Twenty-three hundred years ago, Aristotle published Rhetoric, where he listed the three ingredients of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos.

  • Ethos refers to the character of the presenter. It includes things like trustworthiness, credibility, or respect.
  • Logos refers to the data, facts, and logic behind the message.
  • Pathos refers to the emotional component of the message.

Ethos is a virtue–you either practice it or you don’t. Logos and Pathos, however, require a deeper level of choice.

The Churches of Logos and Pathos

Most marketers belong to the Church of Logos. Logosarians create content that answers fact-based questions about things such as cost, value, or payback period. And while the ranks of Logosarians far outnumber their Pathosonian brothers and sisters, they have a problem:

Data doth not a compelling story maketh

If scientific facts alone were enough to persuade effectively, we’d exercise every day, eat healthily, and cigarette smoking would be a footnote in an obsolete medical journal. However, without creating an emotional connection to those facts, the Church of Logos is at a severe disadvantage to the teachings of Pathos.

Michael Dahlstrom, an associate professor of journalism at Iowa State University, demonstrates that advantage through examining the role of story in the recent measles vaccines debate.

Before 2000, the vaccine story centered on the risk of contracting measles. However, with a high vaccination compliance, that risk was essentially eliminated, and a new narrative emerged– one that focused on the risks of the vaccine itself.

Some parents, swept up in the emotion of this new narrative, chose to not vaccinate their children. This choice resulted in a new population of hosts for the virus to infect. Had theses parents made their decisions based upon scientific facts, they would have immunized their children. However, with no drama remaining in the dangers of measles story, facts based on cold probability and statistics were about as effective as bringing a knife to a gunfight.

“Facts are often trumped by personal stories about vaccines, regardless of whether those stories are true or representative,” said Dahlstrom. Therefore, the scientists who based their entire premise on the gospels of statistical analysis, lost the argument.

Successful business storytellers draw from both religions. They have one foot planted in hard facts and the other planted in human emotion because stories that use both create a potpourri of meaning.

The vaccine debate illustrates how messages based on pure logic or pure emotion fail to tell the whole story. Therefore, the next time you write a story to convince, use the sermons from both churches. Have your stories appeal to both the heart and the mind.