The Power of Expectations: How Brands Use the Pygmalion Effect to Thrive

Shah Mohammed
13 min readSep 14, 2023

Imagine strolling through a bustling shopping mall, the vibrant storefronts competing for your attention with enticing displays of fashion, gadgets, and the latest trends. Your eyes lock onto one store, its ambience radiates sophistication and exclusivity. You step inside, and the attentive salesperson offers personalized assistance, making you feel like a VIP. As you browse the meticulously arranged merchandise, you can’t help but believe that this store offers something exceptional.

Here’s the intriguing part: What if I told you that the products on these shelves weren’t inherently superior to those in neighbouring stores? What if the brand’s marketing team carefully cultivated this sense of exclusivity and luxury long before you crossed the threshold?

Welcome to the captivating realm of the Pygmalion Effect in branding — the psychological phenomenon where expectations mould reality.

Understanding Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect, a psychological phenomenon with profound implications for human behaviour and achievement, centres on a simple yet potent idea: the power of expectations to shape reality. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy where individuals, often unknowingly, perform better or worse based on the expectations others have of them. This effect transcends the realm of personal interactions and extends its influence into various facets of life, including education, workplace dynamics, and, as we’ll explore in this chapter, branding and marketing.

The term “Pygmalion Effect” finds its origins in George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion,” which was later adapted into the beloved musical “My Fair Lady.” The play revolves around the transformative journey of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, who, under the guidance of Professor Henry Higgins, undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis in her speech, manners, and overall demeanor. Professor Higgins firmly believes that Eliza can rise above her humble origins, and his high expectations for her ultimately drive her to achieve the transformation he envisioned.

The concept of the Pygmalion Effect was first introduced into the realm of psychology by Dr. Robert Rosenthal and Dr. Lenore Jacobson in the early 1960s. Their groundbreaking research, conducted in an elementary school in California, provided empirical evidence for the phenomenon. They told teachers that certain students had been identified as “academic spurters” who would experience significant intellectual growth in the coming year, based on the results of a bogus test. In reality, these students were chosen entirely at random, with no special abilities or potential. Remarkably, by the end of the school year, these randomly selected students had indeed made significant academic gains, validating the researchers’ hypothesis that teachers’ expectations had a direct impact on student performance.

This discovery sent shockwaves through the field of psychology and education, leading to further exploration of the Pygmalion Effect’s implications in various contexts. It became clear that expectations, whether positive or negative, could profoundly influence not only individual performance but also group dynamics, creating a ripple effect on the collective behaviour of those involved.

In summary, the Pygmalion Effect, also known as the Rosenthal Effect, is a cognitive bias that refers to the phenomenon where people’s expectations of another person’s performance can influence their actual performance.

Examples from Everyday Life

The Pygmalion Effect is a versatile psychological phenomenon that can be observed in various aspects of daily life. Here are some examples to help readers better understand how it works:

Education: A teacher expects a particular student to excel in their class based on their prior performance. Consequently, the teacher provides more attention and encouragement to that student, leading them to actually perform better than their peers.

Workplace: A manager believes in the potential of an employee and assigns them challenging projects. The employee rises to the occasion and delivers exceptional results because they feel valued and capable.

Parenting: Parents who have high expectations for their children’s academic success and provide a nurturing environment tend to see their children achieve better grades and pursue higher education.

Sports: A coach believes in the abilities of a player and consistently gives them opportunities to play in crucial moments. The player gains confidence and often performs exceptionally well under pressure.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: When someone is told repeatedly that they have a “natural talent” for a particular skill, they may be more inclined to practice and improve in that area, ultimately fulfilling the prophecy.

Health and Wellness: A person who believes they can achieve their fitness goals is more likely to stick to a workout routine and make healthier dietary choices, leading to actual improvements in their health.

Customer Service: A restaurant staff member who expects a customer to have a great dining experience will provide better service, smile more, and be more attentive, which often results in a more enjoyable meal for the customer.

Branding and Marketing: A brand consistently portrays an image of quality and sophistication. As a result, consumers expect their products or services to be top-notch, and this expectation can influence their perception of the brand and their purchasing decisions.

Social Interactions: If you attend a social gathering with the belief that you’ll have a good time and meet interesting people, you’re more likely to engage positively with others and have a fulfilling experience.

Leadership: A charismatic leader who believes in the potential of their team members can inspire them to perform beyond their perceived capabilities, fostering a high-achieving culture within the organization.

