Monday, April 9, 2012

The Halo Effect

Google has always had an air of mystic around them, as a creative and honest company. It seems that even though they are a multi-billion dollar company they don't have the stigma of other tech firms of a similar size. People trust Google far more with their data and information than most high tech firms. You search using their search engine and store you email in their servers, and very few people question Google's good intentions to let you use their stuff for "free". It's almost as if because of the early reputation that Google gained as a open and honest company that enabled you to search more effectively and easily on the internet without in your face advertising and banner ads that they have now become an authentically honest company with a certain playful approach to everything. Of course, the reality of a multi-billion dollar company such as Google is that they have many of the same motivations and drives as any large corporation, they wish to make money and the easiest way to do that is to use our collected data and information to influence us. So how has this general positive perception of Google occurred? This is something that can be attributed to what psychologists call the "Halo Effect".

The Halo effect is essentially a biased heuristic that we have when we see something positive in someone or something we like. We are more likely to transfer those beliefs into other traits about that person or object. So in this instance the early reputation of Google that was perceived and promoted by people has now become the accepted attitude of Google to everything they do. They are now considered an honest open and trustworthy company, whether or not this is true, it is at least perceived that way. The same thing happens with real people, if someone you know has a reputation as being a "good" person through something they may have done in the past you will be inclined to transfer that perception to anything they do, you might assume they are more likely to give to charity for example, or may be more likely to take part in community activities, whether or not that would actually be true. The tendency is to assume if a certain trait is true such as being good, then you automatically assume that other qualities such as being kind, generous and humorous are also true of that person. Interestingly, it is even suggested that the attractiveness of someone can influence our perceptions of them without even knowing anything about them. We assume that attractive people are somehow nicer people.

The Halo effect has it's reverse referred to as the "devil effect" which as expected is if a brand or person has a negative trait, then the bias tends to influence all considerations of other traits towards the negative feelings.

Particularly in business this powerful and often subconscious effect is one that should not be overlook when considering any brand placement or messaging. It seems that it can work positively in a brands favor when encouraging positive marketing and PR, Google and Apple have definitely gained from this effect. However the reverse can also alter people's perceptions and these are the hardest influences to remove from peoples minds, I think the best example is Microsoft, that no matter how they innovate, has always had the stigma of being a monopolistic giant and carries even today a generally negative perception in the public mind. I think also it is important to think closer to ourselves about how we judge other people, we should try and be a little more conscious of what we truly know about other people and not fall into the trap of judging all things by limited knowledge. 

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