Does your packaging design match the sophistication level of your customer?

by | Feb 14, 2019 | Branding with impact

One of the big questions for packaging designers and brand marketers alike is, “Does our packaging design match the sophistication level of our customer and visa versa?” 

What do we mean by “the level of sophistication”?

In the context of this blog article, we are not talking about the quality that belongs to a person who appears wise and glamorous. Rather we are using the word sophistication as the noun used to describe a deep level of understanding.

In other words, what is the sophistication level of your target consumer, in terms of their understanding, knowledge and awareness of your product?

Let’s face it, we certainly don’t want to over promise and under deliver nor do we want to underpromise. We are looking to create the perfect balance of sophistication with our packaging design.

Overpromising or underpromising comes down to the level of knowledge your target consumer has with regards your product.

level of consumer's understanding

The lifecycle of market sophistication

In the landmark marketing book, Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz, ( written in the ‘60s), the author introduced the concept of the lifecycle of market sophistication.

The lifecycle of market sophistication refers to the level of awareness that the market has for your product and products.

This includes their product awareness and the knowledge your targeted consumer has accumulated through the market and the advertising and all the various product offerings they’ve been exposed to.

Breakthrough advertising book by Eugene M Schwartz


That said, the more any market matures and people see more and more similar products and offers, the more one’s marketing becomes redundant and innocuous if it doesn’t change and evolve.

The lifecycle of market sophistication is about the three levels of knowledge and product awareness the consumer goes through with regards your type of product.

Product messaging evolvement

The messages we put out with regards our product comes down to the level of sophistication our target audience has around it.

Product messaging evolvement goes through 3 stages or levels of sophistication.

Level 1 of sophistication Here’s where we demonstrate and talk about the main benefit. At the birth of any product you’re able to make a bold claim.

Level 2 of sophistication: Here’s where we demonstrate and message about the protracted or stretch benefit. This is where you make a claim that is bigger than the competing product. 

Level3 of sophistication: This is the stage where as Brand marketers we are creating appeal to a sophisticated and knowledgeable market.  This level is where we introduce a “mechanism’  which offers the targeted consumer a valid and logical reason why you claim is achievable.

Again, remember, sophisticated in this context means, educated and knowledgeable about a particular product/service. 

There are 2 additional levels of sophistication.

  • Level 4: Is where you create a better mechanism or an upgraded version of the previous mechanism.
  • Level 5: At this level, simply because of the fact that the market’s awareness, knowledge has risen to it’s highest point, the market would also have become jaded and sceptical and they may no longer believe in mechanisms.

marketing with the level of market


The 3 levels of Sophistication UBER Example


Level 1 Sophistication

The first level of sophistication centres around the main or key benefit.  This is really the simplest and easiest level of sophistication when it comes to our marketing message.

This is the big promise of your offer.

A level one sophistication message is generally only effective when the market hasn’t seen your type of offer before.

Example of Level 1 Sophistication – Just make a claim

Let’s follow the evolution of sophistication of Uber over just the last 10 years. Prior to 2009, Uber didn’t exist.

So because there was no context for the service, there was no competition either.

In 2009 Uber promised a simple benefit. Simply tap a button on your smart phone and get a ride. Uber’s messaging simply focused on the main benefit it delivered: fast, reliable rides in minutes – day or night.

Level 2 Sophistication

As competition evolves as a Brand marketer one needs to expand the claims being made about your product.

As marketers try and separate themselves from the crowd with expanded claims being made in level 1.

However as a result of the increase in competition, consumers get bombarded with more and more marketing messages and product claims. 

Due to the plethora of competitor “unique call-outs and benefits”, these “unique” claims tend to become less believable and their attention grabbing power begins to wane.   

Example of Level 2 Sophistication – Stretch your claim

Uber logo

After it’s level one campaign message, and as the Uber became more popular and expanded due to publicity and word of mouth advertising, the big question for the Uber marketing team was how to,

a) how could they the word out beyond their great referral program? and…

b) how could they let consumers know about them and their flexibility?

Their marketing strategy progressed to level 2 – stretch their claim campaign.

The company would create outlandish and zany promotions. Who can forget their “Kittens direct to you“.  And then there was how they looked to take the rider to a whole level of new experience by teaming up with Spotify to create a customised playlist that a rider could listen to while they were on the way to their destination. 

However as market sophistication grew and more competitors arrived on the scene, Uber moved to demonstrate how their simple mechanism could be teased out even further with their other services.

Level 3 Sophistication

Level 3 market sophistication is where we introduce a “mechanism.’  It is this mechanism (device, a process, a strategy, a new invention, a tool, software, or even a simple concept), which offers the targeted consumer a valid and logical reason why your message is valid. 

It’s been said that a mechanism will add a whole new level of credibility and believability to your product and thereby your messaging.  A mechanism gives the consumer the “reason why”.


Example of Level 3 Sophistication – Mechanism


Uber is now a recognised transportation service, that can also:

  • deliver food, 
  • move freight by matching carriers with shippers,
  • business transportation managing employee trip activity with automated billing, expensing, and reporting,
  • self-driving vehicles and urban air transport soon to become realised.

These options are all available because of Ubers simple “Simply tap a button on your smartphone and get a ride ” mechanism.

In Ubers own messaging language “Good things happen when people can move, whether across town or towards their dreams. Opportunities appear, open up, become reality.

What started as a way to tap a button to get a ride has led to billions of moments of human connection as people around the world go all kinds of places in all kinds of ways with the help of our technology.”


Mechanisms are important no matter what the level of sophistication. 

In every market, even if potential target consumers haven’t seen a product offering likes yours, in all likelihood, they would have been exposed to other similar offers from other industries with some of the same look and feel.

Therefore as Brand marketers, it’s best to make the assumption that one’s market already has, at the very least a mid-range level of sophistication. This means that where possible one should include a mechanism in your offer.