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The halo effect is a classic psychological phenomenon that’s been used by marketers for almost a century. It’s the reason we’re shocked when a young, handsome man is convicted of a violent crime or a scruffily-dressed lady turns out to be a millionaire.

It’s the same reason first impressions are so important in job interviews.

The halo effect is a cognitive bias where our mind takes one point (or a select few) and bases an opinion about an entire person, brand or organisation. From a marketing perspective, this can be a very good or bad thing, depending on the opinion people form about your brand.

#1: Page design & loading times

First impressions count for a lot and the first two things people notice about your website are design and loading times – even if they don’t realise it. In fact, if your design and loading times are good enough, they shouldn’t consciously notice them.

Ask yourself what kind of impression you want users to have when they land on your site. Are you supposed to be a professional brand, a luxury retailer or something a little more tongue in cheek? Your design needs to reflect your brand image and the expectations your target audience have of you.

Also aim for pages that load within two seconds or you could be making a bad, lasting impression.

#2: Audience research

I’m going to go with travel brands for this example because the best of them absolutely nail audience research. The best travel brands know they’re not selling a service, they’re selling an experience. And they also know they need to match the kind of experience their target audience is looking for.

Traveloregan.com pushes a more active kind of travel experience

You can see how the branding of Traveloregan.com and Hmbalanguera.com defines everything in their design – from copy to images, font choices and colours. Both focus on the experience they’re trying to promote but they’re worlds apart – and both appeal to completely different audiences.

Hmbalanguera.com appeals to holiday makers after a taste of luxury.

People expect very different things from a luxury travel brand and one providing adventure activities.

#3: Play to your brand strengths

In 2014, M&S brought together its food and general merchandise ranges into a unified marketing campaign. The goal was to create a halo effect for the brand’s entire range of products that customers associate with the highest standard of quality.

The British retailer makes no apologies for being pricier than the average high street store. Instead, it focuses on its core brand strength: quality. And, by unifying the two sides of its product lines, it created a single halo effect for the entire brand. Not only did this help M&S create a more consistent message for both sides of the business, it increased the number of customers already invested in one side buying into the other.

The halo effect can be a powerful way to justify something undesirable (high prices) with something more important (premium quality) to your target audience.

#4: Lead with your star product

Another premium brand that nailed the halo effect is Apple. Not only do we associate its high price tags with premium products, we’re happy to cough up the extra dough to get our hands on its devices.

So how did Apple get from a specialist computer manufacturer to the most desirable consumer electronics brand on the planet?

Well, it all started with the iPod – a tiny device that cost a fraction of the price iMacs and MacBooks were going for. Yet Apple marketed the iPod as its leading product, despite the comparatively tame markup on each sale. With the iPod, Apple created a new halo effect that would drive its popularity and innovation into the iPhone manufacturer we know today. Not to mention it increased annual profits by 384 percent in 2005.

#5: Social proof

Active Campaign shows customer stories to highlight the best of its services.

One of the most common halo effect strategies you’ll see on websites is social proof. By including testimonials, users get the impression your services are always to the highest standard. By showing brand logos of your biggest clients, users assume this is the calibre of business you are on a daily basis. And customer reviews set the bar of expectations for prospective leads.

#6: User experience

One of the most important factors in creating a halo effect for any online brand is user experience. Beyond the first impression we talked about in point #1, it’s the user experience you create that builds a lasting impression of your brand. But you need to move beyond the notion of simply designing a good experience and designing the right kind experience.

Booking.com could certainly simplify its user experience, but convenience isn’t the selling point it’s going for. People go to Booking.com for cheap rates on hotel rooms and they’re happy to take extra steps in the process. In fact, these extra steps contribute to the satisfaction element of securing rooms at a discount rate.

Meanwhile, Airbnb has nothing to do with discount rates, instead focusing on the experience of staying with locals. Which is reflected in the community experience it creates, complete with hosts’ user profiles and messaging system.

#7: Build an online presence

People assume brands sitting at the top of Google are bigger and better than the rest. Simple as that. The same thing goes for brands to pay to be seen on Facebook and other social networks. Building a strong online presence not only make you more visible, it makes you perceptively more trustworthy and authoritative.

So be strategic about your approach to search engine optimisation and paid advertising. Aim for the top spots wherever possible and supplement your lower rankings with Google Ads.

You can boost your efforts further by using seller ratings in Google Ads to show customer reviews on your ads. To do this you’ll want to collect as many positive reviews on Google and third-party sites like Trustpilot – all of which spreads your online presence further.

The same thing goes for Facebook and your other networks. Show reviews and rating where you can and be responsive. Show people you’re quick to engage and the halo effect will suggest you’re equally as responsive when it comes to customer services and other important areas.

The power of influence

When designers talk about the importance of loading times and professional design, it’s not a sales pitch. Psychological principles like the halo effect have been used by marketers for decades to make the right kind of impression on consumers. Or, perhaps more importantly, avoid making the wrong kind of impression – because they tend to last longer.

Aaron Brooks is a copywriter & digital strategist specialising in helping agencies & software companies find their voice in a crowded space.

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