Content is often treated like an afterthought in the world of web design, but even the best-designed experience can be seriously hindered by mediocre or misaligned copy. We’re always trying to help the design of the web live up to its full potential, so in this special series, we’re going to teach you three tried & true copywriting techniques that we use to create compelling, persuasive user experiences: Storytelling, The Persuasive Triangle (that’s this post) and What’s In It For Me.

In this post, we explore an ancient technique of rhetoric that’s been consistently used to move minds and the masses throughout history–and just might move the needle for your objectives too.


It’s on the dollar bill. It’s home to the mysterious treasures of ancient pharaohs. And it’s a darn good tool to utilize for content frameworks to support your brand’s value proposition. What is it? Triangles. Yep, like, Geometry 101 triangles. Starring the Persuasive Triangle hailing from Ancient Greece, and the Inverted Pyramid of journalism, we’ll tackle the ins-and-outs of each triangle as a content framework to improve your brand’s messaging, your product or service’s value proposition, or feature-benefit communication.

If you’re a creative leader seeking a more effective way to communicate your product’s value, or you have limited in-house resources and you’re seeking a value prop “fix,” this Persuasive Framework could be your saving grace. We like to utilize this method, as well as our other Content Frameworks here and here, in order to build core brand messaging on our site, as well as other content or copy we develop for our design partners, too. We eat our own dogfood, if you catch my drift.

These strategies have been so helpful for our engagements, so why not share them with you? Makes sense, right? There’s nothing secretive about these triangles, but there’s a little mystery surrounding how to properly apply them to a content framework. And we’ve solved this mystery at Digital Telepathy (DT) so now we can show you the secret sauce. That’s where this post comes in. We’ll help do some of the not-so-fun legwork for you. Let’s get started.

Turning Ancient History Into Copywriting

There’s nothing new about the art of persuasion—it’s about 2,000 years old, actually. In fact, Aristotle, the big daddy of rhetoric, exposed the Persuasive Triangle as the means to all forms of persuasion, whether that be the lawyer chasing ambulances, or the savvy CMO seeking to launch a new product—it’s power is undeniable. Encompassing three major tenets: Ethos, Logos, Pathos; we’ll unravel the mystery behind each, and apply them to a modern brand to help you pick up what we’re throwin’ down.

Shown here is Aristotle's Persuasive Triangle in all its glory. All forms of persuasion sit in one of these three tenets: Logos-Pathos-Ethos.

ETHOS:

Ethos is an appeal to ethics, and it is a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility of the persuader. Basically, when used as a marketing technique, it means basing your brand on social proof, testimonials, and transparency.

Social proof or reviews are one of the most common ways that brands can utilize Ethos. Social proof taps into one of a commonly occurring facet of human behavior coined the “herd mentality.”

Remember when your mom used to say, “If everyone were jumping off a bridge, would you do that, too?!” And from that exasperated teen who merely wanted to fit in, the answer oft-heard was: yes! Either way, when appealing to a consumer’s faith in your brand’s credibility, using social proof is a good way to keep your sheep securely in your brand’s flock.

Social proof can come in many forms. According to Charity Stebbins, Senior Content Strategist at Conductor, “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.”

Shown here is an example of a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for Zappos.

At DT, we utilize testimonials strategically on our Work detail pages. We feel that pairing the testimonial with the work we completed affords those potentially seeking our services a well-rounded view of our engagement with the client.

With testimonials, there’s myriad ways to effectively utilize those social proof gems. From sprinkling them throughout your site, to planting them firmly on the homepage, to perhaps creating a whole section of your site dedicated to them: the options are endless, and honestly, there’s no right or wrong way to present them.

There’s an interesting misnomer traveling around that you shouldn’t put your testimonials on one page by themselves, but there’s a definite strategy for such placement.

We eat our own dog food. Here's a sample of our Work detail pages for Tim Ferriss, one of our longtime design partners. Here we showcased his testimonial with a description of our engagement with him, as well as samples of the designs we crafted.