These examples demonstrate how the Pygmalion Effect operates in various contexts, showing that the power of expectations and beliefs can significantly impact outcomes in everyday life, from academic and professional success to personal well-being and brand perception.

The Power of Perception in Branding

To appreciate how brands harness the Pygmalion Effect, it’s essential first to recognize the fundamental significance of perception in the world of branding.

Perception, in the context of branding, refers to how consumers view and interpret a brand, its products or services, and its overall image. This perception is heavily influenced by the Pygmalion Effect, as it is shaped by the expectations and beliefs that consumers have about a brand.

Here’s why it’s essential to grasp the connection between perception, branding, and the Pygmalion Effect:

  1. Consumer Decision-Making: Consumer perception plays a pivotal role in the decision-making process. When consumers form a positive perception of a brand, they are more likely to choose that brand over competitors. Understanding how the Pygmalion Effect influences consumer expectations allows brands to strategically mold these expectations in their favor.
  2. Brand Loyalty: Perception influences brand loyalty. Brands that consistently meet or exceed consumer expectations build a loyal customer base. By employing the Pygmalion Effect, brands can set high expectations that, when fulfilled, lead to increased customer loyalty.
  3. Differentiation: In a crowded marketplace, brands need to stand out. Perception allows brands to differentiate themselves by creating a unique and desirable image. Leveraging the Pygmalion Effect can help a brand craft a distinct and positive perception that resonates with its target audience.
  4. Emotional Connection: Consumer perception is not solely based on rational factors; emotions play a significant role. Brands that evoke positive emotions through their messaging and image can create a lasting connection with consumers. The Pygmalion Effect aids in shaping positive emotional associations with a brand.
  5. Brand Equity: Building brand equity, which encompasses the brand’s value and strength in the market, relies heavily on perception. Brands that effectively utilize the Pygmalion Effect to shape positive perceptions tend to have higher brand equity.
  6. Product Pricing: Perception can also influence pricing strategies. Brands that are perceived as premium or high-quality can often command higher prices for their products or services. This perception of value is cultivated using strategies rooted in the Pygmalion Effect.
  7. Market Positioning: A brand’s market position is determined by how it is perceived relative to its competitors. Brands can use the Pygmalion Effect to position themselves favorably by influencing consumer expectations of what they offer.
  8. Crisis Management: Understanding perception is critical in managing brand crises. Brands that have built strong positive perceptions can weather crises more effectively, as consumers are more forgiving and trusting of brands they perceive positively.

In essence, the Pygmalion Effect is a potent tool for brands to not only shape consumer expectations but also to exceed those expectations consistently. By creating and maintaining a positive perception rooted in high expectations, brands can foster customer loyalty, drive sales, and establish a lasting presence in the minds of consumers. Therefore, comprehending the interplay between perception, branding, and the Pygmalion Effect is vital for brand success in today’s competitive marketplace.

How do Brands Leverage the Pygmalion Effect to Influence Consumer Perception?

Brands employ a range of strategies and tactics to influence consumer perception, leveraging the Pygmalion Effect to their advantage. Here are some specific approaches they use:

  1. Consistent Brand Messaging: Brands ensure that their messaging across all channels — from advertising to social media — conveys a coherent and positive image. Consistency reinforces consumer expectations and strengthens brand perception.
  2. Quality Assurance: Brands commit to delivering consistent product or service quality. Consistently meeting or exceeding consumer expectations fosters trust and positive perception.
  3. Storytelling: Brands craft compelling narratives that resonate with consumers. These stories humanize the brand, making it relatable and memorable, which can positively shape perception.
  4. Visual Identity: A strong visual identity, including logos, color schemes, and design elements, creates a lasting impression. Consumers often associate these visuals with specific attributes, impacting how they perceive the brand.
  5. Brand Associations: Brands form strategic partnerships or sponsorships with entities that align with their desired image. These associations can influence consumer perception by association.
  6. Customer Reviews and Testimonials: Positive customer reviews and testimonials act as social proof, reinforcing the brand’s claims and creating a favorable perception.
  7. Influencer Marketing: Collaborating with influencers who embody the desired brand image can extend the brand’s reach and credibility. Consumers often trust influencers’ endorsements, shaping their perception of the brand.
  8. Emotional Marketing: Brands use emotional appeal in their marketing campaigns to create a deeper connection with consumers. Emotions influence perception, making the brand more relatable and likable.
  9. Experiential Marketing: Brands create immersive experiences that allow consumers to interact with their products or services. Positive experiences can lead to a more favorable perception.
  10. Surprise and Delight: Brands exceed consumer expectations through unexpected gestures or perks. This can lead to a positive perception of the brand’s commitment to customer satisfaction.
  11. Crisis Management: How a brand handles crises or negative events can significantly impact perception. Transparency, accountability, and swift resolution can mitigate damage and even enhance trust.
  12. Environmental and Social Responsibility: Brands that demonstrate a commitment to social and environmental causes can create a more positive perception, especially among socially conscious consumers.
  13. Price Positioning: Strategic pricing can shape perception. Brands can position themselves as budget-friendly, mid-range, or premium, which influences consumer expectations regarding quality and value.
  14. Personalization: Brands use data-driven personalization to tailor their offerings to individual consumers. Personalized experiences can enhance the perception of a brand’s attentiveness and relevance.
  15. Exclusivity: Limited edition releases or membership programs create a sense of exclusivity, which can positively influence how consumers perceive the brand’s value.
  16. Community Building: Brands foster communities of like-minded consumers who identify with the brand’s values and identity. Being part of a community enhances consumer loyalty and brand perception.

