Color Psychology in Marketing and Branding Your Small Business
Your favorite colors may not be the best choice of colors to use when it comes to designing your logo and branding. This is due the perceptions you have with your favorite color, may not be the same as the ones your audience has.
Because of that color psychology is a complex topic.
There are a lot of caveats and elements to keep in mind when it comes to determining the color scheme of your brand. Color psychology truly is not as easy as people may think it is.The good news? When understanding this, your strategy will be even more effective.
Environment has a big influence on us, there can be no denying that. We are visual creatures. Some statistics say that we remember 80% of what we see compared to what we hear.
Given that, imagine the power of colors for your brand and the impact colors can have your branding.
For that reason, it is incredibly important before starting any visual project to have an understanding of color psychology and the different meanings colors have to us.
What’s the problem? There is no definitive answer to what colors do, we only have general analyses.
Some quote very thin slices of the literature while ignoring all contradicting evidence.
Most of the articles out there that you can read simply repeat what other articles have said without offering up a great deal of evidence.
The reason is that colors don’t impact all 7.8 billion people on the planet the exact same way. Instead, personal & color preferences, color associations, cultural differences, and upbringing affect how different people see different colors. This is the basis of color psychology.
For that reason, there are two things you should take away from any paper about color psychology:
Take it with a grain of salt. None of what you read is going to apply to every single person on Earth. So, if you read something that seems plausible go ahead and test it first. It might be different for your audience.
Color psychology works best on a homogeneous audience. Gender, location, age and heritage will muddy the water. If you do have a diverse audience, you might need to test different color schemes on different groups.
Got that? Okay, with that caveat behind us, let’s look at what we know.
Using color psychology to evoke emotions
First the good news. According to a recent study, it was found that 90% of a snap judgement about a product is made based on color.
And the bad news? What that judgement will be is too dependent on personal experience to make it possible to definitively say that blue does this or red does that.
Personal experience influences the way we perceive everything, especially colors.
That’s why there really only is a vague general emotion that each color can make you feel. This means, certain colors typically evoke certain representations, but it’s not always this way.
Even with this, knowing what emotions colors typically evoke and color perception overall is a huge advantage for a business looking to humanize their brand and connect with their audience.
Color psychology has been a favorite topic in several studies for years. But still, there is so much more to this argument. And really, why do people have so many interpretations about the psychology of color? It’s probably because we perceive colors differently.
Your personal preferences, past experiences, culture, gender, beliefs – these can all affect how you perceive a specific color.
There is some more good news, though. What actually matters to people is color fit. People take the color and try to fit it to what the brand is trying to evoke. If that matches up, then the brand gets brownie points.
The important thing to remember with picking the right color choice, is that there is some impact of color on human behavior. By that we mean, color does have the ability to impact human emotions which can then affect our behavior.
Like we said, this really isn’t a definite factor in all cases when it comes to color, but it has been observed that color does help influence us.
This type of psychological effect helps encourage the decision making of your audience in most cases because they will be more receptive to feel a certain emotion looking at certain colors, which sometimes leads them to take different actions.
Knowing what colors typically influence certain behaviors in different industries will give your business the advantage of connecting with your audience and giving you brand character. It’s quite useful to know and we’ll explore more of this later.
What’s also useful to know is that color patterns are used to enhance brand recognition and make brands more recognizable. This is because more recognizable brands are better liked by consumers – that’s a point in favor of going with a bold color combination.
Easily recognizable brands allow your brand to appeal more to your audience because there is a sense of trust that can be established by a recognizable brand.
And we know that any success brand will always be well trusted by its audience.
Now that we have covered the basics of color psychology, let’s take a closer look at the use of color in your branding and what characteristics different colors can evoke.
Color Affects of Different Colors
If you look at a color wheel you’ll notice that the colors on the left side of the wheel are more on the blue side. These colors are referred to as cool colors.
Anything with shades of blue, green, or purple will be considered a cool color.
Cool colors tend to have a more calming impact on people and are great to be used if you want to give off a relaxed, serene, or “trusting” effect.
Now, let’s look at some of the popular colors in the cool category and what their color meaning is.
The color blue is a primary color and can be seen in many variations for plenty of entities across the world. That’s why primary colors like red, yellow, and blue are used in nearly every country in the world.
But besides that, the color blue is used as a symbol of trust, dependability, and connection.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter use the color blue in their logos to signify unity and connections to others around the globe.
Using the color blue helps us signify that we are a trusted and dependable brand. That, along with the great work we do.
Another cool color that is used in branding is the color green. It can be used to represent serenity, quality, and peacefulness to your audience depending on what industry your business is in.
Most times when you think of the color green, you may think of nature. However, other times you may think of money when you think of the color green.
Like we said before, the way you perceive colors is based on your experience. But the actual business industry has a lot to do with it as well.
