Does Your Content Create the Right Kind of Halo?

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If you’ve ever sold a house, you’ve probably heard about curb appeal. Curb appeal is the visual attractiveness of a house as seen from the street, and it is what creates the first impression of a house in the minds of potential buyers. Real estate professionals know that curb appeal plays a huge role in determining how quickly a house will sell and what its selling price will be.

Good first impressions are also critical for successful B2B marketing. And today, most of your potential buyers will base their first impression of your company on the content you produce. If your content fails to create a good first impression, a potential buyer will quickly look elsewhere, and you may not get another chance to create engagement with that buyer.

On the other hand, when your content creates a good first impression, a potential buyer is more likely to “come back for more” and to be more willing to engage further with your company. Equally important, when one of your content resources creates a good first impression, a potential buyer will be more inclined to view the rest of your content – and your company – favorably.

That’s because of a powerful cognitive bias known as the halo effect. The halo effect can be defined as the transfer of positive (or negative) feelings about one thing to another, without having a rational basis for the transfer. The critical thing to remember about the halo effect is that it magnifies the impact of a first impression beyond what would be justified on a purely rational basis.

The halo effect can be found in a wide range of human judgments. For example:

  • If I meet a person who is likable and well-spoken, I will be inclined to believe that the person is also generous and ethical even though I actually know nothing about the person’s generosity or ethics.
  • If I have a good experience with a Honda automobile, I’ll be inclined to believe that I would also be happy with a Honda lawnmower even though I actually know nothing about the quality of Honda lawnmowers.
  • If I read an e-book or a white paper produced by your company and find it to be useful and valuable, I’ll be inclined to believe that the other content produced by your company will also be useful and valuable, and I’ll be inclined to believe that your company is good at what it does even though I know little or nothing about your company.
Daniel Kahneman, a winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, shared a first-hand experience with the halo effect in his best-selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman wrote that when he was a young professor, he graded essay exams by reading all of the essays written by each student in immediate succession, grading them as he went. When finished, he would compute the overall final grade and move on to the next student.
Kahneman eventually noticed that his evaluations of each student’s essays were usually similar. He began to suspect that his grading exhibited a halo effect and that the first essay he read had a disproportionate effect on each student’s overall grade. In essence, if he gave a high score to the first essay, he was likely to be more lenient in scoring the rest of the essays.
So, if a student had written two essays – one strong and one weak – Kahneman would award different final grades, depending on which essay he read first. As Kahneman wrote, “I had told the students that the two essays had equal weight, but that was not true:  the first one had a much greater impact on the final grade than the second.”
As a B2B marketer, it’s important to recognize that every content resource you publish will produce a halo effect – either good or bad – if it constitutes the first interaction that a potential buyer has with your company. So you can benefit from the halo effect if you consistently produce valuable and credible content that creates a great first impression with potential buyers.
Image courtesy of Michael Dougherty via Flickr CC.

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