The Halo Effect in Marketing: From Brand Reputation to Product SalesHave you ever heard about a horrendous crime, and felt a sense of absolute shock when the suspect is an attractive, clean-cut, “preppy” looking person?

Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, see an unkept, unattractive person—who you assume might be homeless—only to find out they are worth millions?

The reason we think this way is due to the halo effect.

This is a cognitive bias in which one quality tends to provide a “halo” over our perspective on an entire organization, person, or brand.

We extend that one trait—good or bad—to our impression of the subject in it’s entirety.

The halo effect in marketing is important when it comes to everything from branding, to crisis communication, to product launch and promotion, to spokespeople and employee actions.

Focused Product Promotion Carried Your Brand

The Apple marketing arm is genius in many ways, so it’s unsurprising they offer a great case study of the marketing halo effect.

In 2005, Apple focused a good chunk of their marketing budget behind the iPod.

If you were alive that year, you no doubt were bombarded with iPod commercials, print ads, influencer campaigns, giveaways….you name it.

The iPod was everywhere and if you didn’t own one, you felt like you were destitute.

Why the iPod?

Why not focus on bigger revenue drivers such as personal computers, software, and services?

While the personal computer space was very full and very competitive at the time, Apple essentially crafted the digital music market and easily owned that space.

And own it by a large margin, with 74 percent of the digital music market share.

After the 2005 iPod push, Apple fiscal year sales increased 38 percent and profits by 384 percent.

And not just with the iPod.

In fact, iPod and iTunes only accounted for 39 percent of Apple sales that year.

By anchoring it’s marketing through the popular and market dominate iPod, people clearly saw Apple as a technology leader, innovator, and the best, most forward thinking choice.

This perspective spilled over to all Apple products.

Choose Your Best Horse

You see this same strategy at play in every industry.

  • TV network choose a few anchor shows to promote like crazy.
  • Radio stations pick a token popular show or personality to use as their flagships.
  • Restaurants promote really popular dishes (think Bonefish Grill and Bang Bang Shrimp, The Capital Grille and Lobster Mac and Cheese, Cheesecake Factory and, well….cheesecake.).

It’s not about promoting your most expensive product, or even your best product.

It’s about promoting the most popular product.

The one that can lead the charge and set the tone for how people view the rest of your brand.

Halo Effect In Marketing and Brand Perspectives

The halo effect in marketing allows a brand to positively anchor it’s reputation to a popular item.

Likewise, it can also be extremely dangerous in the face of a crisis or negative sentiment.

Once one part of your organization is classified as “bad,” the entire organization is seen in the same light.

This includes areas previous praised.

Change in perspective causes reinterpretation to reinforce the negative perspective on who you are and what you do.

Perspective is a jerk and the same act seen from a negative or a positive perspective will change it’s dynamic completely.

When a crisis strikes, be prepared of the fact EVERYTHING your organization does will be reevaluated. 

Judgement Through Filters of Perception

Here’s an example of how this might look in real life.

Several years ago, when I worked independently, an acquaintance came to me with a made-up business idea.

I didn’t know it was made-up at the time.

He planned to hire me to help him build and promote this business.

This would force us to spend more time together, and eventually he’d convince me to date him.

A few weeks in he broke down and told me his plan.

I was furious.

Absolutely, positively furious.

I cut off all communication and blocked him from contacting me through any channel.

How dare he deceive me so!

A couple of years later, I had another acquaintance do something somewhat similar.

And, while I wasn’t interested, I was completely flattered.

We became really close friends and are to this day.

The difference?

Not the situation, but my original perspective on the person.

The take away here is to remember what you or your organization does is judged through a filter.

A filter influenced by the brand image you create.

Often it’s less the action and more the perspective someone views it through which determines success or failure.

That’s the halo effect in marketing in action.

The Halo Effect and Borrowed Influence

Another way the halo effect in marketing can be put into action is by riding the influence or authority of those you partner or associate with.

Just in the way Apple rode the iPod to float their other products, organizations can use partnerships or positive connections to create others.

In media relations we see this in action once a client starts to get momentum through placements.

Each quality placement makes the next one easier.

If one credible publication sees the company or leader as an expert and worthy of print, then it’s peers will as well.

Likewise, if one influencer partners with an organization, others will be more willing to join.

This type of borrowed influence begets itself through the way it changes perspectives, solely from association.

The Halo Effect In Marketing: Proactivity and Strategy Win

As with all cognitive biases, the halo effect isn’t something you can choose to ignore.

It simply exists.

As a communications pro, your job is to understand how it works, what it influences.

Be proactive and strategic in your campaigns.

Help it work for you and your organization versus against you.

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino