Marketing and the ‘Rule of Three’

 

I have long argued that, in our increasingly complex world, selling is inappropriate. This means our marketing becomes ever more important. We must be able to communicate well in all our marketing, so I thought I would share some pointers.

Storytelling-techniques-quote-seth godin

There is a general rule in speaking, in writing and in music that concepts, arguments and ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable and more memorable. This ‘Rule of Three’ provides an elegant communication framework.

So what is the Rule of Three? What are some examples of the Rule of Three? How can you use the Rule of Three to be more effective? Before I explain, did you spot the Rule of Three in operation in the opening to this paragraph? The Rule of Three is simple, it is powerful and it works. People can understand your messages more easily, become more engaged with your business, and remember more of what you communicate when you use the Rule of Three.

It’s no accident that the number three is commonly used in well-known stories. The Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers and The Three Wise Men – to name a few. It’s no accident that commonly known phrases often come as three-part quotes such as ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, and ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’. It’s no accident that the best magic tricks are organised into three phases – ‘the Pledge’, ‘the Turn’ and ‘the Return’. This paragraph illustrates another aspect of the Rule of Three. The first time you say or write something, it’s an accident. The second time, it’s a coincidence. However, the third time you say something it becomes a pattern. Three is the smallest number of elements you can use to create (or break) a pattern.

liberte-egalite-fraternite

Here are three quick tips to help you use the Rule of Three. (Did you really expect any other number?)

Tip 1: Arrange any talk, presentation or speech into groups of three.

Maybe you are familiar with the old advice about structuring a speech. I believe it was Dale Carnegie who said ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them’. To people who are new to public speaking this advice is particularly useful because it addresses the common mistakes that new presenters often make. It reminds the beginner that they need to preview and summarise, and not just start and end in the middle.

If you have more than three ideas you want to present, then you should group your ideas into three bigger categories. Each of the three bigger categories should then also be organised appropriately in groups of three.

Tip 2: Use a three-part organisation structure.

A good analogy here is dividing a pie, cake or pizza. The pizza can be divided into equal thirds representing the beginning, the middle and the end of your presentation. However it may be that the middle itself has three parts. Now you have three parts in the middle and one part each for the beginning and the ending – so you want to divide the cake into five slices. If you have a lot of content to present, it may be that the three parts in the middle each need to be divided into three to accommodate all your material. The pie now needs to be divided differently into 11 portions – one each for the beginning and the ending, and nine for the main content. I hope you are beginning to appreciate how this works.

In the body of each of the slices of your content, you should arrange the material to support your argument, your proposition or your explanation using the Rule of Three. You can use stories, examples or statistics. Analogies, comparisons and quotations may be effective in helping to get your messages across. Within each slice, the hardest part is choosing which three (and only three) points will make the biggest impact, and then choosing the best supporting mix of evidence.

Tip 3: Use the Rule of Three for phrases, sentences and words.

It’s useful to think about applying the Rule of Three to specific phrases, sentences and words. Look back to the third paragraph of this article material. Did you notice that I repeated the phrase ‘It’s no accident’ three times? Why did I do that? Well, it was no accident. The repetition helped to emphasise the point I was making – that purposely presenting ideas in threes helps make them more memorable.

no accident

It also serves the purpose of breaking up a larger list of examples. I thought it was important to provide more than just three examples of the Rule of Three, so I decided to give you three groups of three. When choosing the specific words that form your grouping of three, it’s important to select words that are parallel in structure – that is, they work well in combination. For example, ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and coat’. Each of the items works with the verb. As opposed to ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and wallpaper the dining room’. It’s also helpful if the words you choose follow a similar cadence, but that is not an absolute requirement.

 

A final point about the Rule of Three.

You don’t always have to follow the Rule of Three. Like all other rules it’s meant to be broken from time to time. However, before you break the Rule of Three, it’s a good idea to understand it better. Think about a recent presentation you gave, and imagine giving it again. How could you use the Rule of Three to make that presentation more powerful? What organising structures might be more effective? What word choices would be better? That’s it. No more questions. Three is enough.