Good Things Come in Threes: Applying the Rule of Three in Marketing
There was a time back when I was still in school, this has to be somewhere around Year 8 or 9, when for a brief moment, math was cool. This was all thanks to the release of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which happens to coincide with a lesson in number sequences being taught in class, including the famed Fibonacci sequence. The Fibonacci sequence might seem like a random sequence of numbers arranged with an arbitrary rule but it is actually quite a beautiful sequence that appears quite a few times in nature.
I was quite a bit of a math geek in school, so much so that I was regularly entered into regional math competitions around that time, and numbers always fascinates me. The Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio have some unique and interesting mathematical properties and they’ve been observed a couple of times in nature as well. In a much more simple example, do you know how much prominent the number three is in our lives? The number three can be seen almost everywhere in our lives, starting from the religion all the way through the world of content marketing.
The importance of the number three
To begin with, the holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is central to the Christian doctrine and that Jesus was said to rise from the dead on the third day after his death. In Islam, the number three (and odd numbers in general), is also quit prominent. The purification ritual of wudu, which is done in preparation for salat, an Islamic form of worship, involve washing parts of your body exactly three times and that during salat itself, some prayers are typically recited three times.
Moving into less abstract territory, we have the trias politica model, a type of government that separates its power into three branches, the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judiciary branch, which is the most common model used by democracies around the world. Plays use the typical three-act structure, trilogies are common in fiction and it’s a number of significance in sports, such as in baseball’s three strikes and the concept of a hat-trick in football and cricket. It could simply be a coincidence but have you ever wondered why things typically start at the count of three?
Given how this rule of three has managed to deeply lodge itself in our subconscious, it’s a pretty good idea for marketers to use this rule in their marketing strategy. It’s simple to utilize and since it deals with the subconscious, is also very subtle while still providing a sense of familiarity to the public since it’s also a very common rule. There are various ways businesses could take advantage of the rule of three but in keeping with the theme, I’m going to dive into the three most common ways.
Use three words in your slogan
This is also something that you might never notice but once you’ve opened your eyes to it, is just simply inescapable. Have you noticed how some of the world’s most famous slogan is actually composed of three words? There’s McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, Nike’s ‘Just Do It’, BMW’s ‘Freude Am Fahren’, which in English comes out as ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’ and my personal favorite, Aston Martin’s ‘Power, Beauty, Soul’. These are just a few examples; you’re probably going to find a dozen more depending on how wide you’re going to cast the net.
It’s also a pretty good number to use since I think it achieves the perfect balance when it comes to slogan. Two is too little and anymore than three and they might not roll off the tongue as easily. Slogan should always be short and sweet so as to be easily memorable and the number three seems to strike the perfect balance. If you already have a slogan that’s not in three words, try to experiment and see what you could come up with. Keep in mind that it’s not forbidden to change slogans, McDonald’s actually went through a couple of longer, harder to remember slogans before settling on ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ in 2003, which goes to show just how great things are when they come in threes.
Use three main points in your content
If you would like to outline what makes your business stand out from other competitors, use three different points to make your arguments. If you’re going to post some tips in your blog posts, use three bullet points whenever applicable. Keep in mind that I added whenever applicable because I know there are some times when you can’t just simply limit yourself to three different points and this would work better on flyers and short blog posts.
Give user three different options in your pricing scheme
This is strictly for businesses that offer services in different tiers. There’s a couple reasons for example why Netflix offers three different levels of subscription and one of them is because of something referred to as the Goldilocks principle and the other is because of something referred to as choice overload. As with most marketing tricks and the rule of three, the Goldilocks principle and the choice overload are subconscious in nature and you can take advantage of them without being overly pushy.
The Goldilocks principle takes its name from a children’s story The Three Bears concerning a character named Goldilocks. In the story, Goldilocks is offered three bowls of porridge of varying temperatures and she ended up choosing one that’s neither too cold nor too hot but just at the right temperature. The moral of the story is that most people have a tendency to go for the middle option when offered three choices. By presenting this illusion of choice, businesses have the chance to push a particular service by positioning it in the middle.
The concept of choice overload relates to the fact that when presented with an increasingly larger pool of options, people are going to spend more time pondering their choices. More choices mean more information to process and in the worst-case scenario could lead them to not make any choice at all due to the confusion. The solution then is to give them options without overwhelming them, hence the rule of three. As has been said before, three is neither too little nor too much, it’s just right.