Aris­to­tle tells us that per­sua­sive appeals rely on logos, pathos, and ethos, aka logic, emo­tion, and character.

Unfor­tu­nately, most text­books and teach­ers act as if they are three sep­a­rate and exclu­sive appeals, as if you must choose one over the oth­ers, or as if they are essen­tially unre­lated to each other.

This is totally and fatally wrong.  Here’s the right way to think of these things, as quoted from Dr. Jonathan Shay’s essay, Aristotle’s Rhetoric as a Hand­book of Lead­er­ship [empha­sis mine]:

Aris­to­tle shows us that leader has three inter­re­lated means of achiev­ing his fel­low cit­i­zens’ trust:

  • Appeal to their char­ac­ter (éthos)
  • Appeal to their rea­son (lógos)
  • Appeal to their emo­tions (páthos)

These three are inter­re­lated, not sep­a­rate, because the goals of action arise from the troops’ ideals, ambi­tions, and affiliations—their char­ac­ter. Rea­son con­cerns the means to reach those goals. And the emo­tions arise pri­mar­ily from their cog­ni­tive assess­ments of the real-world improve­ment or dete­ri­o­ra­tion of their ideals, ambi­tions, affil­i­a­tions, and how fast they are chang­ing in the world.

Aris­to­tle has use­ful com­ments on the leader’s need to build trust through appeal to the troops’ char­ac­ter and emo­tion. He even explains how it is pos­si­ble to be “too ratio­nal,” los­ing the trust of those you are try­ing to lead. (See Garver’s, “Mak­ing Dis­course Eth­i­cal: Can I Be Too Rational?”)

Now, to be fair, Dr. Shay’s essay also exam­ines the impor­tance of the lead­ers Ethos as per­ceived by his followers/audience, but this is the aspect of ethos most every­one else already focuses on, with lots of solid con­tent on incor­po­rat­ing speaker/brand ethos into your copy.  What most peo­ple gloss over when dis­cussing ethos is the impor­tance of the audience’s ethos.

Why is this so important?

Because you want to appeal to prospec­tive cus­tomers’ best image of (and aspi­ra­tions for) them­selves.  Then show how your advo­cated course of action cor­re­sponds with that image.

And when you do this, you’re not ignor­ing pathos or logos, either.  The emo­tional appeal in your copy will stem from the gap between the reader’s ideal image of them­selves and the cur­rent (often frus­trat­ing and dis­ap­point­ing) real­ity.  While the logos will both demon­strate the cred­i­bil­ity of your pro­posed solu­tion while also demon­strat­ing your inher­ent respect for the audi­ence.  To quote a bit more from Dr. Shay’s essay:

The cen­tral­ity of ratio­nal expla­na­tion (“argu­ment”), rather than coer­cion or decep­tion, shows the leader’s respect for the troops, who are his or her fel­low cit­i­zens. You can’t sep­a­rate respect from good will… The per­sua­sive power that comes when a leader appeals to rea­son comes more from the degree to which it pro­vides evi­dence for the leader’s respect toward the troops than from the power of rea­son to com­pel assent, or hav­ing com­pelled assent, to guide or restrain behavior.

Or as I like to say, Facts need Drama and Drama needs Facts.

So, while I fully rec­og­nize that the char­ac­ter or ethos of the leader/speaker/brand IS indeed incred­i­bly impor­tant, I’d sug­gest that this is so only in rela­tion­ship to the ethos of the audience.

Start with the audience’s self-identity first, and the rest will fall into place.

Sto­ries Affect Memory

We like to think our mem­o­ries are both accu­rate and unchang­ing, but the truth is they’re far from either. Research by Eliz­a­beth Lof­tus has shown mem­o­ries to be extra­or­di­nary mal­leable and capa­ble of being fal­si­fied. And pio­neer­ing research in social psy­chol­ogy has shown the mind-bending power of cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance to alter our mem­o­ries.

So what does this have to do with adver­tis­ing and small business?

