Kickstarter Lesson #213: The Halo Effect

23 January 2017 | 13 Comments

I recently learned the term “the halo effect,” and I think it has some interesting applications to crowdfunding and entrepreneurship.

Specifically, I’m talking about the halo effect as it applies to branding: It’s when a positive experience or familiarity with one product/service makes you more likely to try a different product/service from the same company.

Apple is the classic example of this. How many of you bought an iPod and then later bought an iPad, an iPhone, and/or a MacBook? They’re all tech products, but they’re completely separate. But if you had a good experience with the iPod and you became familiar with the interface, perhaps it encouraged you to try out other Apple products later.

A lesser-known example is Studio Neat, one of the earliest big success stories on Kickstarter. They made a simple iPhone stand called the Glif. Then they made a touch-screen stylus. Then a bracket app. Then a kit for making ice for cocktails. Completely different products, all with the same elegant design and streamlined Kickstarter campaigns.

I really like the idea of lowering the barrier to entry for any customer, including existing customers. It’s not about promotion–I know that not everyone who likes Viticulture will also enjoy Scythe or our realistic resources. But if I’m doing my job, hopefully they’ll feel just as comfortable with one of our products as the others.

Some key examples in the board game world are Red Raven Games and Garphill Games. Both of those companies offer familiar iconography, rulebooks, and themes spread across completely different games. If you’ve played one of their games, it’s going to be easy to pick up another one.

I’d like to say that Stonemaier has dabbled in this concept, but the closest we’ve come is on Kickstarter. We’ve offered very different games and products on Kickstarter, but we’ve tried to maintain common elements on the project page like the money-back guarantee, streamlined international shipping, and reward configuration.

The one danger I’ve seen in attempting to create the halo effect is when it doesn’t carry over from one product line to another. Sometimes this is necessary–my Kickstarter campaign for the Treasure Chest was very different than my previous campaign (Tuscany), particularly in the stretch goals, reward structure, and comments. Both were very successful, but I think some people were hoping that their experience with one would be the same as before.

Have you seen the halo effect of branding in action, either as a consumer or a creator?


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13 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #213: The Halo Effect

  1. I see the experience of the halo effect often in my job which focuses on talent management and how managers view their employees’ performance. One good experience or POV of an employee can color that manager’s view of them for years – even if performance takes a huge dip and is evident from all others that work with them. (The same is true in the negative – with one bad experience…)

    I love the idea of thinking about it from a commercial POV – one good product or hit (or even an affiliation with a great brand) can lead to great monetary rewards for the company on all future products – even if they don’t immediately meet the same standards – just as it can have a positive effect on products that are closely affiliated. It’s a marketing tactic I see used often and have recently become very attuned to when watching ads and/or reading articles that try to enhance their value by references or alluding to similarities to more influential products.

  2. So, interestingly enough, I got an email yesterday from a kickstarter creator I backed years ago, asking for feedback, and what I liked/disliked about their previous games, since he was developing a new one.

    I bought his second game, well, because it was by him, and I liked the first one I bought.

    I see that a lot with kickstarter, looking at previous games/products that someone has put out, and sticking with them. (GiR, CMON, Stonemaier, Queen Games, etc)… Although, for some publishers, the halo effect has turned sour, as I won’t patronize some publishers anymore because of the way they’ve treated me in the past.

    However, most of the KS folks tend to stick in one line of business, and not branch out so much…so Apple’s my primary interaction with cross-line halo.

    I guess it’s some of the “conglomerate” mentality…do a little of everything, so if something goes south in one market, you still have others

    1. Ken: You bring up a lot of great points here, including how a bad experience can quickly sour the halo effect and the conglomerate mentality (which I think only works really well with the halo effect if the company focuses on “why” instead of “what” [that’s referencing Simon’s Sinek’s “start with why” method]).

  3. This is very impressive – though probably a typo. :)

    “Then a kid for making ice for cocktails.”

    4th paragraph, 3rd line.

  4. Reputation matters. As a little kid visiting the library I always thought it was silly that books were sorted by author. I thought, who cares who wrote it. If it’s good it’s good. What matters is its content.

    But in this rich and wonderful world we can never hope to read every book or play every game. When we are short on time and cannot evaluate every option we fall back on our experiences and the experiences of people we trust. That’s why a lot of businesses will use their personal name in their business name. It says trust me to know what I’m doing or at least know that I stand by every product I make.

    Trust and reputation go a long way.

    1. I like that, Joseph! It’s so true. I rely on my experiences to filter through the millions of books, bands, movies, etc. There are some authors I always trust even though their books fall into very different genres. Same with movie directors.

    2. I think Joseph is exactly right here, and the process of choosing books by author is a great example. For my part, I have been willing to read anything by John Steinbeck or Ray Bradbury strictly based on my past experience with them, regardless of the reputation (or obscurity) of the individual book. And the point about trust is extremely important in choosing to back a Kickstarter project, since the backer assumes considerable risk.

      Interestingly, I continued to read Isaac Asimov long after I’d outgrown his writing, even though it left me unsatisfied. It took me a long time to realize that I was reading his books because I always read his books, not because I enjoyed them. I suppose that’s a case of the halo effect extending too far – and perhaps an example of Craig’s point (above) about letting the halo effect override objective criticism. I can think of perhaps one Kickstarter publisher (not Stonemaier) who might fall into that category for me, too.

      1. “It took me a long time to realize that I was reading his books because I always read his books, not because I enjoyed them.”

        I’m fascinated by that element of psychology, as I’ve done the same thing. :)

  5. “It’s when a positive experience or familiarity with one product/service makes you more likely to try a different product/service from the same company.”

    Taking this into account I think it has a big effect on Crowdfunding, and others in general. I remember 3 years ago I was in Stronghold games booth at Gen con. It was a small double, the staff were friendly and taught me how to play a few games. Since then I’ve followed them and sought out their games based on their brand and the interaction I had with them.

    Same could be said for Kickstarter. I didn’t back Viticulture at the time because I had no clue about it, but I loved the game. That led me to this website and your subsequent games.

    One of the first things I do when looking at a Kickstarter project is look at what they’ve done in the past, what feedback have they gotten, how did they handle updates, Etc. If they have a good brand it shows.

    1. Sean: That’s an interesting approach to this topic–it’s almost like a reverse halo effect, where your first exposure to a Kickstarter creator leads you to more information about them, and that information impacts your decision to pledge or not pledge. I’ve had that same experience.

  6. I like your positive discussion on the Halo Effect. Many times it is mentioned as a negative – the idea of people ignoring negative aspects of a person, product, brand, etc. due to a positive experience or feature. In the gaming industry, this might happen when a positive – perhaps an exciting Kickstarter, captivating art, or perhaps a unique theme – makes the gameplay itself seem better than it really is. To me there is nothing wrong with this from a consumer’s perspective. Perceived value is the only value that matters. The problem comes when a reviewer either has the same experience and gives an overly generous review, or a reviewer gives a proper review and is met with criticism due to the audience’s halo-affected perception.

    1. Thanks for delving deeper into the dark side of the halo effect, Craig. The intersection between perception and reviews is really interesting. Also, I think this is exactly why it annoys me when reviewers talk about “the hype,” because reviewers ARE the hype.

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