These strategies and tactics demonstrate how brands strategically employ the Pygmalion Effect to shape consumer perception positively. By consistently meeting or exceeding consumer expectations and using various psychological cues, brands can influence how consumers perceive their products, services, and overall image in the market.

A Few Examples


Airbnb is a prime example of a brand that has effectively harnessed the Pygmalion Effect to transform the way people perceive travel and accommodations. The company has disrupted the traditional hospitality industry by emphasizing unique and personalized travel experiences, allowing travellers to “live like a local.” Let’s delve into the strategies Airbnb employed to leverage the Pygmalion Effect and shape consumer perception.

  1. User-Generated Content: Airbnb encourages hosts and guests to leave reviews and share their experiences. Positive reviews create a sense of trust and set high expectations for future travellers. Guests often choose properties with a history of positive reviews, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where expectations are met or exceeded.
  2. Emotional Storytelling: Airbnb’s marketing campaigns often focus on emotional storytelling. They share heartwarming stories of travellers connecting with local hosts and experiencing meaningful cultural exchanges. These narratives create an emotional connection with the brand and set high expectations for transformative travel experiences.
  3. Personalization: Airbnb uses data-driven personalization to recommend properties and experiences tailored to individual preferences. By suggesting accommodations that align with a traveller’s interests and past bookings, Airbnb sets the expectation of a highly customized and enjoyable trip.
  4. Host and Guest Communities: Airbnb fosters communities of hosts and guests who share similar interests and values. These communities create a sense of belonging and trust, reinforcing the perception that Airbnb is a platform where travellers can connect with like-minded individuals and have unique experiences.
  5. Unique Stays: Airbnb showcases a wide variety of accommodations, from treehouses to castles. By highlighting unique and unconventional stays, Airbnb sets high expectations for travellers seeking one-of-a-kind experiences.
  6. Experiential Marketing: Airbnb offers “Experiences,” allowing travellers to book activities hosted by locals. These experiences go beyond traditional tourist activities, and Airbnb positions them as opportunities for meaningful connections and personal growth, shaping expectations for more enriching trips.

Airbnb’s strategies effectively leverage the Pygmalion Effect in several ways:

  • Creating Positive Expectations: Through user-generated content, emotional storytelling, and personalized recommendations, Airbnb sets high expectations for travelers. They expect unique and immersive experiences, personal connections, and memorable stays.
  • Meeting or Exceeding Expectations: Airbnb consistently delivers on these expectations by offering a vast array of properties and experiences, maintaining a reliable booking platform, and providing support to both hosts and guests. This fulfillment of expectations leads to positive reviews and repeat bookings.
  • Cultivating Loyalty: Airbnb’s emphasis on community, personalization, and unique stays fosters brand loyalty. Travellers associate Airbnb with more than just accommodation; it becomes a trusted companion in their travel adventures.
  • Transforming Perceptions: Airbnb has transformed the way people perceive travel. Instead of merely booking a place to stay, travelers now anticipate meaningful and transformative experiences, fostering a new perception of what travel can be.

In summary, Airbnb’s success in leveraging the Pygmalion Effect is a testament to the power of shaping consumer perception through strategic branding and user experiences. By consistently exceeding the high expectations they’ve set, Airbnb has not only disrupted the hospitality industry but also reshaped how people envision their travel adventures.


