The Glow of the Halo – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tiptoeing T-Rex


Knowing of something and knowing something are distant relatives. Our friends in marketing and the nervous kid in the elevator trying to sell you their startup idea might have told you that the Halo effect is what happens when you buy an iPod and you think, Well, I liked that, maybe time for a Macbook. This is not the Halo Effect. Every time I hear someone explain it that way I want to beat them with one of my useless degrees.

The Halo Effect is not about some positive trait of a company or brand. It’s about the head-space of a consumer. Lend me three minutes to help you understand – even if you don’t have a degree in educational psychology*. Let’s start in a wholly different place – a story about movie plot-holes:

  • In Jurassic Park, the T-Rex is so big, he literally makes the ground shake. But by the end, he can sneak right in and nosh on some velociraptor? PLOT HOLE.
  • In Shawshank Redemption, who put the poster back up after Andy Dug his way to freedom? PLOT HOLE.
  • In Titanic, how could Jack not fit on that door with Rose? They could have set a couch up on that thing! PLOT HOLE.

I promised you a story and now I’ll give you three. If you watched Titanic, if you enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption, if you were thrilled by Jurassic Park, my story goes like this:

One day you watched a movie that was so great you were able to turn off the part of your brain that was critical enough to notice what are actually objectively large leaps in logic. Great film-making is not about plot perfection, or unassailable logic (though bully for you if you have these). It’s about investment. It’s about owning the part…

Great customer service is not about having a perfect product or unassailable response schema (though bully for you if you have these). It’s about investment. It’s about owning the part of the customer’s brain that sees the value of the product so completely that they barely register the hiccups along the way. It’s about customers that love you so much, they’ll forgive a tip-toeing T-Rex.


It’s important to understand that while the term was originally coined by Thorndike to indicate a blind-spot – that’s not a bad thing. You didn’t suddenly regret seeing The Shawshank Redemption or want a refund on Titanic when you went home and thought about how Jack probably definitely should have survived. It’s about the totality of the experience.

That’s why it’s so dangerous to think about the Halo Effect from the perspective of the company. And in a way, it’s facile to think of it as the consumer looking at the company altogether. It’s THEIR experience with just the products they’ve loved, with just their customer reps and their support experience.

A clean way to think about the Halo Effect in fact requires some understanding of modern cognition. Basically, we understand our higher cognitive function as a limited resource that can be tasked and eventually overrun. This is a far science-ier way of describing what magicians have been doing to us forever – put on enough shiny lights and play the music loud enough, and you won’t notice how the bunny got into the hat. Our ability to focus on one thing has a limit. Google verification codes work at 6 digits. But try them at 8 and see what happens. The limit also applies to our feelings about products, services, political candidates and of course movie characters. The Halo Effect, then, is the ability of one or more aspects of your product experience overwhelming the cognitive space of the consumer, until they literally lack the capacity to be concerned about little things like bugs, price, or other minor issues.

This brings us to three questions I’ll be addressing:

  1. Is it possible to measure the Halo Effect?
  2. Who’s doing it right? Who isn’t?
  3. What are the implications for your organization and your team?


*Thorndike, who coined the term Halo Effect, was in fact an educational psychologist diagnosing a problem in assessment. Read the seminal work here.

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