Have you ever stopped and wondered about why the number 3 has always seemed to have a special place in people’s hearts. We’ve all heard sayings like “Third time is the charm.” or “Good things come in threes.” Do you remember the basic formula for writing in elementary and middle school? It’s introduction, three main points, three sub-points for each main point, and conclusion, right?
At BIG, we’re pretty big fans of the number 3, as well. One of the best examples of this can be found in GrowBIG® Module 6, where we talk about the power of positioning and some of the best practices. One of the points that we focus on is limiting your pitch to 3 main points. For those of you that have already been through GrowBIG®, you will probably remember other areas where we highlighted the importance of utilizing three to maximize your business development potential.
Now that we’ve listed all these different examples, you must be wondering what the big deal is with a number? Is it just a social convention that has stuck, or is there another, deeper reason behind why everyone seems fixated on “3”.
Researcher Suzanne Shu and Kurt Carlson explored this very idea in their study titled, “When Three Charms but Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings.” In one of the experiments laid out in the study, the researchers developed paragraphs, either persuasive or non-persuasive, describing a situation in which consumers would encounter claims about a cereal. Another part of the same experiment involved presenting individuals with a paragraph in which “…an old friend is attempting to convince the listener of the wisdom of her decision to get back together with an old boyfriend…” (persuasive) or a friend “is simply describing her new date” (non-persuasive) (Shu & Carlson). At the end of each paragraph, there is a sentence that lists 2, 3, or 4 claims explaining why that person/product is good.
What do you think the results were? When we are trying to convince people of the merits of some product, person, or action, we are naturally inclined to list out the multitude of reasons behind our logic, believing that more reasons results in a more persuasive argument.
The research results tell a different story, however. The addition of extra reasons only worked in the non-persuasive situations, with four claims being the best. In the persuasive situations, however, the use of 3 claims was better than employing either 2 or 4 claims. It seems that the highest point of effectiveness peaks at three before sinking down with additional claims. It seems a little counterintuitive, right?
The explanation that the researchers suggest is that “additional claims will trigger coping and skepticism if the message source is believed to have a persuasion motive.” (Shu & Carlson) It seems that trying too hard to convince other people will have the opposite effect. (For more information, read through the original paper. There are several other experiments carried out to explore this phenomenon in more depth.)
So maybe common societal knowledge was on to something. By utilizing the number three in writing, advertising, or general interactions, you can make yourself both more persuasive and more engaging. Next time you are trying to give a positioning statement, use the GrowBIG® methodology and deliver three great, convincing points about why you are the best option for that specific deal. Use the magical number 3 to persuade your audience that you are the right choice.