The Fes­tinger and Carl­smith Experiment

First, let’s review the research in cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance. Here’s a quick and dirty write-up of the orig­i­nal exper­i­ments con­ducted by Fes­tinger and Carlsmith:

  1. At the begin­ning of the exper­i­ment, stu­dent vol­un­teers were asked to per­form a sim­ple and bor­ing task.
  2. Then, before the sub­jects left the exper­i­ment, the exper­i­menter asked if the sub­ject would be will­ing to do a small favor for the exper­i­menter, specif­i­cally ask­ing if they would tell the next sub­ject in line that the exper­i­ment was fun and enjoyable.
  3. Sub­jects who agreed to do this were paid either $1 or $20. Sub­jects in both groups typ­i­cally agreed to tell the next sub­ject that the exper­i­ment was interesting.
  4. But when exper­i­menters fol­lowed up with the sub­jects, the highly paid sub­jects con­fessed that the exper­i­ment was actu­ally bor­ing, while the lower-paid sub­jects were more likely to say that the exper­i­ment was “not bad” or that it was “interesting.”

So why the dif­fer­ence in opin­ions between the lower-paid and highly-paid volunteers?

Cog­ni­tive Dis­so­nance and Cialdini’s Influ­ence

Psy­chol­o­gists call it Cog­ni­tive Dis­so­nance, but if you’re a fan of Cial­dini’s book, Influ­ence, you prob­a­bly know it as an exam­ple of Com­mit­ment and Con­sis­tency. Either way, social sci­en­tists have deter­mined that we accept inner respon­si­bil­ity for a behav­ior when we think we have cho­sen it in the absence of strong out­side pressure.

So for the Fes­tinger and Carl­smith exper­i­ment, a large reward (like a $20 pay­ment in 1950s money) counts as strong out­side pres­sure, while a $1 pay­ment does not. That’s why the lower-paid vol­un­teers (and not the higher-paid ones) changed their judge­ment to reflect the “sto­ries” they told the other “vol­un­teers” — the story that the exper­i­ment was fun and enjoyable!

OK. Now how would this apply to you and your business?

Busi­ness Applications

Despite what you may be think­ing, the appli­ca­tions do NOT involve some Machi­avel­lian plan to implant false mem­o­ries or employ psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure on your prospects/customers through cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance. And for the record, I truly do NOT rec­om­mend such schemes.

What I do wish to empha­size, how­ever, is this fairly straight­for­ward bot­tom line:

*Peo­ple Remem­ber What Gets Rein­forced Through Re-Presentation*

So the great results you get for peo­ple?  You might want to ensure that expe­ri­ence gets rein­forced, right?

And the best thing that peo­ple remem­ber from your work?  You might want to rein­force that, too, right?

And the time you jumped through some hoops to get them some­thing extra or extra-fast?  Ditto.

So how do you make sure these things get Rein­forced?  Through Re-presentation.  And what the hell does that mean?

Under­stand­ing and Using Re-Presentation

At it’s sim­plest, rep­re­sen­ta­tion is noth­ing more than a recount­ing of events through nar­ra­tive.  When you tell me what hap­pened, you are re-presenting the expe­ri­ence and also solid­i­fy­ing the mem­o­ries of that expe­ri­ence — but only for those mem­o­ries that get included in the story.  What gets recounted in the nar­ra­tive gets rein­forced, and those aspects left out of the nar­ra­tive get dimin­ished from memory.

In more elab­o­rate form, a re-presentation can involve mak­ing abstract ben­e­fits tan­gi­ble. Or pro­vid­ing a sym­bolic marker/event for an accom­plish­ment earned over time.

When weight loss ser­vices give you a bag of sand that weighs as much as the fat you lost, they’re rein­forc­ing the ben­e­fit through a dra­matic re-presentation of your weight loss. Same thing with the before and after snapshots.

When a mar­tial arts dojo gives your kiddo a new belt through test­ing, they are help­ing to com­mem­o­rate progress with a sym­bolic marker/event.  Same thing with break­ing boards.  What’s more likely to stick out when you tell some­one about your expe­ri­ence at the dojo: all the times you sat watch­ing your kids work through forms, or the moment you saw one of them break a stack of pine boards with their bare hands?

So what’s the best method for ensur­ing your clients most favor­able mem­o­ries get reinforced?

Use sym­bolic and tan­gi­ble mark­ers com­bined with nar­ra­tive re-presentations to really ensure those pos­i­tives get cemented in mem­ory.  Don’t just hand the suc­cess­ful weight loss client a bag of sand, tell their story, and then get their emo­tional response and tes­ti­mo­nial on video tape. Your retelling of the story, plus the dra­matic re-presentation of their accom­plish­ment, plus their own recount­ing of their suc­cess and hap­pi­ness at the event will ensure they never for­get the way they feel about that accomplishment.