For example, if you were a company that specialized in outdoor goods like gardening tools and appliances, then the color green could help to give off a serene effect that portrays your brand as responsible and stable.
Companies like Leroy Merlin and Whole Foods use the color green in their logos to help portray those certain characteristics about their brands.
The color purple can be seen as soothing but also regal, luxurious, and creative.
If your brand is looking to portray an imaginative culture, then purple is a great color to use in your branding. This is because typically the color purple is seen to be mysterious and associated with new ideas.
Companies such as Yahoo and SyFy use the color purple because it portrays an imaginative, creative, mystical, and ambitious culture to their brand.
Purple also is a mix of red and blue. This means it has qualities that help create stimulation, imagination, serenity, and trust because it’s a good balance of both colors.
Okay, let’s look at that same color wheel but on the right side now. There you will see the warm colors.
Those colors are going to consist of reds and yellows. Typically, bright colors evoke emotions of warmth, excitement, and energy.
Warm colors help stimulate individuals’ minds and get them. In fact, a study shows that the content of 1 million Pinterest images were more often shared when they contained warm colors than cool colors.
This is a huge factor to note if you are trying to figure out what colors to use in your brand content because it will ultimately give you a leg up on your competition by getting more shares and reaching more of your audience.
The color red is typically seen as a powerful and bold color choice.
It helps to draw in attention because of how well it stands out. This helps prompt action by how stimulating it is. Not to mention, it is oftentimes seen as a powerful color that represents leadership.
Coca-Cola and Target are two companies that use red in their logos and branding. Using the color red helps portray a culture of excitement, leadership, and innovation in both brands.
If you want to portray your brand as bold and exciting then the color red is one of the best colors to do so.
The color yellow is more commonly associated with being bright. And when you think of bright colors you probably think of yellow first.
The color yellow can evoke feelings of happiness, optimism, intellect, and positivity for your brand.
Usually when you see anything in yellow it stands out the most. This is beneficial to your content because it will help attract more individuals to look at the information on your content.
The color yellow really does draw attention and can be a very useful color choice for your branding if used properly.
For example, if you make the text on your content yellow, it will surely draw more eyes, but it’s also important to keep in mind that the yellow is still legible so readers can still understand the information.
Another color in the warm color category is orange.
Now the emotions that the color orange can evoke are pretty similar to the color red and yellow since it is a mix of the two.
In some cases, orange is sometimes seen as a “friendlier” version of the color red. Oftentimes, it helps create a sense of haste or movement, which is great for content where you want to encourage your audience to take action.
With orange, you can portray optimism, confidence, sociability, and freedom. But orange may more commonly represent spontaneity.
Brands like Nickelodeon and Fanta use the color orange to help them portray a lively and youthful culture for their brand.
With the color orange, you can have a good balance between red and yellow that isn’t overpowering but also helps your branding remain energetic.
The color pink is also a warm color because it is a variant of red. Since pink is in the same family as red, it does give off some of the same traits as red.
For instance, red can give off love as well as respect and so can the color pink.
The color pink is however, more commonly presented as a feminine color. It is used in many feminine logos and branding and traditionally has been associated with femininity.
Victoria’s Secret and Barbie are two major brands that use pink in their branding. This works well for them because their brands are geared towards girls and women.
That being said, if your brand audience is more feminine or you want your brand to portray a feminine image, the color pink would be a good color to use.
You may think of chocolate when you think of brown (and we don’t blame you) or you may think of something else based on your experience.
However, in many instances the color brown tends to represent a rugged, earthy, or outdoors image.
The color brown can be seen as having similar characteristics to the color green because of the natural influence in representation it has.
But the outdoors is just one perception the color brown has. It is also portrayed as dependable, reliable, and friendly. All characteristics you might associate with one company that uses big brown trucks.
That’s right — UPS.
This is why UPS is so recognizable. Their big brown colored trucks help their logistics company become recognizable and associated with dependability. In turn, this helps influence and strengthen their overall brand image.
Now black and white aren’t usually considered colors but more so shades. Nonetheless, they do still evoke certain emotions when used in branding.
The color black more specifically, can represent elegance, sophistication, formality, and also mystery.
Depending on what your business stands for will determine if black is a good color to use in your branding. However, since black is such a commonly used color, it makes it very easy to use black as an accent color or in text because it’s easy to read.
In addition, the color black can sometimes represent class and timelessness. That’s why it’s no surprise that some of the world’s largest companies have black logos.
Nike, Adidas, Disney, and even Apple have black logos and these companies have stood the test of time.
Black can be a great color choice to use if you want your branding to evoke elegance and classic style. For example if your business is in luxury goods, then using the color black in your branding can help portray your brand as high quality to your audience.
The color white is pretty similar to the color black in the sense that it represents simplicity and elegance but in a more subtle way.
