The Force that Powers Persuasive Content (And 3 Ways to Intensify It)

image of despondent stormtrooper

You hear it from us all the time…

If you want to engage and influence, connect emotionally and then justify logically.

That’s still true.

But there’s a Force more powerful than logic or emotion…

And it’s you.

Same as it Ever Was

First, what do we know about effective persuasion?

  • We can now scan and record human brain activity in controlled tests, and the results continue to verify decades-old social psychology studies on persuasion.
  • Those same social psychology studies confirmed the effectiveness of centuries-old persuasion techniques practiced by sales people, savvy politicians, and smart parents.
  • And those very techniques originate with the observations of the ancient Greeks and Romans over 2,000 years ago, who developed the art of rhetoric to effectively persuade the masses of the day.

It’s a cliché, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, technology, media, and cultural context are dramatically different and ever evolving, but human beings respond fundamentally the same way we always have.

And when it comes to persuasion, people respond to a person’s perceived character way more than logic. Strong character can even defeat an eloquent emotional appeal in many persuasion duels.

So let’s take a closer look.

The Origin of the Force

The ancient art of rhetoric is based on three compelling components:

  • Logos is an appeal to pure logic and reason.
  • Pathos is an appeal to the desires, fears, passions, and other emotions of the audience.
  • Ethos is an appeal to the authority, honesty, and credibility of the person speaking or writing.

Of the three, Aristotle said ethos may well be the most effective means of persuasion a person possesses. And while general reputation certainly comes into play, Aristotle further said that ethos is best demonstrated through the tone and style of the messages you deliver.

That’s right – the content of your character is determined by the character of your content. Here are three powerful ways to strengthen the force of your ethos.

The Force is Strong in Those Who…

1. Show Some Decorum

Ethos is driven first and foremost by virtue, with a twist. Rather than an inherent trait, virtue is perceived by the audience when they believe you share and uphold the same values they do. You connect with them when you satisfy their expectations.

The ancient Romans called this meeting of audience expectations decorum. It’s not necessarily about being prim and proper – after all, the best person to persuade a gang of drunken bikers to sleep it off is likely one of their own, not the local schoolmarm.

In short, you can’t lead a tribe that thinks you don’t belong – and it’s totally up to them to decide if you fit in. So if the idea of changing to meet the expectations of an audience doesn’t sit well with you, you’ll have to attract an audience that naturally fits with who you already are.

Luckily, that’s what the Internet is famous for.

2. Have Han Solo Authority

There’s no doubt that Han Solo is a pragmatic bad ass. Whether you’re raiding the spice mines of Kessel, rescuing a rebel princess, or seeking just-in-time help at a murderous moon-sized space station, Solo is the likable, talented, practical pro for the job.

In terms of ethos, you want to display similar practical wisdom to increase your persuasive mojo. Be the likeable street-smart authority whose content helps get things done, not an aloof academic expert looking down from the lectern.

You don’t have to be perfect (Solo sure isn’t). In fact, letting your flaws flow increases your authenticity and strengthens the bond with those you’re trying to reach. When it comes down to it, all that matters is you know your stuff and deliver.

A Wookie sidekick is nice, but optional.

3. Exhibit Jedi Leadership

The final key element of an ethos that persuades is the goodwill and receptivity cultivated between you and the audience. This is usually best accomplished when people feel you are acting out of selfless leadership, without a vested interest or ulterior motive.

“Wait a minute Brian,” you’re saying about now. “I do have a vested interest. I want to sell stuff and build my business!” Okay, I hear you (and these voices in my head are freaking me out a bit).

That’s where we come back once again to valuable free content. Even while naturally promoting you and your business, great content with independent value is nonetheless a gift to your market. As long as you’re transparent (and unapologetic) about the reason you’re providing the content, you’re exhibiting effective leadership that entitles you to pull Jedi mind tricks at will.

Put the audience first and you’ll get what you want in return. Everyone wins.

