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Why Color Matters in Marketing

Blue means sadness. Red denotes anger. Green, according to Shakespeare and many others, indicates jealousy.

That’s all true, right? By cultural standards, yes. But for marketing strategy? Not so much.

For most people, sight is the strongest of all the senses. Seeing, as they say, is believing. And when it comes to colors, what you see can play a role in your decision on whether to make a purchase or move on.

The easiest example is a car. Many people will make a choice based on color, placing more importance on that than factors such as reliability or gas mileage. That’s why white, black and silver are popular colors – they indicate balance and authority, respectively.

But it gets more complex than that when you get into the psychology of color in the realm of marketing.

Colors And Emotions

Online marketing consultants Kissmetrics have created an entire chart of emotions that colors spark. It helps explain why black is so often used for luxury items and yellow and orange are used for more “fun” products.

Here’s the breakdown from Kissmetrics of the major colors.

  • Yellow – optimistic, friendly, youthful
  • Red – bold, energetic
  • Blue – trust, security
  • Green – relaxation, nature, also associated with money
  • Orange – exciting, aggressive
  • Pink – romantic, feminine
  • Black – powerful, authority, sleek
  • Purple – calm, soothing

According to Kissmetrics, women love blue, purple and green. They don’t care for orange, brown and grey. Men, on the other hand, like blue, green and black. They don’t care for brown, orange and purple. But men think that red means they are getting a bargain, according to a University of Oxford study mentioned in MediaPost’s Data & Targeting Insider.

Obviously, those are general rules. Not everyone loves blue and green. And certainly not everyone hates orange (just ask Denver Broncos or Miami Dolphins fans). But these are used by marketers as guidelines.

How Color Affects Customer Decisions

Not everyone has the same take on the impact of colors. For example, the DIY Marketers website offers a bubble wheel that throws a few more subtle shades into the mix. They found brown to be masculine, although Kissmetrics determined men don’t care for the color.

One general theory to keep in mind is that bright colors evoke optimism and energy. They can prove useful if marketers have a call to action. For example, many stores put announcements for sales or discounts in bright yellow.

Darker, calmer colors can come into play, for example, when trying to keep people on a web page to digest a lot of information.

Of course, one color is not the only choice. Most companies use a combination of colors to get a message across.  

But that choice proves important. According to a study from the University of Winnipeg in Canada, color is a primary source of information for potential customers. The study found that it takes about 90 seconds for people to decide on a product or service after their initial interaction. About 62% to 90% of that quick assessment “is based on colors alone,” the study found.

“Prudent use of colors can contribute not only to differentiating products from competitors, but also to influencing moods and feelings – positively or negatively – and therefore, to attitude towards certain products,” the study reported.

But not everyone agrees with the focus on color. A Psychology Today article points out that many people approach colors based on personal experiences. If your parents had a cool orange car when you were a kid, you will tend to associate orange with happiness. It might even make you feel calm or peaceful.

On the other hand, if the boy who broke your heart in high school wore blue all the time, calmness and trust is the last thing you feel when you see that color (in any shade, most likely).

Many psychologists believe color is too dependent on personal experience to be used to evoke universal feelings in every customer. However, Psychology Today did state that color has merit in marketing, particularly in influencing customers’ initial reaction.

That insight is useful when developing a brand logo.

How Companies Use Color

When creating a brand, companies will design and test different options repeatedly. Below are some examples:

  • Chase. Blue is the primary color, with black lettering that represents both trust and power.
  • BMW. The German luxury automaker also uses blue and black as its brand colors. The company attempts to evoke the same basic emotions as a global bank: trustworthiness and authority. BMW also uses white, a color sometimes associated with purity and balance.
  • Starbucks. The green in the Starbucks logo is meant to evoke relaxation and nature.
  • McDonald’s. A company logo of yellow and red sends optimistic, friendly tones and a bold call to make a purchase. Red also is associated with stimulating your appetite. That may be why you also see red in the logos for Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, Red Robin, Dairy Queen, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Coca-Cola and Domino’s Pizza. Think about that the next time you see a red sign about food and think, “Man, that sounds good. I’m hungry.”

Testing Colors

Beyond what psychologists and marketers say, today’s data-driven web-based businesses can put exact numbers to how different colors affect shoppers.

For example, marketing firm HubSpot performed a test with two colors for a “call to action” button that invited potential customers for a product to “get started now.” One was green, the other red.

The company assumed green would do better because of its relaxing, natural vibe, but customers saw it otherwise. The red button got 21% more clicks than the green button.

Taken together, all this shows that color can prove important, even if marketers cannot assume that every color will affect every person in the same way. But it’s a key factor to consider when creating marketing campaigns – or company logos.

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