With the color white, you can portray a fresh, clean, and pure quality to your branding. Companies like The North Face and Cotton use the color white in their logos to represent an easy, fresh, and clean quality about their brands.
The color white also has some of the same characteristics as cool colors. This means, sometimes it can portray a calm, relaxed, or neutral tone depending on the content.
White is also a good choice to use for text because it stands out like the color yellow, but in a more understated manner. This means, you don’t have to worry about it being too hard to read but it also attracts attention to your content.
Importance Of A Color Palette
So we’ve looked at the general perception of the most used colors and what they mean individually.
But what if you want a whole color scheme instead of just one brand color?
Frankly, having a color palette is one of the best options if you want your brand to stand out and portray different elements. Because truthfully, most brands today have deeper stories behind them and the right color palette can help bring that story to life in all your content.
When it comes to determining what colors you want to use to represent your brand, it goes back to the basics of what you want your brand image to be. The colors you choose will help reflect that.
Paring certain colors together can give a different connotation than the colors on their own.
The bottom line is, when deciding what colors to choose, you have to take into consideration your brand identity only then will you be able to recognize what color plays the most significant role in connecting your brand personality with your audience.
That brings us to our next point — brand personality.
Five dimensions of brand personality
In an expansive study, Stanford professor Jenifer Aaker determined that there are five different core dimensions which matter for the personality that we associate with a brand, with a brand sometimes being able to embrace two but generally being best off focused on one.
The trick is to know which category your company belongs to and then choosing colors that accentuate that characteristic.
The first step to do that is not to go with stereotypical associations in color psychology (i.e. brown is rugged and red is excitement) but to instead take the colors that in the context of your brand signal the dimension that matters.
To do so successfully means to take into consideration what that color psychology means within your industry. Like we mentioned before, the color green can mean entirely different things for an environmental company than for a financial company.
The most important factor in choosing colors is to think about your industry and choose colors that relate to that, instead of always going with the stereotypes.
Now that we’ve rubbished the entire idea that one color will always signal one idea, let’s look at what you can use.
It turns out that contrast is always a useful go-to concept. As we mentioned before, something that stands out vividly is going to be noticed more than something that is plain.
This is known as the isolation effect. There are many ways to make something more noticeable than its surroundings, including the use of negative space and movement.
And yes these are also important elements to branding, but color naturally forms a more effective way to draw people’s attention.
When it draws attention in this way, it is far more likely to be remembered.
It’s also appreciated by viewers, who use the contrast to navigate through your web page, for example, as it tells them where to pay attention and what they can safely ignore.
This, as any will tell you, is the same reason when we write stories we put in headlines and images.
They offer contrast and accentuate different aspects of the story.
The most effective way to select colors that contrast but do not clash is to use color theory and take a look at a color wheel. This will make it far easier for you to find colors that accentuate rather than argue.
Using complementary colors can also serve as a good starting point if you can’t decide whether colors you choose clash or not.
Finding complementary colors is easy to do so on a color wheel. The complementary colors will be across from each other on the wheel.
So, if you find that you like the color blue, you can look across the color wheel and find its complementary color, orange, and use that color.
Do the test
When you have selected a few color schemes that work best based on their color psychology, don’t be afraid to test them out.
Testing color schemes is very important because your audience will always perceive certain colors differently depending on the industry and past experiences.
And before you do a big roll-out of content, you’ll want to make sure your branding and content will be well received by your audience because at the end of the day, those will be the ones working with your business.
To help you separate out which works where you’ll want to not just log which colors convert better, but also with who they do so.
The best way to do that is to design a study where you log which of your designs appealed the most to which type of customer.
If you do go down this road, you’ll want to pay attention to age, gender, country (and perhaps state) of origin and other factors which distinguish your different audiences from each other.
If you do find that you can divide your audience into different groups with varying preferences, you might be better off designing several landing pages based on region or keyword searches.
Running different brand designs is normal and ultimately will help you find the best designs that work for your audience. Global companies use this testing technique often because it allows them to recognize what branding works for different demographics around the world.
But even if you are a small business, designing a study to test your branding will provide you with a lot of quality information.
Whatever you do, don’t simply assume that one page converts more ‘because the button is red and here it is green’. It is rarely that simple. Very rarely can we treat things in isolation like that.
Instead, the red button might convert better mainly because it created more contrast with the rest of the page, or because the red color played better with the other elements.
If you can avoid taking these types of easy answers, though it might take you a little bit longer to settle on the color scheme that will work best for your site and your audience, you’ll ultimately find combinations which really work based on what your audience wants and what sets you apart from your competition.
And that will pay for that initial increased uncertainty a thousand times over.
Want to know more about color psychology? Or maybe you need help deciding the right colors to choose for your brand. Or maybe you just want to discuss more about branding, website design, or ad design for your business.