Core Stages Of Market Sophistication: How To Write Buyer-Congruent Copy That Sells

Why would someone buy one brand of bananas over another? Reassurance. 

How do you give your buyers that reassurance? You have to connect with your audience.

A skeptic won’t buy a mysterious bag of bananas with an unknown origin. Instead, a skeptic will buy a trusted brand of bananas that’s won consumers’ hearts. 

It’s common sense. Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned money on something that might not deliver.

  • People want proof.
  • They want a guarantee that the product will do what it’s supposed to.
  • They want to know that a product will do that better than anything else on the market.

As a business owner, you have to communicate a strong marketing message. A message that shows a thorough knowledge of your market and audience. 

You know what that means? When you have an in-depth perspective on your offer's place in the market, you can use that to your advantage. You can craft stronger messages than your competitors. That’s how you can win over customers. 

To succeed, you have to know your marketplace’s sophistication level. You also have to craft your copy to match the sophistication level. You can’t expect to compete if you don’t know what your customers want and what your competitors are doing.

Develop a clear perspective on market sophistication to understand which claims work. You can also create buyer-congruent copy that fits with your customers’ expectations. This is the key to out-competing others and taking over the market. Let’s go over how you can do that.


What's Market Sophistication?

The five stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy

Before we go any further, what is market sophistication? 

Eugene Schwartz coined the term in his groundbreaking book, “Breakthrough Advertising.” Market sophistication describes a level of buyer awareness in the marketplace. It’s used to check whether anyone's marketed similar products or services before.

Think of it as how much experience customers have with a product or service. Market sophistication determines how you write your copy and market your offer. 

A lower level of market sophistication indicates that there’s little competition. There are few (or no) products or services like yours available to your target market. 

The lower levels of market sophistication are easier to work within. Less competition means it’s easier for your offer to stand out. The problem is that it’s harder to come up with an offer that’s different than other offers on the market.

A higher level of market sophistication indicates that you're in a competitive market. Many products or services currently on the market resemble yours. You’ll want to measure market sophistication to craft messages that speak to your market.

At higher levels of market sophistication, it’s difficult to compete. But the rewards are well worth the effort. You’re also more likely to find yourself in the higher levels with most offers. Unless you come up with a brand new product or service, you’ll have to deal with fierce competition.

Experts measure market sophistication using five distinct levels. In this system, Level One is the simplest, and Level Five is the most sophisticated level.

Let’s take a look at each level.


Market Sophistication Level 1: Make A Grand Entrance

The five stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy

Like I mentioned above, Level One is the level with the least sophistication. This means there isn’t much to your market yet. You don’t have much competition. Your audience likely hasn’t heard much about anything like your product before. This introduction to the market will seem like smooth sailing but don't be complacent.

When entering the market on Level One, you have to make your mark. You’re the first to arrive at the ball. No one else can stand in your way. You’ll want to make a lasting impression on your target audience. 

To put this in context, let’s use an example:

Imagine being the creator of the first laptop. IBM debuted the 5100, the first portable commercial computer, and revolutionized the market. IBM was at the top of the game. By existing and advertising the 5100, IBM became number one. 

That’s what Level One of market sophistication is like. With no exposure to other claims and products, advertising your product is simple. All you need to do at Level One is to advertise the major benefit of your product or service. 

IBM claimed the IBM 5100 could perform work anywhere. Although the IBM 5100 cost from $9,000 to $20,000, the physical accessibility was appealing.  

One of IBM’s first TV advertisements presented a man using it to perform work in an insurance office, at a farm, and more. Despite the advertisement’s simple claims, the IBM 5100 was attractive to consumers.

To make the concept even more clear, let’s use bananas as an example. Imagine a country where bananas aren’t grown. Now think about the first business to import bananas. They immediately have the market cornered.

Sure, there are other fruits. But bananas are unique even when compared to other fruits. There’s no competition there, and the business that imported them is number one in the market. Without doing anything more than selling a product.

That’s what Level One looks like. A brand new product that solves a problem and has no competition. You can see how easy it would be to operate a business with such a unique product. But it’s rare to get that opportunity.

“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.”

Learn more on how to build a personal brand through copywriting here.

Core stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy that sells

Market Sophistication Level 2: “What Is It?”

The five stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy

Now we’re at Level Two, where the competition has caught up. The claims from Level One aren’t as effective as they used to be. Now that it’s not only you, but you’ll also have to become more elaborate about the details.

After IBM came out with the IBM 5100, the number of portable computers increased. Epson came out with the first notebook-sized laptop, the HX-20. More portable computers started to come out.  

