Color in marketing and branding can hurt your business if used incorrectly. But if used right, color can be a powerful marketing and conversion tool. I did some research and compiled some of my insights in this post about why you should pay more attention to branding and color.
Why do we even need to worry about color? Does it really affect my brand?
The quick answer is, yes. Research suggests that up to 90% of people’s initial assessment of a product can be based on color alone. And choosing the wrong colors can actually have a negative impact on your product and brand.
But just to be sure, let’s look at a couple of examples where color made all the difference.
Example 1: Yellow Pencils – perceived product quality
Ever wondered why the image in your head of a lead pencil is a yellow one? That’s because in the 1800s, Chinese graphite was thought to be the best quality, and a lot of the world associated the color yellow with China. So, manufacturers started making yellow pencils to convey the idea that they were made from top-quality graphite.
One company actually conducted an experiment where they distributed 500 yellow pencils and 500 green pencils. Basically a manual A/B test. Surprisingly, most of the green pencils were returned and people complained that they didn’t work as well as the yellow ones. But they were EXACTLY the same except for the color!
Example 2: Red vs Green button – conversion rates
The team over at HubSpot ran an A/B test with two different call to action button colors – green versus red. They created two identical sales pages with the only difference being the color of the button. In a sample size of over 2,000 page visits, they found that 21% more people clicked the red button than the green button.
If you’re still not convinced of the effects of color on our perception of brands and product quality, I encourage you to check out some of the extra reading links I’ve provided at the bottom of this article.
But for now I’ll assume we’ve established that color is important in brand, product, marketing and website design. Color is a powerful brand builder because our brains process it a lot faster than we process any actual image or wording. Your chosen colors will be the first impression people have of your brand. And we all know how important first impressions are!
So how do you know which colors to choose?
Let me tell you straight up, if someone says they’ve found the perfect marketing color, they’re lying.
No one color will just work for everyone. Perceptions of color are not universal. They vary based on culture, gender, age, upbringing and so many other factors. They’ve even done studies on this and found that general associations with a color don’t necessarily mean the same thing in specific contexts.
What this means is that, even though you might see red as a good sale color, it might mean something completely different to your audience within the specific context and design of your online store – it could even be triggering a danger response instead.
And then there’s so many different shades to choose from – light blue has a different meaning to dark blue. Deep red means something different than fire engine red. It’s not just about choosing the color, then you’ve got to pick your shade!
You have to figure out what works best for your audience. If there was a one-color-fits-all, then we wouldn’t see so much variety in brand colors, they’d just be all red, or blue, or whatever color happens to be the best. But they aren’t.
So, let’s take a closer look at the positives and negatives of a few colors…
Keep in mind that we’re writing this from the perspective of Western culture. The meanings of these colors will vary from culture to culture, and even for different groups of people within Western culture. These are simply ideas to get you thinking.
Red is a powerful, complex, and intense color because it can represent both positive and negative, love or danger. It can mean passion and anger, think lingerie or boxing. Red can be both an energizing and a demanding color.
Red is a very eye catching color, so is often used to draw attention to things like sales or call to action buttons.
When not to use red: Generally, you’d want to try to use red sparingly on your site, as it can trigger feelings of danger. You don’t want to increase people’s heart rates too much!
As you can see in the image below, Coca-Cola has opted to cut out the color red in specific sections of their website. On this page, they’re trying to show that they’re environmentally friendly and outlining their visions for the future, so they’ve opted for colors that appear more safe by staying away from red.
What red works for: Red is commonly used in the fast food industry because it increases the heart rate, therefore stimulating the appetite. It is also used in a lot of retail stores.
You also often see sales signs in red because it increases the sense of urgency and gets the pulse racing.
Yellow can represent happiness, creativity, and optimism. It can also represent affordability or warning. It is important to find a good balance when using yellow.
When not to use yellow: Too much yellow can be quite overwhelming and cause people to feel anxious and afraid. If you’re a high end brand, too much yellow could make you appear more cheap.
What yellow works for: Yellow works for brands that want to appear affordable and fun. Yellow is also often used to signify free shipping, sales, and price cuts. It can also be used to bring about optimism and motivation.
Orange combines the passion of red and the cheerfulness of yellow. It can be used to represent fun, warmth, energy, and friendliness. It isn’t always as eye catching as red, but still can be used for call to action buttons.
When not to use orange: If you’re going for a professional feel, orange might not be the right color as it can also be an indicator for cheapness.
What orange works for: Orange is a creative, comforting, playful and fun color. It’s often used for children’s products and creative products. It can also give a warm welcoming feel.
Blue can be used to represent tranquility, stability, and professionalism. It is considered the safest color choice in the world, but not necessarily the most exciting.
Darker blues are better for professional corporations, while lighter blues can appear more friendly.
When not to use blue:
Blue is not the best color for the fast food industry because there aren’t very many naturally blue foods in nature, so it suppresses your appetite.
Too much blue in a design could also come across as cold and disengaged and turn people off.
What blue works for:
Blue is a very safe color and is used by a LOT of businesses. The tech and finance industries are dominated by blue because it signifies trust, high quality, and security. Think Dell, HP, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, Stripe, Xero, Citibank, Bank of America, and ANZ.
Blue is a perfect example of how a color can be good in one area of an industry and bad in others. Say you’re a high end restaurant where you want your customers to sit calmly for longer periods of time, which means more wine and coffee sales, or imagine you’re an all you can eat buffet and you want to make sure your customers don’t eat too much – blue could work perfectly for your in-store design, but maybe not on your website where you want to encourage customers to visit.
