One of the most important elements of creating good content is how well that content is delivered, how much of an impact it makes on an audience, and how successful it is in delivering a message.
When you are creating content for social media, sales presentations, or digital advertising, there is one rule to stick to that can have the biggest impact on how effectively your message is received—the Rule of Three.
What is the Rule of Three
The “rule of three” is based on the principle that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than any other number. When used in words, either by speech or text, the reader or audience is more likely to consume the information if it is written in threes. This idea dates back to ancient Greek rhetoric, but to fully understand the importance of this directive for digital content, it is easiest to just look around the world today.
We have three acts as the dominant structure to screenwriting. The “comic triple” for surprise punchlines. Three clusters of time (past, present, and future).
There are three little pigs, three Musketeers, three wise men, and the three Stooges.
How about “blood, sweat, and tears,” or “mind, body, spirit,’ and the infamous, “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.”
Why Does the Rule of Three Work For Content
Simply put, it all boils down to how our brains work and process information. Humans are absolutely brilliant at becoming comfortable with patterns that we find quickly. This is largely due to necessity and survival (it requires less on-the-spot thinking and helps intuitive behavior). Three just happens to be the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern.
This combination of pattern formation and brevity results in more comfort, and therefore more memorable information.
Some cliff notes:
- We like patterns and want to find them quickly.
- Three is the smallest number required to make a pattern.
- Therefore, we like three.
How to Use the Rule of Three in Marketing
Any content marketing, product marketing, or general marketing professional knows that in order to market well, you have to deliver a message that is well received. We send our messages through a medium, but the audience must receive it for efforts to have any return on investment. Think of the rule of three as a turbo engine for your message. It will get to an audience easier, faster, and with better results—regardless of media type or means of delivery.
Here are some powerful ways you can use the rule of three to improve your marketing efforts.
Deliver Powerful Presentations
Using the rule of three in presentations and sales pitches will make your product stand out amongst the crowded marketplace, ultimately making your brand more memorable.
One of the most powerful presenters in recent history was the legendary Steve Jobs. Did you know Steve applied the rule of three in nearly every presentation and product launch? No wonder we all listened.
One of the best examples using the rule of three in a presentation can be seen in Jobs’ introduction of the first iPhone in 2007. During his presentation he claimed Apple would be introducing “three” revolutionary products—a new iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. Jobs repeated each slowly until the audience finally figured out he was talking about one device. This iPhone was the “third” of Apple’s revolutionary product categories (the first two were the Macintosh and the iPod).
Watch the presentation and see how many times you can identify the rule of three being used.
Write Better and More Engaging Content
Three main ideas. Three sections. Three visuals. Three is magic, and it is a content writer’s best friend.
Content writing will always (if it is any good) follow some sort of structure. This structure is paramount to both the conveyance of the message one is trying to present to a reader, as well as how well a reader will absorb that message. It’s no accident that good stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and films, and literature are often written as three connected works in the form of a trilogy.
If you are writing an article, try to present things in clusters of three. Offer three main ideas and present those ideas in bullet points of three. If you are writing a story, consider using the storyline to form a pattern in three. Charles Dickens knew this. Or would he have been successful with only two of out of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? Not likely.
Make Your Ideas Stick
Whether you are presenting an idea for a strategy, a product, or a brand identity, your idea will be more sticky when you stick to the rule of three.
Consider one of the most important ideas of modern times, the constitution of the United States. To present completely new ideas at the time it was written, Thomas Jefferson needed to make it good and sticky. To drive the point home, he used triple iterations. Did it work? You bet. Take a look at what is still one of the most famous sentences in modern history.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
And what about good ole’ Abe Lincoln. The Gettysburg address was short—a very short teeny tiny speech. But we all know it. Why? Rule of three.
…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
If you are tasked with finding a new tagline, introducing a new product, delivering a speech, or any instance where you have to communicate an idea, see where you can use a hendiatris triple iteration in some form.
The big takeaway here is messaging. In marketing and content, your message is most important. Start being more mindful of the rule of three and see where you can start to incorporate it into your marketing efforts. Your messaging will greatly improve as a result.
When in doubt, just remember, “Omne trium perfectum.”
(“everything that comes in threes is perfect.”)