The ‘Halo Effect’ is a marketer’s secret weapon: Here’s how to use it

Dec 14, 2020

Much talked about in marketing, the ‘halo effect’ describes an cognitive bias that causes us to form a positive impression of something – be it a person, a product, or a brand – because it’s associated with something else we feel positively about. Negative impressions formed through negative associations are known as the ‘horns effect’.

The phrase was coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike, whose 1920 study found commanding officers tended to judge their men as either good or bad across the board. Interestingly, once a judgement was made it was unlikely to be contradicted – showing first impressions really do count.

Thanks to the halo effect, we tend to think because someone is good at one thing, they’ll be good at something else. Or believe if one product in a range gets good reviews, so must they all. Maybe we like a whole brand based on one value we align with. Or, conversely, think if they can’t be trusted on one issue, they can’t be trusted at all.

The halo effect is fundamental in everything from branding to product promotion. It can have an hugely positive impact on your brand equity and market share, by allowing you to piggyback on consumer emotion and the momentum of other products and trends.

As a marketer, the halo effect is your secret weapon. Here’s how to use it.

1. Get consumers to love your brand, and they’ll love your products by association

Savvy marketers know the value of a strong brand. But the halo effect says it could actually be the deciding factor for buying a product, regardless of performance or price. In fact, 73% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they love the brand.

There are a plenty of ways to create a halo effect around your brand – here are just a couple:


Let happy customers do the talking

Thanks to the halo effect, if consumers know and trust someone they’re also likely to trust their opinions and act on their suggestions. So when it comes to increasing brand visibility, one of the best things you can do is fuel conversations among friends, family and peers. Since we know people are more likely to bond over experiences than material things, creating an experience around your product is a surefire way to generate word-of-mouth marketing and benefit from that transfer of trust.


Trigger positive emotions by meeting customers’ needs

If consumers feel a positive emotional response from something your brand says or does, the halo effect suggests they’ll generalize these feelings towards your brand as a whole. This can only be a good thing, with 76% of customers who are emotionally connected to a brand preferring it over a competitor . Appeal to key attributes like identity, fulfilment and nostalgia by offering carefully designed experience rewards that speak to the needs of your audience – and bathe in the positive emotional glow that follows.

Offer carefully designed experience rewards that speak to the needs of your audience – and bathe in the positive emotional glow that follows.

2. Associate your product with your customers’ likes

Any great marketer understands the importance of knowing your audience. What do they like? Is there a lifestyle they aspire to? If you know this, you can figure out a way to weave your product into that narrative.

The possibilities for creating a halo effect this way are endless, but here are two approaches to consider:


Tap into consumer trends to gain traction

If consumers buy into a trend and your product comes under it, the halo effect means they’re more likely to buy into your product, too. Bundling your products with experiences is a flexible way of adapting to changing consumer appetites. Wellness is in? Make it a spa break. Cuisine on the agenda? Restaurant vouchers it is. In fact, with consumers now more willing to spend their money on experiences than material things, simply offering experiences at all gives you an advantage over competitors.


Position your product as an essential tool in customers’ ideal lives

The world’s most successful product brands don’t sell products: they sell an ideal – and they position their product as a means of achieving it. This is the halo effect in action: if consumers aspire to a particular lifestyle, it goes without saying they’ll feel positive about anything they consider instrumental to getting it. Experience rewards leave nothing to the imagination – they allow your customers to live their ideal lifestyle (if only temporarily) and, by association, cement your product’s role in it.


>> Learn how experience rewards help you increase sales in our downloadable e-Book

3. Don’t try to be good at everything – excelling at one thing is enough to form a halo

Any marketer with a finite budget (that’s all of us, then…) must strategically focus their efforts to have maximum impact. But the beauty of the halo effect is that its positive effects reach far beyond its origin. So when you’re deciding how to apply these tactics, choose your hero product, your strongest asset, your most exciting innovation – whatever it is you want to be known for – and build on that. The rest will follow.

Case study

How Apple piggybacked on the iPod to grow sales and profits

Back in 2005, Apple grew its fiscal year sales by 38% and profits by 384%, largely thanks to the halo effect.

At the time, the personal computer market was crowded and competitive. So Apple chose to throw its weight behind the iPod, marketing it heavily. In the process they effectively crafted the digital music market, taking a 74% share.

Theoretically, the iPod was a lower revenue driver than personal computers… Except that iPod and iTunes only made up 39% of Apple sales that year. By positioning themselves as a technology innovator, they created a halo that surrounded all their products.

Free E-Book: Emotion Sells

Get your free copy of our new e-book “Emotion Sells” and learn how to increase sales and grow your brand with experience rewards.