Like IBM’s competitors, all your competitors are making the same claims. Think of it as a best practice. You have to make these claims, but don’t assume they’ll give you an advantage in the marketplace. Claims like that only give you an equal footing with your competitors.

The Epson HX-20 also touted its usability in any location.

“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.”

If you decide to outspend your competitors on advertising, the situation won't change. If you have the same advertising message as your competitors, it won’t change anything.

To stand out at Level Two, you’ll have to make your product stronger. You’re no longer selling based on the merit of how unique your product is. Others are doing the same thing as you and always innovating.

The IBM 5100 was not only portable, but it also offered three Problem-Solver Libraries. These three Problem-Solver Libraries provided more than 100 interactive routines. The routines applied to mathematical problems, statistical techniques, and financial analyses. All this information was on a cartridge that had a 204,000 character capacity on 300 feet of ¼ inch tape.

After withdrawing the IBM 5100 from the market, IBM came out with the IBM 5110. 

Let’s look at our banana example again. After some time, others would have caught on and realized there’s money in the banana industry. So, it follows that there would be some competition at this point. This is where market sophistication becomes more important.

The original importer of bananas has to step their game up. It’s not enough to exist in the marketplace, they have to be better than everyone else. So, they have to harp on the benefits and advantages of their bananas. They could be cheaper, available in more places, or bigger. As long as the bananas are better than the competition’s, the original importer has an advantage.

Your aim at this level is to push your product or service’s benefits to the absolute limit. But at a certain point, that won’t be enough. Markets grow when there’s money on the table. Businesses can’t get too comfortable being in the number one spot.

Know how to make your copy "benefit-centric" in this article.


Market Sophistication Level 3: The Unique Mechanism

The five stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy

Next, we’re at Level Three: the unique mechanism. This is the stage where you explain how your product or service works. When the benefit is no longer enough, the audience wants to know the secret behind the benefit.

At Level Three of market sophistication, customers have heard it all. There’s no longer room for marketing exotic or brand new benefits. You’ll have to work with what’s already there. 

As a business owner, you’ll have to switch from the benefit of your product to the unique mechanism. What’s a unique mechanism? It’s the mysterious secret behind why a product works. Customers are skeptical by now, and they’re less inclined to believe lofty claims.

Instead of only telling what you do, you have to explain how you do it. The unique mechanism gives proof to your claims. It’s a brand new way to make your claims work.

According to IBM, the IBM 5110’s unique mechanism was that it was a full-function laptop. That meant it could solve almost any business and industry issues.

Sure, there were other similar products on the market. But the unique mechanism is what set the 5110 apart. It was the difference between IBM’s offer and every other available offer.

Let’s look at bananas again. I’ve noticed a problem when shopping for them. Almost every banana in the market is the same. Understandable, but most banana producers cater to casual users.

Now, imagine I’m at the store. How do I decide which bananas to buy? I know what bananas are and what they do by now. So what influences my decision? You guessed it: the unique mechanism.

Even with something as simple as a banana, a unique mechanism is possible. Think of it this way: bananas taste good and provide health benefits. That’s obvious. What’s not as obvious is how bananas do that, even more so when compared to other brands of bananas.

So, I’d look for a brand that could prove how their bananas are healthier and better tasting. For example, the brand might have a proprietary farming method. They could use special nutrients to give their bananas more nourishment and flavor.

If not, they’re the same as every other brand selling bananas. Of course, everyone will say their bananas are good, but that’s not enough for a customer like me. I need proof. I need to know the unique mechanism that allows those bananas to be better than (or as good as) every other brand.

Learn the steps on how to clarify your unique selling proposition here.


Market Sophistication Level 4: Take Out Your Competition

The five stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy

Here at Level Four, you’ll have to focus on taking out the competition. To take out the competition, you’ll have to amplify your product’s unique mechanism. Take the most successful unique mechanism and push it to the max.

The process should be familiar after mastering Level Two. Level Four is similar aside from one detail. The difference is that you elaborate on and amplify the unique mechanism, not the claim. 

In Level Three, you could have sold a laptop because it’s a portable computer. But at Level Four, you need to take it up a notch. You have to advertise it as the fastest and most efficient portable computer.

Let’s look at our other example to make things a little more clear. Now, we already know the unique mechanism of this specific banana: the growing method. But what if other brands have special methods?

That’s the level of competition you can expect at Level Four. Think Mac vs. PC. Two similar products marketed for specific types of people. Mac computers and Windows PCs aren’t all that different. Their unique mechanisms are.

For most people, Mac brings a certain type of person to mind: creative, hip, stylish. Somebody who knows what’s cool. PC users have their own persona. They’re often seen as more serious and business-oriented. Apple and Microsoft are well aware of this.

That’s why each product caters to that ideal buyer persona. Apple’s advertising is artistic and fun. Microsoft’s is more straightforward and focuses on the product specifics. These brands know what their customers want, and they give it to them.

So, what does that look like with something like bananas? Well, the unique mechanism is the farming method. But a method has to stand out when that’s the case.

A banana brand that wants to stand out has to make its unique mechanism even more unique. For example, this could mean they claim to use an ancient, natural farming method. One that’s stood the test of time and doesn’t compromise the health benefits of the bananas.

On the other end of the spectrum, another brand might develop a method to maximize yields and cut costs. They could use a whole team to crunch numbers and come up with a proprietary farming method.

The biggest difference is which part of the market each brand appeals to. The brands know there’s a demand for bananas, but they have to tap into the reasons why.

The natural farming method appeals to people who like to eat cleaner and healthier. People who focus on their health, the environment, and holistic benefits. They don’t want mass-produced bananas that might harm their health or the environment.

The higher yield farming method appeals to people who want to get the most out of their money. To them, all bananas are the same. The main thing that matters is efficiency and the cheaper they can get their bananas the better.

You can apply this concept to any product in any market. But, like with huge benefit-focused claims, the tactic needs reinforcement. Finally, we can move on to Level Five.

Core stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy that sells

Market Sophistication Level 5: Become An Icon

The five stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy

At Level Five, your product has to become iconic. Unique mechanisms are now gimmicky. Radical benefits become redundant. There’s so much advertising and new products on the market.

Now your claims are irrelevant. How do you revive a market where everyone is skeptical of your claims? So skeptical that they no longer want anything to do with you? 

Here you have to focus your message on the consumer’s identity and emotions that go along with a product. Think about what brands do in Level Four and turn it up a notch. Advertisements no longer have any direct impact on the product.  

Moving away from computers, a prime example of Level Five is in fast-food advertising. Carl’s Jr. is well known for sexual advertising. The consumer first notices the woman featured in the commercial, then the food.

Going back to our banana example, we can imagine a similar scenario. Brands can no longer only appeal to what customers want. They have to determine who their customers are. Their identities.

So, think about the customers who want those naturally-grown bananas. We already know what they want: bananas that are grown with care and don’t harm the environment or the consumer. But what kind of person wants that? Who are they?

Health nuts. Wealthy people who can afford to buy with their consciences. Environmentalists. Any of these types of people could make the perfect buyer persona, but it’s up to the brand who they want to market to. 

Now, what about the mass-produced, cheap bananas? They appeal to people who want cheap, consistent products. They don’t care if the bananas are the best or how they were grown and traded. It’s all about efficiency.

So, these customers might be average people. Your typical consumer either doesn’t care about certain benefits or can’t afford to care. This brand would appeal to the general public. That’s the ideal buyer and the brand could become a household name, like Chiquita or Dole.

If either banana brand does it right, it can become an icon. Even people who don’t belong to those groups could recognize the brand and what it stands for.

Learn the ways to make your copy stand out here.


What Does Market Sophistication Mean For You? 

The five stages of market sophistication: how to write buyer-congruent copy

So, why is this important? Market sophistication is one of the most important factors in writing effective copy. Good copy speaks to the audience. Not only who the audience is, but what they know. Good copy also depends on the market and competition.

Without a fundamental understanding of market sophistication, you need luck. That won’t work if you want consistent results.

You have to know who your audience is, what they want, and what your competitors are doing. The levels of market sophistication can help you understand each of those.

Now that you know what market sophistication is, keep analyzing the market. Things change and you have to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible. Your competitors are doing the same, and you’ll get left behind if you don’t study the market.

Start asking questions about your competitors.

  • What claims are they making?
  • What promises are they making?
  • What unique mechanisms are they using?

When you’re done with your research, figure out your level of market sophistication. Return to your copy to fix issues and reflect on what you’ve uncovered.

Also, consider what your customers expect at each level. If you’re in a saturated market, selling will take more work. If you understand what your audience needs and wants, you’ll see more conversions.

The process isn’t always easy, and it’s constant. The good news is it’ll pay off in the end. Try to set a goal. Work toward being one of the top players in your marketplace. It’s a lofty goal, sure, but it’s worth working toward.

Even if you don’t get there, you’ll have a leg up on the competition.


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