Moving Mount Rushmore: How to convince your management of your brilliant idea (Part two)

In this two-part series, Sue Mizera explores how to get buy-in for brilliance. Part two.

In part one we covered Ethos (speaker’s preparation, authority and character) and Logos (your argument, content and logic). In this part, we unpack Pathos. Let’s explore.

Pathos: Your sympathy with, impact on your audience 

This is your attempt to sway your audience emotionally—engage emotions, passions and imaginations. Your logical argument will be that much more persuasive if it’s wrapped up with a good dose of emotion and understanding of where they’re coming from. Remember: Pathos is not only dramatic or sad, it is more nuanced to include humour, love, and emotional responses. The absolute key: to know your audience and what’s in it for them.

Put yourself in their shoes

Know-cold your audience, their interests, prejudices and expectations. Without this, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. Even before you enter the room, consider what’s going on in their minds. E.g., 

As a marketer, you may come with ‘baggage.’ Not everywhere, not in every company or on every management team, but marketing, especially B2B marketing, can come with legacy associations – assistants promoted to marketing roles, often women, with reputations for tactics (‘party planning’ and “‘ogo-cop’) and as being cost-centres. Marketing as wholly strategic and business-based is more recent, and not universally understood.

Sales may see a ‘turf battle.’ Marketing and sales are unique in their roles as they cover wholly similar territory – the customer. Think about it, what other corporate roles occupy so much the same territory or necessarily ride the same range, albeit in very different ways? Most corporate functions are happy stovepipes, giddily independent silos. A corporate branding project, wherein customers are central to the final results, are likely to set up inevitable challenges and conflicts. It is human nature. 

Management famously fears change. Be clear, your branding initiative represents big change and potential disruption. In fact, most CMO-led, strategic and business-based marketing initiatives do. And should. As we have recently written about, change generates fear of the new and the unknown, so it can be very convenient for members of the management team to rationally point to the costs of an initiative as a ‘stopper’ rather than the real reasons – uncertainty of the new, even if they harbour true interest. This perhaps shines the hottest, brightest spotlight on the necessity of controlling the narrative and owning the seamless integration of its Ethos, Logos and Pathos. 

Speak their language 

And the language of their board. You do hear this a lot, ‘speak their language,’ as if it’s the only thing you have to do – it is important, but as you’re seeing, it’s hardly the only thing!  It’s not the ‘silver bullet’ many attribute to it.
Without question, your results must use a common language of SOM, competitive differentiation, business growth, and customer loyalty, (p)reference. You should also consider what the scenario of not engaging in this corporate brand initiative looks like and what language you would use to describe this potentially stark, particularly scary landscape. Keep your examples vivid. Always cite your sources as common points of reference.

It is not only what you say, however; it is how you say it. ‘Speaking their language’ requires, above all, appropriate tone and diction and is a prime example of where your corporate brand personality and core values come into play. If your company is an explorer who stands for innovation and courage, this requires different tone, diction and language from a company that is a Patriarch who values authority, or a magician who speaks of transformation. Should tonal alignment send you back to your original text, as you flesh out the arc of your argument and (re)frame the logos, so be it. 

Try to touch their intrinsic motivations – a real insight

In any bold, new strategic presentation to management, we can all be sympathetic, their ‘necks are on the line’  — it’s not just cost or turf that they’re thinking about or a lack of understanding that they may be harbouring; it’s equally the direction – big, new, bold and potentially scary – where you want to take them and the company. So, in addition to all that Aristotle has had to offer in instruction and support, we can also marshal important reference to self-determination theory, or SDT. This discipline, of which Ihave written briefly, holds that we all make the easiest, smoothest decisions when we choose to follow our intrinsic motivations, of which there are three: 

  • Competence: We seek to control outcomes and experience mastery 
  • Relatedness: We desire to interact with, be connected to, and experience caring for others, sharing with others.
  • Autonomy: We desire to be the causal agent in our own life and act in harmony with our sense of purpose and fulfilment. 

This is a paper in its own right, but for now, using SDT’s intrinsic motivations as a final check, ask yourself: Can your argument ‘tick these boxes’  for your management? Can your proposal serve them as individuals, as professionals, in these capacities? How can your initiative enhance their competence as management, their relatedness to one another, colleagues and partners, or their autonomy to fulfil free choice and personal goals?

As the ultimate in Pathos, how can your arguments play into the intrinsic motivations of your management team, making it ever easier for them, on their own, to come to your side and support? If you wonder about our mixing 4C BCE philosophy with 21C psychology, Why not? It’s all about human nature.

Coda: Aristotle would leave you with a very 21C tip

Aristotle found that the most effective combination of Ethos, Logos and Pathos was to encourage an audience to reach the conclusion to an argument on their own, just moments before the big reveal. Channelling the 21C? Anticipating SDT theory? We leave this to you to decide. Aristotle’s point was that an audience will relish the fact that they were clever enough to figure it out, and the reveal will be that much more satisfying. So, e.g., imagine your Management spontaneously offering some of the following to your corporate brand petition. Now this is moving “Mount Rushmore!”

  • “We really have an important story to tell about our company and where we’re all headed.”
  • “The whole company needs to understand the new brand and what it means to them in their daily jobs.”
  • “We’ll be able to tie results to our CRM data to ensure consistency in our performance and ROI.”
  • “Brand loyalty and brand reference and preference really are key indicators of our competitive advantage.” 
  • “What do you think the Board will think? Shareholders? They should all love this!”
  • “What’s the time frame of this project? What’s the budget again? Can we afford not to do this project?”


There are never 100% guarantees, but learning to develop your initiatives in rhetor’s terms and wearing a rhetor’s hat when you’re presenting, will only be good, long-term, for your company, your Management and not least for you and your marketing career, when you succeed. Consider, as well, that these difficult, rocky times we’re in, with uncertainty high and budgets tight, are likely to be more or less always with us. Consider equally as constant corporate agendas shot through with politics, turf, pre-dispositions and powerful egos. Without mighty argumentation behind you, no matter how brilliant your idea, it will likely fall flat on ‘Mount Rushmore’s’ stone-cold, deaf ears. Whereas taking ownership of the argument, and learning the subtleties and power of doing so, has never been more of the moment.

Check out part one here.

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