Aristotle’s Three Pillars of Persuasion

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When we market a product, what exactly are we doing? An economist might say that we’re identifying a demand, creating a supply, and informing the market about our supply. An athlete might say we’re formulating a strategy to get a leg-up over our competition. A conspiracy theorist would say that we’re manufacturing the heroin of the masses to inhibit the public from discovering the truth, and then segue into a tangent about the 1969 moon landing.

But what would an ancient Greek philosopher say we are doing?

Aristotle would argue that we are merely persuading consumers to buy a product. But don’t get your toga in a bunch. While it is impossible to overlook the careful analysis and planning that a single marketing campaign entails, persuasion is fundamentally what a marketer specializes in. And Aristotle’s views on persuasion was far from simplistic.

According to Aristotle, three characteristics are crucial to every compelling argument and without one of them, your audience will not give a good-gyro what you have to say (and they definitely won’t give you money).

Audit your brand and marketing campaigns in accordance with these three pillars and see how you stack up:

Ethos. When someone tells you something you find hard to believe, the first question you ask is, how do you know? Are you recognized as an authority in your industry? According to Aristotle, you’d better be. If you don’t possess credibility in the minds of the people you are attempting to influence, you’re sunk. Brands must build a reputation of reliability to gain traction with customers. The easiest way to gain credibility in your industry is to acknowledge your customers’ problems and offer (often free) solutions.

Pathos. Find out what fills your customers with joy, what scares them, and the things that make them angry. Without this knowledge, you are unable to appeal to your customers’ emotions, which is crucial according to Aristotle’s theory. Customers should associate your brand and products with a particular emotion. Create characters that people empathize with and stories that pull at your audience’s heart strings and you’ll have their attention.

Logos. There are (probably) already several products on the market that accomplish the same goal that your product attempts to achieve. Why is yours better than the lot? You’re not a used car salesman – don’t needlessly list features and hope that a few will resonate with your audience. Show your customers how your product will solve their problems and demonstrate the value of that solution.

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