Words and the ways in which we use them can be the most powerful weapon of all. Why else would we have profound phrases such as, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” or “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you?” Whether you’re aware of it or not, rhetoric, which is the influence of language, is present all around us—and no, it’s not only during election season. It’s in our history; our ad campaigns; our shameless pleas to our best friends that another happy hour drink on a Monday night is a good idea. We see and use rhetoric every day to persuade others to believe or think a certain way, and maybe even take action. And in content marketing, that’s the main reason why we do what we do.
Our ability to use language in this way dates back to the ancient days—back when rhetors, such as Aristotle and Isocrates, discovered that language actually empowers a speaker with the ability to reach into the depths of an audience and connect with them, ultimately persuading them to do something. And they analyzed the heck out of it in order to identify the ways in which we can all create effective rhetoric, or in our case, content.
What they found was that there are a variety of factors that contribute to the effectiveness of a message: the message, the speaker, the audience, and the relevancy of the topic, which our ancient rhetors summed up in The 5 Canons of Rhetoric and The Rhetorical Situation. Here’s a deeper look at some of these theories, which have become the basis for the way we effectively communicate today.
The 5 Canons of Rhetoric
- Invention: The first step in rhetoric is figuring out what you’re going to be talking about. Discover what people don’t understand, and use that as the basis for your argument; find the need of the audience, and supply it. For example, if you’re convincing someone on why they need to wear sunscreen and ultimately purchase your product, you’ll probably appeal to the safety concerns and highlight your product’s success.
- Arrangement: How you structure your content is also important, as it influences how easily an audience will understand what you’re saying, and have the most impact. Opening up with a compelling story that evokes ethos and tugs on the heartstrings of your audience will certainly capture their attention as soon as you begin, making them more inclined to listen to you.
- Style: How you define your style of writing or visual content is exactly what the ancient rhetors are talking about here, and it’s vital that you identify your brand’s style and tone in order to establish consistency and your brand’s ‘voice.’ Establish which rhetorical devices your company gains the most value from, such as figurative language, syntax, and word choice. All of these elements work together to connect with your audience.
- Memory: In earlier days, the ability to memorize speeches, arguments, and opposing viewpoints, was equally as important as developing your rhetoric in the first place. While this may seem most applicable for public speaking, as content creators it’s important that we always keep track of what we’ve written about, be ready to further discuss a topic at any point in time, and remember to keep up in conversations we may have initiated in forums or comment sections. Memory can also be applied to need for brands to stay attuned to their marketplace. Remembering what others might think about a particular topic is important as it also has the ability to influence your audience as well.
- Delivery: How you present your content is vital, as you want to make it as appealing and easy to understand as possible. For content creators, we’re talking about the dissemination of your blog posts, as well as how it looks on the web page it lives on. Public speakers need to manage the volume of their voice, the speed of which their speaking, hand gestures, etc. Content marketers need to make sure they consistently send out blog posts via social media, email blasts, etc.
The Rhetorical Situation
- The Issue for Discussion: Educate yourself on the issue before you create content about it. What are all of the established viewpoints on the issue? Is it a concern that’s public knowledge? You may also want to address these other viewpoints in your content as well, if applicable.
- The Audience for Discussion: Understanding the basic demographics of your audience will be key for determining how you phrase your message. Are you speaking to college students, children, or seniors? Are these people who are predisposed to what you have to say?
- The Audience’s Relation to the Issue: Is your audience interested by the issue? Whether your audience disagrees with you on an issue or not will help you determine whether or not you need to support their ideology or convince them of yours. This will also help you determine the best platform through which to communicate.
- The Speaker’s Reputation: Does your brand have established cred in your particular industry? Are you known for being a trustworthy source, or is your reputation one that’s not very well respected? All of these questions will determine whether or not your audience trusts you. If not, then you need to focus your content on establishing trust so they’ll listen to you, and hopefully be influenced by what you have to say.
- The Speaker’s Relation to the Issue: If you’re in the business of coffee and decide to blog about the recent outbreak of the Avian Flu in Japan, chances are likely that your audience is going to wonder why in the world you’re addressing the issue. Unless your company is somehow connected to the issue at hand, your brand has no business chiming in on the discussion. Stick to what you know, and you’ll gain all the more credibility for being an expert in the field.
In an effort to win the hearts of audiences today, we gift them with blogs, whitepapers, YouTube videos, and more in order to capture their attention. And as we research and meticulously mold the perfect message that we think and hope will be received with open arms, remember that there’s a few tips you can utilize from the ancient rhetors.