Marketing is all about persuasion.

Of course, you could argue that some of the most successful brands of all time—Coca-Cola or Nike, say—got to where they are not by convincing people that their products were the best but by simply making their name more visible.

However, even visibility is a persuasive event: For example, seeing a Nike product worn by a professional athlete gives you the impression that Nike's quality is high.

So if marketing can be boiled down to persuasion, then highly effective persuasive techniques should be able to take any campaign goal to that proverbial "next level," whether that means attracting more traffic, earning more conversions, or sparking more customer engagements.

Rhetoric and Persuasion

According to Aristotle, there are three "modes" of persuasion to be used in rhetoric—the formal name for the study and practice of persuasion. Those modes are...

  1. Ethos, or appeals to authority and moral values
  2. Pathos, or appeals to emotion
  3. Logos, or appeals to logic and reason

I'll expound on their modern iterations in the next section, but I'll add two other modes that are important to modern marketers—not because I think Aristotle "missed" some, but because classical rhetoric was used for political debate rather than marketing messaging.

The Five Modern Modes of Marketing Persuasion

The following five modern characteristics of marketing, if used properly, can increase the persuasive power of any marketing campaigns:

  1. Authority. Rooted in Ethos, the modern appeal to authority is all about demonstrating your trustworthiness, experience, or values as a brand. Earlier, I mentioned Nike's strategy of associating its products with professional athletes; that's an authoritative appeal because it makes people think highly of their products, but that isn't the only option. Mentioning and elaborating on your company history, experience, capabilities, clients, and partners are all useful ways to show off your authority. You can also associate yourself with other industry organizations, companies, or publishers to show off your brand's reach. On a product level, this could manifest itself as a "best-seller" display, or star ratings you've received from major industry organizations.
  2. Emotion. This is Pathos, the emotional side of persuasion. The goal here is to tap into a powerful human emotion to make your arguments more compelling, whatever they might be. For example, you could use a "don't let this happen to you" worst-case-scenario advertisement to tap into consumer fear, or a "remember the good times" ad to tap into consumer nostalgia. Comfort, fear, pleasure, excitement, humor, disgust, and sympathy are all powerful emotions that can be used in different ways, depending on your brand. For example, making people afraid of the consequences of not buying a taco wouldn't be an effective way to encourage more taco purchases, but appealing to the joys of eating a taco with friends would be. Know your audience, and know your industry.
  3. Logic. The logical appeal, Logos, is less colorful and requires less creativity than an authoritative or emotional appeal. That's because logical arguments are rooted in facts and data. For example, you might objectively prove that your software performs better and costs less than a competitor's via an interactive chart on your homepage, or you might calculate the average ROI your clients receive and use that as a highlight in your advertising campaign. There aren't any strict rules here, as long as you're making an objective case for your business's superiority. This approach tends to work better for B2B brands and those that rely on serious, important consumer decisions, but in theory it could apply to any company.
  4. Impulse. The appeal to impulse is one of my "new" modes of persuasion, and I refer to it because of the fleeting nature of consumer attention today. By some accounts, human attention spans are shorter than that of goldfish, and it's no secret that if a consumer doesn't take action immediately on your website, he/she probably won't come back to finish the job. Accordingly, you need to apply a sense of urgency—a sense of impulse—to your persuasive methods. For example, you could include a "limited time" offer with a clock ticking down, or reiterate the consequences of procrastination vis-à-vis a major decision.
  5. Social. People trust other people far more than they trust brands, a problem that didn't necessarily exist in Aristotle's day. But there's an easy way to take advantage of that fact: Let your customers do the persuading for you. Some 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so include any reviews and testimonials you can in your messaging, and get involved actively on social media (though that should be a given). Think of this one as a kind of spinoff from the authoritative appeal: You're still convincing audiences you're worth your salt, but you're doing it through the mouth of consumers.

It's definitely possible to specialize in one of those modes, and some brands in some industries might be able to benefit from doing so.

For example, fast food restaurants can benefit from an appeal to impulse more so than life insurance companies can, and financial institutions can benefit from logical appeals more than a hairdresser might.

Still, you stand to benefit most when you use all five modes of persuasion in unison; it just takes some practice and experimentation.

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Five Modes of Persuasion You Need in Your Marketing Campaigns

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image of Timothy Carter

Timothy Carter is the chief revenue officer of Seattle digital marketing agency He has spent 20+ years in SEO and digital marketing, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams.

LinkedIn: Timothy Carter