Close this search box.

B2B insights

Moving Mount Rushmore: How to convince your management of your brilliant idea

So, marketer, you have this terrific, game-changing idea that in 2024, your business really needs to devote a good deal of time, budget and resources to strengthening, even repositioning, your corporate brand. You feel passionate about this, you’ve surveyed competition, you’ve analyzed your own data, you’ve read your journals and market research. You are sure this is the direction to take to differentiate your business, gain customer loyalty and grow SOM. 

But your idea is surely not top of management’s mind. They’ve already committed to more tech-based investments in 2024, and are looking to save as much money as possible everywhere else. Plus, you’ve been there before, face-to-face with “Mount Rushmore,” or this is at least how you styled your stone-faced, un-moveable management team in previous petitions; the experiences were as painful, even soul-crushing, as you remember. So this time, you’re wondering, Why even remotely put my career on the line again, no matter how brilliant the idea? You ask yourself, Why bother?

I do urge you to bother. And I do urge you to do so by adopting a new mindset, and likely a whole new approach, to moving the hearts and minds of your “Mount Rushmore,” to win them to your side. But this will require that of all the many hats you as a marketer must wear these days, I’ll urge you to don one more: that of an expert rhetorician.  

Harkening back to move ahead:

Yes, rhetorician, in the classical sense of powerful advocate, exquisite defendant, arguer par excellence. Harkening, in fact, back to Aristotle (Rhetoric, Book I, Chapter 3.) (No eye rolls, please, I’m entirely serious.) Aristotle famously taught that a rhetor’s, or speaker’s, ability to persuade an audience is based on how well the speaker appeals to that audience in three different areas:

  • Ethos: speaker’s preparation, authority and character 
  • Logos: your argument, content, logic 
  • Pathos: your sympathy with, impact on your audience 

Considered together, these three modes of persuasion form what is called the rhetorical triangle, which speaks to the multi-dimensional, multi-lateral challenge of successful persuasion. And why it’s never easy. There’s no addressing just one or two legs of this triangle, it is always all three. All the elements will necessarily need to be integrated, aligned, complementary, mutually supportive and fully coordinated. If you can create something with ethos, logos and pathos peppered throughout, and tie it all into your audience’s belief system, all the better.

Hidden benefit: Considered together, these three modes of persuasion will help you project the arc of your argument – beginning, middle and end – as they require that you think comprehensively and holistically, right from the start. You will continue to bring the modes into sharper focus and more intense alignment through iteration and recursion as you develop your thinking and argument. And as for the mise en scène? Prepare to be writer, director and actor of your own one-act play.

Intrigued? What’s involved in donning the rhetor’s hat and creating such a powerful, bespoke one-act play? How might Aristotle have counseled you to successfully argue for a corporate brand positioning initiative for your company, in spite of the odds against you? Let’s explore ethos, logos and pathos, in more detail, seriatim.

Ethos: Speaker’s preparation, authority and character

This mode of persuasion is about establishing your authority to speak on the subject. Management knows you, they trust you, but this is about establishing their trust in the authority you bring to this subject. Bear in mind here the old adage, ‘people don’t buy the product, they buy the salesperson.’

Do your homework: This fundamental, basic preparation is entirely in your control. It is classic “homework.” What are the most successful brands, B2B or otherwise, doing, vis à vis their corporate brands to make you so passionate about this approach? What is the market research, the intel? What are the latest statistics, the most prominent articles and authoritative journal entries? What does you own ABM/CRM data offer to support your thesis? Be ready with figures and examples as well as counter-examples of companies and organizations whose corporate brands have been neglected, underfunded, under-loved. Dig, probe, research; don’t cut corners.

Three questions: What questions don’t you want to be asked, or alternatively, what questions would you really want to be asked, and have sharp, tight answers prepared. In this case, you could anticipate Management questions, such as:

  • We already have a logo and corporate style guide, we already have a brand, so what are you talking about?
  • Why can’t we decide what to do, if anything, about our corporate brand from our own CRM? If we have a loyalty problem, let’s seek a tech solution! Why do we need to do anything additional beyond what we already spend a lot of money for?
  • Brands are dated, yesterday’s big idea, just give me another sales guy. Branding is just another costly marketing tactic to justify marketing activities.

Questions such as these, all the better if posed spontaneously and unsolicited, present wonderful opportunities to draw out what’s really on Management’s minds at the same time that they allow you to expand and deepen your arguments. E.g., 

  • Defining and defending your corporate brand offers you nothing less than the potential to articulate how brand is the source of your company’s vision, or “North Star;” and your positioning, your company’s reason for being, essence and differentiation. 
  • Deploying your own CRM/ABM data to demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of your corporate brand provides another, mostly unexploited, but entirely synergistic potential, to mine its insights and harness its power for your corporate brand: brand and data, finally, becoming BFFs. 
  • The long-running stand-off between brand-building and sales-staffing dishes up a rich opportunity to call out common, but flawed opinions, well past their due date. An Aristotelian tip: use the rhetorical trope of humor to undercut an opponent’s seriousness, and use seriousness to undercut their flippancy or humor. “That old sales-force- brand divide – doesn’t it date to the Pleistocene? Or is it the Jurassic?” Go ahead, have some fun and lighten the mood while winning points.

