Persuasive writing: 1 way to rule them all

by simon on March 23, 2010

The 3 musketeers and persuasive writing

Name one of the three musketeers. I bet you said d’Artagnan.

Bear with me on this one….

He’s not one of the three – they are Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Old d’Artagnan is the fourth member who joins them, the one people remember most, the hero of the story.

“This is leading to something about web 2.0 and persuasive writing?” I hear you say. Fear not. We’re getting there. Persuasive writing here we come.

Persuasive writing – the old thinking

You see, there were, in classical thought, three styles of persuasive writing, as defined by the likes of Aristotle: ethos, logos, and pathos.

(You can see now why the three musketeers hook got lodged in my head).

  • Ethos is the style of persuasive writing that appeals to credibility
  • Logos is the style of persuasive writing that appeals to logic
  • Pathos is the style of persuasive writing that appeals to emotions.

I am going to suggest to you that, when it comes to persuasive writing, there is a ‘fourth way’ – one that trumps the other three completely, one that knocks every other ‘sales’ technique and copywriting method into a cocked hat. It’s the one technique of persuasive writing you really need to make sales and influence people.

The Fourth Way – some weird mystical stuff

First, you have to bear with me a moment longer. Some background on the phrase ‘the fourth way.’ It was coined by Russian mystic and mathematician (I know, strange mix) P.D.Ouspensky, by way of the even stranger and more exotic Armenian mystic and ‘guru,’ George Ivanovic Gurdjieff.

There is a ‘fourth way’ – one that trumps the other three.

(Boy, Wikipedia’s getting some serious link-love from me today.)

These guys believed some seriously weird s**t. There’s no time to go into it, right now. But Gurdjieff defined three traditional ‘ways’ towards enlightenment / awakening / self-remembering. (Think ‘personal growth’ but in a more Eastern religious context.) These three were:

  • Physical – the way of fakir
  • Emotional – the way of the monk
  • Intellectual – the way of the yogi.

Be patient – we’re getting to the persuasive writing bit real soon.

The Fourth Way, for these guys, was quite straightforward: you do all three at the same time, that way you get there (whatever they mean by ‘there’) much faster.

It seems obvious once you think of it. I mean – why wouldn’t you?

So, the ‘fourth way’ when it comes to persuasive writing means combining the three traditional techniques in a great big powerful one, two, three punch.

Persuasive writing – the new thinking

All right – this is where we come right back up to date and get with the whole persuasive writing on the internet shebang instead of waffling on about Russian mystics, Greek philosophers and French novelists. (You have to admit, however, for a post on persuasive writing, we sure are covering some ground here).

The ‘fourth way’ when it comes to persuasive writing means combining the three traditional techniques in a powerful one, two, three punch.

Let’s talk now about web 2.0, social media, third tribe marketing and that sort of stuff.

There’s been a lot of talk of late, in copywriting circles, about the death of the traditional sales letter.

You know the kind, those endless scroll-down pages full of yellow highlighter stuff, dubious testimonials, hypnotic writing techniques, transparently made-up deadlines, warnings about an imminent price increase, an endless list of extras you get, all with ridiculous ‘valued at’ estimates. And at the end a really, really big price.

There’s also a gang out there, with some real A-list bloggers on it, calling itself the Third Tribe. They’re talking about a new way of selling to people based on resonance and trust, on relationship building and similar touchy-feely stuff. (Though it seems to cost a lot, and not everyone is impressed)

They’re predicting the death of the traditional sales letter on the internet. Good thing too, I say. If they want someone to deliver the fatal blow, stab the beast through the heart, slit its throat and cut out the entrails, I’m your man. I hate them (the sales letters, not the A-list bloggers). I’ve never bought anything from one of them (the sales letters….). In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to read one in its entirety. They’re not what I call genuinely persuasive writing.

Let’s face it – if you need a hard sell that aggressive, it’s because your product sucks. The traditional sales letter is used for snake oil and get-rich-quick schemes. Persuasive writing? They’ve never convinced me of anything.

I digress, however.

The Trifecta Neuro-Affective Principle – bonkers name, clever idea

So, a few years ago, one of the masters of the long-form sales letter, Maria Velosa, wrote a book called Web Copy That Sells: The Revolutionary Formula for Creating Killer Copy That Grabs Their Attention and Compels Them to Buy.

In it, she outlines many of the techniques used by professional direct sales copywriters. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s well worth a read.

However, she also agrees that in the era of Web 2.0, social media and the rest, the sales letter will be increasingly marginalised.

She recommends the use of a much shorter technique of persuasive writing, which goes under the snappy title of the Trifecta Neuro-Affective Principle. She writes:

One extremely powerful method of changing someone’s mind is by presenting multiple versions of the same concept. In my experience, as well as in most cases that I’ve observed, the optimum number of versions that has the highest likelihood of making an impact is three.

She says to persuade someone of something – to get them to change their mind about something – the best way, the shortcut way, is to use:

three sales arguments presented in one digestible bite.

There’s a lot to the principle, but to boil it down, it involves creating a compelling sales message that appeals to three different elements of human intelligence: narrative, quantitative, and logic. Or, in other words –

  • An emotional (narrative) reason
  • A credible (quantitative) reason
  • And a logical reason.

One, two three. Crash, bang, wallop. All three together at the same time.

One, two three. Crash, bang, wallop. All three together at the same time

Now, you should know that there is more to the Trifecta Neuro-Affective Principle than just this. I’ll come back to it soon, and explain more in another post.

But to round this off and get it clear – to persuade someone of something (or indeed, to sell them something), you should employ the three traditional persuasive writing techniques combined and rolled together into one compelling sales message.

All for one and one for all

How do you do this, in web sales copy, or a blog? In a letter, an essay, a report? Well, you need to do it quickly. Get to the point, get it into a few hundred words or less if you can.

In fact, I would suggest you do it in three bullet points (one for each musketeer – hey, you thought I was just winging that didn’t you!):

You set up with a sentence that summarises the core message you’re trying to get across, then cut to your bullets:

  • Imagine how popular your blog will be once people warm to your emotionally intriguing narrative technique.
  • Establish credibility by using figures and statistics proven to increase readership by 1000%, and sales by at least 50% overnight.
  • Be logical here – if it was good enough for Aristotle, Dumas, and the Russian mystics, it’s gotta make sense, yes?

Then you can round it all off with another sentence, maybe addressing any remaining resistance they might have, and knocking it flat.

There you have it – persuasive writing in a nutshell. How to sell stuff on the Internet. How to persuade people and win arguments in the world of social media. Persuasive writing, the fourth way.

Or as I call it, the “d’Artagnan manoeuvre”.

(That’s a joke by the way. I don’t really call it that. Do you think it’s brandable? Could I trademark it? Let me know your suggestions in the comments.)

Oh, and I want 10% of your first million. Deal?

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