Ethos in Marketing – Some People are Marketing Pros, Some People Wear Togas

It’s not always obvious, but modern marketing is very much an extension (albeit a hyper-realized, narrowly focused one) of a language study that has existed since the 4th Century B.C. Before it became a pejorative term for political haranguing and bad marketing, the term rhetoric was originally nothing more than the study of effective speech, or the study of effective use of language. The ancient Greek Sophists taught that rhetoric focused on the ever-evolving relationship between the writer, or creator of language, the audience the language is channeled to, and the subject or topic of the communication. In other words, it was about the right message presented in the right way, on the right topic, to the right group of people.

I bring this up because formal rhetoric also codifies what every marketer knows as the three classic audience appeals—ethos, pathos, and logos. Credibility, emotion, and logic.

And I think we as marketers have a tendency to get too focused on the emotional (pathos) and logical (logos) appeals—the stuff we think that normally drives massive click-throughs and conversions—that we forget that our own credibility (ethos) is a “branding” device in its own right. It’s very easy to get lost in the numbers, the metrics, the faceless digital lists of names and phone numbers. It’s too easy to get stuck on creating the perfect logo, the perfect slogan, the perfect buzzword that we forget that marketing is in essence, a story, backed up by some information and testimonials that lets people know our story is true.

The key element to credibility is longevity. Anyone can have success for a month, a quarter, a few years. Credibility comes when you consistently prove your worth over time.

Want to improve your ethos in marketing? Go to your 10 oldest customers, and ask them if they’ve ever done a testimonial for you. If they haven’t done one for you in the last 24 months, ask them if you can do a new one. If you’re not using their logo in your Web site branding and design, ask them if they’re amenable to such an arrangement. Ask them if they’d be willing to share information or research on just how well your product or service is working.

The trick is to be transparent. Your clients know that asking for a testimonial is a bit of shameless marketing on your part. Admit it to them—“Can you help me do some shameless marketing promotion?” Let them know up front, and they’re generally more apt to go with it.

Finally, there’s one surefire way to kill company ethos—fail to live up to expectations. One of the criticisms of the old Sophists was that widespread use of rhetoric would ultimately only produce speech tailored to say just exactly what the audience wanted to hear—regardless of whether it was true or not (sound familiar, marketing managers?).

Without the right sales philosophy in place, a marketing exec is little more than a talking head in a silk-lined, three-piece toga.

-Steve Watts

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