When I was in journalism school, I signed up for a class about how to use humor in your marketing. It seemed almost too good to be true, but I got to spend an entire semester writing one-liners, making funny videos, and generally finding ways to crack my class up.
I don’t consider myself to be a naturally funny person, but I learned a trick early on in that class that made being funny much easier. It is called the rule of three (or the comedic triple). The basic principle is that things that come in sets of threes are funnier and more satisfying.
For example, take this joke from Jon Stewart:
“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.“
The first two statements are completely normal, then the unexpected third statement makes it funny. This fits into the classic joke structure where you have a setup, build up, and punchline at the end.
The rule of three isn’t just useful when writing jokes, it is also a classic tool in literature. Three is the smallest amount of information necessary to make a pattern, and grouping things in threes makes them easier to remember.
The Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, the Three Musketeers, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the number three is everywhere in classic stories and literature. If you want to make your content funnier, easier to and understand, and more memorable, use these tips to harness the power of the rule of three.
1: Make them laugh
Humor is a great way to differentiate your content from your competitors and appeal to your readers’ emotions. It is a way to promote your brand without outwardly being salesy. Not convinced? Take this quote from comedy writer Tim Washer for example:
“Humor, when executed properly, helps cut through the noise and helps you stand out… If you can make someone laugh, there is an emotional connection with them. And anything you say beyond that is going to be more meaningful.”
The rule of three is a great way to insert humor into your content, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a very funny person. You can use my earlier Jon Stewart joke as a framework.
You can write your own jokes using this framework easily. For example, here is one I wrote just now:
“Marketing is the fine art of reaching new customers, selflessly gaining their trust, and taking as much of their money as possible.”
Remember to be careful when using humor in your content. What has one reader rolling on the floor laughing might turn someone else off. Consider your readership before you start to make them laugh.
2: Keep it brief
How many times have you been reading an article and found yourself drifting off, or reading the same line over and over again? This is what can happen if you overwhelm your readers with long lists or too much information.
The rule of three forces you to be brief in your writing. Keeping yourself to three main points, and no more than three bullet points in a list, allows you to focus in on what is important and cut out unnecessary details.
Remember, three is the smallest number necessary to form a pattern. If you can keep your main points to no more than that you are making it easy for your reader to read your blog post without getting overwhelmed and to remember what they read.
Seth Godin’s blog is a great example of the power of brevity in your writing. He cuts out all of the fluff and distills his content down to what really matters, even if it means only writing a few short lines.
The rule of three can help with your outreach efforts as well. Have you ever tried to write an email pitching yourself to a journalist and suddenly realized that you had written about 1,000 words trying to explain your brand? Teresa Dankowski of Cision explains why this is a bad idea:
“I’d much rather have two or three lines from you explaining what your book, app or event is about than a press release pasted into the body of the e-mail that I have to read to the end in order to figure out if your story is compatible with my coverage. Brevity is a more efficient approach.”
Whenever you write, whether it be a blog post or an email, keep the rule of three in mind.
3: Make yourself memorable
People can only hold a small amount of information in their short term memory at a given time. Anything more than 7 digits is difficult to retain, and some scientists have even found that the number of items we can recall easily is actually closer to around 3 or 4.
This is why you see so many companies with only three words in their slogans. They are making sure that their messaging sticks in their customers’ heads. A few examples are:
- Just Do It
- I’m Lovin It
- Built Ford Tough
- Let’s Go Places
How many of these slogans do you remember? All of them? Me too.
You can use the rule of three to make your content easier to remember as well by putting your important points in sequences of threes. Did you notice that this article has three headings, and that every heading has three words? That was on purpose.
One of the first lessons I ever learned doing research as a content marketer was that my outreach emails always need to be “personalized, positioned, and persuasive”. This mantra lives on a sticky note on my desk and is something I think about every time I do outreach. Had I heard this saying for this first time said in a more long form way, I doubt it would have stuck in my head the way it did.
Make them laugh, keep it brief, and make yourself memorable
If you want to write effective content, you don’t have to put together a 2,000 word giant list post. Sometimes three simple words or phrases is enough to get your point across and entice your readers.
Have you tried to use the rule of three in your marketing? Let me know your results!