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The techniques of content or the bigger genre of online marketing are not new, they’re just digitized. If you start looking seriously for the origins of digital marketing, you'll ultimately land in 300BCE.

At its heart, digital marketing is persuasion. And if we’re talking about the basics of how to persuade, we should start with Aristotle.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and father of rhetoric, set the gold standard for persuasion. All digital marketing is a shadowy form (Hahaha! Philosophy joke. Anybody?) of his original tenets.

You could say that the basic principles of digital marketing are just ancient Greek wisdom dressed up in plaid (that’s what we digital marketers stereotypically wear in the States, at least).

Rusty Weston of Fast Company caught my attention the other day:

Before the title content strategist was popularized, we were involved with the precursor to ‘content:’ News, advertising, marketing or something in between… We all rebranded ourselves as Content Strategists in March 2011. Just kidding. It may have been June of that year.

Often referred to as the rhetorical triangle, these building blocks of persuasion are logos, ethos, and pathos, respectively: logical, credible (character-based), and emotional appeals.

In other words, these three things are the 'how' of persuasion, the core tactics of convincing someone to buy into your brand. If your digital marketing strategy incorporates all three appeals, you have the best chance of persuasive success.

We’ll also address kairos, which is the tactic of good timing. Logos, ethos, and pathos marketing are all more powerful when they take timing and context into account. 

Ethos, logos, pathos, and kairos are the foundations of persuasion, think of them like primary colors.

They can be mixed into combinations, but they are distinct from one another, and each give specific, powerful advantages. Put together, they are the foundation of persuasion: the end-all goal of digital marketing.

Logos marketing: the power of data

Using logic (data and facts) to persuade your audience is particularly important in the digital marketing space because of the virtual nature of the interface. It’s crucial, on the web, to give consumers ways to measure and evaluate your product and brand.

According to Jonah Lehrer, author of 'How We Decide,' (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). 

Numbers make intangibles tangible, they give the illusion of control.

According to Demand Gen Report’s 2013 Content Preferences Study, 60% of executives said they are more interested in content that provides data and research. (Convincing, right?)

Ethos marketing: Optimizing identity

Where do I even start? Good credibility and character are of paramount importance to being persuasive in digital marketing. Authorship, for one. As most of you know, CTRs are higher for search results with authorship images.

Google itself prefers brands. The brand box of credible companies now appears in the SERPs, and that’s a huge advantage. Literally huge: brand boxes take up serious real estate in the SERP.

So, what kind of character is especially persuasive? These days, it’s transparency. Transparency is perceived as strength.

You’ll find this sentiment, from Moz’s “TAGFEE” code of ethics, to be both effective and prolific these days: “We will share the inner workings of our company—both the good and the bad—openly.” This is ethos marketing.

Pathos marketing: Manufacturing love

Pathos marketing, the appeal to emotions, has a special significance in digital marketing. Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, makes a fascinating and pertinent point:

We do not live in the information age anymore, nor do we live in the age of knowledge. We've gone hurtling past that. Once everybody has information and knowledge, it's no longer a competitive advantage. We live now in the age of the idea. What consumers want now is an emotional connection.

What your brands must do, Roberts explains, is capture their consumers’ love. It’s a particular kind of “love”, and in the context of marketing; he means is creating “'loyalty beyond reason.” It’s a powerful thing.

Back in 2003, Read Montague, a neuroscientist, gave test subjects the famous 'Pepsi challenge' (in a blind taste test, would they prefer Pepsi or Coke?) while they were hooked up to an MRI.

Tasting blind, they preferred Pepsi. When they were told which was Pepsi and which was Coke, test subjects’ brains lit up differently, and they chose Coke. Coke wins because it is 'loved', and has won many consumers’ loyalty over reason.

(Pepsi Vs Coke image, via Fanpop.)

One digital brand that strikes me as using pathos marketing particularly well is MailChimp. The realm of 'love' isn’t so far off when you think about how it treats customers.

There are pleasant surprises planned for you. You might receive a gift from them out of the blue, with no expectation of reciprocation, like a t-shirt. The brand celebrates your milestones with them (yes, anniversaries) and says thank you often.

David Moth got me thinking about this in his recent Econsultancy post on customer retention. I’d recommend reading that for some more concrete ways to foster a positive relationship with consumers.

Kairos marketing: The right site

We’re at kairos, which Aristotle refers to a the element of timing. You probably think I’m going to talk about when to publish marketing materials, and though that's highly relevant and useful, it's been well covered elsewhere.

Luke Christison on email timing and Patricio Robles on online ad timing are good resources.

Have you been noticing the recent increase of 'clean slate' brands? By that I mean brands that have redesigned their sites to look cleaner, simpler, more transparent and friendly, often using techniques like flat design.

eBay, for example, is one of the many adopters of the clean slate design:

You’re going to see even more of them. Landor Associates just predicted it as one of the top ten brand trends of 2014. Consumers are migrating to sites that are more minimalistic and perceived as cleaner, faster, and more responsive.

Clean slate brands are widely preferred, and it’s an issue of timing.

Have you noticed that in populous areas, you have to pay to be somewhere without a barrage of advertisements? In our ad-saturated cities, clean and minimalistic spaces are associated with luxury and value. This topic is touched on by the Frontline documentary The Persuaders (worth a watch for all marketers).

The digital marketers who were the first to apply the spirit of the times (kairos marketing) to their site, adopting clean slate brands, have received big payoffs.

The takeaway here is to keep your eyes and ears open to changing consumer desires and associations; apply them to your logos, ethos, and pathos digital marketing strategies. That's the essence of kairos marketing.