Jedi Mind Tricks Without Going to the Dark Side

A strong perceived ethos is powerful stuff, which is why many have faked congruent character for fun and profit over the centuries. Church, state, and aristocracy have all seen healthy amounts of character manipulation thanks to the persuasive power of ethos.

Social media seems ripe for similar shenanigans. But great content can’t be faked, and a worldwide reach means you can be you and attract like-minded people who think you rock just the way you are. So there’s no need to go to the dark side of the Force to fit in.

Freed from the tyranny of geography, the Internet allows us to avoid being character chameleons and be authentic instead. Smart online marketers realize they don’t need a tiny niche topic to lead a tribe, because they themselves are the niche.

Never forget it’s all about the audience. But it’s you who has the appeal.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger, CEO of Copyblogger Media, and Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer. Get more from Brian on Google+.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. Hey Brian,

    You rocked it with this post! Maybe because of all the characters you used. :)

    I do like how you mentioned that by not being perfect allows you to connect with people. This is something that I had to get over at the beginning of my business career. I can connect with individuals by being myself and not trying to be mister perfect.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  2. Great Information Brian.

    “So if the idea of changing to meet the expectations of an audience doesn’t sit well with you, you’ll have to attract an audience that naturally fits with who you already are.”

    This is what Internet marketing is all about. You market to people who can relate to you. You are more likely to be successful if people can relate and resonate with you.

    For example: A beginner to Internet marketing can relate to someone who was just a beginner recently and is now successful and so they more likely to follow and listen to them.

    Kindest,
    Nabeel

  3. Let the force be with you! (the force being GOD)

  4. What an awesome post! The best part for me was “Smart online marketers realize they don’t need a tiny niche topic to lead a tribe, because they themselves are the niche.”

    And of course “the content of your character is determined by the character of your content”

    I have a Google alert setup for keywords in my Niche and I must say 98% of new content is crap and auto generated and poorly written or even spun content.

    So you hit the nail on the head for me.

    Be authentic, provide great content and be consistent.

    Scribe Plugin rocks by the way!

    Thanks Brian. :-)

  5. As Emerson once said: “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.”

    Even over the internet, our true character will always find a way of making itself apparent and leaving a “vibe” of some sort, so what’s the use in being anything other than 100% authentic?

  6. Thanks for the great post, Brian!

    As a creative professional, the business product I provide is all me and borne out of a lifetime of developing my talents.

    I am now developing/nurturing my social media presence and providing valuable free content as well. But even though I agree that I am my own niche, there are still plenty of others with similar offerings which leads me to think it’s still worthwhile to define a target market.

  7. Thanks for this wonderful post Brain!

  8. Beautifully crafted piece. Great points, of course, but well written. Thanks for your frequent wisdom.

  9. Well done, Brian! Well done indeed.

    And you worked in Star Wars, Austin Powers, and Talking Heads to boot!

  10. This is what I call ‘copyblogger nectar’.

    While one can fake ethos to varying degrees, the bottom line is if you have it sincerely, you’ll have an edge over most of those who strive to deceive.

  11. Oh… and one more thing…

    May the force be with you.

  12. Way to go, Brian.

    Or rather, just Q.E.D. Your column proves your points – it has ethos, pathos, logos.

    Great stuff. Those three points make a wonderful checklist for answering the question: “Is my article ready to post?” I’ve never made a mistake when I let that sucker lie until it had all three, even if it took days. And I’ve never been sorry when I scrapped a “finished” article that didn’t pass all three tests.

  13. Haha, I know it’s cliché, but I have to drop it nevertheless:

    The force is strong with this article.

    I’m going to work hard to write as compelling and brilliantly as you.

  14. Great advice as usual. thank you for making me a better author…

    Your friend,

    Jim Hageman

  15. Brian,

    Thank you so much for your guidance. I am very new to Copyblogger and just love what I am getting from it. This last post “The Force that Powers Persuasive Content (and Three Ways to Intensify it)” is incredibly well written with excellent content. I must say it was right on the mark.

