will trump achievement here in this stage. The claim has not really changed much, yet it’s strengthened by your chosen mechanism that resonates with the market at this stage.

A quick and important differentiation from the second and third stages of market sophistication would be the fact that the mechanism and main claim are switched.

The mechanism usually becomes the headline and the main claim in the headline becomes the subhead.

This example demonstrates the new importance (in the third stage) of the mechanism that achieves the prospect’s desired outcome. Leading us to number two…

Stage 2 – Time To Embrace Success & Increase It

market sophistication

This second stage of market sophistication can leverage a juicy claim, as long as it still works.

If the ad still pulls (which validates market response and interest) you should use it. However!

There’s a big point to take note of in our example here… and that is the necessity to enlarge this claim. No longer are we in stage one, where a simple claim will work.

Copy that [first] successful claim – but enlarge on it. Drive it to the absolute limit. Outbid your competition.

At this second stage, we recede from playing with mechanisms and identification, and save that big work for the later stages. We are simplifying, releasing, and optimizing our approach here for this lower sophistication level.

Eugene Schwartz continues to drop gold nuggets along the book, this being one of the main points for each level: We don’t want to overcomplicate, and we do not need to bring the big guns out yet. Save that for more sophisticated markets; they’ll need it.

Example headlines for this sophistication level include: “Who Ever Heard of 17,000 Blooms From a Single Plant?” “Six Hundred Mums From A Single Bush!” “I Am 61 Pounds Lighter… Never A Hungry Minute.” And so forth. You can see how exaggerated (but still true) these claims are, because the level of this market can handle it.

Each of these Direct Response ads would continue to deeply exemplify how they got the job done.

This market level hasn’t seen a whole lot before, and they’re pretty fresh to your type of ads and claims. Which brings us to the easiest stage of market sophistication to advertise to:

Stage 1 – The “Boy, It’s Empty In Here” Echo Chamber


You’ve reached the equivalent of a new continent that has never seen outsiders before. You can impose your will, ideas, religion, and whatever else you’d like upon them.

One more fair warning – use these marketing tips ethically.

Use them for advertising a superior product, a great brand, or an excellent service that will change people’s lives. Don’t ever try to pull a fast one on people, because:

  • People aren’t stupid, and
  • Your karma will catch up

Now, this first market level has never heard of what you sell, or the ways which you do. This means all they have is their own desire, fears, and pain points.

It’s time for you to introduce yourself.

This of course, is the dream of every manufacturer and every copywriter. To be first. And it happens quite often today. Sometimes because of a technological breakthrough – creating a new product, or a radically better product, or a familiar product at an explosively low price.

How to Easily Leave Most Direct Impression On Your Market…

Whatever it is, you’re sure to leave the best impression upon your prospect, because they’ve never heard of your business. At times you’ll be able to tap new markets by introducing a new use for an old product, or the application of the same product to a new people.

Sometimes you use a newer medium that has never been used for that market, so it appears fresh to those newly-reached prospects. This golden opportunity is time for you to shine with your product or service.

It is a fresh stomping ground in which you can tell your unique story, highlight what matters most to the prospect, and leverage the most importance principle of all the stages of market sophistication.

It’s time to be simple and direct. Straightforward and honest.

Do not try to be obscure, fancy, or witty. Just make the most powerful claim in your headline and body copy, then prove that your product works through demonstration and (preferably) testimonials and case studies.

Closing Wisdom From Another Direct Response Godfather…

Similar to Papa Schwartz, there’s another copy boss that has something to say about this…

Dan Kennedy always says, you need a Market-Media-Message fit.

Think of this like a three-legged chair. Pull even one aspect out, and your business doesn’t stand on solid footing. The market must be targeted correctly.

The media used to reach them must be where they actually hang out. The message must be dialed or you’ll turn them off quickly. Make sure you line up all three of these, and for more, you should study this Direct Marketing bible.

A Golden Marketing Key: Always Show; Never Tell

Fully quench the market’s most pressing need or desire so they will buy and become a repeat buyer, launching your business profit into the long-term stratosphere.

Talk about the need or your claim for your headline, and stop there. Don’t try to overdo it, because they don’t need much else at this first stage.

When you do this, and have the unique privilege to be first in your market, you will inevitably have competition. Your competition will get wiser, try to outdo you, then you can think two or three steps down the line in market sophistication, which they will never even have the grand picture of.

market sophistication

In this sense, you’ll be two (or four) steps ahead of your competition at all times.

I’ve handed you incredible golden keys of marketing leverage today, but they become worthless hunks of metal if never used.

To avoid this, here’s how to tell exactly which stage your market is in.

How to Know Which Stage of Market Sophistication Your Audience Is In:

This is tricky, and hard to teach. But, as with many things, there are proven steps to get the information you require.

First, start listening to the people. How do they express their desires? It’s easiest to show you with an example story.

In this instance, there’s a gargantuan difference between: “I just want to find tiles that don’t crack and look pretty.” (that’s a common frustration, with a prospect in stage one or two).


“I’m tired of being showing tiles that ‘never break’, but when I install them, they crack very quickly. I’ve tried three different brands and have the same problem!” (This is another common frustration, likely from a prospect likely in stages three or four).

The first prospect needs something to assure her that the tiles will match her interior, but also be sturdy. Atop that, she needs sturdy tiles which demonstrate they’ve been tested, albeit thoroughly. (Showing, not telling).

In this example, our second prospect is a tougher nut to crack, because she’d need something in the area of identification. Do you see how a new mechanism is necessary, to get her to believe they will never crack? Something like…

New “Connection-Clay” Proves to Remain Hard, Yet Internally Soft!

“500 studies from the inventors of this new “connection-clay” have dropped tiles from a two-story building, never to shatter! They simply remain firm and make a clanking noise that you could hear across the world. Over these 500 studies, in which the connection-clay tiles have been dropped from two-story buildings onto cement blocks and sidewalk, the….”

You get the picture. This article is getting long, but soon I will make a follow-up Direct Response article.

This will be about another incredibly important mindset package regarding the main principles of Direct Response Marketing, which the copywriter Gary Halbert was an absolute master of!

What’s worked for you so far, and what else would you like to know?

Knowledge of the 5 levels of Market Sophistication is helpful.

It’ll put you ahead of 98% of marketers and Direct Response Copywriters… but alone it’s superficial.

By itself, it will never translate into extra profits in your bank. As any great copywriter would tell you, it takes application of this supreme knowledge to boost your bottom line.

Learn exactly how to apply copywriting knowledge like this in The Ultimate Copywriting Guide to Selling Anything Online [Vol. I]

Ultimate Copywriting Guide to Selling Anything Online