So what sym­bolic mark­ers and tan­gi­ble, dra­matic re-presentations are you using?  What kind of nar­ra­tive re-presentations?

Don’t leave pos­i­tive impres­sions of ben­e­fits to chance.  Rein­force them through re-presentation.

The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss

Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bel­lies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t mat­ter at all.

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have noth­ing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, when­ever they met some, when they were out walk­ing,
They’d hike right on past them with­out even talking…”

The $80 Embroi­dery, by Lacoste (poem by me)

Now, some polos have emblems and some have none.
And those emblems resem­blems all crit­ters under the sun
Moose and Crocs and Sheeps and Ponies,
All set-up to cost you more monies
Why should those emblems mat­ter at all?
Those crit­ters are cute but still rather small…
But they’re sure to win the approval of cronies
So search out those emblems and join all the phonies









P.S. I’m not really call­ing Polo and Lacoste wear­ing folks phonies. I’ve got my favorite brands like every­one else. But, hey, it fit in with the rhyme scheme and gen­eral theme. Also, if you’re inter­ested in the sub­ject of mimetic desire (and you should be) you can read more about it here and here.

…it is James Thurber’s Wal­ter Mitty who, in the space of a sin­gle after­noon, is the com­man­der of a navy hydroplane, a life-saving sur­geon, an expert marks­man, and an intre­pid army cap­tain. Wal­ter Mitty isn’t crazy. He just has trou­ble con­vinc­ing the out­side world of who he is inside.

The Secret Life of Wal­ter Mitty’ is a favorite Amer­i­can story because it speaks to the Mitty in each of us. Who among us has never played cow­boy, astro­naut, princess, or nurse? Like Don [Quixote] and Wal­ter, each of us has a secret life, and it is silly to pre­tend that our out­ward choices are not influ­enced by the peo­ple we are inside.

In we are to insist on intel­lec­tual hon­esty, we must urge Don and Wal­ter to aban­don their child­ish dreams. But if we would sell our prod­ucts and make two cus­tomers happy, we will speak not to a tired old man and a hen­pecked hus­band, but will elo­quently address the needs of a chival­rous knight and an intre­pid army captain.

It’s called ‘Advertising.’”

Roy H. Williams, The Wiz­ard of Ads

In my last Prac­ti­cal Tac­ti­cal Tues­day post, I men­tioned that fea­tures might be dra­ma­tized to show some­thing other than imme­di­ate, objec­tive ben­e­fit, that fea­tures might be dra­ma­tized, instead, so as to tie the prod­uct into the val­ues and self image of the prospec­tive cus­tomer. When you choose this other path, you end up adver­tis­ing to the felt needs of  your prospects’ inner Wal­ter Mitty, rather than to their actual, real-life needs.

SUVs vs. Minivans

Exam­ples of this abound, but here’s one we’re all famil­iar with: the mil­lions of moth­ers dri­ving around in SUVs instead of mini­vans.  They chose the more expen­sive SUV despite the fact that SUVs cost more, guz­zle more gas, are more likely to roll-over, and just gen­er­ally aren’t as well suited to the actual com­mut­ing demands of most moms. By all objec­tive stan­dards, the mini­van (or, maybe even the sta­tion wagon) is the bet­ter choice.

But does the aver­age mom see her­self as a minivan-driving Soc­cer Mom?

Um, no, actu­ally.

So why would she want to drive a vehi­cle that’s stig­ma­tized by such an unflat­ter­ing stereo­type?  Well, quite a few of these moms wouldn’t.  So they opted, and con­tinue to opt, for a vehi­cle that bet­ter fits their inner image while retain­ing most of the seat­ing and cargo capac­ity they really need. Hence the cross-over SUV craze.

But I’m far from pick­ing on mom’s or SUV dri­vers — I’m say­ing we ALL have at least a few areas of our lives where we pick the objec­tively sub-optimal choice in order to chose the prod­uct or ser­vice that bet­ter fits our inner val­ues and identifications.

2 Ways of Mak­ing Decisions

Copy­writ­ers need to keep in mind that we have two ways of mak­ing deci­sions: one is the self-interest, pros and cons model, and the other is the iden­tity model:

  • The Self-Interest Model asks: “What’s In It For Me?”
  • The Iden­tity Model asks: “What Kind of Per­son Am I and What Would That Kind of Per­son Do In This Situation?”

