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Nicola Churchill

The Psychology Of Colour In Marketing

30th Jun 2017 Content Marketing 10 minutes to read

The Psychology Of Colour In Marketing

When it comes to building a content marketing campaign, it can be difficult to know where to start. You may have an initial idea but bringing it to life and getting your message seen are always harder than initially thought.

Generally, you want your content to resonate with your audience in some way and for them to react and engage with your marketing. Whether you want to educate, inform or excite, your choice of colour can help you evoke an emotion and that all-important action.

Using Colour

So how do you get under the skin of your audience in a multicoloured sea of marketers with the same message?

The answer may lie in colour: psychologists believe that colour is tied to emotion and may denote particular feelings or actions. It’s important for brands to embrace these emotional cues and use them in harmony with their marketing.

Branding And Colour

Each brand has an identity that it has carved over the years which showcases its personality and product offering. It’s these colours and styles that make brands instantly recognisable to their audience and prospective customers.

The part colour plays in branding is integral to your overall brand identity. Taking Coca Cola as an example, it’s certainly no coincidence that red is the brand’s colour. Red is a supreme colour that’s considered to be full of energy, strength, passion and power.

Colour And Site Usability

As one of the most powerful forms of non-verbal communication designers or marketers use, colour can offer an immediate way to convey meaning and message. This needs to be apparent throughout all of your branding, not just the logo.

Whilst it’s important to use your colourways and styling throughout everything you do, it’s also important, and perhaps the most crucial element of all, to use colour appropriately. Take time to understand the meaning behind particular colours and use them in the right place at the right time; it’s also important to use variations in style and colour when appropriate.

For example, your use of colour on your site needs to be adaptable for good readability and usability online. Striking a good balance with contrast can also help you to highlight important messages or deals. Well-proportioned contrasts can help reduce eye strain and therefore make users more comfortable, and if you want to encourage a user to undertake a specific action, you can use colour and contrast to do so.

A user’s online experience should be smooth, so use fonts that make your site as easy to read as possible. Dark text on a light background is the most widely used as it’s the most legible, so whilst you may be tempted to use an all-singing, all-dancing typography, your users may be turned off by this and subsequently click off.

Colour And Persuasion

Colour theory is a complex topic. Though there are many ideas about what colour means, research actually shows that personal preference, cultural differences, context and previous experiences all play a part in how we individually see colour.

Whilst trying to influence people into thinking the same thing about a particular colour is a minefield, there’s still plenty to take into consideration.

So the key with using colour in your online efforts is to make it practical. The use of colour in your other strands of marketing can indeed be more playful and nod towards the different perceptions that colour theory brings to the table.

Colour appropriateness is another consideration. For example, Harley Davidson is unlikely to brand itself up in this season’s on-trend blushed pink, because it’s not appropriate for the ‘rugged’ and ‘manly’ exterior it has built up.

However, generally certain colours are synonymous with particular emotions and therefore, if used correctly, colour can help create strong emotive content.

Correct Contrast In Communications

There are many variations of tones and shades within the colour wheel, but it’s also important to utilise the correct contrast, particularly in your online marketing efforts. For your work to be visually pleasing, you’ll need to balance the contrast correctly.

Black text on a white background is the most common combination as this contrast is the easiest to read – vital for an enjoyable online experience.

Colour And Brand Recognition

How people behave when they see colour has a direct effect on your conversions. Will they click the button on your CTA? Will they read your pop-up graphic? Will they notice your email subscription box?

According to the Institute for Colour Research, people make a judgment about your content in 90 seconds or less, and up to 90% of that judgment in such a brief time is influenced by the colours they see. Kissmetrics give further insight into how colours affect your consumer’s purchasing habits, with studies suggesting that people make a subconscious judgement about a product within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and up to 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone.

In fact, colour helps people recognise your brand by up to 80%. It’s important to choose your colour carefully and stick with it.

Which Colours?

Yellow

Yellow is the epitome of joy, happiness, cheerfulness, optimism – you name it. Anything happy is almost always yellow. The wavelength of yellow is particularly long, giving it one of the most powerful psychological effects while also being the easiest colour to see. (Did you know yellow is the first colour infants respond to?)

Whenever you need to lift someone’s spirits, increase their confidence or provide inspiration, use yellow. However, avoid using yellow too much because it’s also known to make us more critical, often leading to self-esteem issues, fear or anxiety. Find the right balance of yellow to motivate others rather than bring them down.

Evokes

Happiness

Optimism

Warmth

Effects

Stimulates mental processes

Stimulates the nervous system

Activates memory

Encourages communication

Often seen…

In shop windows

Orange

Orange has a very interesting psychological meaning as it combines red’s power and energy with yellow’s friendliness and fun. The mix makes orange a good representation of physical comfort in the form of warmth, food and shelter. (It even stimulates our appetite, so watch out if you’re hungry!)

Orange is also known to be a colour of motivation, and lends us a positive attitude and a general enthusiasm for life. Overall, orange is great for bringing comfort in tough times and creating a sense of fun or freedom in your visuals.

Evokes

Friendliness

Cheerfulness

Confidence

Effects

Stimulates activity

Stimulates appetite

Encourages socialisation

Often seen…

On food packaging

Red

Red is a very powerful, dynamic colour that reflects our physical needs, whether to show affection and love or to portray terror, fear and survival. Red is also a very energising colour that can portray friendliness and strength, but it can be demanding and show aggression, too, depending on its context.

