I am sure that you have heard the word ethos before. It’s not a word that comes naturally in my vocabulary and, in fact, sounds a little bit jargon-y to me. But in the context of branding, I have seen it more and more of late.
Rather than whole-heartedly reject the word as marketing jargon or a buzzword, I decided to ask JAM writer, Jen Seitz, to come out from behind the curtain and explain. She is a self-proclaimed word geek and brilliant content strategist, so I am glad I asked!
The truth is, like EVERY business, you have an ethos and probably didn’t realize it. Knowing what it is and taking charge of it can make all the difference in the world when it comes to relationship building and branding. Jen does a great job of telling us why in an oh-I-get-it kind-now of way. (Thanks, Jen!)
To learn why brand ethos is more than marketing jargon, read on…
“Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”
– Aristotle c. 384 B.C. to 322 B.C.
When a valued colleague and respected peer asks me to guest write a blog dissecting a specific word, I get happy inside. When that word happens to be a word coined by my favorite Greek philosopher, Aristotle, I get downright giddy. (Yes, I have a favorite Greek philosopher, don’t you?) All nerding-out aside, the word ethos is worthy of dissecting, not just because it’s fun and Greek, but also because it is relevant to your brand, and the ETHOS of the organization – now more than ever.
The ETHOS backstory. Let’s start at the beginning. The word ethos finds its roots in Greece and translates, in summary, to mean “character.” The Greeks used this word in reference to the guiding beliefs not of an individual but of a group, a community or a nation. Aristotle famously used the term to describe one of three forms of persuasive rhetoric in his book, Rhetoric According to Aristotle. The word itself is so complex and heavily weighted that Masterclass offers a whole course about it. If you weren’t already intrigued by the word ethos, I feel the case for drilling deeper is getting stronger.
So, let’s explore more about what it is and how a deep understanding of your ethos could impact the success of your business.
More About Ethos + Why It Matters
The current of your business. The ethos of your business is the foundation, the current that drives it toward the shore. When we, as consumers, conjure up the world’s top brands, we can most likely come up with a few identifying adjectives that define the ethos of the company. You might say, we know who they are. We know what they stand for, and even if they evolve over time, we still recognize them at first sight.
The credibility of your brand. According to Aristotle’s process for effective rhetoric, there were three elements to persuasive speech:
- Logos – Not logos as we currently think of them, but in this case, Aristotle meant logic. In other words, the audience or opponent would buy into your argument if they were logical.
- Pathos – The term referred to the emotional appeals of the argument. In today’s modern age, you might say pulling on the heartstrings.
- Ethos – For Aristotle, ethos was referencing the good character of the speaker. In other words, “Believe my words because I am a credible person.”
So, let’s maneuver that away from Aristotle’s persuasive speech strategies and back to your brand. Your ethos is the intangible piece of the puzzle that makes your customers choose you over the other options in the marketplace. It’s the “it factor’ that makes a client refer you to a colleague. It’s the stickiness that inspires your base to sing your praises and express loyalty.
Goodwill is the new brand flex. If ethos is encompassed by credibility, and your brand reps from a place of authenticity and integrity, you’re, dare I say, ahead of the game. Today’s consumer is seeking businesses that keep it real, do good things and come from an honest place in the marketplace. Here are a few real-life examples of how and why this matters:
- Millennials want it. Millennials make up the largest and most rapidly-growing consumer base in the world. A recent survey put out by Forrester showed that 83% of the millennials they queried seek out vendors that offer up credible stories about how they help customers succeed. An overarching theme found in studies of this demographic reinforces that product-centric content and marketing efforts don’t resonate. Millennials want to know who you are and what you stand for – eh, hmm, your ethos.
- It’s already in play. A whole slew of savvy businesses and entrepreneurs have been hanging their hats on this concept, and they are winning. Businesses like Burt’s Bees, Warby Parker and Trader Joe’s have clearly defined ethos that is recognizable in the marketplace. Entrepreneurs like Daymond Johns and Gary V. are sending their enterprises’ success into the stratosphere by proliferating concepts like “keeping it real.”
- 2020 has shaken things up. The year 2020 will go down in infamy as the year the “bleep” hit the fan. Businesses in the United States were reeling from a pandemic, and then widespread civil unrest spread throughout the land, all before the summer solstice. Without rehashing those events and the uncertain future we face in this strange year, it’s worth noting that brands who know who they are and what they stand for will find it easier to pivot and shine through consistently and effectively in times of uncertainty or challenge.
Answers To Your Frequently Asked Ethos Questions.
Of course, you have a few pressing questions about ethos and how it applies to your business…who wouldn’t?
Unless you are writing a Greek tragedy in your downtime or a serious word geek (not that there is anything wrong with either of those things), taking a step back to assess or regroup on your brand’s ethos is the main takeaway from this blog. And it’s a worthwhile effort. While the founder or CEO may understand the ethos, it’s mission-critical that this is not a solo effort. Everyone in the organization, from the marketing team to operations to customer service and sales, should have the same in-depth knowledge of the “character” of the organization. It also should be said that the assumptions of top management should sync up with those of the more customer-facing workforce. When every aspect of your business proliferates, represents and reinforces your ethos, your brand will become stronger, and you’ll never forget who you are.
About Jen Seitz | Jen Seitz is owner/founder of The Content Workshop, a small content shop that helps businesses develop, redefine and hone in on content that supports their ethos. Jen brings an entrepreneurial spirit, expertise in SEO and an affinity for bold moves to her content strategy sessions that bring about consistent content execution and, most importantly, results.