The halo effect is a cognitive bias where the overall impression of a business, brand, or product influences how people feel and think about them. The halo effect was coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike in a 1920 study where military commanders were asked to rate subordinates based on several characteristics.
Understanding the halo effect
Thorndike wanted to know if the positive rating of one characteristic could result in the positive rating of another. In other words, could a subordinate judged as having great leadership skills also rate favorably for loyalty or independence?
Thorndike discovered a high correlation between certain attributes, with physical attractiveness one of the key drivers of the halo effect. For this reason, the effect is sometimes called the “what is beautiful is also good” principle.
While the study found a high correlation between certain characteristics, the halo effect says that any connection between them is unrelated and has no basis in logic.
In business, the halo effect can be seen in consumer favoritism toward a product range. If a consumer has a positive experience with one product, then it is likely to influence their experience with another product from the same organization.
Business websites also suffer from the negative halo effect, where one negative characteristic causes broader negative sentiment. In a study analyzing poor-quality search results that didn’t follow a logical order, the consumer concluded that the company product range and customer service were similarly low quality.
At the product level
The effect is also seen in app design, with a study finding that the shade of yellow chosen for an app login screen had significant implications for the user experience. Those who found the shade to their liking tended to rate the app as more reliable, secure, and intuitive.
At the brand level
In the case of Apple, the halo effect creates the right conditions for successful product expansion. The success of the iPod paved the way for the iPhone and iPad and importantly, compensated for the teething problems that these products experienced.
At the corporate level, socially responsible program initiatives can soften the impact of negative consumer perception if the organization later receives bad press.
- The halo effect describes the tendency for a consumer to form an overall impression of a brand or product based on one unrelated trait.
- The halo effect has both a positive and a negative component. A business can use the positive component to build brand equity but easily have that equity eroded by a low-quality website.
- Apple has used the halo effect to their advantage to successfully manage product expansion and subsequent public brand perception.
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