Overall, if you’re looking for a really powerful presence or to get someone’s attention fast, red is your go-to colour. This is why it’s used in ‘sale’ messages a lot.

Evokes

Excitement

Youthfulness

Boldness

Effects

Increases enthusiasm

Stimulates energy

Increases blood pressure

Encourages action and confidence

Often seen…

In clearance sales

Purple

Purple is most commonly known for its imagination and spirituality. It possesses the energy and power of red combined with the stability and reliability of blue, making it a perfect balance between the physical and spiritual. Purple is often used to show luxury, loyalty, courage, mystery and magic.

It’s a very intriguing colour as it soothes but also presents space for mystery and new ideas. This is why creativity is most often associated with the colour purple. Avoid using it too often as it can also cause too much introspection or distraction as thoughts begin to wonder.

Evokes

Creativity

Wisdom

Imagination

Effects

Uplifts

Calms the mind and nerves

Offers a sense of spirituality

Encourages creativity

Often seen…

On beauty or anti-ageing product packaging

Blue

Blue is known for its trust and dependability. It’s reliable, responsible and mentally soothing. For that reason alone, it’s one of the best-liked colours across the entire world, particularly with men.

Unlike red, blue lends a more mental than physical reaction and allows us to destress, calm down and think of the most ideal situation. Unfortunately, it is also one of the last colours to be seen, and can be perceived as distant, cold or unfriendly if used in great amounts.

Overall, blue is a well-liked colour that can bring a sense of calmness and trust when building relationships, especially in marketing.

Evokes

Trust

Dependability

Strength

Effects

Calms and sedates

Cools

Aids intuition

Increases productivity

Often seen…

With banks and businesses

Green

Green is thought to evoke nature and the environment. It’s also quite a balancing colour and helps to restore a sense of well-being. It can be linked to material things, such as money.

Evokes

Peacefulness

Growth

Health

Effects

Soothes

Relaxes mentally as well as physically

Helps alleviate depression, nervousness and anxiety

Offers a sense of renewal, self-control and harmony

Often seen…

In banks or natural products

Grey

Grey is generally associated with reliability and professionalism. It’s also a very practical colour and can often be associated with intelligence.

Evokes

Intellect

Neutrality

Pessimism

Effects

Creates expectations

Authoritative

Creates an unsettling feeling

Often seen…

On expensive gadgets

Pink

Pink is a softer, less intense version of red that creates a sense of compassion and unconditional love. While it’s a very physical colour, it soothes rather than stimulates, making it a perfect colour for caring, understanding and nurturing those in need.

Pink is a sign of hope. It is also known to be very romantic as it shows empathy and sensitivity. If too much pink is used, it can be very draining, show a lack of power and even seem immature. Overall, pink can be a great counter-option to the colour red when used appropriately.

Evokes

Youthfulness

Fun

Vibrancy

Effects

Stimulates energy

Increases blood pressure

Encourages action and conditions

Often seen…

In marketing to women and young girls

Brown

Brown, while maybe not the most visually stimulating colour, is a great sign of structure, security and protection. Whether it’s family, friends or material possessions, brown offers constant support.

It’s also a very serious, down-to-earth colour that you can use where black might be too intense. The downfall of brown is that it’s the safest colour and can seem reserved or boring. Overall, use it when necessary, but don’t depend on it too heavily.

Evokes

Calmness

Simplicity

Seriousness

Effects

Stimulates calmness

Relaxed, natural energy

Depth and richness

Often seen…

On male beauty products

Black

Black is a colour of sophistication, seriousness, control and independence, although it can also be used to show evil, mystery, depression and even death. Black is a very reserved colour that completely lacks any light as it’s an absence of all the colours. It likes to stay hidden, in control and separate from others. For this reason, black is a great colour for high contrast and easy legibility. Unfortunately, since it’s a very powerful colour, too much black can cause sadness and overall negativity, so use it sparingly and in your text more than the visuals themselves.

Evokes

Power

Sleekness

Luxury

Effects

Makes one feel inconspicuous

Provides restful emptiness

Mysterious

Often seen…

On luxury product packaging

White

White is complete and pure, making it a perfect example of innocence, cleanliness and peace. White can also represent new beginnings, providing a blank slate, and gives refreshment for new ideas. Since white has an equal balance of all the colours, it can exemplify several meanings, with equality outweighing them all. White is a great colour for simplicity, cleanliness and idea creation; however, avoid using too much white as it can cause isolation, loneliness and emptiness.

Evokes

Purity

Safety

Cleanliness

Effects

Aids mental clarity

Encourages us to clear clutter or obstacles

Purification of thoughts or actions

Enables fresh beginnings

Often seen…

Medicinal products

Power Words

Retailers rely on the ability of words to evoke emotions in consumers. The right power word could which shop a consumer chooses to buy a given product in.

Attract Your Audience

Know your audience and attract the right people. Here are the types of colours to use:

Impulsive Shoppers

Red

Orange

Yellow

Black

Royal Blue

Shoppers On A Budget

Navy Blue

Teal

Traditional Buyers

Pink

Green

Purple

Sky Blue

Rose

The above is just a guide, as colour connotation is subjective and every colour has both positive and negative associations, but this should help you with the fundamentals of online design and orient you as to how you want your brand to be perceived.

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Nicola Churchill
About the author

Nicola Churchill

Our little welsh dragon (a metaphorical dragon, of course) can lift her own weight in the gym, but we’re not allowed to say if that’s a lot or not and she keeps forcing healthy food on us. We’re not sure if we like her.

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