We wrote about this phenomenon of credibility while guest posting on Kissmetrics a while back, too, when we uncovered Bhavya Mohan’s, (a doctoral marketing student who worked alongside Harvard Business School professors) research regarding the phenomenon of pricing transparency in their recent paper, “Lifting the Veil: The Benefits of Cost Transparency.” Their research results showed that “when a company selling T-shirts, for example, itemizes what it spends on cotton, cutting, sewing, dyeing, finishing, and transporting each shirt, consumers become more attracted to the brand and more likely to purchase,” like Everlane.com, for instance. In addition, the Harvard researchers also noted that regardless if the customer was brand spankin’ new or a longtime brand advocate, using cost transparency surfaced positive buying motivations. This type of move shows that your brand is truly credible when it shares more insider data than similar competitive brands who do not.

At the end of the day, using social proof to power your credibility is about how valuable you think your reviews and testimonials are to your potential, and even current, customers, and how powerful you feel they could be at persuading this audience.

LOGOS:

Using Logos as a form of persuasive appeal would use logic to gain ground. This would mean using data, statistics and hard facts to prove your brand, product or service is better than the rest, or too good to be true.

According to Adam Singer, an Analytics Advocate at Google,“Raw statistics by themselves are fine. But showing in context, whether with a simple chart or more creatively in an interactive form, is the future of sharing information, and needs to be embedded in the thinking of all communications professionals.”

And it’s a creative way to use really powerful information, that’s true, to persuade your users.

One of our other design partners, ActivePDF, utilizes this strategy on its homepage, shown below. Including an embedded video next to the following copy: “There’s a good reason why we’re the only PDF software company to win the Visual Studio Readers Choice Award 9 years in a row. It just works.” Yep, it just works.

Using data or hard facts to prove your brand's value is a form of logos persuasion. ActivePDF, one of our design partners, uses this technique on its homepage to support the new design.

PATHOS:

Pathos is a special way that marketers can create consumer loyalists using a strong appeal to emotions. Pain. Fear. Sorrow. Happiness. Joy. Whatever emotion you choose, it’s a proven and effective strategy that can yield a lot of brand traction. In fact, this strategy has been making waves lately with the insurgence of such companies as Birch Box, Stitch Fix, PopSugar!, Wantable, and all the rest. They basically hinge their entire brand identity on surprise-and-delight, and their dedicated subscribers love it. They’ve successfully found a niche market amongst middle class women (with a little disposable income) who have no time to shop and need a little spice in their life.

Some of these services have been so wild with the ladies, that the very same companies offer similar subscriptions for their male counterparts. The premise is the same for many of these brands: send your users a uniquely curated package monthly based on their price point that also appeals to their personal interests, loves and hates. It’s pretty brilliant. And many companies are following suit.

Back in 2013, Stitch Fix’s CEO “reluctantly interviewed” with Fast Company about her subscription commerce business model, and defended her reason for a slower growth by stating:

The company aims to bring in new customers only when it can reasonably expect to deliver to the newcomers what’s promised, a shipment of stylish, moderately-priced clothes and accessories personalized according to the individual preferences. Doing that effectively has involved moving slowly forward through customer shopping cycles over the last two years, taking the time to analyze data about customers and their behavior and using those findings to further refine the experience for future fixes.

Aww, you've got a lot riding on those tires, expounds Michelin, pandering to its customer's emotions regarding wee ones. If the person viewing the ad dislikes kids or doesn't have any yet, the impact may run aground, but that's the danger of emotions—you have to be confident that you know your audience well to utilize this strategy.

This is the true value of good UX, and good business leadership, for what it’s worth. Thinking of your customers first-and-foremost by appealing to their emotions is a winner. Think about all the brands you use on a daily basis that utilize this strategy? Your tires, perhaps. Bridgestone and Michelin have had some amazing branded campaigns in print and otherwise that has appealed to emotions, such as the zingers shown to the right here…

Here at Digital Telepathy, we too have an extensive “happiness program” for our current clients as well as clients who are completing their engagement—it’s powered by pathos. We make this experience delightful for our clients from start to finish. That could mean coming to our office where we hire a barista to satiate their coffee addiction while they work alongside us, or perhaps having our chef prepare them a special lunch affair, or even if it’s just sending them a special package that’s personalized. It’s an important way we show we’re actually listening.

