Have you ever walked into a room full of strangers and instantly felt connected by just the looks of the crowd? Or met someone for the first time, and buddy up in a jiffy? Or shown bias over a certain person for no justified rational reasons you can think of? This, in layman words, we call it instincts or gut feeling.
When we meet someone new, that first impression has a huge impact on what we think of them thereafter. Think about all the times we had a bad feeling about someone that you had no evidence for. Even if we were able to shake it off and acknowledge our biases, it’s almost impossible to correct the internal first impressions. However, life can get easier on a long run if we can lift the veil a bit to let our critical thinking peek through.
Apparently we are all slaves of a huge number of subconscious biases. Biases that can affect any personal judgement we make about people. The reactions of our gut are rooted in the more primitive, emotional and intuitive part of our brains. It can take over our minds and cloud our judgments and thoughts.
This in technical term is Halo Effect which is a cognitive bias. One trait is used to make an overall judgment of that person or thing. It supports rapid decisions, even though biased.
Understanding Halo: an unconscious bias
The halo effect works both in both positive and negative directions:
- If you like one aspect of something, you’ll have a positive predisposition toward everything about it.
- If you dislike one aspect of something, you’ll have a negative predisposition towards everything about it.
A negative halo effect is sometimes called the “devil effect” or the “pitchfork effect“.
When we meet a person new, perhaps they are good looking or maybe funny, then our impression is instantly positive. This apparently clouds our better judgment about their other traits.
However, if on the first encounter they were rude or unreasonably arrogant or maybe an hour late, for whatever reasons, we already don’t like this person very much.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”ANDREW GRANT
Where do we see it happen?
“What is beautiful is good” principle works on the “Thin slicing”, a phenomenon which refers to the snap judgments that we make on the basis of shallow and quick pieces of information that we see immediately.
This unconscious bias of human mind can be seen in almost all the judgments we make . From organization, locations, communication channels, to our judgments of other people. According to researchers, another such instance when our minds most times defy rational thinking is when we are surfing through products, either online or on the aisle of a supermarket.
Similarly, have you visited a website that was so ugly you immediately hit the back button? Chances are you have.
Poor design, whether it is for a website or a product is an immediate turnoff for a customer. In contrast, we may trust a business website that is well-designed because it signals they know what they are doing. In a sense, we’re judging a book by its cover.
Similarly marketers or advertisers know that by associating a product with something or somebody attractive could raise the value of the product. As a part of a persuasion strategy, there are a couple of game plans employed such as: Branding, Celebrity endorsement, Beautiful attractive designs, a little bit of sex appeal in advertising, etc.
Creating a halo effect often takes time. But what if you could cut the time by borrowing somebody else’s good will?
There are people – influencers who customers admire and respect. We invest our trust in them, buying the latest products that we believe will enhance our life. When an influencer uses a product or service, there is a transfer of trust. And with that transfer of trust, a halo is placed on that product.
For instance, Mountain Dew has maintained its brand identity of a beverage that’s linked to the idea of being courageous and fearless. As a plan of their marketing strategy, they have three categories of influencers.
- They have Hrithik Roshan as the celebrity influencer.
- They also work with mountaineers, bikers, gaming influencers that act as a sources of authority.
- Additionally there are consumer influencers on various social media platforms like Facebook campaigns, TikTok influencers etc.
Making use of these strategies, Mountain Dew has had a significant effect in attracting consumers and gaining popularity. The moment we see Hrithik Roshan on screen, being a macho rider after consuming the beverage, we are drawn towards the product. The next time we come across the same on the aisle, our minds automatically want to consume it.
The rating of one quality often starts a trend in the rest of the results. However, the brand strength also plays significant role to gain credibility in the market.
But how do firms increase their brand strength?
The answer is quite simple. The firm doesn’t need to be the best at everything. They just need to be the best at something and the unconscious bias of the customer’s will help pull the rest of the services forward. The firm only needs to have a strong presence somewhere. From that starting, the brand strengthens up.
Unconscious bias forever
For instance, in 2005, Apple majorly focused its’ marketing budget on iPod.
IPod was everywhere that year – commercials, print ads, influencers, give-aways…you name it – and if you didn’t own one, you felt like you were destitute.
But why iPod? Why not focus on bigger revenue drivers such as a computer or software? While the personal computer space was then flooded and highly competitive, Apple crafted the digital music market and easily owned that space, thereby owning it with 74% of digital market share.
After the iPod era, the fiscal year sales of Apple increased 38%. Meanwhile iPod and iTunes accounted only 39% of Apple sales that year.
How? Apple placed its’ bets on iPod and won. People saw Apple as a technology leader, innovator, and most forward thinking choice. This perspective spilled over to all the Apple products – thus enjoying full benefit of the halo effect.
This makes us realize how we all possess unconscious bias – either positive or negative, towards something or someone.
What’s true for books is also true for people, brands, experiences, and so on. Look at traits one by one and see what is truly there. Of course, being aware of the halo effect still doesn’t make it easy to avoid its influence on our perceptions and decisions. But, we have to learn to look beyond, tackle it one trait at a time and base our assumptions on actual evidences. This gives a better sense of what we are looking at, rather than processing only what we choose to look at.
Can you imagine the amount of friends you might have missed out on, the places you’ve never seen, or the things you haven’t tried, just because of a first impression? Do you really want to let your unconscious bias fool you?