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

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.

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.

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.