The study of persuasion has been going on for donkey’s years…

Since ancient Greece in fact when Plato and Aristotle were the two main faces in the rhetorical scene. These guys loved a good argument. More importantly, they knew how to structure informative content to win the hearts and minds of the masses.

Aristotle famously described rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” He basically meant that the way in which we choose to communicate has a massive impact on the reception and power of our words.

Back then, oratory (or public speaking) was the principal means of persuasion; so how does persuasion play out for businesses in the digital age?  Its importance in the Internet world can’t be overestimated, see it for yourself at

Digital persuasion – the modern art

In the world of modern business, persuasive content is the core tenet of all marketing strategies, big and small. And in terms of purpose there are very few differences between modern content marketing campaigns and the rhetorical appeals of old. Both approaches intend to inform, influence and grab your attention by the wrist.

But while the purpose of persuasion is constant, our means of communication certainly has changed from the days when Aristotle was knocking about. Marketeers continue to rely on stirring an emotional response among their target audience to build long-lasting relationships, but today we present ideas digitally, on websites, in blogs, using photos, webinars and videos. One can only imagine the persuasive power of a Greek philosopher granted access to Microsoft Office.

The point is that the art of rhetoric sits behind all persuasive web content and businesses now have more choice than ever when it comes to getting their message across.

Careful thought into how a chosen medium, level of expression or creativity can make their communications more or less persuasive has never been more essential to remain competitive within any industry, pretty much.

Digital persuasion – in action

So what are some good persuasive approaches to content and how do you begin to charge your messages with emotional energy?

Here are a couple of ideas to mull over…

Free value

This is incredibly important for businesses who are looking to establish a memorable brand presence. Start thinking about what valuable digital content, downloads or giveaways you can offer to your audience – for free.

To use the analogy of a restaurant, when a waiter brings over a free mint or warm towel at the end of a meal, what influence does this have? Is the customer more likely to leave a tip?

Almost definitely. More often than not, giving away something of value helps to build a relationship between a business and their audience. And unlike chocolates, digital content can be reused, reused and reused and it never depletes in quantity. It also doesn’t melt when you forget you’ve put it in your pocket.

The key thing to remember is that the gesture has to be personalised in some way, it has to be unexpected and it has to be relevant to the person receiving it. Only then is it valuable.

Getting personal

Take a minute to ponder the development of automated messages, email subject lines and homepage one-liners over the past five years and you’ll soon notice that sleek corporate jargon is out and the human touch is in.

What do we mean by that? Well, it seems businesses have cottoned on to the idea that humans like humans, and they also like the way humans choose to word things. Well-placed colloquialisms and cheeky topical references are absolute gold for marketing purposes.

How’s this for a wonderful example on the homepage of cosmetics brand Lush – known on the market for their stance against animal testing and wonderfully friendly customer service…


It’s easy to look past the full range of persuasive powers at work here.

First, Lush clearly understand that their target audience is predominantly working women between the ages of 18–45. Using this for context, they then combine a new product placement with a tagline that subtly references the lyrics of iconic pop group Destiny’s Child and their song ‘Bootylicious’. You know, the one that goes ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly…’

If the reference is lost on anybody (i.e. the few customers in their target range who have been living under a rock since the late 90s) then the message still hits home because of the near-rhyme and attractive electric blue colour of the image.

Pretty clever, huh?

And if that wasn’t enough then the phrasing of the message as a question adds extra rhetorical weight and steeps the message with anticipation by letting the audience know immediately that there is a new product they have likely never seen before. So if you’re already a fan of the brand, or a fan of Beyoncé, then it’s pretty difficult not to click through. Well played, Lush.

Final thought

If public speaking was the principal means of persuasive communication in ancient Greece, modern persuasive techniques are best placed on websites, social media and through all digital marketing channels that are deemed relevant to a business.

That’s why persuasive content and messaging is so important. Without it, modern businesses cannot inform the public of what they do. They cannot show off their brand identity or convert online visitors into customers. And above all, they cannot connect with the single biggest audience available to them – the internet.