In true advent calendar style, we looked for a piece of trivia to do with the number three. Upon some research, it became undeniably clear that there’s a reason why the number three is pervasive throughout some of our greatest stories, fairy tales, myths and, well, marketing techniques.
It has since long been established that we can only hold a small amount of information in short-term memory. In 1956, Harvard professor George Miller published a paper titled, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”, which suggested that humans had a hard time remembering more than seven to nine digits – one of the reasons why a phone number is seven digits. However, scientists have recently deemed the number of items we can easily recall to be closer to three or four “chunks”.
Arguably the most vital piece of advice that can be offered thus coincides with the “rule of three”. Three what, you ask? Anything! It’s absolutely, and almost sneakily so, everywhere! It’s a principle that suggests things grouped in three’s are just far easier to understand and remember. It’s a rule that has been passed down from industry to industry, and a good speech writer would do well take note of it.
From Winston Churchill’s reference to “blood, tears and sweat”, Julius Caesar’s “Friends, Romans, Countryman”, public safety’s “Stop Look, Listen” and movie name “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, it’s a technique that can be traced to ancient Greece – a figure of speech using three words to express one idea.
Great speeches are often divided into three themes, plays are often divided into three acts, and the same technique applies to persuasive presentations where you tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then conclude what you said.
Steve Jobs seemed to be an avid lover of three’s, specifically when it came to product launches and presentations. In 2007 Jobs introduced the first iPhone as the “third” of Apple’s revolutionary product categories. He kept repeating it until the audience realised he was talking about one device capable of handling three tasks. Then, in 2011, Jobs introduced the iPad 2 as “thinner, lighter, and faster” than the original.
The “rule of three” is a definite must when it comes to communicating your business through means such as marketing, pitches, and presentations. However, it doesn’t need to be limited to the marketing or pitching process. According to writer Rajendra Sisodia: “The rule is more than an interesting theoretical construct; it’s a powerful empirical reality that must be factored into corporate strategy. It’s the ability of executives to develop alternative strategies that can result in success.”
In the article “The Three Golden Rules Of Business“, it was suggested that from brainstorming ideas to company core values, reducing actions to three would serve to ingrain them more into the minds of employees.
“There is nothing more important to the life blood of business than, say, for example, these three actions: Get customers, keep customers, make money. This is what we call ‘prime directive’; it’s the prime mandate, top-of-the-mind focus, and the guidance that drives every decision for every manager, leader, employee, stakeholder, director,” it read. “Anyone who has skin-in-the-game in the business. The prime directives are – not because we say they are but because they are – the most elemental building blocks of business success beyond which ‘everything else’ is merely interesting details.
“Notice that the prime directives are comprised of three powerful verbs – action words in the broadest sense of the meaning. Say these words often: Get, keep, make; get, keep, make; get, keep, make… Repeat them often; but most importantly, ‘do what the words say’ for building-sustaining a successful business.”
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