VISA has not only established itself as a trusted brand but has also shaped the way consumers perceive electronic payments and financial security. Let’s delve into the strategies VISA employed to harness the Pygmalion Effect and shape consumer perception.

  1. Global Acceptance and Reliability: VISA has built a network that spans the globe, ensuring that its cards are widely accepted. This global reach sets high expectations for cardholders, who anticipate that they can use their VISA cards conveniently and reliably anywhere in the world.
  2. Security and Fraud Protection: VISA places a strong emphasis on security and fraud protection. Through technologies like EMV chips and real-time transaction monitoring, VISA has set high expectations for cardholders regarding the safety of their financial transactions.
  3. Innovation and Convenience: VISA continually introduces new payment technologies, such as contactless payments and digital wallets, to make transactions faster and more convenient. These innovations create expectations of seamless and cutting-edge payment experiences.
  4. Brand Trustworthiness: VISA has established itself as a trustworthy brand through consistent branding and messaging. Consumers associate VISA with financial stability and reliability, setting expectations for secure and dependable financial services.
  5. Reward Programs: Many VISA cards offer reward programs that incentivize cardholders to use their cards for everyday purchases. These programs create expectations of financial benefits, such as cashback or travel rewards, reinforcing the perception that VISA cards provide added value.
  6. Marketing and Sponsorships: VISA sponsors major events like the Olympic Games, which align with its brand values of excellence and global reach. These sponsorships set high expectations for the prestige associated with VISA cards.

VISA’s success in leveraging the Pygmalion Effect illustrates how strategic branding and consistent delivery of promises can shape consumer perception and drive loyalty. By setting high expectations for the reliability and security of electronic payments, VISA has not only become a trusted payment solution but has also influenced how consumers perceive the entire electronic payment industry.


Google, a multinational technology giant, has masterfully harnessed the Pygmalion Effect to shape consumer perceptions and become synonymous with internet search, innovation, and technological excellence. It is not just a search engine; it is a brand that influences how people perceive information retrieval, digital services, and technological advancements. Let’s explore the strategies Google employed to leverage the Pygmalion Effect and shape consumer perception.

  1. User-Centered Design: Google’s simple and intuitive interface sets high expectations for user-friendliness. The minimalistic design suggests that anyone can use Google effectively for information needs.
  2. Search Quality: Google places a strong emphasis on search algorithm quality. It consistently delivers relevant search results, accurate information, and speedy performance, fostering expectations of reliable search outcomes.
  3. Continuous Innovation: Google continually introduces new products and services, from Gmail to Google Maps, YouTube, and Android. These innovations create expectations of cutting-edge technology and a broad ecosystem of digital solutions.
  4. Free and Accessible Services: Google provides many of its services for free, including its search engine, email, and productivity tools. This creates the perception that Google is committed to making information and technology accessible to all.
  5. Trust and Privacy: Google invests in security and privacy measures, such as encryption and user data controls, to set expectations of a secure and trustworthy digital environment.
  6. Educational Initiatives: Google offers a range of educational resources, including Google for Education and Google Digital Garage, which set high expectations for learning and skill development.
  7. Corporate Responsibility: Google’s corporate responsibility initiatives, such as environmental sustainability efforts and diversity and inclusion programs, shape perceptions of a socially responsible brand.

Google consistently communicates its commitment to user-friendliness, innovation, reliability, and accessibility. Users expect seamless digital experiences, accurate information retrieval, and cutting-edge technology.

Google’s success in leveraging the Pygmalion Effect illustrates how strategic branding, user-centric design, continuous innovation, and corporate responsibility can shape consumer perception and drive brand loyalty. Google has become a trusted source of information and influenced how consumers perceive digital services, technology, and the broader digital ecosystem.

In conclusion, the Pygmalion Effect serves as a powerful tool in the world of branding. By strategically setting and consistently exceeding high expectations, brands can shape consumer perception, foster loyalty, and thrive in the competitive landscape of consumerism. Understanding the psychology behind the Pygmalion Effect empowers brands to craft compelling narratives, deliver exceptional experiences, and leave an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of consumers. As consumers, being aware of this phenomenon reminds us of the subtle ways in which our perceptions are moulded, inviting us to explore the world of brands with a more discerning eye and a deeper appreciation for the power of expectations.