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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.
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.