Remember the Rule of Three with the three-legged stool

Keep the three-legged stool in mind when making your case.

I was helping someone with his personal elevator speech (or 30-second commercial, if you prefer) and after working through his headline image (he now “plugs leaky buckets” rather than retaining base sales), we started talking about the supporting information that demonstrates how he plugs leaky buckets.

Now the Rule of Three is nothing new when it comes to communications.  Google the phrase and you get 152 million hits (really).  Peter Bregman recently wrote about it in a different context in his weekly Harvard Business blog, and Copyblogger Founder Brian Clark explains the history in a great blog from back in 2007.

I use the three-legged stool to help remember my three points.  If you use it as a lead-in to your explanation, it’s also memorable for the person you’re talking to.

As a credit card executive, we used the three-legged stool with a number of audiences to outline our approach to student lending — Fair Price, Treatment, and Financial Literacy (Education) — with additional detail under each.  Quick and memorable, and something our alumni-association partners could use when explaining it to their school administrations or the press.  And it was tailor-made for reporters who need to provide their readers with context.

This works with any type of communication where you have a thesis and supporting details.  Presentations.  Talking points for the media.  Job interviews.

Where will you use the three-legged stool next?

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Simplicity in a sea of white space

Your marketing goal is to make your credit card something that people aspire to own.  You focus on higher-spending customers, create tiers of cards with points and rewards for different customer, and refuse to lower fees, even when a credit crisis hit.  Lo and behold, over the next six years or so, your market share increases eight-fold to 16% and your monthly transaction volume is now the second largest of any card issuer in the country. 

So what do you do next?  What’s your marketing message to prospective cardholders in your largest city?  This is a trick question…because we’re not talking about a U.S. credit-card issuer.

If you’re Hyundai Card in South Korea, your next move is to spend $2.2 million for exclusive rights to blitz subway riders in Seoul for the next three years.  You don’t use all that space to talk about benefits, tout promotional rates, or show people what they could buy with their new cards.

Less is more in Seoul subway stations
Less is more in Seoul subway stations

What Hyundai did was leave all that space pretty much blank.  Inside the station, giant wall signs are all white, except for a small icon that symbolizes one of the company’s services (e.g., a car for card loans) along with a small company logo. 

At the entrance and exits of the stations, the giant white panels have a pink eraser in the lower-right corner and a two-sentence tagline.  “The world is flooded with too many ads,” it says.  “For a short while, we want to leave it empty for you.”

There are few things more simple than white space, and probably few things more appreciated than a respite from the daily onslaught of marketing messages.  Bulldog Simplicity salutes Hyundai Card for its restraint and vision, hopes that it keeps the ads up for more than “a short while,” and wishes other marketers closer to home might steal a page from their book.