But applying these strategies to your website’s content strategy can be tricky. You need to be aware of the technique you’re using and use it through and through, to the finish. Making certain that your messaging is consistent for all channels, all pages, and is cohesive. Blending logos, pathos and ethos takes some muscle-memory, but it’s possible.

Brands such as MailChimp dip their toe into pathos-driven messaging with its new Pro slogan—”Giving You The Power To Grow”— powering their latest MailChimp Pro product, as seen here.

Beyond employing an adorable chimp named Freddie to be their brand ambassador, MailChimp is oft known for taking the unsexy world of email marketing and making it fun, playful and delightful to users. Customers are known to get out-of-the-blue gifts from MailChimp, just-because. It’s all pathos, baby.

Inverted Pyramid Redux:

Last, but certainly not least, is the Inverted Pyramid hailing from the world of journalism. The way this framework operates is simple. Remember, it’s an upside-down triangle, so the base is the top and it includes the most fundamental facts. This would be your main value prop that you may place on your homepage, front-and-center. Additional information appears in order of importance but always links back to the main message.

The Inverted Pyramid technique helps you to make certain that your most important, fundamental features and benefits are at the top of the page, meaning that your homepage messaging should express the pinnacle of your brand's value.

To provide context, here’s a brief history of the Inverted Pyramid via Purdue:

“The inverted pyramid structure is the product of an old media technology—the telegraph. When news outlets would telegraph information over the wires, it made sense to use the inverted pyramid because the most vital information in the story was transmitted first. In the event of a lost connection, whoever received the story could still print the essential facts.”

Essential facts. That’s the most important aspect of activating the Inverted Pyramid. Its power is useful whether you are engaging with ethos, pathos or logos because it keeps the high-level value proposition at the top, and it encourages all subsequent content to flow back to, or answers questions pertaining to, your main messaging. For instance, let’s take a look at one of our client’s sites below, Bulletproofexec.com.

For Bulletproof's redesign, we used heavy, persona-based research methodologies via Card Sorting to uncover the messaging pillars that their core audience gravitated towards the most, ultimately guiding their marketing team to land on the messaging shown here.

Using the Inverted Pyramid, let’s unravel their site.

Shown above is their homepage’s primary message, and the base of their Pyramid: “Supercharge Your Body. Upgrade Your Brain. Be Bulletproof.” If we view this as their thesis, we can see how the rest of the messaging flows…

As a new visitor to the site, you’re guided into the Bulletproof world with a New Reader dropdown in the upper right corner of the homepage that showcases this messaging. Notice in the body copy how the phrase, ‘upgrade your brain,’ is repeated. This is a key tenet of mastering the way information flows from the base of the point of your messaging Pyramid. It’s subtle—but exceedingly important.

Shown here is the New Reader experience feature we designed to help engage new site visitors in the art of being Bulletproof. A key takeaway that we discovered during our research phase of the engagement.

Next, as a new site visitor, you then experience a side-car pop-out that shows you how to make the perfect cup of Bulletproof coffee. Notice the messaging, again, “supercharge your” is repeated. This takes the core messaging, the base of the Pyramid, and links the notion of Supercharging Your Body, with coffee. Once again, a subtle nuance, but effective nonetheless at mastering messaging that circles back upon itself and is hyper-focused, clear and, most importantly, meaningful to users. We know it’s been meaningful because after implementing these changes, email sign-ups soared 300 percent. Boom.

Final Thoughts…

That three-sided geometric shape offers more than meets the eye, huh? Using these content framework strategies via our triangular friends can be challenging, but offer great opportunities for streamlining your content, brand messaging and your value proposition. This is one of the most difficult challenges that many products, services and brands take on: finding the key message and value proposition. Using persuasive triangles as a means to building your content framework is an excellent strategy to take you over the finish line with a clear focus and streamlined approach and, best of all, it’s an approach that’s worked for us here at DT.

Comments
  • David, thanks for sharing. Having a degree in classical lit & philosophy, this tickled my nerd senses! Being a software marketer, it gave me lots of good ideas. This series was awesome. It’s nice to see others outside of Copyblogger advocating for good copywriting. 🙂