What Aristotle Can Teach Us About Marketing

Pillars of Persuasion

2300 years ago, Aristotle wrote the single most important document on rhetoric and outlined the core principles of persuasion. In order to be an effective influencer, Aristotle states one must appeal to three principles: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able to reason logically, to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and to understand the emotions–that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited. — Aristotle, Rhetoric

In this quote, Aristotle claims that in order to persuade someone of an idea, one must be able to explain their idea logically, be a person who is good and trustworthy, and reach their audience emotionally. If the presenter fails to adhere to any one of these concepts, the argument will fail to persuade no matter how justified or sound the idea.

Ethos

Ethos is the credibility and brand of the speaker. Is the speaker reliable? Does the speaker have authority on the topic they’re speaking about? Does the speaker have a reputation that agrees with the audience’s motivations?

Ethos boils down the trustworthiness. An audience won’t buy into an idea if they don’t trust the source that tells them even if the argument sounds reasonable and resolves a need. This is the core reason marketers apply so much value and importance to building a brand.

For example, would you consider purchasing a car made by Harley Davidson? Most would say ‘no’, by why not? We all agree they’re quite competent in making motorcycles, so why would building a car be any different? The answer essentially boils down to a basic emotional response of ‘it doesn’t feel right’ and not on any reasonable logic. Harley Davidson has positioned itself as an expert in motorcycles, not cars. Because of this focus, an audience won’t trust them on any other subject.

Ethos requires that the product the business is selling has to meet the criteria established by the brand. Without this alignment, any entity—whether it be a business or a person—can’t gain the trust of their audience.

Pathos

Pathos is the emotional connection. Do I care about what the speaker is saying? Is the speaker inspiring me to take action?

Pathos is the container that holds an audience’s needs and wants. Most often, a user purchases a product based on the emotional wanting and typically justifies the purchase based on other parameters. They’ll say things like, “it was on sale” or “I’ve worked really hard and deserve this.” Even products that one might think fall outside of emotion, like buying batteries, can still be considered under the umbrella pathos if the outcome of not having batteries affects them emotionally. With this in mind, marketers typically target pathos by presenting the benefits of a product rather than boring the audience with the features.

In the movie Wolf Of Wallstreet, DiCaprio asks someone from the audience, “sell me this pen” and then hands it to them for examination. Instinctually, each of them begins talking about features of the pen with examples including, “it’s for professionals” and “it’s nice”. The problem is it’s uninspiring. It doesn’t make an emotional connection and it certainly doesn’t make anyone want that pen over any other pen.

Instead, focus on the emotional benefits of using this pen. How does using the pen make you feel and why does that feeling benefit the user? Consider saying something like, “the next time someone needs to borrow a pen and you hand them this, they’re going to know they’re dealing with a professional.” It’s almost the exact same thing as the bad example above but from an entirely different angle. And, by targeting emotion, you inspire.

Logos

The final pillar is Logos and represents logic and reason. Is the speaker an expert in the topic on which they are speaking? Is their argument based on factual data and research? Can the speaker even provide what he’s attempting to sell?

While typically uninspiring, logos is the portion of an argument or idea that is supported with facts and data. As a speaker, one might utilize statistics and numbers to justify their thesis. As consumers, however, we often notice logos in other forms including product comparison charts, feature lists, and technical specifications.

The problem with logos is it’s underwhelming. When asked why one should buy a product, it is too often a salesman replies by listing its features of the product like “this product has x and y” or “this product can help you do this”. These statements may be true and defendable; they’re just uninspiring. More importantly, it misses the heart of the customer’s question. If the question is why should one use the product, the better response is to use pathos and answer why they should use the category the product is in. So when do we use logos?

Logos should be used only after the audience has already been inspired to buy the category of product. Now that we’ve convinced the audience they need a pen, it’s now our job to convince them that our pen is the right one. That’s where logos comes in. Now you can talk about the features of the pen, what makes your particular pen great, and why this pen is better than the competitions.

All Together

In sales, it’s important to keep in mind that logos is a supporting factor to pathos. The average person won’t purchase a product they don’t need or want, even if that product is on sale and provides a great value. Instead, a marketer should first focus on making the customer want the category of which the product is in and then focus the customer on which product to buy. Using the pen example from earlier, we first used pathos to acknowledge that customer wanted to be perceived as a professional. We then used logos to specify how our pen could make him achieve that perception.

As a general rule of thumb, logos should be last. If a company lacks ethos, they don’t trust them enough to buy from them. If the company lacks pathos, they haven’t met the needs or wants of the customer or may be targeting the wrong audience. If a company lacks logos, the customer will simply buy the product from someone else.

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