Every type of communication is comprised of three actors, each with a part to play. The cast:
The Greek word ethos is useful in understanding what happens when you communicate. It is your “character” when you communicate. And it carries the same meanings that the English word does. When you act in a play, you assume a character. As well, character is something you have, something people gauge as being good or bad, worthy of trust or not. In every communication, both definitions of your ethos are in play. Context demands that you become a player—that you “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”* Establishing trust demands that you have integrity. You can fake both, but not for long. Always, you must answer the eternal question: Who am I? More about this in Who do you think you are?
Another useful Greek word. This is nowadays (mistakenly) referred to as content. Broadly speaking, logos means “Word,” but as in, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). Logos is meaning. It includes your message and its medium. The intent of a message can be to illuminate, to explain, to persuade, to entertain. Whatever the specific intention, though, the goal of logos is to move people in thought, feeling, attitude and action—and, best case, to belief. Rightly, marketing messages most often have a “call to action.” But not all do. Advertisements are often intended to create a feeling or attitude. Think Michael Jordan battling through illness to win. The commercial is highly effective, but it evokes a feeling of rising to the challenge, no matter what — with Gatorade. What it doesn’t do is say, “Buy Gatorade!” More perspective and proof: Words have value.
Finally, an element in plain English! It’s who your ethos is addressing with your logos, and knowing your audience comes first. in creating any communication. Ask yourself: What are they thinking? What are they doing? What are they feeling? What are their beliefs? Why are they here to begin with? What are their likes and dislikes? Whom do they trust and whom do they distrust? Where are they now and where do I want to take them? I’ve seen this question attempted to be answered in a thousand ways, some with more intelligence than others. What I have learned is that people are never who you want them to be, but you must begin with who, what and where they are. Even the best research is never entirely right; the only constant characteristic of any audience is that they are always changing.
Oh, one more thing: people prefer truth to lies. More: Finding your audience.
*“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot, 1920.