Marketing Your Online Training: Lessons in Persuasion from Aristotle

eLearning, ecommerce, persuasion, marketing, moodlepreneur, edupreneur, aristotle, persuasiveness, content marketing

Let’s assume you are an edupreneur and have some courses built and installed on an LMS. We’ll focus here on using persuasion to convince learners that your course is a great buy. Inspiration comes from an unlikely source in the context of modern digital marketing: The Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Aristotle’s ideas were described by Cicero as ‘A river of gold’. Jumping forward 2,300 years, they still shine and can be applied to modern Content Marketing for online training. By using them in your content you can create your own river of gold – the kind you can put in the bank. Aristotle’s three Modes of Persuasion are easy to understand, yet so many content writers forget to include them – which leads to mediocre content with poor results.

Bring people closer to a positive buying decision with these three ancient principles of persuasion.

Principle of Persuasion 1: Status (Ethos)

The ethos of a presenter is a measure of their credibility, authority and trustworthiness. Think of a notable figure in your subject area and how they come across. If you feel compelled to listen to what they say, why is that? Is it because of their proven experience? Are they someone you trust to deliver insightful and authoritative information? You should aim to become that figure yourself. Then people will feel much more inclined to buy courses from you.

How do you achieve that? By building your credibility block by block. It’s fatal to puff yourself up into a self-proclaimed Thought Leader and then fail to deliver. So avoid hyperbole when selling yourself. Be honest and truthful – that’s what builds trust.

You can build credibility (ethos) by:

  • Always doing your homework. Write well-researched content using verifiable data. People are likely to check up on facts and figures in your content.
  • Citing other authoritative sources with high credibility.
  • Encouraging community engagement with your content. Allow people to post (moderated) comments on your blog, site or third-party sites. Don’t hide behind a one-way mirror.
  • Providing full contact information. Even of they don’t plan to actually correspond with you, People will notice and approve of full contact information. It shows you’re open and not hiding.
  • Providing a brief author biography so that people can see who you are and read your credentials.
  • Ignoring your brand! If you are constantly pushing the brand, you will lose credibility. Sure, it needs to be somewhere in every post you make, but seek to link the brand to quality eLearning content in people’s minds, not just push it in their faces. Write about ‘you’ rather than ‘me’.
  • Being specific rather than general. Readers should walk away from each piece of your content able to do something they could not do before, or inspired to do it better. They will expect to get the same feeling from your eLearning content and will be more inclined to buy it.
  • Writing on a range of platforms rather than just one, so that your name or brand pops up in Google on different sites. This shows you have a broad reach since different sites are willing to publish you. This is preferable to only having one place for your content.
  • Publishing only on sites with high credibility in your industry. This helps both your SEO and your credibility. (With Google getting smarter every day, SEO and credibility are getting closer to being the same thing.)
  • Eliminating any and all factual inaccuracies, typos and inconsistencies.
  • Being ethical. It comes from the word ‘ethos’. Ethical behavior helps to form a positive view of your character in people’s minds.

Principle of Persuasion 2: Emotion (Pathos)

The power of pathos needs to be used carefully because you don’t want your audience to feel they are being emotionally manipulated. However it’s important to appeal to feelings because a large chunk of buying decisions are based on emotion. But which emotions are we talking about for marketing online courses? Big companies can use cute puppies to sell household products, however for selling courses you need to know your target market much better and appeal to their inner drives. So pathos here doesn’t mean being sappy – that’s not very likely to boost online course sales. It’s more about the emotions fear and desire. Here are some ways you can do it:

  • The flipside of fear is security, so offer peace of mind. Rather than try to scare people, appeal indirectly to their fears of inadequacy by portraying a successful/happy/wiser person after having taken the course. Scare them if it is appropriate, but offering security is a gentler and more positive approach. You can of course create fears they never new they had – think of tooth-whitening products and the fear of social rejection due to non-perfectly-white teeth. Did that fear exist before tooth-whitening products?
  • Appeal to learners’ desire to progress and succeed. Present a clear Before and After taking your course, and make them contrast like night and day.
  • Tell compelling stories. Stories play on the emotions and have been shown experimentally to elicit a strong neurological effect in people, including:
    • As empathy is being built, the release of oxytocin, a feel-good chemical.
    • At tense moments in the story, the release of cortisol, a stress hormone which makes people sit up and pay attention.
    • Upon hearing a happy ending, stimulation of the limbic system (the brain’s reward center) to release dopamine, which makes us feel optimistic.

A story that follows the simple story arc shown below, if told well, will elicit these responses in engaged listeners, watchers or readers.

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Principle of Persuasion 3: Logic (Logos)

Logos means appealing to logic and reason. Make people feel smart for having ‘worked out’ that your course is the best buy. One way to appeal to reason is by using syllogisms. These are simple three-step progressions of thought such as ‘All cats are fluffy. Tibbles is a cat. Therefore, Tibbles is fluffy.’

Of course, you must ensure that Tibbles really is fluffy. Seriously fluffy. In other words, your course must deliver on its promises so it can grow your reputation by word of mouth and generate business for subsequent courses.

In order for syllogisms to work, your audience needs to agree with the first two premises to agree with your conclusion. See if you can work this into your marketing messages. For example:

  • Information from authoritative sources is of great value.
  • I am an authoritative source (supported by evidence x and y).
  • Therefore, information from me is of great value.

This looks pretty stark when written out like this, but it is just the bare bones; you can flesh them out and clothe them in any way you wish, as long as the basic message is in there somewhere.

Each specific market and target audience will need a subtly different approach. Aim to get the right mix of the three principles of persuasion for each audience you write for. Try not to use the principles as blunt instruments to batter people into buying. Many people can tell when they are being manipulated, and a clumsy approach to persuasion turns them off instantly. The principles of persuasion work best when embedded deep within otherwise entertaining or useful content. Use them carefully and find a balance that works for your eLearning niche.


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