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The 3 modes of persuasion.

The 3 modes of persuasion.

Mike Doane

This two-thousand year old document perfectly describes the principles of good marketing.

Artistotle’s observations on persuasion is a perfect lesson for modern marketers.

Aristotle is famous for writing a little book on persuasion called Rhetoric.

In this book he defines three ways to convince people: Pathos, Logos, and Ethos. We’re translating these as Emotion, Reason, and Purpose.

With these tools you can convince people to do anything. A used car sales man, for example, can sell you an old jalopy with sawdust in the oil tank.

But, we’ve got integrity.

Let’s explore how we can use Aristotle’s wisdom to help people make good purchasing decisions rather than manipulate them into buying something they don’t want.

We want our customers happy after all. We want them coming back for more.


This article is a snippet from Content Marketing for Myth-Makers and Tellers of Tall Tales — a 10,000 word guide on understanding your customers, crafting great copy, and writing stories that convert.

Get a copy.

Make me feel something, anything at all

The first mode of persuasion requires a beating heart.

Two bodies tangled between the sheets, men grappling each other’s collars on the edge of a dusty cliff, the smell of cookies baking in the kitchen.

These images play on our red-blooded desires, our fears and ambitions, and those special moments that we’ll never get back.

Emotion captures the magic of the primitive mind. It triggers an automatic response.

I’ve got this need for understanding, man

The next mode of persuasion is all about the mind.

Nobody wants to feel stupid, like they’ve been taken advantage of or duped.

We all want to understand why we made the purchase. And we want to be able to explain it to someone else.

Especially if we share a bank account with that someone.

Reason is about resolving those deep-seated human fears. It's about letting the customer reach happiness without anxiety or buyer’s remorse.

I just... I want to be part of something bigger

The third way to persuade people, says Aristotle, is to play to a customer's character or virtues.

Sometimes that’s about doing what’s right.

If your company donates a certain portion of profits to charity, your customers might feel good about buying from you. If you recycle too, even better.

But sustainability initiatives play to Ethos just as much as FOMO (“fear of missing out”). Everyone wants to be in the club.

Being rich is a virtue to some.

Purpose is about making customers feel like their purchase is larger than life. Or at least larger than themselves.

Right time, right place

Like any good marketer, Aristotle knew the value of a bonus tip.

Lucky for us he mentioned a fourth mode of persuasion too.


This one takes a little more skill than the other three. Kairos is a Greek concept that translates to something like the critical or opportune moment.

There’s an old adage that sums it up perfectly:

“Strike while the iron’s hot.”

— Mike Doane