No, we’re not just kidding around here.  Sometimes the best insights into today’s problems come not from today’s self-styled gurus, but from the past.

We’ve discussed the copy-writing topic numerous times here, and frequently we’ve looked to current research and thinkers for guidance.  But recently, we’ve seen not one, but two posts that relate the teachings of that ancient and revered Greek philosopher Aristotle to our current challenge of writing effective Web and other marketing copy.  Both are on Copyblogger:  one is by Amy Harrison, the other by Brian Clark. So we thought it might be useful to mash their points together and present “Ari’s greatest copywriting tips” …from way back in the day.

Now, of course Aristotle could not have imagined even mechanized computing, much less the Internet.  But he did know a whole lot about presenting thoughts in logical and persuasive ways, which happens to be a core requirement underlying most marketing writing.  So let’s get right into his Big 5…

Begin with the end in mind

Aristotle called this teleology, the study of matters with their end or purpose in mind.  It’s useful for life in general, road trips in particular …and any kind of persuasive writing.  With a business blog, for example, it means knowing the overall story that your blog is trying to tell – aka, your unique selling proposition – and using that as a guide to select among the potential small stories (your posts) that you’ll tell along the way toward that end.  Oh, yeah… it’s a big help in constructing each post, too.

Ethos – show off those morals

Aristotle pretty much said that it doesn’t matter how wonderful and ethical a person you are, if your writing doesn’t communicate that.  In Web/b2b-blog writing, it’s of course less about morals per se, more about revealing character – yours and your company’s – by things like…

  • empathy – showing that you understand what your reader is going through
  • demonstrating a genuine desire to help
  • avoiding inaccessible language (chiefly jargon)
  • showing your expertise, knowledge and personal experience in your subject matter

Pathos – get them feeling something

Brian:  “Aristotle said that persuasion involved being able to identify the most compelling naturally-occurring element of any subject.  Once identified, Aristotle argued that the most compelling way to communicate that natural element is via pathos, the ability to connect with the emotions, desires, fears, and passions of the audience.”  Direct-mail copywriters today call this setting the hook; they’d know immediately what Ari meant.

Tell persuasive stories

You can do much worse than to simply follow Aristotle’s straightforward four-step structure:

  • Exordium – This is your opening, which is where you’ve really got to grab your audience.  It might be with a shocking statement, an interesting factoid, a famous quote or a vivid anecdote.
  • Narratio – Here is where you show the reader you understand their problems …and feel their pain.
  • Confirmatio – The solution appears.  Use vivid imagery to illustrate that your product or service is the answer;  give examples featuring people similar to the reader.
  • Peroratio – Expressly state the need to act on the solution offered, now. Today we call this the call to action;  it’s so crucial, yet too many writers just stop at the confirmatio.

Logos – give them proof

If you want to make a point, you should be able to back it up.  It will set your copywriting apart if you…

  • Avoid ambiguity, and swap out superlatives and hyperbole for rock-solid benefits and results
  • Follow each critical point you’re making with proof:  research it, prove it and win them over

Brian says, “My guess is that if Aristotle were alive today, he’d be blogging.”  Almost certainly, he’d be a Hall of Fame marketing guru that we’d all be trying to emulate.  But even though his counsel is 2,300 years old, it’s nonetheless incredibly insightful and relevant.  So to follow it, be sure that your copy displays your bona fides, tells a persuasive story with a clear goal, is backed up with plenty of proof, and stirs your audience’s emotions enough to take action.