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Leveraging Aristotle and the Three Buy-Buttons


When your prospect or customer makes a purchase decision  there are many business considerations and solution options to consider. The stakes are high, and In today’s environment the wrong purchase could mean their job.

By understanding how people make decisions, what motivates them forward and what can hold them back, you can help buyers make better decisions faster, with less regret, increasing your chances of marketing and selling success.

Aristotle’s Pathos, Logos, and Ethos, and the Three Buy-Buttons in the brain can provide a useful framework for understanding and influencing buyer decision-making.

Leveraging Aristotle’s Pathos, Logos, and Ethos To Inspire Action, Justify Purchase Decisions and Gain Trust

Some 2,600 years ago, Aristotle believed that persuasion was achieved through three modes of communication: Pathos, Logos, and Ethos, and these three persuasions still hold sway today:

  • Pathos refers to the emotional appeal of a message. By appealing to a person’s emotions, you can create a sense of urgency or desire that motivates them to take action. For example, a business might use emotional language and imagery in its marketing materials to create a sense of fear, uncertainty and doubt about sticking with the status quo, amplifying the pain of the current situation to make it untenable..
  • Logos refers to the logical appeal of a message. By presenting facts, statistics, and evidence, you can demonstrate the value of a product or service and persuade people to make a rational decision and justify their choice. For example, an account rep might use a Total cost of ownership calculator and research to quantify how it’s service, even though it has an upfront change cost, will cost much less over time when compared to the status-quo and the competition. Or, a seller might leverage an ROI business case to demonstrate the financial savings and business benefits of a proposed solution compared to the investment.
  • Ethos refers to the ethical appeal of a message. By demonstrating your credibility, authority, and trustworthiness, you can build a sense of confidence in your audience and encourage them to believe in your message. For example, marketing might highlight its awards, certifications, and customer testimonials to establish the businesses reputation as a trustworthy and reliable brand that delivers on proposed outcomes to achieve success.

The Triune Model of the Brain and the Three Buy Buttons

The Triune model suggests that the brain can be divided into three parts, each with its own functions and decision-making processes, the Three Buy-Buttons in the buyer’s brain, consisting of the:

  • R-complex or Reptilian Brain: This is the oldest part of the brain from an evolutionary perspective, responsible for instinctual behaviors such as fight, flight or freeze responses. It is also responsible for the basic functions of survival such as breathing, eating, and sleeping. The Reptilian Brain is unconscious, as we are not aware or in control of how these reactions occur. When making decisions, the R-complex is triggered by messages that convey Pain, suggesting insecurity, dangers and risks.
  • Neocortex: This is the newest evolutionary part of the brain, responsible for analytical and logical thinking. It is the part of the brain that is activated when we evaluate and compare options. The Neocortex is conscious thought, awareness and our inner voice. When making decisions, the Neocortex reacts to messages that convey Gain, focusing on business and organizational value, quality, savings and rational benefits.
  • Midbrain: This is the limbic system and the part of the brain responsible for processing social cues, the perception of pleasure, pain, The term “gut-feeling”, the intuition as to whether you can trust a decision, comes from this part of the brain being connected to your gut via the venal-vagus nerve. The Midbrain processes subconsciously where the buyer is not fully aware, but which influences one’s actions and feelings.When making decisions, the Midbrain connects with messages that suggest Certainty including: trust, reliability, social belonging as well as personal desire, pleasure, or social status.

The Brain and Aristotle: A Proven Alignment Over 2,600 Years

The Triune model and the Three Buy-Buttons of the brain align perfectly with Aristotle’s Pathos, Logos, and Ethos in the following ways:

  1. Emotions: The R-complex or Reptilian Brain aligns with Aristotle’s Pathos: When triggering the Reptilian brain, it is essential to appeal to people’s emotions. Messages that suggest safety, security, or danger can be used to create a sense of urgency or fear that motivates people to engage, take action and move from “Do Nothing” to “Yes”..
  2. Logic: The Neocortex aligns with Aristotle’s Logos: When triggering the Neocortex, it is essential to present facts, statistics, and evidence that demonstrate the value of your product or service and deliver tangible research, proof-points and financial justification. Messages that quantify investment value, savings, quality, and rational benefits can be used to persuade people and buying teams to make a logical decision, prioritize investments in your solution over other options, and justify signoff for those involved in the purchase who are not emotionally connected to the solution..
  3. Trust: The Midbrain aligns with Aristotle’s Ethos: When triggering the Midbrain, it is essential to establish your credibility, authority, and trustworthiness with specific customer success stories, transparent reviews and video testimonials. With purchase decisions so risky, the buyers need to believe that you can deliver the promised solution and outcomes AND that the business can successfully implement the solution (with your help and assurance services) to achieve the expected personal, organizational and business benefits.

The Three Buy-Buttons: Which One Matters Most?

Until research was provided otherwise, most would say that business decisions were all made logically, with very little emotion coming into play. As “the ROI guy” and one who automated business ROI calculations to help in marketing, sales and better business decision making for the past thirty years, I was firmly in this camp early on.

However a plethora of neuroscience studies over the past decades proved my initial thoughts misplaced. Although logic comes into play it is mostly leveraged to provide justification AFTER the seeds of a buying decision have been firmly planted and sprouting. Don’t get me wrong, Logos is still very important, especially in achieving alignment amongst buying team members, prioritization across different decision options and executives sign-off. However, if you just focus on logic with your buyer, the decision may not go your way – with buyers deciding to stick with status-quo or going with a competitor that was able to better inspire or build trust. The conclusion I reluctantly accepted some time ago: decision making is less about logic and more about sparking a buyer’s emotions, building trust and mitigating decision regret.

When looking at a typical decision, the buying team is estimated to rely about 25% on logic in the decision process. When it comes to Emotions and taking a Challenger-like selling approach so popular a decade ago, this used to be the majority decision factor. In recent years however this has changed, and Emotions and the R-complex now attribute less than 50% of the decision-making weight.

With the current macro-environment under financial stress, Ethos and trust are now the most important decision-making factor. Buyers see it absolutely vital in a financially uncertain, risk averse environment to:

  1. Trust you as a solution provider to actually deliver on what you said you would – a solution that quickly works as advertised and most importantly delivers on expected outcomes
  2. Trust the internal capability that the buyer’s organization can actually implement and take advantage of the solution, managing the change and transformation process to actually implement the solution with the anticipated investment and achieve the expected outcomes and ROI.

As a result, our current estimates are that decisions are based on:

  • 25% – Logic
  • 33% – Emotions
  • 42% – Trust

The Three Buy-Buttons and the PIVOT Inspired Value Storytelling Framework

Pressing the Three Buy-Buttons In order with Inspired Value Storytelling can help to improve engagements, inspire action, justify moving forward and build trust in a positive purchase decision for you. Mapping the PIVOT framework – Problem, Impact, Vision, Outcome and Trust –  to the buy buttons, we find:

  • Pathos and the Reptilian Brain
    • Problem – Market trends and customer issues that your buyer likely is experiencing
    • Impact – The cost to the customer in NOT addressing these challenges and sticking with the status-quo
  • Logos and the Neocortex
    • Vision – The opportunity for improvement and a glimpse of what the future could look like
    • Outcomes – The recommended solutions to deliver on the vision, what you uniquely and specifically provide and the estimated savings, efficiency improvements risk avoidance and growth outcomes anticipated.
  • Ethos and the Midbrain
    • Trust – Case studies providing evidence that these benefits are achievable, with stories of other similar customers, their like pain points, solution recommendations and tangible outcomes.

Checkout these services to help improve and activate your Inspired Value Storytelling.

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