Why marketers should use the rule of three

The number three has fast become a staple in our culture. We use it when listing items, objects or things in a sentence. Comedy’s adopted the “rule of Three,” which says things that come in threes are inherently funnier or more effective than other numbers of things. The number three appears repeatedly in pop culture – the Three Stooges, Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, the Three Musketeers, Three’s Company, Jackson 5’s “ABC.”

Our brains are wired to think in three’s. It’s your job to exploit that wiring to make your brand powerful, effective and well-known. Ira Kalb of USC’s Marshall School of Business breaks down this triple-threat phenomenon in a Business Insider article:

“The English language recognizes the power of three in the ordering of things. The brain is best able to recognize who is first. Just about everyone remembers the first man on the moon – Neil Armstrong. Being first to a brand position is a big advantage in marketing. … Some remember the second man on the moon – Buzz Aldrin. Fewer if any remember the third astronaut to walk on the moon – Charles (Pete) Conrad.”

Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon, is largely forgotten, but this decline in remembrance in relation to order is a natural, conditioned response on our part. Kalb describes how the English language assigns unique identifiers to the first three of something – 1st, 2nd, 3rd – while relegating later numbers to generic superscript – 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and so on.

The same principle applies to branding – being the first to do something memorable earns instant recognition from a wide audience. Brazilian advertising agency Talent created living, dynamic anti-drug advertisements that mealworms eat over time. The posters are printed on dough and portray faces of drug addicts. Mealworms trapped in the poster frame eat away at the dough image, creating holes and gaps in the poster that leave a haunting reminder of the harmful effects of cocaine.

Sometimes the first brand to market is remembered for the wrong reasons (Samsung Galaxy Gear, anyone?), which is why execution is as critical as innovation. Remember these steps when devising your brand strategy:

  • Arrive first on the scene
  • Make a great first impression
  • Follow through on your promise

by Matt DeFaveri