Green combines the stability of blue and the optimism of yellow. It can be used to represent life, growth, stability, and prosperity. It is one of the easiest colors on the eyes and is commonly used by the organic industry and the finance industry.
When not to use green: Green is a pretty safe color, but it isn’t always the most visually appealing. If you’re a brand that’s going for a fun feel over a healthy or natural feel, then green might not be the best color for you.
What green works for: The use of green is common amongst brands that want to indicate that they are healthy, wealthy, or connected to nature. Green has also been known to be associated with money, as well as brands that are connected to nature.
Purple combines the power of red and the tranquility of blue. It can be used to represent royalty, creativity, romance, and spirituality. It is often used with beauty products and brands that want to appear luxurious.
When not to use purple: Over-using purple could make your brand appear too expensive and turn potential customers away.
What purple works for: Purple works well for luxury items, like chocolates and gifts. It has also been associated with magic and fairy-tales.
Black & White
I’m putting these two together because they’re often used in combination with the black conveying power, elegance, sophistication, independence, and luxury, and the white representing simplicity and cleanliness.
When not to use black and white:
White can look bland and boring if not used correctly. Too much white can also give a cold, lonely, sterile feel.
Black is very powerful, and using too much of it can cause a negative feeling.
What black and white work for:
Black is often used to indicate that something is high quality.
A combination of black and white can signify balance and is often used in the fashion industry by brands that either want to appear luxurious or powerful. It’s also commonly used by gyms and by sporting brands, such as Nike, Adidas, and Puma.
You often see black text on a white background because it’s the best combination of colors for readability, which is important. After all, what’s the point of having a message if nobody can read it?
Things to consider when selecting your brand’s colors…
Which colors fit your brand’s personality?
Instead of going with the stereotypical colors of your product (if there are any), research suggests it’s more important for your colors to match your brand’s personality.
This about your brand’s top two or three traits and try to match colors that align with those. Some sort of words you might think of include, playful, serious, affordable, mordern, trustworthy, energetic, innovative, healthy, luxurious, and so on.
Once you’ve identified your main traits, you need to think about what colors your customer base associates with those traits – and this might not necessarily be the color you would have thought! After all, you’re trying to connect with and sell to your customers, so it’s important to find out what resonates with them.
What message are you trying to send?
What is the main message behind your brand? What’s your slogan? And what color or colors can be used to best convey that specific message to your audience?
Let’s take a look at one brand we all know, Google. This is their mission statement from their site.
Google’s logo starts with the three primary colors in a pattern. They’re simple and almost child-like, which supports the idea that Google is for everyone. But did you notice the difference with the last two letters?
Google has added an extra color to disrupt the pattern, green. And I have to point out the slightly rotated E at the end, even though it’s not color related. This could be telling us they’re organized, but the deviation from the pattern tells us they think outside the box, and they don’t follow the rules.
The takeaway here is that you need to be thinking deeper than just what color looks pretty – you can use colors to tell your brand’s story.
Do these colors have the same meaning for your audience?
It’s one thing choosing colors that you think represent your brand, but what about your customers? Keep in mind that the meaning of colors is very subjective. And one color can mean different things for different cultures, genders, age groups, etc.
Don’t assume that a color has the same meaning for you as it does for your potential customers – do the research and find out!
Do you want your brand to appeal more to children or adults? Is your product country or culture specific? What colors would your audience be most likely to connect with? Are there certain colors that would turn your audience off?
What is your competition doing?
Always research what others are doing in your space. Determine what colors are generally associated with your chosen area. You don’t want to have the same colors as everybody else because then people might confuse you and your competition. But you might not necessarily want to stray too far from the beaten track either, otherwise people might not understand what your brand is all about.
Remember how we said most banks like blue? Well, not ING Bank. Their main color is orange. What is your perception and feeling towards ING Bank compared to a bank with a blue logo, such as Citibank?
Why orange you ask? Well, turns out, it’s for cultural reasons.
To me, it makes the bank seem a bit more fun, welcoming, and accessible, but not necessarily a bigger bank. But since orange is the national color of the Netherlands, perhaps the meaning of the color orange is a little different there.
The important thing is that you find that perfect balance of uniqueness while still communicating your message through colors that make sense to your customer base.
Are you okay with the color/colors being everywhere?
Repetition is the best way to build awareness and familiarity with your brand. When choosing a color or colors, remember that you’re going to be using them for not just your logo, but your website, your advertising, maybe even in your products. So think carefully when choosing your colors, because you and everyone else are going to see them everywhere!
Are your colors readable from short and long distances and in large and small logos?
If your colors are going to be everywhere, you also have to think of the readability factor. There’s no point having an awesomely designed logo if nobody can see it or make sense of it.
Certain color pairings are easier on the eye, more readable, and stand out more than others. Try reading white text on a yellow background. And how does a big green sign with yellow text make you feel? Make sure you pick colors that people will be able to see and that won’t make them feel uncomfortable.
Extra resources and links
If you want to do more research, I’ve included a couple of links to articles that might be of interest:
The Know It All Guide To Color Psychology In Marketing – A really easy to read explanation of the basics of color theory. I highly recommend this if you want to learn more about colors and how they relate to each other.
Color Symbolism Around The World – A post describing the different meanings colors have to different cultures. Take a look, you’d be surprised at some of them!
The Psychology of Color: How to Use Colors to Increase Conversion Rate – An in-depth blog post that gives a little more insight into how we view color.
Color Makes A Better Message – An older article, but with helpful tips about what you need to consider when selecting your brand colors.