As we come out of level 3 and into level 2, I’ve been thinking about The Rule of Three, and why 3 levels would have worked better than 4.

The idea of categorising our lockdown with levels was a great idea, but it would have been much simpler and less confusing with just 3 levels. The Rule of Three suggests that things that come in groups of three are clearer, more memorable, and more effective than other numbers of things.

Why is this?

Three is a number that we intrinsically understand because it’s been deeply ingrained into our sub conscious since childhood. Think about the stories that use three.

Three little pigs, three blind mice, three musketeers. Goldilocks and the three bears.

In the Goldilocks tale, the beds in the bears house were too big, too small, and just right.

 

Some of our most memorable sayings and slogans use the rule of three.

Stop, look, listen
Slip-Slop-Slap
Location, location, location
Reduce, reuse, recycle

 

Many of the world’s greatest political speeches use the rule of three.

“Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” – (Abraham Lincoln).
“Yes we can.” – (Barrack Obama).
“I came, I saw, I conquered.” – (Julius Caesar).
“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – (Winston Churchill).

 

We also use three to structure things clearly.

Past, present, future.
Small, medium, and large.
Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Mind, body, spirit.

 

Brevity, simplicity, and rhythm.

If you want something to stick in someone’s head, put it into a sequence of three. Why is the rule of three so powerful? Because our brains are wired to recognise patterns, and three is the smallest number of anything required to make a pattern. It’s the perfect combination of brevity, simplicity, and rhythm.

A recent study found that in communications designed to be persuasive, three claims will persuade but four will often trigger scepticism or debate.

If the government had used a 3-level traffic light style system (instead of 4 levels) to manage our Covid-19 response, there would have been more clarity, less confusion and less angst.

The red light being complete lockdown.
The orange light a transition phase – some areas open, some closed.
The green light meaning go (but drive carefully with your seatbelt on, keep a safe distance from other cars and travel within the speed limits).

The definition of the Latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” is that everything that comes in threes is perfect, or every set of three is complete.

You can harness the power of three in your marketing by offering products or services in packages of three. In the next week or two I’ll give you some practical examples of using the power of three to create engaging content, more effective communications, and make your ideas stick. There, I just did it – three things.

Three is everywhere.

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