Tips on Writing Persuasive Content
Take a page from Aristotle’s Rhetoric
If you have ever studied philosophy a few names probably came up over and over again – Plato, Socrates, Kant, Descartes…What do you remember about Aristotle? Did your professor ever refer to him as the “master of persuasion”?
A prolific writer, the Greek philosopher (circa 4th century BC) covered numerous topics, from physics and zoology, to logic and ethics, to politics and government, to theater and music. Want to create compelling and powerful arguments? Look to Aristotle’s teachings. His works have shaped a multitude of fields of study and his foundation in persuasion tactics remain significant to this day.
Ok, so you’re a marketer and you’re thinking, “How does this apply to me?”
Well, I believe that the same principles that apply to writing an opinion piece apply to creating great marketing content. And I’m going to lean on our good friend Aristotle and his ideas of rhetoric to reinforce that theory.
Typically credited with developing the basic system of rhetoric, Aristotle defines it as the “ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” This incorporates three appeals – ethos, pathos, and logos. Let’s break these down and present them in a marketing context.
Ethos: persuasion through credibility
In addition to being what motivates the individual, ethos convinces the audience of one’s moral character and establishes credibility of said individual among the audience; this is essential to the art of persuasion.
An any marketer knows, it is important to be regarded as a credible author (or speaker, organization, etc.). If you’re not a trusted source, your audience will find anything you say suspect and subsequent appeals will fall on deaf ears. With the advent of the Internet, consumers don’t have to take anything they read or hear at face value. Infinite research is right at their fingertips and they can quickly educate themselves before making a decision or purchase. People will follow the lead of credible and knowledgeable experts. By using ethos, you will present yourself as a valued and trustworthy source.
How do you do that?
- Quote experts
- Cite sources
- Showcase case studies
- Use testimonials from happy clients
- Stay away from hyperbole and exaggerated language
- Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep
The used-car salesman approach doesn’t work – being overly pushy and uncaring is not what you want to do. To this end, stay away from clickbait titles as people are starting to become immune to these. Every article nowadays seems to promise things that “you’ll never believe!” but then the article falls flat, diminishing the credibility of the website and the author. People are losing their curiosity when it comes to headlines such as “13 Tractors That Look Like Bob Dylan.”
Be honest, back up your facts, deliver on promises and you’ll build long-term trusting relationships.
Pathos: persuasion through emotional appeal
When done poorly, emotional appeals can have the effect of making your audience feel manipulated or tricked into a certain conclusion. What people don’t admit to, or don’t realize, is that everyone is persuaded by pathos. Branding is, at its core, an emotional appeal – the feeling a brand evokes, right?
Pathos represents an appeal to the emotions of audiences and is accomplished in many ways, including but not limited to metaphor, storytelling, and hooks. It can compel your audience to take action or create a sense of urgency.
Take, for example, a nonprofit organization. They almost always use pathos to create compelling content that encourages people to rally around a cause and raise funds. Language is powerful so use it your advantage.
How to use pathos:
- create a sense of urgency
- or create a sense of missing out (people want more of things that there are less of)
- or create a sense of belonging
- use emotionally-charged language
Strong words such as definitely, most important, give, pin down, worried, and terrible will appeal to consumer’s emotions. An interesting first sentence (your hook) could be in the form of a question, a funny anecdote, or a plain and simple fact.
According to this article, 50% of buying decisions are driven by emotion, so don’t hesitate when deciding to incorporate pathos into your marketing. Emotional and ethical appeals go hand in hand; the look of your content (website, advertisement, blog article etc.) completely influences the credibility of your brand or of an author.
Logos: persuasion through reasoning
An appeal to logic and reason sounds simple but it can be a bit tricky. In rhetoric, it often involves syllogisms:
premise 1 + premise 2 = logical conclusion
If p, then q. If q, then r. If p then r.
In marketing terms, this might look like “I want my car to be safe, get better gas mileage, and have improved traction. Cars with new tires are safer and drive better. Therefore, I need new tires.”
How to use logos:
- address counter arguments
- respect your audiences’ intelligence
- stay on the same page
- incorporate statistics and data that back up your conclusion
When constructing a logical argument, your audience needs to agree with both statements in order to accept the presented conclusion. In the car tires example, if your audience doesn’t believe they need a safe car then they won’t agree with the conclusion. You’ll need to link to articles and studies that prove the merits of getting new tires and address counter arguments. This also ties into ethos – build your credibility and audiences will be more likely to trust what say.
Effective marketing means using all three appeals
Effective persuasive content will utilize all three of Aristotle’s appeals. It’s a marketer’s job to use all the tools and know all the possibilities in approaching a subject in order to make educated, purposeful decisions meant to educate, aid, and persuade the audience. Ethos, pathos, and logos can help you write great persuasive content — now get out there and start writing!