Who do you like more?

Alan who’s intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn and envious.

Or Ben, who’s envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent.

When asked, most people prefer Alan. Why? Because first impressions count. It’s a cognitive bias known as the halo effect…

The theory is that our initial impressions create an anchor or ‘halo’ that then influences how we interpret the information that follows. Instead of waiting for all the relevant information, our fast brains make a rapid, instinctive judgement and we then look to interpret what follows in a way that’s coherent with that story. 

The key thing for brand owners to recognise is that we create a story almost instantaneously (we don’t wait until the end of the experience to make a judgement), this story then influences how we interpret what follows and once we have a story in our heads, we’re reluctant to abandon it. 

Why does the halo effect matter?

Well, let me share my experience of staying at the wonderful Cow Hollow Hotel in Manchester to show how brands can benefit from a halo effect…

We travel a lot for work and if we can find a cheap independent alternative to the nearest Premier Inn (also a great experience by the way, but that’s for a different blog) we like to go there just to break up the monotony a little bit.

In that spirit I booked into the Cow Hollow Hotel in Manchester. I arrived fairly late on Thursday night and to be honest I was knackered and a bit grumpy because I’d lost my overnight bag earlier in the day. 

Now the Cow Hollow website looked cool. It’s in the Northern Quarter which I’m told is the edgy part of Manchester and you only need to walk through the front door to appreciate the attention that’s gone into fitting out an old Victorian warehouse with a design that manages to be both industrial cool and home-from-home cozy. 

So far so good, but for me the tone of an experience starts with your first encounter with a member of the team. I’ve been into loads of hipster coffee bars, loved the decor and the coffee but resolved never to go back because the staff were too cool for school.

I like being in cool places, but I’m not a cool guy so I can’t just walk in like Keith Richards and feel at home. I need to be made to feel welcome.

This is where the Cow Hollow Hotel nailed it. The chap on the front desk was pitch perfect: natural, unassuming and authentic. He asked questions and get this… he actually listened to my answers and responded accordingly. Like a normal conversation. I know it sounds ridiculous, but when was the last time you had a conversation with a front line team member in a hospitality business that left you feeling that the person was genuinely interested in you, rather than just ‘processing you?  

For me, it was a tribute to their culture, that I couldn’t work out whether this guy owned the place or was an employee. And everything that followed just reinforced the positive impression: a free room upgrade; showing me up to my room without being fussy or angling for a tip; complimentary breakfast in bed in the morning; Netflix on the telly and sweets with the room key. I really like the way the information in the room stuck with the same friendly, natural off-beat tone of voice…

“We don’t have aircon, but don’t worry this is Manchester not Marrakesh”.

Cow Hollow Hotel, Manchester

The whole thing felt coherent, consistent and well thought through. It felt like you could trust it, relax and enjoy it.

Then it happened… the bed was on some sort of heavy wooden platform. It was a small-ish room and as I was walking round to the bathroom in the low mood lighting, I smashed my shin on the under-hanging wood. A week later I still have a dent in my leg.

But you know what – I didn’t feel angry about it… I didn’t hold it against them. In other hotels, I’d have gotten into an internal monologue about how stupid it was to put that bed design in a small room. I didn’t. Instead I fastidiously mopped up the blood on my shins so I didn’t get it on their lovely white bedsheets.

The lesson for brands…

First impressions count.

If you can create a positive initial human interaction, and if you can create an environment and touch-points that are coherent and consistent with your brand, you’ll influence how your customers interpret the rest of the experience and you’ll buy yourself forgiveness. I didn’t complain about my shin. I didn’t ruin the crisp white sheets. I’ll definitely go back to the Cow Hollow Hotel given the chance and I’ve recommended the place to half a dozen others. And honestly I think it stemmed from that initial warm and welcoming human interaction on the front desk.

If you’d like to start to create your own story, download a copy of our Company Narrative Canvas.

If you’re interested in how brands can use storytelling to engage their teams, download a copy of our white paper: ‘Storytelling and the engaged organisation‘.