Best of all, your copy doesn’t have to exclu­sively choose one over the other.  In fact, a blend of the two is usu­ally your best option, when you’re for­tu­nate enough to have options.  But if you’re really han­ker­ing to see an almost pure use of iden­tity in ad copy, go read a J. Peter­man prod­uct descrip­tion or two, and you’ll see this style of copy at work.




by Jeff

Seth Godin posted this with more of a “con­sumer pro­tec­tion” spin on it, but I think it’s fun­da­men­tal to mar­ket­ing as well, so I’m going to quote part of the post here, and then elab­o­rate on it a bit.  Here’s the excerpted quote, but you really ought to read the entire post:

Here’s one rea­son we mess up [big deci­sions about money]: Money is just a number.

Com­par­ing dreams of a great [car] stereo (four years of dri­ving long dis­tances, lis­ten­ing to great music!) com­pared with the daily reminder of our cheap­ness makes pick­ing the bet­ter stereo feel eas­ier. After all, we’re not giv­ing up any­thing but a number.

The col­lege case is even more clear. $200,000 is a num­ber that’s big, sure, but it doesn’t have much sub­stance. It’s not a num­ber we play with or encounter very often. The feel­ing about the story of com­pro­mise involv­ing some­thing tied up in our self-esteem, though, that feel­ing is some­thing we deal with daily.

Here’s how to undo the self-marketing. Stop using numbers.

You can have the stereo if you give up going to Star­bucks every work­day for the next year and a half. Worth it?

If you go to the free school, you can drive there in a brand new Mini con­vert­ible, and every sum­mer you can spend $25,000 on a top-of-the-line internship/experience, and you can cre­ate a jazz series and pay your favorite musi­cians to come to cam­pus to play for you and your fifty coolest friends, and you can have Her­bie Han­cock give you piano lessons and you can still have enough money left over to live with­out debt for a year after you grad­u­ate while you look for the per­fect gig…

Do you see the con­nec­tion with marketing?

Mak­ing num­bers, or more com­monly fea­tures, tan­gi­bly and com­pellingly real to the buyer is exactly what good copy­writ­ers are paid to do. And they do it the same way Seth does in that quote:

  • By con­vert­ing num­bers and fea­tures to human-scaled con­crete measures
  • By iden­ti­fy­ing the ben­e­fits that really mat­ter to the customer
  • By dra­ma­tiz­ing those same end ben­e­fits and cre­at­ing iden­ti­fi­able sce­nar­ios around them

Telling me that this light­weight lug­gage is X pounds lighter doesn’t do much for me.  It’s just a num­ber, uncon­nected to any­thing I might really care about.

Telling me that the saved weight equals the com­bined weight of an extra sport coat, shirt, and pair of dress pants, basi­cally an entire extra change of clothes with­out incur­ring any weight penal­ties, and I just might become inter­ested in the lug­gage for an upcom­ing extended trip.

Remem­ber, a num­ber, unless it’s a dollar-figure that’s going into my bank account, doesn’t directly address the all-important What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) ques­tion. But a vision of me enjoy­ing some tan­gi­ble ben­e­fit does.

That’s the obvi­ous part — the tac­ti­cal prac­ti­cal, must-do part.  So if you’re not con­vert­ing your fea­tures into “which means” ben­e­fit state­ments, and then con­vert­ing those ben­e­fits into dra­matic, visu­al­iz­able sce­nar­ios, then get on it… and start answer­ing WIIFM with load, clear, and vividly dra­ma­tized benefits.

And then, of course, there’s the more sub­tle part: talk­ing about what this or that fea­ture or char­ac­ter­is­tic means not in terms of imme­di­ate ben­e­fit, but in terms of self-identity and shared val­ues.  It’s a bit less practical-tactical, but per­fect for The­ory Thursday…



by Jeff

There’s a sim­ple axiom amongst direct response copy­writ­ers: “make it easy for the cus­tomer to say yes.”

Sounds like a “duh” piece of advice, but it’s amaz­ing how often this advice gets botched.  And it usu­ally get’s botched in one of two ways:

1) The copy doesn’t make it easy for the cus­tomer to real­ize WHAT she would be say­ing yes to.  