Practice: As ethos is the mode of persuasion that is all about you, the speaker, the argument-owner, make sure to give yourself the biggest, deepest, broadest support possible. Aim to be specific and confident, polished and professional, detailed and buttoned up, all at once. Practice, practice, practice: let no light shine between your arguments and your preparation. You can have notes, but be ready never to refer to them.

Logos: Your argument, content and logic

If ethos is the ground on which your argument stands, logos is the logic behind your argument and what drives it forward: one point proceeds to another, building up to conclusions. You want these points to seem so straightforward and commanding that your audience can’t conceive of an alternative. 

Begin by asking yourself hard questions: Is your thesis clear and specific? Is it supported by strong reasons and credible evidence? Is it logical and arranged in a well-reasoned order? Make sure to collect all the hard data and complicated research into a clear, straightforward narrative. Don’t make the critical mistake of not sorting and prioritizing your facts or assuming they speak for themselves. They will, only if you properly organize them.

Start from a common place: a piece of shared wisdom, a tribal assumption, common beliefs and values. It’s where logos and ethos — and pathos — are likely to intersect. E.g., 

  • “We all love our brand, we want it to be as strong, powerful, loved and preferred as possible. We want to take it forward and keep it maximally fresh, relevant and engaging. We can’t allow it be caught in a time warp, or to be yesterday’s news, or to play second-fiddle to competition. Not on our watch!”

Paint the beautiful picture: Create the visionary story. Wow them. What results could your plan generate for the company? E.g., 

  • “Our brand should have the power to rouse, startle and shape new thinking, attitudes and behaviors. It should ignite our enterprise internally with the power of its own ethos and courage. It should stir new, external audiences to sharper, more eager engagement because of our convictions. It should help shape the markets and cultures we operate in and make a statement about the human potential we collectively impact.”

Think future history: As a result of the branding process, your company’s new brand will offer up to nine, new and evolved, wholly intangible elements that comprise your corporate story. You’ll need to be specific in your story-telling, but also visionary and inspirational, as you touch on all the elements a brand embraces. E.g., 

  • Our new vision, our “North Star,” will take the whole company up and over the hill together; it will inspire and energize the company, our markets and partners, for its bold, insightful authority. At the same time, our new Mission will capture what everyone in the company, no matter their function, will need to do to help make the Vision a reality. 
  • Our new positioning – our reason for being, our differentiation – will assume the high ground of leadership in the whole category. It will make us all proud to say it out loud! We will challenge our agency with developing a new end-line based on this Positioning, to set us apart and bring it to life: think of it as our equivalent of “Just do It!” 
  • Our target audiences will be further profiled with genuine insights into their needs and motivations while bespoke promises will address our commitments to each target segment. We will have evolved our core values and brand personality to reflect our new energy and purpose.
  • Immediate initiatives will be put in place to take our new brand through the whole company and to update and upgrade our messaging and graphic identity on our website and in all collateral materials. This is just the start.

Include the voice of your customer: Bring their voice to bear in your story and rationales and to life in your narrative. This can be qualitative – interview them! – and/or quantitative, using your own proprietary data. All the better to use both, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Expect to argue from agreements to agreements when quoting customers, even on minor points. E.g., 

  • “Let’s face it, all the players in this category offer excellent products. I’m looking for the brand that stands out for its leadership and point of view on where the category is heading. My choice of brand says a lot about me, and my professionalism.”
  • “I’ve been loyal to this brand because they have consistently understood and anticipated my needs. It’s been welcoming, like a family, but always cutting edge and innovative. Lately, however, the company has been feeling stodgy to me, same-old-same-old, less connected to me and my needs. Sharper, faster they’re not these days, or is that just my perception?”
  • “My generation is looking for corporate brands to take a position on corporate social responsibility, environmental footprints, and diversity. There’s no being silent on these issues anymore.”

Think future headlines in all the best press. E.g., 

  • Who says B2B marketing can’t inspire or challenge or surprise?
  • Company proves CRM and brand work hand in hand to produce steady gains in SOM.
  • New B2B marketing campaign offers a bold new endline and shows there’s space in B2B for creativity, humor and emotion. 

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 humor, 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 “logo-cop”) and as being cost-centers. 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 harbor true interest. This perhaps shines the hottest, brightest spotlight on the necessity of your 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 harboring; 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 we have 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 fulfill 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. Channeling 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 constants 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.

Related Articles

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on your website. Read more about cookies policy.