The Rule of Three simply states that after more than three of anything people start have trouble retaining it in the short term or “active memory”. Three is the smallest number of items to formulate a pattern, and that coupled with the succinctness correlates content that sticks with people.
The Rule of Three for marketing has applicability for website messaging, bullet points, presentations, sales pitches, sales campaigns and more. Why overwhelm your audience with lots of information that they will not retain anyways? Consider that marketing organizations often feel compelled to bury prospects with details, details and details. Save the details for white papers and data sheets. Content marketing is more about having conversations with customers and you need to make that conversation count – gaining mind share means filtering and distilling the details into a simple, concise message.
There are many examples to illustrate this point from communications, advertising, marketing, management and many more so let’s look at some to drive this point home.
Throughout history, information presented in groups of three has had staying power, here are just a few notable quotes:
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people”
“Duty – Honor – Country.”
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen”
“Blood, sweat and tears”
“Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
“Mind, body, spirit”
“I came, I saw, I conquered”
Many of these quotes use similar words are used to express one idea, but how about the famous real estate mantra, “location, location, location” where the same word is repeated for emphasis. Moreover, Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said in a speech that the three main priorities for government were, “education, education, education.” This is a spinoff from the general principle of advertising that a product should be mentioned three time to make sure it staying power with the audience.
Steve Jobs consistently utilized the Rule of Three in his product launches and product messaging:
In 2007 Jobs introduced the first iPhone as the “third” of Apple’s revolutionary product categories (the first two were the Macintosh and the iPod). He even said that Apple would be introducing “three” revolutionary products—a new iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. Jobs repeated the three products slowly until the audience finally figured out he was talking about one device capable of handling all three tasks.
In 2010 Jobs introduced the first iPad with a slide showing the new tablet as a “third device” between a smartphone and a laptop. The iPad, he told the audience, would also come in “three models”: 16, 32, and 64 GB of flash storage.
In 2011, Jobs introduced the iPad 2 as “thinner, lighter, and faster” than the original. The three adjectives so accurately described the new device, thousands of blog and newspaper headlines included those three words.
The rule of three applies visually, for presentations, it is a common principle to focus on three main points. Moreover don’t forget another classic principle for presenting which also comes in a pattern of three:
1. Tell them what you are going to tell them
2. Tell them
3. Tell them what you told them
The three-act structure breaks out any narrative such as a play, movie, story, etc., into three parts, often called the:
Although simple in nature, it has withstood the test of time, being used by Alfred Hitchcock, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, and Aristotle.
With the Marine Corps, which is actually a very agile and innovative organization, the Rule of Three is a key principle stating that an organization is most effective when each management level is supported by three components. Marine Corps infantry units follows the Rule of Three, which places three subordinates under a commander, not counting support elements. Supporting units will have their own organization and equipment, but generally also follow the Rule of Three.
Survival skills has their own Rule of Three to:
• You can survive for 3 Minutes without air
• You can survive for 3 Hours without shelter
• You can survive for 3 Days without water
• You can survive for 3 Weeks without food
The TSA has three simple steps to convey its messaging to aid passengers in getting through security:
1. Show ID and boarding pass.
2. Take out liquids (in a baggie) and laptops.
3. Take off shoes and jackets.
Hopefully by now you have become a believer and take the Rule of Three principle to task in your next presentation, campaign or messaging. Less is more – use the Rule of Three.