Rhetoric and the Art of Connection in Branding

With guest speaker John Bowe

Language has the special capacity to express a brand in ways that visual design or UX cannot. Strategic language doesn't merely communicate, it connects.

At the intersection of human psychology and language, where the right words can change how we experience each other and the world, something magical happens.

It's not storytelling or copywriting.

It's the art of rhetoric.

Rhetoric is a toolkit for genuine connection, and it's based on the rules and conventions that govern each person's ability to understand.

In our newest Talks at Concept Bureau, "Rhetoric Will Save Your Soul: The Art of Connection In Brand Strategy and Everyday Life", author and speech expert John Bowe opens up the world of rhetoric and shows us how persuasion is borne of certain invisible rules, captured in the teachings of Aristotle and proven over and over again throughout history.

In this talk he discusses:

  • The 3 cardinal rules of speaking

  • How people qualify authenticity

  • The pillars of effective rhetoric: Logos (facts), Pathos (emotions) and most importantly, Ethos (character)

For leaders and brands, rhetoric is the scaffolding that builds a compelling argument but few people actually study it. 

If you want to move people, you need to start with the hidden laws of human connection. Everyone wants to be understood. Everyone wants to know how you or your brand will make them happy. 

Rhetoric is how you get there.

Elephant In The Room

Here's what we've been consuming.

The race to optimize grief (VICE): "“If I’m having a tough day, it does give me better advice than Google. It seems like it takes all the best bits and puts great wisdom into one place, like a great friend or therapist,” says Henle, whose experience with a grief counselor turned out to be expensive and disappointing. While some people have good experiences with grief counselors, Henle did not. “ChatGPT felt more human to me than this therapist,” she says."

What If Money Expired? (Noema): "Today, there is about $2.34 trillion of physical U.S. currency in circulation, and as much as half of it is held abroad. That accounts for just 10% of the country’s gross domestic product... The gaps between these numbers are like dark matter in the universe — we don’t have a way to empirically account for it, and yet without it our understanding of the universe, or the economy, would collapse. For most people in the developed world, money is lines of data on a bank’s computer. Money is abstract, absurd. It’s a belief system, a language, a social contract. Money is trust. But the rules aren’t fixed in stone."

Reimagining Democracy for AI (Journal of Democracy): "AI advances are shattering assumptions that both our democracies and our international order rely on. Reinventing our "democratic infrastructure" is thus critically necessary... Four interconnected and accelerating democratic paradigm shifts illustrate the potential: representative deliberations, AI augmentation, democracy-as-a-service, and platform democracy."

Construal level theory: The space between (Quartz): "Construal level theory is a social psychology term that says distance is linked to whether thinking is more abstract or concrete. When the distance is further off, humans tend to think in more abstract ways. When the distance is shorter, people start to focus on more concrete details... the theory is starting to turn more heads, specifically around climate change."

What is it about film and TV antiheroes that’s so captivating? (Psyche): " Just as geographic maps represent physical space, people also create internal representations of social space. Part of this social mapping, we propose, is representing what kinds of people and actions are possible and permissible. Engaging with fictional moral extremes can help a person chart this territory, filling in the map with rich details and many different kinds of people and relationships."

[BONUS] Our guest speaker John Bowe also published a guest essay in The New York Times this week called "An Ancient Solution to Our Current Crisis of Disconnection". Somewhere along the line, we failed to learn how to connect with each other, and John asks the question "[What if we] put kids together and teach them how to talk, to hear and be heard, to resolve differences and forge consensus without flameouts, rupture, vituperation"?

Ready For My Closeup

Quick hits of insight in socially acceptable places.

Sounds Like A Rager

Creative inspirations for the other side of your brain.

Many of us have a tendency to withdraw when the world becomes chaotic.

We retract. We retreat into our homes and our computers.

We make our lives small and manageable in the face of unimaginable enormity.

I do it, too. It's a balancing act between knowing the world for my work and protecting myself from the world for my sanity. 

But a short article by Matt Waksman of Ogilvy last week was a jolting reminder that staying small is rarely the answer:

"Go deep...Sit on the back row of the bus and listen to what’s playing on the speaker. Go to the opera. Stand at the top with the die-hard fans and watch their faces when the music lifts their soul between their ears...

Scroll too far on Reddit and keep going even when it’s sketchy and you want to go back. Peer into the abyss on X.

Open up your f--ing world because if your life is small your work will be too."

Strategy is hard because unlike other professions, it demands that we constantly be opening ourselves up, going wider and bigger. 

Periods of retraction are necessary, true, but remember that they always precede periods of expansion.


Jasmine Bina
Founder & CEO
Concept Bureau, Inc.