Ethos Pathos Logos


We all have that relative who, against all odds, has managed to live long enough to tell us all about their life. It’s usually after a few, around a dining room table littered with pie plates and crumpled napkins.

Their stories, mostly true, about both good and terrible choices, can be super instructive, almost inspirational. If we’re able to learn from their mistakes and glean some wisdom from someone who has seen some stuff.

Companies are the same.

I picked twelve companies whose success is their longevity. And I’m not talking about fifty years. I am talking about institutions that have managed to continue to run uninterrupted for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Some commonalities emerged and it’s not all about “keeping it in the family” which certainly helped if everyone got along, which they didn’t, because well, family.

First, the general stability of a region contributed to the health of a business. If you weren’t packing up and running for your life, you could build a stable foundation. There were certain countries that were either remote enough to be left alone or had a badass military primed to ward off the hordes.

According to a report published by the Bank of Korea in 2008 that looked at 41 countries, there were 5,586 companies older than 200 years. Of these, 3,146 (56%) are in Japan, 837 (15%) in Germany, 222 (4%) in the Netherlands, and 196 (3%) in France.[1] Of the companies with more than 100 years of history, most of them (89%) employ fewer than 300 people.

Second, each shopkeeper, forger, craftsman or artist, engaged wholeheartedly in the work because they were providing either a basic need or creature comfort, you know the enduring stuff that makes us human.

And third, they stayed small when it came to employees. They treated those employees with reverence and many enjoyed generations of the same family under its employ.

Now to the name of this series.

Aristotle posited that there were three methods to persuasive writing. Ethos. Pathos. Logos. I find that these methods also apply to any entity that wants your business. It can use one or more of these approaches to get you to separate from your money and they have worked for centuries.

Ethos (Greek for ‘character’) refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the writer or speaker. Ethos is often conveyed through tone and style of the message and through the way the writer or speaker refers to differing views. It can also be affected by the writer’s reputation as it exists independently from the message–his or her expertise in the field, his or her previous record or integrity, and so forth. The impact of ethos is often called the argument’s ‘ethical appeal’ or the ‘appeal from credibility.’

Four out of five dentists recommend…

Pathos (Greek for ‘suffering’ or ‘experience’) is often associated with emotional appeal. But a better equivalent might be ‘appeal to the audience’s sympathies and imagination.’ An appeal to pathos causes an audience not just to respond emotionally but to identify with the writer’s point of view–to feel what the writer feels.

Just do it

Logos (Greek for ‘word’) refers to the internal consistency of the message–the clarity of the claim, the logic of its reasons, and the effectiveness of its supporting evidence. The impact of logos on an audience is sometimes called the argument’s logical appeal.

Built Ford Tough.

Each of the companies featured in this series addressed and continues to address their consumer’s “pain points” by using this Aristotelian concept. For the most part, it boils down to:

  • Food and Shelter.
  • Worship and Warmth.
  • Finance and Forging.
  • Guns and Alcohol.
  • Light and Water.

So let’s begin 1400 years ago in Japan.

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