    I believe your guidance is going to be instrumental in helping me along with the important work I do. You might like to visit my blog site (www.thebrutaltruth.ca) to see what I am up to and what you are influencing.
    Thank you
    Marilyn

  16. Wookies are tired of being sidekicks anyway. They just have such poor communication skills that it is hard for them to lead. Hmmmm…I just had an idea. Wookie Leadership Training Institute. What do you guys think?

  17. Brian,

    You’re supposed to be relaxing, (Lost Again in Margaritaville) and other summer fun stuff.

    I have to admit that I haven’t read the bulk of your post yet. I’m a hypochondriac and I tend to fixate on certain things.

    I couldn’t get past Logos and Pathos. They sound like a social disease. I could see these symptoms in myself, and went immediately to the free clinic down the street. I was assured that I was clean on both counts.

    Now I can read the rest of your post. In the future, please don’t scare me like that!

    Thanking you in advance,

    Steve Benedict

  18. Wow, this brings me back to my marketing and speech classes in High School.

    Thanks for the nostalgia.

  19. I couldn’t get past Logos and Pathos. They sound like a social disease.

    Sorry Steve, you’ll have to blame Aristotle. ;)

  20. To quote Boomhauer, Mumblybumblymumblybumbly Dang old Aristotle.

  21. Loved it, linked to it, learned from it – Now to keep on tryin’ to put it into practice!

  22. I absolutely agree with this post! Ethos is the key to powerful persuasion and it’s one of my most weakest points. I was struggling to make my voice heard online for the longest time. The only way I found that made me stand out and get customers to trust me and buy my services was my Better Than Risk Free Money Back Guarantee. Honestly, if I didn’t put myself out there this way I would’ve remained just another seed in a long flower garden of competitors!

  23. Aristotle and Star Wars in the same posts? Now that’s profound! All kidding aside, I fully appreciate your writing on Aristole’s view of logos, pathos, and ethos. I think a mix of logs and ethos might be the way to go, but pathos seems more a bit on the dark side.

  24. So much for my Wookie sidekick idea. I guess I’ll have to try the Jedi Leadership approach.

  25. You know what they say –

    All things being equal, a prospect will buy from someone they like.

    And all things not being equal, a prospect will still buy from someone they like.

    Ethos wins.

  26. This was a great post. It’s not often I reread blog content. It was worth a second time through.

    And I would LOVE a Wookie sidekick but I’m self-employed and can’t afford one!

  27. We just need to turn them into three cartoon characters and then write funny stories about them. Loghead, Pothead and Ethead.

    May need more work.

  28. Great take, especially liked the part about attracting the audience that fits with who you already are. That is really the best way to go about it.

  29. Potential addendum: “If you mute your personality, the deflector shields will be quite operational when your friends arrive.”

    [One of my favorite Copyblogger posts ever. Thank you.]

  30. This post hearkens back to my treasured days of reading Socrates and sitting around for hours in class immersed in dialectic discussion.

    How could you leave out Yoda?

  31. Charles, I struggled a good long time to come up with a Yoda closer. It was just too corny (and for me say that, it means it was really corny).

    • I was never in to greek philo.. Still not!

      But referring to Yoda, should of just placed an icon of him floating in mid-air at the end of the post.

  32. Thanks for a funny but informative posting.

    Food for thought. Now I just have to put the wisdom contained into practise and that’s always the hard part.

    Great stuff and thanks, Lance.

  33. Brian — fair enough. But still…you left out Yoda.

  34. Can I just say that the picture included in this was the best compelling opening ever? Your first sentence could have said anything and it wouldn’t have mattered, I was already hooked. For me, that’s a good takeaway all by itself.

  35. I think if Yoda is going to make an appearance he needs a solo.

  36. Great post Brian.

    Maybe my memory is going, but I can’t recall if it was you or Figaro that pointed me to the final showdown in 8 Mile as a perfect example of winning through ethos. Check it out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSzAb34Ub-M

    Just as you say, decorum isn’t about being prim and proper, but about meeting the expectations of the tribe: “you can’t lead a tribe that thinks you don’t belong.” Once Eminem reveals his rivals secret Prep School roots, it’s all over. And even before that, Eminem counter-intuitively builds ethos by openly revealing his own flaws.

