Content Marketing For Online Training: Lessons From Aristotle

Content Marketing For Online Training: Lessons From Aristotle
Summary: People who sell courses online for passion and profit are sometimes referred to as “edupreneurs”. Let’s assume you are an edupreneur and have some courses built and installed on a Learning Management System. We’ll focus here on how to make learners aware that those courses exist – without attention paid to this it is not likely they will sell well. The topic of this article is content marketing for online training, and inspiration comes from an unlikely source in the context of modern digital marketing: The Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Aristotle’s Modes Of Persuasion: 3 Principles For Successful Content Marketing For Online Training

Selling your expertise in eLearning format has become a viable business opportunity as Learning Management Systems have burgeoned and eCommerce platforms like Course Merchant have developed to support the sale of courses. But what does Aristotle have to do with content marketing for online training?

Aristotle’s ideas were described by Cicero as “A river of gold”. Jumping forward 2,300 years, they still shine and can be applied to modern content marketing for online training. By using them in your content you can create your own river of gold – the kind you can put in the bank. Aristotle’s 3 Modes Of Persuasion are easy to understand, yet so many content writers forget to include them – which leads to mediocre content with poor results.

Bring people closer to a positive buying decision with these 3 ancient principles of persuasion:

1. Status (Ethos)

The ethos of a presenter is a measure of their credibility, authority, and trustworthiness. Think of a notable figure in your subject area and how they come across. If you feel compelled to listen to what they say, why is that? Is it because of their proven experience? Are they someone you trust to deliver insightful and authoritative information? You should aim to become that figure yourself. Then people will feel much more inclined to buy courses from you.

How do you achieve that? By building your credibility block by block. It’s fatal to puff yourself up into a self-proclaimed Thought Leader and then fail to deliver. So avoid hyperbole when selling yourself. Be honest and truthful – that’s what builds trust.

You can build credibility (ethos) by:

  • Always doing your homework.
    Write well-researched content using verifiable data. People are likely to check up on facts and figures in your content.
  • Citing other authoritative sources with high credibility. 
  • Encouraging community engagement with your content.
    Allow people to post (moderated) comments on your blog, site or third-party sites. Don’t hide behind a one-way mirror.
  • Providing full contact information.
    Even of they don’t plan to actually correspond with you, People will notice and approve of full contact information. It shows you’re open and not hiding.
  • Providing a brief author biography so that people can see who you are and read your credentials. 
  • Ignoring your brand!
    If you are constantly pushing the brand, you will lose credibility. Sure, it needs to be somewhere in every post you make, but seek to link the brand to quality eLearning content in people’s minds, not just push it in their faces. Write about “you” rather than “me”.
  • Being specific rather than general.
    Readers should walk away from each piece of your content able to do something they could not do before, or inspired to do it better. They will expect to get the same feeling from your eLearning content and will be more inclined to buy it.
  • Writing on a range of platforms rather than just one, so that your name or brand pops up in Google on different sites.
    This shows you have a broad reach since different sites are willing to publish you. This is preferable to only having one place for your content.
  • Publishing only on sites with high credibility in your industry.
    This helps both your SEO and your credibility. (With Google getting smarter every day, SEO and credibility are getting closer to being the same thing.)
  • Eliminating any and all factual inaccuracies, typos, and inconsistencies. 
  • Being ethical.
    It comes from the word “ethos”. Ethical behavior helps to form a positive view of your character in people’s minds.

2. Emotion (Pathos)

The power of pathos needs to be used carefully because you don’t want your audience to feel they are being emotionally manipulated. However it’s important to appeal to feelings because a large chunk of buying decisions is based on emotion. But which emotions are we talking about for marketing online courses? Big companies can use cute puppies to sell household products, however for selling courses you need to know your target market much better and appeal to their inner drives. So pathos here doesn’t mean being sappy – that’s not very likely to boost online course sales. It’s more about the emotions fear and desire. Here are some ways you can do it:

  • The flipside of fear is security, so offer peace of mind.
    Rather than try to scare people, appeal indirectly to their fears of inadequacy by portraying a successful/happy/wiser person after having taken the course. Scare them if it is appropriate, but offering security is a gentler and more positive approach. You can of course create fears they never knew they had – think of tooth-whitening products and the fear of social rejection due to non-perfectly-white teeth. Did that fear exist before tooth-whitening products?
  • Appeal to learners’ desire to progress and succeed.
    Present a clear Before and After taking your course, and make them contrast like night and day.
  • Tell compelling stories.
    Stories play on the emotions and have been shown experimentally to elicit a strong neurological effect in people, including:

    • As empathy is being built, the release of oxytocin, a feel-good chemical.
    • At tense moments in the story, the release of cortisol, a stress hormone which makes people sit up and pay attention.
    • Upon hearing a happy ending, stimulation of the limbic system (the brain’s reward center) to release dopamine, which makes us feel optimistic.

A story that follows the simple story arc shown below, if told well, will elicit these responses in engaged listeners, watchers, or readers.

Story arc, marketing, persuasuveness, emotion, logos, pathos, kudos, eLearning, Aristotle, ecommerce, edupreneur, moodlepreneur

3. Logic (Logos)

No, not the little pictures that represent companies – “logos” here means appealing to logic and reason. Make people feel smart for having “worked out” that your course is the best buy. One way to appeal to reason is by using syllogisms. These are simple three-step progressions of thought such as “All cats are fluffy. Tibbles is a cat. Therefore, Tibbles is fluffy”. Of course, you must ensure that Tibbles really is fluffy. In other words, your course must deliver on its promises so it can grow your reputation by word of mouth and generate business for subsequent courses.

In order for syllogisms to work, your audience needs to agree with the first two premises to agree with your conclusion. See if you can work this into your marketing messages. For example:

  • Information from authoritative sources is of great value.
  • I am an authoritative source.
  • Therefore, information from me is of great value.


  • People who take this course succeed.
  • You are considering taking this course.
  • If you do take it, you will succeed.

These look pretty stark when written out like this, but they are just the bare bones; you can flesh them out and clothe them in any way you wish, as long as the basic messages are in there somewhere.

Each specific market and target audience will need a subtly different approach. Aim to get the right mix of the 3 principles of persuasion for each audience you write for. Try not to use the principles as blunt instruments to batter people into buying. Many people can tell when they are being manipulated, and a clumsy approach to persuasion turns them off instantly. The principles of persuasion work best when embedded deep within otherwise entertaining or useful content. Use them carefully and find a balance that works for your eLearning niche.