Applying leadership language to make your marketing more persuasive

Triana Jarman

Following on from our recent post on avoiding the usual conventions in your content marketing we’re continuing the theme with a look at how we can use presentation techniques from some of the great leaders to create more compelling copy. While brilliant presentations may well be an art which requires significant practice, there are a number of not-so-secret techniques which B2B marketers can use to their advantage.

Rhetoric and the art of persuasion

It may seem far-fetched to link Boris Johnson with Aristotle, but there is a definite connection in the form of ‘rhetoric’. Rhetoric, the art and study of persuasive language, is divided into three major categories by Aristotle: Ethos – character persuasion – is where leaders appeal to credibility, perhaps leveraging experts by quoting them or even having them endorse your product; Pathos – emotional persuasion – is where leaders compel their audience to take an action by tapping into emotions and making them feel a certain way; Finally, Logos – intellectual persuasion – is where leaders appeal to an audience’s reason and logic.

Boris Johnson’s use of rhetoric in the debate over whether the UK should leave the EU was very deliberate, touching significantly on each of these three areas. He positioned himself as an expert quoting hard hitting statistics, used emotion by giving scenarios of those who would benefit from Brexit, and attempted to apply logic in referring to the savings the UK would make by leaving. Regardless of your opinions on Johnson (or Brexit for that matter), his lessons on public speaking at Eton weren’t entirely wasted. Marketers can take Boris with a pinch of salt, but they could definitely take lessons from Aristotle and apply them to their copywriting.

The rule of three

Looking at a couple of leaders that have perhaps earned themselves a little more credibility, we turn to Winston Churchill and Barack Obama, who both frequently used the ‘rule of three’ technique to persuade, assure and rule. By using just three words for emphasis leaders can effectively deliver messages that are short, powerful and memorable.

“I can promise you nothing but blood, sweat and tears.”  – Churchill

“The courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.” – Obama

The simple reality is that three tends to be just about the maximum people will remember, whether the message comes from the world’s most powerful leaders or mere marketing copywriters. Remember this the next time you’re writing a headline, highlighting product benefits, or listing bullet points for a webinar registration page.

Opposites attract

Another thing many leaders (and writers including Shakespeare and Tolstoy) understand very well is the power of using two opposing statements. It’s a fairly basic theory, but one that has consistently proven effective over time. Simply put, if you refer to a negative first and then pose the positive, it will help to emphasise the positive. Perhaps the most iconic example came from Neil Armstrong when he descended from Apollo 11 to the Moon’s surface in 1969 and declared: “That’s one small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind.”

An interesting example from the marketing world came a little earlier than this, when Avis used the line in 1962, “We’re number two. We try harder”. This not only played on a ‘negative’ to emphasise the positive, it also defined their whole marketing strategy at the time – and it worked very well for them!

Metaphors and exaggeration to strengthen a message

Both metaphors and exaggeration have long been used as powerful tools for influencing people. To use a rather alternative metaphor example from a leader far removed from advertising, we’ll turn to someone who wished to promote nothing but peace. Mother Teresa used a highly effective metaphor to touch hearts and explain her role as a messenger: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

Exaggeration is another tactic commonly used by leaders, especially politicians, to provide emphasis to a particular point. A simple example of hyperbole in advertising comes from Gillette with their classic line, “The best a man can get.”

The power of storytelling

Whether you apply metaphors, exaggeration or any of the other traits from leaders discussed in this post, one thing which all great presenters do to really resonate with their audience is to tell a story. Done well, this not only ensures their message is considered compelling, but it can help to direct the audience in a particular direction.

Some fantastic examples of great storytelling in marketing can easily be found in video ads, such as Guiness’s Wheelchair Basketball commercial.

Brands can go beyond video when it comes to telling a story to include blogs, social media and other outlets. Take Lyft for example who use all of the above to engage its customers.

You can also check out our archived blog post about the science of storytelling in B2B marketing.

Combine these linguistic methods with our previous advice on breaking the conventions of content marketing and you are that much closer to creating messaging that stands out, resonates and leaves an impression.