    So thanks for pointing that out to me, or, if my memory is playing tricks on me, thanks for reminding me of it.

    – Jeff

  37. I liked this post

  38. Very right you are, Sonia.

    An opportunity here I sense.

  39. This was a great way to unpack a serious subject… loved the way you took something so earthy and looked at it from far far away.

  40. Thank for driving home these points in such an unusual way.

    The force of the Jedi finally made the message sink in.

    Never thought about the NICHE being me and the content all about them. This has clarified things for me.
    Thanks and I will keep following with even more interest.

  41. Awesome post Brian. Thanks for sharing this.You really rock on this one. What you shared here can also be applied in internet marketing.

    Keep it up and will look forward to your next post.

    Regards,

    Gary

  42. Thanks for such an insightful post Brian.

    I agree with Sonia, Yoda would definitely need a solo.

  43. Writing persuasive content is all about creating a story around the interests of everyone else

  44. Jeff, Figaro (Jay Heinrichs) used the Eminem / 8 Mile example in Thank You for Arguing. It’s a great book to learn the principles of rhetoric without subjecting yourself to the translated prose of Aristotle.

  45. “without subjecting yourself to the translated prose of Aristotle” – ah, but what could be a finer way to spend your margarita-soaked summer hours? There are far worse starting points than, well, the starting point.

  46. The number 3 is the one that really hits it home for me. Using Jedi leadership, and showing your customers that you have something that will benefit them while displaying a high degree of ethics in your business.

    If you can share just a little dirt about yourself, with your customers, that can go a long way towards building trust and a steady stream of customers. No one is perfect and people want to follow someone that they see as REAL.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  47. Just picked up Thank you for Arguing for the Kindle, thanks for the rec. :)

  48. Pondering your post… I love when a post does that.

    Another way of putting your 3 rock-solid points…
    1. Connection – find a way to build rapport and a person-to-person bond. Manners and decorum are social lubricants that reduce the potential for friction.

    2. Confidence & Character – demonstrate qualities that build trust and credibility. Be authentic within the context of playing a role. People respond to stage personas – like the Marlboro Man and Johnny B.

    3. Contribution – develop a relationship by giving first. Show a willingness to lend a helping hand and display a caring heart. The best leader is the one that cares the most.

    Thanks Brian!

  49. Meesa like this post.

    I especially connected with this –
    “Never forget it’s all about the audience. But it’s you who has the appeal.”

    It’s easy to get so fixated on the tricks of the trade and forget that personality and character are the real Killer Apps.

  50. I absolutely loved this article and the Star Wars correlations. My favorite and is especially applicable to me right now with some clients I’m working with…
    “Put the audience first and you’ll get what you want in return. Everyone wins.”
    Thanks for sharing!

  51. connect emotionally and then justify logically – love the idea!

    So true. Put the audience first because, primarily, you are not writing for yourself.

  52. Thanks for plugging Thank You for Arguing, Brian and Sonia! Let me know what you think of it.

    Jay (Figaro)

  53. Nice post. Great minds think alike, I guess. You may want to check this piece out for a slightly different take on the roots of rhetoric (and Vuvuzelas).

    http://www.rednod.com/vuvuzelas-youtube-and-the-new-pr/

  54. Hi Brian,

    From the Greek philosophers to the present and beyond into the future what makes humans tick remains the same.

    In spite of all the tech stuff hat keeps coming up daily we stay the same deep inside. I’d have to agree just from observation and things that I’ve read.

    I enjoyed reading this post which in addition to the good points you made it took me through time and reminded me of how briefly we appear here.

    Pathos is the strongest and Logos seems to be the weakest although in some cases it is very strong. Ethos can be dangerous as some people like authority way too much and it can turn into oppression.

