Copywriters and marketers, what’s your favourite number? If it isn’t already ‘3’, it will be by the end of this article.
Stop, look, and listen.
Consumers are becoming increasingly sceptical of the fragmented marketplace. Fear not. There are still some universal truths that marketing departments can use to ensure their voice isn’t lost in the void. One of those truths is the number three. Three’s got the power.
Give me choices. But not too many.
The brain likes the number three. Without getting to scientific, our brains have evolved to like choices – it’s one of the ways to help protect us from harm. What would we do without choices in a dangerous situation? Panic like crazy. Probably.
Good old brain likes to have choices in those dangerous situations, so it can get us the heck out of them. On the flip side of that same coin, our brains don’t like too many choices. Too many choices can confuse us and can create more danger (or can cause arguments when it comes to things like choosing a film to watch on Netflix).
Goldilocks might have pissed everyone off, but that girl had logic. Three choices. One’s too hot, one’s too cold, and one’s just right. Same applies to things that aren’t porridge related – three choices allow us to decipher the options that are “too hot” and “too cold”, before finding the one that’s “just right”. The power of three is built into almost everything and if you’re a marketer or copywriter who wants to sell, then you should recognise that power and use it.
Number three is always fortunate.
Do you know who Neil Armstrong is? How about Buzz Aldrin? Charles “Pete” Conrad? You probably answered yes to Neil Armstrong. I hope you did. Ryan Gosling is going to play him in a new movie soon, so behold the Oscar nomination for that. Disclaimer: Neil Armstrong was the first man to step on the moon. How about Buzz Aldrin? He was the second man on the moon—most people know this too. What about Pete Conrad? Fewer remember that he was the third man on the moon, but some folks know that. How about Alan Bean? Unless you’re a relative of Alan’s or have a keen interest in space and the story of that expedition, you most likely don’t know that he was the fourth man on the moon.
The lesson? Three is memorable. The other lesson: being first in brand position is great. You might even get Ryan Gosling playing you in a movie one day.
A fun little fact that often goes unnoticed is the unique endings given to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. The follow numbers have the same ending of ‘th’ e.g. 4th, 5th, 6th, and so on.
How three works for copywriters.
Marketers and speechwriters have been grouping things in threes since the birth of copywriting. They do this because it gives greater impact to what they’re writing and makes things easier for people to remember. If you really start thinking about it, it’s apparent in so many aspects of advertising, marketing, and general speech:
• Just do it. – Nike slogan
• I’m lovin’ it. – McDonalds slogan
• Every little helps. – Tesco slogan
Three blind mice. Three little pigs. Three wise men. Three musketeers.
Three. Three. Three.
It goes back to the brain. Three is the smallest number required to make a pattern and our brains like a pattern.
How does this work for copywriters? It’s memorable. It’s short. It’s powerful.
Listen to a speech by a politician – yuck, I know – you’ll find a lot of them grouping things into three.
The American advertising guru, E. St. Elmo Lewis presented three chief copywriting principles:
"The mission of an advertisement is to attract a reader, so that he will look at the advertisement and start to read it; then to interest him, so that he will continue to read it; then to convince him, so that when he has read it he will believe it. If an advertisement contains these three qualities of success, it is a successful advertisement."
The next time you’re tasked with writing a slogan, think about using the power of three. I bet it will change the way you think about writing these kinds of things. Grouping things into three is so much easier for readers to consume.
Thinking about three
There are many ways you can structure what you’re writing to leverage the rule of three. Whether it be in headlines, lists, or bullet points, a little thought into structuring can go a long way.
You don’t need to be a big brand to be memorable. You don’t need a big budget to be memorable. You just need to know the right tricks to be memorable. Here are some examples:
Marketing message: Think about the three main reasons why a potential customer should buy from you.
Pricing: Offer three main options e.g. small, medium, large; basic, standard, premium.
Email strategy: Include three relevant links in every marketing email to help drive traffic.
When we talk about structuring in threes, there are several ways to do this - here are a few:
Paragraphs: Cut them down to three lines or bulk three paragraphs under one heading.
Call-to-action: If you have an important message to convey, ensure you mention it at the beginning, middle, and end. Stay authentic.
Bulleted lists: Write them in threes.
Three in action
What are your three strongest selling points?
Once you start implementing the ‘power of three’, you’ll start to see an improvement in the way you write for your audience. Too many options or too many choices only serves to confuse potential customers.
The next time you’re tasked with writing copy for a brand, think about using the power of three to give potential customers a small selection of strong options. Not too many, not too little. Be clear, distinct, and to-the-point.
Image: Chris Tweten on Unsplash