Thousands of years ago, a guy named Aristotle had lots of ideas about everything from religion and ethics to medicine and science.
He also happened to be a very persuasive speaker — so persuasive that his teachings still shape the way we think about the world today.
But what does this all have to do with marketing?
Aristotle developed an interesting theory about the art of persuasion. He believed that every persuasive argument relied on three pillars: ethos, pathos and logos. He believed that if you missed, or were deficient, in any one of these pillars no one would believe you or care about what you had to say.
His theory has been called “the most important single work on persuasion ever written.” Here’s what Aristotle had to teach modern marketers 2,300 years ago:
Ethos is all about credibility. Aristotle believed that it doesn’t matter how well-reasoned or logical an argument is if the audience doesn’t trust the person who’s delivering the message.
This means that true persuasion starts before you even open your mouth. If you haven’t established yourself as an authority, you’ve lost before you’ve even begun.
Modern-day influencers like Seth Godin and Neil Patel have spent years regularly putting out valuable content to establish their authority. Major brands all over the world spend millions on public relations to ensure their credibility remains as intact as possible, otherwise all of the goodwill and trust they’ve carefully built over the years will be destroyed.
As Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
For marketers, that means taking a good, hard look at your brand and the authority you have in your industry. The easiest way for a brand to develop ethos is to find common ground with your audience and establish your empathy with their problems. Aristotle himself believed the first part of any argument should be confirming your authority.
Related: 10 Ways to Cultivate Credibility
The second of Aristotle’s three pillars of persuasion is pathos, or the appeal to emotion. At the very core of our being, we are emotional creatures. Ignoring that fact can undermine your entire message, no matter how reasonable it may be.
Aristotle theorized that, to persuade someone, you can’t simply rely on reason and logic. You have to find a way to make your audience feel. Whether it’s hope, anger or even humor, marketers must connect their message to an emotion.
Advertisers have long understood the power of emotion in marketing. On the surface, Red Bull is just like any other energy drink on the market, but their marketing strategy is what truly makes them special.
Red Bull has invested heavily in extreme sports and organizing highly-publicized stunts to connect the emotions of excitement and fun to their brand. Making audiences genuinely feel excited and thinking they can harness that emotion by purchasing a can of Red Bull.
For the average marketer who doesn’t have the ad budget of a multimillion dollar company, there are also less expensive ways to establish pathos with an audience.
Modern marketers should aim to present stories with characters and conflicts that can immediately capture an audience’s imagination and emotion. They should always be on the lookout for stories they can tell about themselves or their customers to tap into Aristotle’s emotional pillar of persuasion.
Aristotle’s final pillar is logos, which is all about logic and reason. While the philosopher believed that logos is the most persuasive of the three pillars, he also understood that logic alone would not be enough to persuade an audience.
For example, saying a product is going to improve someone’s life isn’t enough. As true as that statement might be, you have to show the logical reasoning behind why that product is useful and beneficial.
Too many marketers get caught up in the idea of “features-based selling.” They try to make a sale by focusing solely on the features of the product. Their mistake is that they assume their audience will be able to immediately understand exactly how useful those features are.
Marketers can’t simply tell people their products are awesome; they have to be able to show them.
Apple was a master at showcasing just exactly how their new products and features would help their audience. They’d combine storytelling with logic to create ads where audiences could see for themselves just how useful the new iPhone was, or why the Mac was better than a PC.
Marketers can take advantage of logos by learning how to better showcase the logic behind their messages. This can be achieved by explaining the context behind their logic, giving demonstrations of their product, or showcasing testimonials of happy customers to prove their logic is sound.
You may not need to apply all three pillars in every situation, and there are some occasions where it wouldn’t make sense to tap into all three. But most savvy marketers know they need to give every persuasive pitch all they’ve got, and more often than not, applying Aristotle’s three-prong approach to persuasion will get you and your business the results you’re seeking.