The brain seems to work best thinking in threes.

The Rule of Three Rules

Your focus group and creative team has come up with 47 different ways why your your credit union/your product is superior to the competition. Your eyes glaze over at all the possibilities, that by using this amazing list in your marketing, you will astound the world with its obviousness, bring in monster results, and probably get a major promotion for your awesome brilliance.

But it won’t work.

Because your audience’s brains don’t work that way.

You see, the human brain is a funny thing. Capable of amazing mental feats, it can also lose track when there are way too many things to remember, thanks to the limits of short-term memory. Point out too many points and it will be pointless — the brain won’t remember any of it.

The brain seems to work best thinking in threes.

Sometimes twos or fours or fives, but mostly threes.

It’s actually a technique/theory that dates at least back to ancient Greece. According to Wikipedia: the Latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) basically conveys the same idea as the Rule of Three.

Of course the Greeks were’t the only ones to use it.

The Rule of Three has been used in everything from the ancient German symbol of The Dragon’s Eye  (which stands for the balance of love, power and wisdom) to historical documents (Thomas Jefferson used “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the US Declaration of Independence) to literary works (Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, highlighting visits to Scrooge by three spirits). Folklore and stories (Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs), religion (Three Wise Men, the Holy Trinity, the Three Jewels of Buddhism), counter-culture (sex, drugs and rock & roll) and even Superman (“Truth, Justice and the American Way”) have all used the same basic device to connect to their audiences.

More recently (and definitely more relevant to the topic of this blog), some of the best-known brands and marketing campaigns have been based on three thoughts or words. Regardless of whether you like the product, consider what these phrases did for their company:

  • We try harder.
  • Real. Comfortable. Jeans.
  • Just do it!
  • Life is good.
  • Finger Lickin’ Good

So why does three of something work?

Well, besides being easier for your audience to remember, three words or three thoughts are:

  • Easier to understand. Fewer words make it easier to follow the logic.
  • Quicker to make an emotional connection. Life is Good was able to share their optimistic approach in three little words, and the world has responded.
  • Easily quotable. A simple phrase makes it easier for people to spread the word — a great quality to have in our current social-media focused world.

Unfortunately, communicating your brand / your best qualities in as little as three words or three benefits is hard to do. It’s a lot easier to prattle on and on, and hope to convince your audience by the sheer volume of your words.

What about your brand? Can you put it into just three words?


Kent Dicken

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