The Power of Three

Here’s a little copywriting trick I learned long ago. It will help you prove any point you want to make.

After you’ve made a claim – such as “Skippy is the best peanut butter in the world” – support it with three consecutive paragraphs of proof.

In this case, the proof might look something like this:

In a test conducted by Buyer Trends last year, Skippy was rated as the top-scoring peanut butter in every single category: aroma, appearance, texture, and taste. When compared to other popular brands, such as Jif and Peter Pan, it rated between two and five points higher in each of these categories. Jeff Goodman, reporting for Buyer Trends, said, “When it comes to the pleasure of eating, Skippy rules.”

A scientific analysis conducted by found that Skippy had the highest ratio of protein to fat of all the major brands. Patrick Dunney, president of the National Health Institute, said that Skippy was “far and away” the best product from a health point of view.

I used to be a Jif fan myself. But last Thursday, for the first time, I tried Skippy on a slice of whole wheat toast – and I was blown away by how good it is!

Put your strongest proof at the top, and devote the most ink to it. The next paragraph should be about half the length of the first. And the third should be half the length of the second.

You should vary, if you can, the type of proof you provide. In the example above, the first paragraph presents a taste test by an established and trusted consumer service. The second paragraph presents proof that the product is nutritionally superior. And the third paragraph is a personal testimonial.

By using this structure, you get the strongest effect. The first paragraph – your best proof – makes the reader sit back and take the claim seriously. The second paragraph adds something to the equation. It makes the reader feel that the claim is not thin – that it has deep and substantial evidence to support it. The third paragraph doesn’t have to be very long at all, because by that time the reader is nearly sold. If you did spend a lot of time on it, you would bore him and risk losing his interest.

I’ve used this technique at least a thousand times in all sorts of sales presentations, and have always found it to be effective. Try it next time you write or edit an advertisement. (By the way, it also works perfectly well with editorial pieces.)

I call it the Rule of Three – but it’s not the only copywriting trick that is based on threes. There must be half a dozen of them that can make you a more persuasive salesperson.

A well-structured sales letter, for example, has three parts. As I explain in my book The Architecture of Persuasion, the classic direct-marketing promotion can be nicely divided into the lead, the body, and the close – each with its own objectives and subsequent rules.

The purpose of the lead is to excite and engage the prospect’s heart. The purpose of the body is to provide proof of all claims and therefore satisfy his doubting mind. And the close is meant to convince him that your offer is a great value, making it easy for him to make the purchase.

A third copywriting trick you can use to increase sales is called the Three-Legged Stool. This one is about the three elements that all good marketing copy must have: Idea, Proof, and Benefit.

The Idea, in most cases, is your unique selling proposition – the thing you’ve chosen to highlight in the sales presentation because you feel it will make the strongest impression on your prospect.

Benefit has to do with what the product will do to improve the prospect’s life. Beginning copywriters talk too much about the product and its features. Experienced copywriters know that the prospect cares only about himself and how the product will help him.

I’ve touched on Proof above, in the Rule of Three. Whenever you make a claim, you have to support it. The more proof you have, the easier it will be for the prospect to trust you. And trust is the most important factor in developing profitable relationships with your customers.

What is it about the number three that makes it work in so many ways in marketing copy? I don’t know – but I find it interesting that it’s an important number everywhere in our world.

There are three natural elements (wind, earth, and water), three phases of life (youth, maturity, and old age), three aspects of time (past, present, and future), and three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow).

Religion is full of threes: the Christian Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost)… the Hindu Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva)… and the Buddhist Trinity (Amitabha and his two Bodhisattvas). There are three major branches of Judaism (orthodox, conservative, and reformed). And Muhammad taught a three-fold approach to God. (”The shariah is my words, thetariqa is my actions, and the haqiqa is my interior states.”)

The triangle and the tripod are two of science’s most basic tools. Three dimensions are the basis of artistic perspective. And literature is replete with threes: King Lear’s three daughters, Macbeth’s three witches, and the three musketeers, for example.

Yes, there is something powerful about the number three. Start employing it by using the three copywriting techniques I introduced you to today. You’ll notice the difference in the feel of your copy immediately. And you’ll see the effect on your sales very quickly too!

[Ed. Note: Get Michael’s surefire strategies for getting ahead in business and in life in True Path to Profits: A Master Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business SuccessFind out more – including how you can get a bonus subscription to Michael’s VIP newsletter, Ready Fire Aim – right here

For more advice on how to write copy that makes sales, check out Breakthrough Advertising by Gene Schwartz.]

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[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]