The 3 Fundamental Persuasive Elements in Copywriting

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Almost two and a half millennia ago, a Greek philosopher hypothesised three important pillars of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.

These three persuasive musketeers could just as easily be renamed trustworthiness, emotion, and reason in today’s parlance. 

Though Aristotle could never have envisioned a world of digital marketing, his system remains one of the most relevant tools you can use to persuade your prospects today.

Together, these three pillars form one of the most powerful strategies you can use in your brand’s content creation.

Ethos: establishing trust

What Aristotle called ‘ethos’ can more easily be understood as your trust factor. It’s the credentials you have to prove you’re an authority in your field. 

Thanks to the internet, almost anyone can create a business and sell products or services. And that means the first hurdle you need to overcome is to gain trustworthiness.

Whatever medium you’re communicating in, you need to convince your audience that they should listen to you. 

You could have incredible data or a great story, but your audience won’t pay attention or believe what you’re saying unless you’ve established credibility. 

Surprisingly, the most important way to establish your credibility isn’t necessarily the most logical. It’s not to boast of your awards and accolades. It’s to speak in the language of your target audience. 

Conducting market research is essential to tapping into their world. The aim here is to show them that you’re one of them. You watch the shows they watch, listen to the podcasts they love, promote the values they live by, talk their lingo, and have been through what they’re going through.

The difference is that YOU have come out the other side. And now you’re willing to share YOUR solution with them. 

Because you’ve proven that you’re one of them and you’ve been there, they’re already paying attention, which makes your product or service that much easier to sell. 

While speaking their language can be one of the most successful ways to establish trust, it’s best backed up by endorsements. You could:

  • Enlist a trusted expert or celebrity who is viewed as a leader or mentor among your target audience to promote your product. 
  • Publish case studies and set up a portfolio. 
  • Collect reviews and testimonials to showcase on your website and across your social media channels. 
  • Consistently share valuable content through social media, emails, and blog posts. 

Pathos: evoking emotions

An appeal to pathos, or human emotion, is one of the most common persuasive techniques in advertising. 

Think of those inescapable World Vision ads featuring malnourished children, the fear-mongering election ads, or the joyful “We’re Happy Little Vegemite” ads. 

Writing with pathos attempts to convince the audience by appealing to nostalgia, the senses, memories, or shared experiences to elicit happiness, sadness, fear, or anger

Evoking emotion involves using descriptive language and dramatic storytelling with heroes and enemies, conflicts and resolutions. 

Alternatively, you can use pathos by:

  • Creating feelings of scarcity by limiting the number of products you sell or only accepting a certain number of clients per month. 
  • Creating a sense of urgency by imposing a deadline on program applications or offering a one-day discount on products. 
  • Creating a sense of community by showcasing previous or existing clients and customers. 

Using pathos requires delicate handling so you’re not seen to be manipulative. But done well, it’s a powerful tool. 

Logos: backing up your claims with reason

What you’d think would be the most important persuasive techniques – using logic and reason to substantiate your claims – is often the most overlooked persuasive element. 

It’s a sad fact that emotion and trustworthiness can sway far more than facts and figures. 

But using reason or logic – or in Aristotle speak, logos – gives your content that extra oomph factor. 

In Aristotle’s time, exercising logos involved setting up two premises and reaching a logical conclusion from them. For example:

Premise one: You need customers. 

Premise two: Mobile-friendly websites attract more customers. 

Conclusion: Therefore you need a mobile-friendly website.

Just stating this argument might not be enough but you’ll add weight to it if you back up your statement with hardcore evidence:

You’ve done everything you can to bring more visitors to your website but you can practically see the tumbleweed bouncing across the browser. The digital home for your beloved business is a ghost town. The product you so painstakingly created is gathering dust. 

There’s a simple solution to get more people through your digital doors.

Did you know that 57% of customers will not recommend a business if it isn’t designed well for mobile? In fact, even if they like the business, over half your customers will not return to your website if it’s not optimised for mobile. 

Just the simple act of optimising your website for mobile will bring more visitors to your page and more sales of your product.

For logos to work, you need to have an in-depth understanding of your audience, and then know which statistics or reasons will appeal to them most. 

For example, a business that sells eco-friendly products could apply logos effectively just by labelling its products as ‘vegan’, ‘organic’, or ‘zero waste’. 

For a company like Apple or Samsung, listing the benefits of their latest products alone effectively persuades many people who feel their older phone just doesn’t match up. 

For other businesses, you may need more information to explain why the features make YOUR offering the best one out there. 

Logos can also be applied by:

  • Posting a video showcasing the product or service in action.
  • Quoting statistics, verified with links to credible sources.
  • Providing fact sheets, charts, and graphs.
  • Creating an infographic.
  • Conducting a survey and publishing the results.
  • Including testimonials. 

Even in this post, I’ve applied logos. I could have just listed the three persuasive elements of trust, emotion, and reason. But by mentioning that these pillars are grounded in a 2,300-year-old theory developed by the great Aristotle, I’ve brought logos into my cause.

Ethos, pathos, and logos: A powerful mix

A discerning eye might have noticed that the logos copywriting example I provided above combined all three persuasive appeals. 

The first paragraph blended a heavy mix of ethos and pathos. By describing the prospect’s pain points, I demonstrated that I understood what they were feeling (ethos). And through using descriptive language, I (hopefully!) appealed to their emotions (pathos). 

Having heightened the emotional pain points of my audience and established my credibility, I’ve set them up to hear me out. In the second paragraph, the data I’ve used (logos) suggests that I might just hold the key to the answer they’re looking for. 

Separately, building trust, creating emotion, and providing proof are all effective persuasive techniques, as long as you choose the elements that work with your audience and within context. 

For example, B2B businesses might find the greatest success by employing trust (ethos) and reason (logos) in their communications while a B2C brand could have more success appealing to emotion (pathos). 

But combined, these persuasive techniques can put your target audience into the perfect frame of mind to buy. 

Using ethos, pathos, and logos together in your brand communications – particularly on your sales pages – creates a powerful concoction that will deliver the strongest persuasive message.

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Amanda Bensted

Amanda Bensted

Amanda Bensted is a copywriter, editor, and mentor dedicated to helping others become their own content bosses.

In over six years, Amanda has written for dozens of brands including Camera House, Taking Shape, Adore Beauty, Prana Chai, and Crohn's & Colitis Australia.

Amanda is committed to bringing a holistic approach to copywriting, combining brand storytelling with search engine optimisation to improve a brand's online presence and visibility.

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