Aristotle said:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.

He called these modes ethos, pathos, and logos. Understanding them, in relation to your audience, can dramatically impact how you approach your marketing strategies and content strategies. When you intentionally introduce these concepts into your copywriting, you can capture the attention and interest of a specific kind of person who responds in specific ways to different approaches. Let’s take a look.

Logos

Let’s start with logos because it’s probably the easiest to understand – and also the mode most trafficked by small and medium businesses. I don’t mean “logos” like the graphical representation of your company that you plant in the corner of your website and the sign outside your building. Logos speaks to logic. I’ve talked in another post about the importance of telling your story, and how many of us get stuck in just features and benefits or speeds and feeds. That’s the stuff of logos. A great example of logos in marketing is (hey, second time I’m mentioning them lately) Geico. “15 minutes could save you 15%.” This is data. These are facts. When 3 out of 4 dentists agree – that’s logos. When you advertise that your customer retention rate is 94% or you’re the winner of last year’s Greatest Company In The World award – all logos (that last one with a big of Ethos, but we’ll get into that).

Some people in your audience will be really attracted to data. In B2B, often the higher up the decision-making ladder you get, the more your customer appreciates logic. The CFO, for instance, might really appreciate knowing how your solution can potentially save money or time for them.

A lot of people – particularly in B2C or when you’re talking to the recommenders or influencers in your market – will need more than numbers and facts for your unique story to resonate. That’s a good time to inject Pathos or Ethos.

Ethos

Ethos talks to your gut. It reflects character of a brand. and speaks to trust. When a brand gives $1 to charity for every dollar you spend with them, that’s ethos (maybe with a bit of pathos mixed in, but we’ll get to that). Ethos in marketing compels a buyer to take action for matters outside of reason. Celebrity endorsements are a great example of ethos – people think, “well if it’s good enough for that person it’s probably good enough for me.” Saab (who’s out of business, so take that for what it’s worth) used to have a tagline, “Born from Jets” and their marketing materials talked about how they build jets and use that experience to build cars. We might not know much about the cars, but the plan from Saab is for us to think, “Hey, if they know how to build things that fly they’re probably pretty good with cars too.” When you talk about being in business for 25 years, you’re appealing to logos because it’s fact and ethos because you’re demonstrating credibility.

Pathos

Finally, we have pathos – which is emotion. I touched on the importance of emotion in a previous post, and it’s largely the currency of buying decisions, yet is often most underutilized by small and medium businesses. If we go back to Geico, they have the logical tagline “15 minutes could save you 15%.” Useful, but boring. So, they introduce a little talking gecko to tell their stories in commercials. Or they’ll use an 80’s band in a commercial that makes people laugh or smile. These things have exactly nothing to do with insurance or the value of insurance or the value proposition of buying insurance – because those things are pretty boring to most people. But when people connect a positive emotion to a brand, the runway from awareness to consideration just got a lot shorter.

Super Bowl commercials are largely pathos driven, each brand trying to be more clever or funnier than the next. That’s the danger of leaning too heavily on pathos – unless it’s part of a broader campaign it can make people scratch their heads. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but too much of it can dilute the value of your marketing.

Putting it all together

Smart companies use all three modes of persuasion because different buyers will respond to different things. Something to watch out for – in most small and medium businesses marketing campaigns are often driven by the tastes of just a few people Your tastes and preferences, or those of your marketing director or VP of marketing or the CEO or owner becomes the status quo for your organization’s marketing language. This means you might attract only a certain kind of buyer and be ignoring others, and your marketing can become stale, predictable and one-note – this is the stuff of marketing strategy. It takes diversity (of people, opinions, approaches and tactics) to craft sustainable marketing, which is where an outside agency or consultant could be useful if you have a small team or are just one person. (Friendly reminder that you know a guy – hit me up if we can talk about some of this stuff together.)

Car companies are a good study for mixing up different modes of persuasion. Ford F150 commercials are talking to a specific kind of buyer, so while their commercials are visually interesting they’re mostly logical – full of technical features like towing capacity and torque. Talking about “best in class” introduces ethos, the stuff of credibility.

While this Lincoln Navigator commercial subtly shows off some of the vehicles features like GPS or driving mode and the materials of the interior, it’s mostly a pathos commercial – using dramatic imagery and cinematic visuals to appeal to your sense of style and taste and provoke an emotional response. Oh and hey, that’s Matthew McConaughey driving, so there’s a dose of ethos thrown in. One thing I like to do when studying these things is watch the tiny details – it’s no accident that McConaughey has a few days of beard growth with a casual, more rugged wardrobe, suggesting that the Navigator is ready for adventure. Contrast this with some other Lincoln commercials he’s appeared in where he’s wearing a tuxedo, suggesting class, style and luxury.

Here’s what I’d like you to do next:

Try and be conscious of which mode of persuasion you’re seeing a lot of in your marketing, and start thinking creatively about how to mix things up a bit by introducing some of the others. Think about your buyer’s journey, too – pathos and ethos is often really useful early in the journey, when buyers are in the awareness or consideration stage. As they get closer to wanting to buy, it’s important to introduce some of the important data – the logical stuff – that tells them what they might expect if they buy your product or solution.

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