In other words, the site doesn’t clarify:

  • WHAT is being offered for sale,
  • WHEN or in what FORM the cus­tomer should expect the actual deliv­er­ables to arrive
  • WHY this is a good deal and bet­ter than the other options
  • HOW MUCH the offered prod­uct or ser­vice will cost

2) The copy doesn’t make it clear HOW to say yes and take that next step.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of hav­ing dif­fer­ent con­ver­sion points for early, mid­dle, and late stage shop­pers (where appro­pri­ate), but  you shouldn’t let that get in the way of hav­ing a nice, clean, sim­ple Call to Action.  If prospec­tive cus­tomers have to decide between 14 options just to buy, you’re mak­ing them work too hard, and your sales will suf­fer accordingly.

You Might Be Mess­ing This Up If…

What’s really insid­i­ous about this par­tic­u­lar con­ver­sion flaw is that your mar­ket­ing and Web teams are unlikely to know about sim­ply because they’re suf­fer­ing under The Curse of Knowl­edge.  To them the offer seems per­fectly clear, and the dif­fer­ent options for buy­ing are  a bonus rather than a bur­den.  So even if you don’t think you suf­fer from this, you might want to check to see if:

  1. You have unusu­ally high bounce rates on your home page.
  2. Peo­ple are click­ing on your Calls to Action and then back­track­ing to “How it Works,” “FAQ,” and “About Us” pages — almost as if they’re look­ing one last time to see if they can’t find some answers.
  3. You have unusu­ally high exit rates from “How it Works,” Ser­vices, and Prod­uct pages
  4. Your cart or check­out aban­don­ment rates stay high despite a high-quality check-out process and repeated opti­miza­tion efforts aimed at this por­tion of your Website.

I’m not say­ing these issues are proof pos­i­tive that your mes­sag­ing and basic offers need work, just that the rep­re­sent a good rea­son to look into it.

How to Fix It

The best advice is to hire an out­side expert. I real­ize that sounds a bit self-serving, com­ing from a messaging-driven Web­site Opti­miza­tion pro­fes­sional, but, well, what can I say? It’s the sim­ple truth.

But if you’re try­ing a DIY approach, here’s what I recommend:

A) Try the “Here’s the Deal” Exercise.

Imag­ine that you’re at the bar with an acquain­tance who knows almost noth­ing about your prod­uct or ser­vice, but who would ben­e­fit from it, if only she under­stood a few things. If you were to turn to her and say, “so here’s the deal,” what sort of short and sweet pitch would you give to her that would get her ready to say yes or com­mit to learn­ing more in 120 sec­onds or less?

Also, make sure you don’t use jar­gon — remem­ber, this prospect isn’t an indus­try insider — dur­ing your “so here’s the deal” speech, and make sure the ben­e­fits are dra­ma­tized and compelling.

B) Try Using Schemas

I had Baba Ghanoush for the first time a few months ago, and when I asked what it was, a whole bunch of peo­ple started to explain it to me, with vary­ing degrees of suc­cess.  But then Bryan Eisen­berg — a con­su­mate mar­keter and my per­sonal Web­site Opti­miza­tion men­tor — nailed it when he said it was “egg­plant gua­camole.”  Boom. Sud­denly every­body got it.


Because Bryan invoked a schema we already rec­og­nized, gua­camole, and then mod­i­fied it with egg­plant. Isn’t that a much more ele­gant expla­na­tion than Wikipedia’s, “a Lev­an­tine dish of egg­plant (aubergine) mashed and mixed with vir­gin olive oil and var­i­ous seasonings”?

The same thing hap­pens with movies, too.  Accord­ing to Chip and Dan Heath, Speed was ini­tially pitched as “Die Hard on a Bus.”  Boom. You get it.  Aliens is a sci­ence fic­tion movie, but it’s noth­ing like Star Trek. Totally dif­fer­ent feel, right?  But if you say “Jaws in Space,” you instantly grasp both the con­cept and the feel of the movie.

So what schema could you use to describe your prod­uct or service?

Cau­tion — the schema you use can greatly impact the customer’s expec­ta­tion of value and price, so choose wisely.

C) Stream­line Your Call to Action and Con­ver­sion Process

Now, don’t get rid of your lead nur­tur­ing pro­gram or any­thing, but do con­sider whether you might nar­row down your offer­ings and options. Or at least con­sider mak­ing one option the “default” and most pro­moted option. And as with any piece of Web Opti­miza­tion advice, test it out. See what actu­ally con­verts the best. You might just be sur­prised at the results.

And that’s today’s Prac­ti­cal Tac­ti­cal Tues­day Tip :)