Ever since I learned my ABC’s, I have been aware of the beauty, power and symmetry of “the number three” in communications. Many things in life resolve to three. Think of popular culture. Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, Three Stooges, etc. According to Pythagoras and the Pythagorean school, the number three, which they called triad, is the noblest of all digits. In mathematics the triangle has three sides. Cartesian coordinates are x, y, and z. You can probably recite the top three car rental market leaders – Hertz, Avis and Enterprise. You might be able to recall a few other companies, but you have to work to make them top of mind. A story has a beginning, middle and end. And so on. You get the idea.
The brain finds it relatively easy to grasp threes. When I worked in advertising, we always tried to distill our ideas down to three creative concepts. A conservative approach, middle of the road one, and a way-out-there one to push the envelope. Clients appreciated the ability to make a choice, but too many choices made it too hard for them. Four (or more) was too many, and two was too few ( it looked like we hadn’t put much work into the creative exercise). This three idea approach also had an added benefit of helping to gauge how traditional or risky the client was in their tastes without committing totally to one idea.
This thought was reinforced the other day when I attended an excellent webinar sponsored by ShopVisible entitled “Advancing your SEO” (three words, btw). The seminar was about the basics of SEO. But really what caught my attention was the content of the webinar went through the three pillars of SEO – Content, Architecture, and Links. So easy to remember, so easy to communicate. The webinar was thirty minutes long, neatly divided into three, ten minute segments. I love thirty minute meetings. They really force you to get to the point fast. Associating the content into these three sections helped me to visualize every point underneath in a way I could not otherwise have done. Had it been seven pillars I would never have remembered them all.
Memory research supports this premise. From Clara Moskowitz, writing on LiveScience.com
“Early research found the working memory cut-off to be about seven items, which is perhaps why telephone numbers are seven digits long Now scientists think the true capacity is lower when people are not allowed to use tricks like repeating items over and over or grouping items together. ‘For example, when we present phone numbers, we present them in groups of three and four, which helps us to remember the list,’ said University of Missouri-Columbia psychologist Nelson Cowan, who co-led the study with colleagues Jeff Rouder and Richard Morey. ‘That inflates the estimate. We believe we’re approaching the estimate that you get when you cannot group. There is some controversy over what the real limit is, but more and more I’ve found people are accepting this kind of limit.’ “
There is a common technique on the web to provide numeric list of things as a way of making them more appealing and compelling. Eleven Reasons Employees Resist Change. Ten Reasons Salespeople Lose Deals. Nine Reasons Not to Drink Soda. Eight Reasons to Get Married. Seven Reasons to Diversify a Workplace. Six Reasons Events in Mali Matter. Five Reasons Droids are Better than iPhones. Four Reasons Not to Drive a Small Car….. Feel free to Google, Bing or Yahoo them yourself.
I don’t know about you but I can’t remember eleven things. Nor do I want to. I would suggest to truly make your communications memorable and improve stickiness with your target markets, three’s the charm.