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4 Persuasive Elements of the Most Effective Content Marketing

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Our content marketing is supposed to convert readers into customers, right? This means that as our audience is reading our content, we need to be persuading them as they continue.

According to Aristotle, there’s 4 (yep! Not just 3!) modes of persuasion that persuasive rhetoric relies on.  (And really, there’s no arguing with Aristotle, is there?)

The truth is, the use of these 4 elements of persuasion are seriously lacking in content marketing these days.

Consider this is your primer on the 4 underlying persuasive elements of effective content marketing, and when combined with a proper story catalogue, you’ll never want for good content that converts again.

In truth, this blog post was planned with an entirely different aim.

As I was creating the Storyteller Archetypes and detailing the ways in which different story strengths utilize the three modes of persuasion as detailed by Aristotle in Rhetoric, I naturally turned to Wikipedia to double check that I was remembering 10th grade English correctly. 

Totally missed it in high school? A quick refresh: Aristotle formally posits in “Rhetoric” there are three modes of persuasion for effective communication, Ethos (credibility of the speaker), Pathos (emotional appeal) and Logos (supporting data and facts).

“Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.”

Much to my surprise, lurking at the bottom of that Wiki page there was a lesser known FOURTH mode of persuasion: kairos

This fourth mode of persuasion is all about timing, and I may or may not have whooped and hollered at my desk in excitement. YES! 

Timing is everything, and though I hadn’t been thinking of it as concretely as a fourth mode of persuasion (I’ll leave that to Aristotle), THIS was what I had been edging around all along. There is a necessity of timing that can render the traditional triad of persuasion more or less effective, and this was the final bit of info I’d been searching for. 

As I learned in the rabbit hole of internet learning that ensued, there seems to be some hotly contested academic debate over whether or not to include kairos as a mode of persuasion, but as this is neither an academic blog nor a submission for online debate, we’ll be covering kairos as a final finishing touch on the traditional triad.

Thus, while this post may have started as a refresh on Aristotle’s triad of persuasion, we’ll be covering all four modes of persuasion:

Logos: an appeal to logic

Ethos: an appeal to authority

Pathos: an appeal to emotion

Kairos: a sense of timing

All four are necessary in persuasive argument for sure, and all four are most certainly necessary in creating content that converts. 

Mode of Persuasion #1: Logos.

Logos is about data, facts, the scientific method – you are appealing to your audience’s sense of logic in order to lend your content credibility. Obviously this will also strengthen your ethos (appeal to authority), but we’ll get to that in a minute. In order to create content of high value for your audience, you need to show them that your product/service/etc is worthwhile. And we humans love a good data set.

Let’s say you’re a product based biz – you sell hyper-positive cards and stationery with a neurodiversity spin. You could include some stats on the number of days til a certain holiday (and thus they better get on that shopping!), remind us of the percentages of humans with a certain neurodiverse diagnosis, etc. 

Or perhaps you’re a service based biz- you sell 1:1 packages of brand and web design for community-minded folks. You could include stats on how folks have grown their community with a stronger brand/website, the number of clients who find themselves booked after working with you, or the increase in web traffic after you’ve redesigned their site.

In essence, let yourself sprinkle some logic into your content marketing so your audience has a clear sense of tangible value.

Mode of Persuasion #2: Ethos.

There’s a nice relationship between ethos and logos, as the two can work in tandem to strengthen each other in the eyes of your audience. 

Ethos is about credibility, mastery, expertise – you are appealing to your audience’s sense of authority in order to establish your credibility as the speaker/content creator. 

Especially in the world of online business, we need to know why YOURS is the voice to listen to. 

This could look like traditional means of establishing credibility – college degrees, past jobs at high-profile companies – or it could be highlighting for us less traditional elements of your work – say, why your past life as a professional actor and your rigorous training in how to tell stories perfectly primes you to teach other how to tell better stories.

Whatever the case may be for you and how you establish your authority on a certain subject, there’s a lovely balance to be struck when weaving ethos through your content.

We don’t need to be hit in the face with a frying pan. Instead, lead us to draw our own conclusions (granted, the conclusion you led us to) so we take the initiative to name you the expert, rather than you telling us outright that you’re the expert. 

The title should be earned, not self-proclaimed (when it comes to content marketing – it’s a whole other story when it comes to stepping into our power, owning our expertise, etc).

Mode of Persuasion #3: Pathos.

Pathos is about sympathy, empathy, feeling – you are appealing to the emotional core of your audience in order to move them to act. 

This swings both positively and negatively, meaning you can appeal to your commonly held values with your audience, or you can appeal to fear within your audience. 

This is the one we’re probably all too familiar with, especially online, as folks tend to fudge their way through logos and ethos in order to prey upon their audience’s sympathies.

PLEASE DO NOT RELY SOLELY ON PATHOS.

Is this to say I want you to excise the emotion from your content? 

HECK NO! 

But I will encourage you to examine how you’re appealing to your audience’s emotions, especially if it’s from a place of fear. Fear-based content marketing has a place, but there’s no need to invoke fear constantly in your content, and I would absolutely caution against consistently relying on fear.

Instead, ask yourself:

  • How can your pathos support the logos and ethos of your content?
  • What does your audience need to feel in order for this content to be most effective?
  • Are you considering the emotions your audience may be bringing to the content before reading or experiencing it?

Pathos isn’t the end all be all of an effective argument or piece of content. It’s only a part of the aristotelian triad of persuasion.

Which brings us to the final element…

Mode of Persuasion #4: kairos.

Kairos is all about nuance (my favorite thing!) – it’s understanding the timing of your content within the broader socio-cultural context of your audience. And it’s perhaps the most important element of persuasion when it comes to content marketing online.

If you’re properly engaging with your audience, this may feel so natural to you it didn’t even occur to you as an essential element of content marketing – awesome! Good on you! AND ALSO – a deeper understanding of timing will most certainly take that innate talent from engaging to exploding!

This is a little trickier to teach as a rule because, as noted off the bat in this section, it’s all about nuance. 

What I can say for certain is that creating a big picture plan – whether that’s monthly or quarterly – for your content creation is the surest way to establish a good sense of a kairos for you and your audience. 

All content should be directing your audience toward the sell, in one way or another.

By creating a plan that properly builds on the Know, Like, Trust formula, you lead people to buy from YOU, and kairos is the secret ingredient that ferries your audience through each phase of that relationship.

This final cherry on top of the persuasion pyramid sundae also informs your call to action. 

In order to cultivate a deeper relationship with your audience, in order to move them to action, what do they need NEXT in their relationship with you? 

Remember that your content does not always need a direct linear path back to the sale, but it always needs to be building your rapport with your audience.

And there we have it:

Logos: the use of data and facts to support your content;

Ethos: establishing your credibility and expertise; 

Pathos: creating an emotional connection with your audience;

Kairos: having a sense of timing to create the most impact.

You need all 4 elements of persuasion to create an effective content marketing strategy and tell better stories online.

The key to all of it?

You don’t need a flashing neon sign pointing back to what you’re selling for these elements to be effective.

You just need to create content that meets your audience where they’re at and propels them forward through the value you provide.

Ready to curate your content so you’re cultivating connection with every post?

Get on the waiting list for The Connection Collective – doors open once a quarter and it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent on your biz.

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