Think of ancient Rome and you probably imagine sweaty gladiatorial battles in the Colosseum, self-possessed, toga-clad statesmen, licentious emperors, and impassive, blank-eyed statues.
There’s a dynamism that springs from the polarity we see in all of these ancient Roman tropes of restraint and decadence. It makes the idea of ancient Rome exotic and romantic, but still strangely familiar. It’s familiar because despite all of the weird customs, there are many similarities between us and them.
Much of what worked for the Romans still works for us today, especially when it comes to the art of persuasion. Why? Human motivation actually hasn’t changed that much in the past couple thousand years. We mostly still want the same things as ancient Romans did and can be convinced to do and buy things for many of the same reasons.
The Roman philosopher, orator, and politician Cicero (106 BCE - 43 BCE) followed in the footsteps of his prestigious predecessors when he wrote extensively on rhetoric and the art of convincing others to do or believe something. And many of his ideas are still really good ones that should be applied to any good sales or marketing strategy.
Here are some of the most compelling and useful points from Cicero’s works on oratory and rhetoric.
Ancient Roman Marketing Tips
1. Teach, delight, and move your audience (docere, delectare, et movere).
Many have noted that this foundation is the triad of all persuasive speech for Cicero. Instruct your audience about why your product or service is the best, delight and entertain them while you do it, and ultimately, move or convince them to buy what you’re selling.
It’s not enough to do just one of these things: doing all three is essential to success.
And, it still works today. Teaching, delighting, and moving, sounds a lot like HubSpot’s inbound-marketing best practice, to “attract, convert, close, and delight.”
2. Know your facts before you speak.
People will know when you’re just smooth-talking them. Cicero says that without real knowledge to back up your claims, any argument you make will be empty and ineffective (Quae, nisi res est ab oratore percepta et cognita, inanem quandam habet elocutionem et paene puerilem, De Oratore, VI.20).
Know your product, but be up to date on what's going on in your market, as well. You should have a wide range of knowledge about all things—especially in your industry.
3. Follow the rules of a good argument.
Here’s what convincing people tend to do (Brutus, 270):
- Use an elegant choice of expression.
- Structure the argument so that it is neat and fits together.
- Offer variety.
- Be lively and pleasant.
At its core, good marketing means you can speak well, that you have good explanations—and several different ones—for why your product is the best. And most importantly of all, that you're friendly and pleasant to speak with.
Cicero admits that this all comes from common sense: we naturally tend to like people who do these things. We all like friends who are knowledgeable, friendly, and clear. If you want to be successful in marketing, you should use those traits strategically.
The bottom line? Know what you’re talking about, know the lay of the land in your industry, teach your audience, be clear and focused in your presentation, and be the kind of person who's easy to listen to.
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