Persuasion is an art, a complex art that draws on multiple techniques in order to try and influence the behaviour, attitudes, and belief of the message receiver in a voluntary way. It’s a complex and interactive process that uses verbal and non-verbal communication as well as signs and symbols in order to change perceptions.
Persuasion finds its roots in ancient history. Most recognisably, Socrates and his student Plato studied and practiced rhetoric, the art of persuasive communication. Aristotle describes the modes of persuasion as being broken down into 3 segments: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.
- Ethos: This is the appeal to the authority or credibility of who is presenting the information - the message source. Strong writers use voice and tone, as well as evidence to demonstrate that the person delivering the message is trustworthy, reliable, honest, and credible.
- Logos: The intellectual appeal. This relates to facts and figures that support the speaker's claims. Think case studies, statistics, facts, and authority.
- Pathos: This is the emotional appeal behind the message that is being delivered.
Persuasion is a transactional process. An active audience wants to have its needs fulfilled by the persuader and an active persuader wants to appeal to the needs of the audience and get them to take action as a result. You have a product, your customer is on the fence, you need to use the art of persuasion to tip the customer over the edge and make the purchase.
Any attempts at persuasion must fall within professional standards, otherwise, it risks becoming misleading, deceptive, or manipulative and slipping into the bounds of misinformation or propaganda.
Persuasive communication can be broken down into 12 key techniques, some will work better than others in certain situations so it’s important to pick the right ones and use them in the right context.
Flattery is an example of how to appeal to the pathos of the audience - the emotional appeal. A great example of this is L'Oréal. ‘Because you’re worth it’. This statement not only flatters but empowers the message recipient. If you make your audience feel good about themselves, it improves their sentiment towards what you have to say (and sell).
Hyperbole or exaggeration
This is using language intended to exaggerate a point, without making it misleading. Hyperbolic language is often used in conversation and writing to highlight strong feelings held towards something and create more vivid images in the mind of the reader, more so than if you were to state something in a completely literal sense. Instead of saying something along the lines of “This blog post is interesting”, think instead “The sheer amount of knowledge and value being delivered in this blog post is unrivaled”.
Personal pronouns or direct address
Involve your audience in your message by speaking to them directly using personal pronouns. Think about using inclusive terms “We” “you” “I” and “us”. You are more likely to persuade someone to do something by using a direct address because it feels like you are speaking directly to them. You are establishing a relationship between you and your audience and you are more likely to respond to someone when you have a connection with them.
This is instructional language that is often used to encourage action. A great example of a brand that uses this prolifically in its copy is Nike - “Just do it.” The language used is direct, powerful, and communicates the brand's message. The copy is often coupled with images of successful athletes, which leads customers to associate their purchase with the possibility of achieving greatness, just as the athletes have in their lives.
Powerful words, phrases, and imagery can be used to elicit an emotional response from the reader. Be that to make the audience feel sad, happy, angry, sympathetic, guilty etc. It is often used to make the audience take the side of or share the opinion of the writer with the intention of motivating the receiver to respond to your message. This appeals to the pathos of the rhetoric triangle and is often used in speeches in order to get an audience to rally around a cause.
Power of three
This is when the message sender uses lists of 3 in their writing to support an argument. It emphasises the point that you are making. A recent example of this technique which has been difficult to get away from for the past few years is the UK government coronavirus messaging “Hands, face, space” or “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” (which also incorporates emotive language, to further emphasise their point).
Statistic and figures
When you make a point, backing it up with facts and figures supports a more conclusive and persuasive argument. Your audience is more likely to take what you are saying on board when it is backed up by evidence from a reputable source. This appeals to the logos of Aristotle’s rhetoric triangle.
Using rhetorical questions that don’t require an answer is a great way to get your audience thinking, while subtly emphasising and drawing attention to a point that you are making. Rhetorical questions also give what you are saying a conversational tone, meaning that it helps you write the way that you talk, making it easier to understand and for your audience to connect with. Do you know what I mean?
Anecdotes are best thought about as small stories that serve a practical purpose. It’s important that you know your message, find the right example, weave in the narrative, convey passion, and support with facts.
Repeating the same word or phrase more than once means that your message is more likely to stick in your audience's mind. It also aids with the flow of what you are saying as well as working to convince people that what you are saying is true.
This is a really powerful technique that not only makes your copy more interesting to read but it works like repetition. Repeating the consonant sound and the beginning of words helps them to stick in your mind as well as stand out. This technique was actually used in the title of this post.
Undermine opposing view
This can be a slightly risky technique if overtly used. However, it can be discreetly utilised in the form of ‘Us vs them’ content. For example, if you compare yourself to the competitors, saying something along the lines of how you compare to some of the leading competitors in your niche. You need to acknowledge their existence while at the same time, displaying how you are better and why people should use your product or service over theirs.
When writing copy, if your main goal is to sell or product, or change someone's way of thinking, an understanding of these 12 fundamental concepts of persuasive communication will put you on the right track on the way to success.