    Vance

  55. Hey Alistair, good stuff. Looks like you’ve been influenced by Jay Heinrich’s obsession with rhetoric as well. If you haven’t read his book Thank You for Arguing, it’s really good. Also, if you’re interested, check out this post I wrote 3 years ago applying pathos and other elements from Aristotle to blogging.

    Jay, thanks for stopping by! Love the book, wish I had been the one to use Eminem’s scene in 8 Mile as an example of rhetorical decorum. ;)

  56. Brian,

    Hadn’t seen that book, but it sounds worth checking out. Rhetoric came up recently when my wife showed me a piece on teaching your kids to argue properly:

    http://www.figarospeech.com/teach-a-kid-to-argue/

    The Vuvuzela stuff is just a nice concrete example. ;-)

  57. Alistair, yep, that’s Jay’s blog. Some people call him Figaro. ;)

  58. Great post and a great reminder to us all that as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time’.

    Of course with Google acting as sentinel on your reputation people can quickly find the ‘real’ you and all the fakery that you have tried will rapidly unravel.

    Let the newbie and guru revel in their own cloth for we all have something to give to the world.

  59. Well written Brian,
    in fact, recently, i was going through articles about the art of persuasion/influence.
    I somewhat had the thought that in fact, some of our major success in marketing/sales online or offline is govern by such force as you speak. its not magic its not the dark arts but i believe learning to fit in ,voice out as who you are with the right group of ‘people’ will eventually build you undisputed reputation.
    and there i was thinking of Micheal Jackson. He is no marketing/salesperson even thou as we speak but i find him to be a very suitable example. His name still reign throughout the entire globe even thou his no longer here. How was he possible to actually ‘fit in’? not just only to his fellow fans but to the entire world. fans or no fans, his reputation,fame,stardom,and even death has somewhat ‘shook’ fans and non-fans alike.
    maybe he this sort of ” Han Solo Authority” that you speak of ,brian. to a great extend, his perfect and imperfection has somehow ‘strengthen’ the bond between him and the world.
    i am still looking into this but your post has somewhat provides me with great insight. =)
    thank you.
    have a nice day.

  60. Great post Brian, the force is strong with this article.

  61. Very nice article and quite inspiring…

  62. Wow, I feel completely energized with the force! This was a great and uplifting read. I especially enjoyed hearing that I don’t have to resort to the dark side!

    Great content and my own genuine self is all I need. Well, I always suspected as much and now it has been confirmed.

    Now, where did I put my blogging light saber?

    Looking for a blog to guest post on? Visit http://blogswithwings.com and contact me there. I love guest posters.

  63. what a great write up.excellent in describing story lines with each beautiful word.definitely,it comes from your heart feelings.well down!

  64. Great article. I can’t empasize enough that you are right. When you can get your prospects really excited about what you have to offer, then help them find the logic they will jump into your shopping cart. They will CHASE after you instead of just show some interest.

  65. Is there any better way to write a blog than through Star Wars referencing – i think not! :)

    Great article and all very relevant!

  66. Great post,

    Must admit got to thinking what Star Wars had to do with anything when I first clicked, but couldnt stop reading. Wish I had the persuasive mind tricks of the Jedi.

    Regards

    Simon

  67. Being human is a huge part of how I connect with people. I write about my flaws or blunders and how I overcame them (or cleaned them up!).
    I am human and therefore flawed, however, I also I have solutions to people’s desperate problems. I don’t capitalize on the weaknesses, but I also don’t cover them up. If I can keep someone from making the same mistake while writing about it, that is a huge service I can offer, too.
    I’d love a Wookie sidekick…

  68. “they themselves are the niche”

    I like this idea but I am still trying to figure out who I am. I’ll keep searching and hopefully it will come to me.

    Great post.

  69. Great article and great picture as well!

  70. Wow, this page got a link by the Official Squidoo Blog. That’s really something.

  71. I love the theme of this post using Star Wars as a model and all your points make great sense as well. thanks for the food for thought.

  72. Resonance, and crafting an offer to fit the audience so that they will like trust and know you. Such use of the force must be used responsibly :)

    Nice read! Thanks so much!