Why Understanding Rhetoric is Essential to Content Writing and Copywriting
When I first joined Amplihigher as a copywriting intern, I was surprised to discover just how many diverse companies and industries needed written content. I’d always known that words were important (I’m a lifelong writer and bookworm, after all), but I was baffled to discover just how vital content marketing is for so many kinds of businesses. What makes content marketing so special for clients as varied as law firms and construction contractors? How can words yield tangible results?
It turns out that it all comes down to rhetoric.
Rhetoric is how you weaponize your words for maximum effect. Understanding different rhetorical appeals and techniques is the key to persuading any audience to your point of view, to spur them to action for your desired results. It worked for ancient Greek philosophers, and today, it works for copywriters and business owners.
Understanding rhetoric in content marketing is essential for professional success, whether you’re writing for a real estate agency, a plumbing company, or a marketing firm.
Let’s dig into the core elements of rhetoric and what makes it so important in content marketing.
What is rhetoric, anyway?
You might not talk about rhetoric all the time, but I guarantee that it’s something you use every day.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, the act of using your words to bring someone to see your point of view. When you’re arguing that your favorite football team is the best in the league because its quarterback has the best passing average in the league, you’re using rhetorical modes of persuasion (we’ll get to that in a minute) to prove your point.
If winning over your audience is the goal, then rhetoric provides the tools to get the job done.
What does rhetoric have to do with content marketing?
Rhetoric in content marketing works much the same way it does in regular conversations. It enables you to win over new and existing audiences with your words, growing your business in the process.
Of course, content marketing is a versatile strategy that does more than simply convert sales or generate leads. It can also establish your reputation and position you as an expert in your field through well-researched and authoritative content. Rhetoric is key to presenting yourself as an authority and establishing trust between you and your readers.
How do you use rhetoric in content marketing?
You won’t win over anybody by simply saying “We’re the best in the industry” and leaving it at that. You must back up your claims to persuade your audience. That’s where rhetoric comes in. By reaching your readers with impressive metrics, proven expertise, or touching emotional appeals, your words can spur them to action and win them to your goals. That’s the power of rhetorical modes of persuasion.
Modes of persuasion are exactly what they sound like. They’re techniques that allow you to persuade your audience towards a desired goal or objective. Three modes are most commonly used in content marketing: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Remember the kids’ game, “follow the leader”? You might think you’ve outgrown it, but even as adults, we’re inclined to listen to people we perceive as leaders. Who will you trust—an anonymous tumblr blogger, or an industry veteran with decades of experience?
This is an instance of ethos, the act of persuading readers through your authority. When you pitch yourself as an expert by highlighting your exhaustive professional knowledge or your track record of success, you’re getting your audience to trust you and your position because of your experience.
You’re scrolling through your social media feed, and you see a picture of a polar bear on a melting icecap with the caption “Save the bears, stop global warming.” It tugs at your heartstrings—you can’t let that bear lose its home! You click on the link below the image and donate to a non-profit.
That’s a prime example of pathos, the rhetorical appeal to your audience’s emotions. Rather than use facts and figures to grab your readers, you go straight for their heartstrings. It can be a powerful tactic that quickly grabs your audience’s attention in any platform, whether that’s a blog, ad, or email.
How many times have you seen ads for cleaning products that eliminate “99% of germs”? That’s pure logos, the strategy of persuading your audience through facts, figures, and statistics. It’s a great way to supplement your appeals to ethos—along with your personal authority, you’re providing quantifiable metrics that demonstrate your success.
Know your tools
I’ve learned firsthand that understanding rhetoric in content marketing is essential. Knowing when to appeal to your audience’s sense of credibility and ethics (ethos), emotions (pathos), or logic (logos) is critical to create engaging and results-driven content.
You can rarely rely on just one mode of persuasion in content marketing. While you may be able to get away with using a single mode in very short copy (such as one-line ads or social media blurbs), you’ll often have to switch between two or even all three modes. Shifting from emotional to logical to ethical appeals is a tough balancing act, but for copywriting and content marketing professionals, it’s all part of the job.