Mix and match your persuasive strategies

If you’re neglecting any one of these rhetorical strategies, then you’re ignoring the best practices of marketing that have been tried and true for literally thousands of years. Not to be intimidating, but they’re important.

They help you ensure that you're addressing your whole customer, not just one particular aspect. These strategies are used actively and effectively by savvy marketers: revisit your favorite viral online campaign, and you’ll be persuaded.

Charity Stebbins

Published 27 November, 2013 by Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins is a content strategist at Conductor and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow her on TwitterGoogle+, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

9 more posts from this author

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Sarah Alder

Sarah Alder, Managing Director at Cranmore Digital Consulting Ltd

As I read the first few paragraphs I kept expecting Boris Johnson to pop up, as making connections between the classics and modern business is a favourite theme of his. But I was soon hooked into the article and completely fascinated. Thanks Charity, I love your ethos, pathos, logos and kairos.

almost 3 years ago

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

Thank you, Sarah! Happy to hear it.

almost 3 years ago

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Zack

This article is fantastic. The most intriguing and powerful part of this article is the section on pathos. Brand love is more powerful than any other form because your rhetoric is now transformed into philosophy. The decision making process has gone from extrinsic (rhetoric) to intrinsic (philosophy). Rhetoric is great for a one, two, or three time buyer. For that lifelong loyal customer, we need to go back a little farther. We need to go back to Socrates. We need to guide the customer to a decision they view as their own. This true loyalty will fight off the better tasting or cheaper brand from taking your business. I don't know what you did Coke, but you did a really good job.

almost 3 years ago

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

Thanks Zack... Go back to Socrates, I like that. Food for thought.

Your comments on pathos marketing reminded me of this...you might find it interesting: http://www.lovemarks.com/

almost 3 years ago

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Thanos

It is an interesting article but it has one huge flaw

You see, in ancient Greece, the philosophers and rhitors were trying to find a meaning for life and a way to make things better for everyone. They wanted to convince because they believed that their point was a nice solution for a problem or an interesting way of seeing things.

You can't say the same about companies that have only one goal which is their private profit that goes to their investors. Those companies try to convince people to buy their products not because they offer something special or something that has a good quality but because they just need to sell so they can make more money.

Please keep that in mind the next time you will try to connect any great ancient civilization with our dark present and future. Today, the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever, and that fact alone reveals a lot about our level as human beings.

almost 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Thanos

> the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever,

But I'm not sure ancient Greece was better - wasn't Athens run on slaves?

But your point is valid: philosophers (in general) suggest ways to make the world better: marketers not so much!

almost 3 years ago

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Thanos

@ Deri Jones

I know that people in ancient times had slaves but I also believe that we still have them today. You may don't see them at your house but those kids in South Africa are sold for 200 dollars and work for us to have nice cheap chocolate. Actually they work for big corporations like Nestle so they can creat huge profits.

This is only a small example and I feel really bad every time I have to mention stuff like this, but the truth is always cruel. In china you have cheap hands with no quality of life, and the china of today will be another country of tomorrow but we will always have our far away slaves to support this unsustainable system of life.

You know, I live in modern Greece and I am 23 years old. I can see how propaganda and "bad advertisement" is working againist the image of people in my country. The worst thing is that I can see the reason behind this. Most of us here don't have enough to live and no other country supports this drama because they are convinced by the media that it's our fault. It's a big topic, but you can really see what is really happening in this world if you look through history. Propaganda always did the job, from the dark era of Christianity to the American Dream...

Philosophy on the other hand, never did wrong because it is by definition the search for the truth that doesn't actually exist!

almost 3 years ago

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Sylvia

This article is referring to Aristotle's theory on rhetoric, not his philosophy. Rhetoric is all about understanding argument and delivering speeches, the art of persuasion, not about finding a meaning for life. They're two completely different fields.

almost 3 years ago

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Thanos

Sylvia you are right about that. In every time people in power tried to use propaganda tactics to convince others (when it was democracy because otherwise they just didn't need to). I am aware of that happenning in ancient Greece as well - for example when the army from Athens did cruel things to other cities that didn't pay their "taxes" to them, there was some kind of "falce justification" from the supporters of this move.

I just wanted to leave philosophy out of this and maybe I got carried away.

almost 3 years ago

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jeremy swinfen green

A lot of interesting thoughts although I don't agree that the importance of making an emotional connection with consumers is a new thing. Surely this has been a key part of marketing for as long as competition has existed. (We are not very rational consumers!) Going back a few years: "A diamond is forever" isn't a reflection on how hard they are. And the tagline "You are never alone with a Strand" was withdrawn because no one wanted to think of themselves as friendless smokers.

The Pepsi vs Coke things is interesting though. Pepsi passes the sip test (it's sweeter) but many consumers prefer Coke when they drink a whole can because they find it more refreshing (less sweet). So the difference in brain activity may be because of remembered preferences rather than any emotional connection with Coke.

over 2 years ago

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

Hi Jeremy, yes, I completely agree with you about pathos in marketing not being a new thing. It's been in use since Ancient Greece (and probably before that!) and has never stopped being significant. I meant more to argue that we shouldn't forget to apply them tactically and consciously to digital marketing, since they are the foundation of persuasion.

Interesting comment about the tastes of pepsi and coke. I'm curious to go back and look at that study a little more closely...how much time elapsed between the testing, I wonder?

If you're interested to read a little bit more about "neuromarketing" as you form your opinion, this is the source I was drawing from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/etc/neuro.html

Let me know what you think!

over 2 years ago

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Gianfranco Cuzziol

Nice piece. Reminded me of this blogpost from 2011

http://cuzziol.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/a-to-z-of-ecrm.html

over 2 years ago

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

Nice. Thanks Gianfranco.

over 2 years ago

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