If I were to tell you that sight is the most influential sense in the marketing business, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. But what’s the most important visual element in marketing? Not form, shape, size or content, but colour!
80% of all sensory stimulus we perceive is visual. Consumers live in a world where a wide variety of colorful stimuli are constantly vying for their attention. Colour is so central to our everyday lives that we even speak of our most basic emotions using the language of colour: we ‘see red’ when we’re angry, get green with jealousy, turn yellow when frightened, are tickled pink with a joke or turn of phrase, and even see la vie en rose. Colours serve as an instinctive metaphor for communicating complex emotional states into simple and understandable terms. Not only do they reflect our emotional state, but they influence our perception and consciousness as well. While some colours indicate danger and a need for alertness, other colours and colour combinations can relax us or help foster a positive atmosphere.
The advertising and marketing industries have long understood the importance of colour as a tool for influencing consumers – a colour, after all, sticks in our memories far longer than a tagline or a fact. This is why some of the world’s most well-known brands are instantly recognizable by colour alone. Think of Starbucks’ green, Amazon’s orange, Ikea’s yellow – even Apple’s use of white allows them to stand out. Some companies even go so far as to trademark a colour that’s become inseparable from their brand, like Coca-Cola’s signature red or Nikon’s Pantone 109C yellow.
These companies have strategically implemented the psychology of colour into every aspect of their brands, visually linking everything from retail stores, logos, packaging and web-design to create a unified image that’s instantly recognizable to customers.
Marketing, however, is also an art of persuasion, and marketers must know how to make their brand stand out among the competition.
That’s where sensory marketing comes in – by using colour to stimulate the most receptive areas of potential customers’ brains, you can make your brand stand apart in the crowded marketplace.
When it comes down to it, the power of a brand lies in its ability to stand apart from the competition. If you choose the same colour or colour-combination as a competitor, you won’t be able to distinguish yourself, and risk losing brand recognition. Your brand or product might even gain a reputation as a copy-cat, late adopter or knock-off. It’s not enough to offer an original product or service – your marketing must be original as well! The personality and philosophy of your company must be on display in its branding, where it can make a measurable impact on the perception of future customers.
It’s important, then, to choose your brand’s colours with careful thought. Your colour scheme must reflect your values, clearly lay out where you stand in the marketplace, and be aesthetically appealing to potential customers, suppliers, employees and investors.
Before you decide on a given colour or shade, you have to ask yourself a few questions:
- Which colour best represents the personality of my brand?
- Which colour suits the characteristics of my product or service?
- Which colours are my competitors using?
But that still leaves us with the question: Which colour should I use to send my message?
To answer all of these questions, we have to look at the conscious and unconscious effects that certain colours have on the human mind:
Blue can represent integrity, loyalty and clear communication.Working in a blue space, for example, has been shown to help improve learning, memory retention and creativity. Blue represents clarity and communication as well, and is used prominently by services like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Skype. It also conveys logic and professionalism, as seen through its use by Visa, PayPal and IBM.
Generally, blue is one of the safest choices in terms of its significance worldwide, as it is almost universally associated with positive emotions.
Did you know…
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, didn’t choose the colour blue for his famous social network by accident. It was initially chosen for practical reasons, as Zuckerberg is colour-blind and blue is the colour that he sees the best. He stuck with it, though, because blue reflects the spirit of sharing, community and modernity – and it worked! Would the Facebook logo have the same impact if it were red, green or yellow?
Green is a colour with a wide range of meanings, and can signify anything from nature and the environment to luck, youth, growth, inexperience, jealousy and wealth (the American dollar, after all, is often called the ‘greenback’). Found at the middle of the colour spectrum, it’s often viewed as a colour that represents balance, and has the power to reassure. Neither a warm nor a cold colour, green is soothing and helps relieve stress.
The khaki green of Land Rover or Jeep, for example, inspires thoughts of open space, adventure and escape, as well as hearkening back to these brands’ origins as camouflaged all-terrain military vehicles.
Did you know…
In Asian cultures, green is associated with youth, fertility and newly-created life. It can also, however, symbolize infidelity. In China, men avoid wearing green shirts, as it represents that their wife has been unfaithful.
A symbol of power, passion and boundless energy, the colour red is closely linked with courage and inspires in us a sense of urgency. A stimulating colour, red accelerates your heartbeat and increases production of adrenaline, which makes it perfect when it comes to impulse buys! Sports teams whose uniforms are primarily red have been shown to increase their physical exertion by 5 to 10 percent when compared to their counterparts wearing other colours.
British telecom company Virgin has used red since its debut on the marketplace. Founder Richard Branson chose red in order to imbue his young upstart brand with a sense of energy and dynamism
Did You Know…
In the 1930s, specific colours were used to distinguish the nationality of cars and racers during international motorsport competitions. Blue was reserved for the French, green for the English, and red for the Italians – a colour still associated with high-performance sports cars to this very day!
Enzo Ferrari recognized the value of his country’s colour early on, and used it often in his first consumer sports car designs to accentuate their sportiness and agility.
The colour of the sun, festivities and joy, yellow can help brighten a room, package or even your mood. However, it’s also a colour with competing significations and some controversy. While certain shades can be warm, happy and optimistic, it also has a negative reputation, being associated with cowardice, illness, and – in Christian lore – betrayal, as it was the colour worn by Judas. In a physical context (as opposed to psychological) a bright yellow can hurt the eyes and cause frustration. Generally, though, brands which make use of yellow do so to express and reinforce happiness and optimism. Yellow is one of the most visible colours in daylight – it’s a hard colour to ignore, which is why it’s often employed on billboards and road signage.
Swedish furniture giant IKEA, uses yellow as part of its logo, brochures and even in its stores to convey a sense of light-hearted entertainment. The next time you’re inside an IKEA, observe the families who come to spend a day at the store like they would an amusement park!
Did You Know…
History shows that the famous yellow taxis of New York, designed at the turn of the century by John Hertz, the founder of the Yellow Cab Company, painted his first fleet of taxicabs bright yellow after a study from the University of Chicago demonstrated that yellow is the easiest colour to spot from a distance.
Orange : Playfulness
Orange has it all: creative, youthful, confident, and carefree. Orange is the colour of cheerfulness, and companies who use it as part of their branding are perceived as fun and cheerful with a focus on social responsibility.
But you have to careful using orange, because a brand that overuses it may have trouble being taken seriously in the marketplace.
Did You Know…
Buddhist monks are recognizable by their distinctive orange robes, which they wear because orange represents joy, humility, love and good health in East-Asian culture.
Purple: you either love it or hate it – there usually isn’t any in-between. Because of its distinctive allure, purple is the colour of the spirit, Karma, mysticism and mystery. It’s often used to great effect in the perfume and cosmetics industry. Purple has another advantage as well: it’s associated with virility and libido! The famous Swiss chocolate brand Milka has made this colour its signature, and it’s worked wonders to differentiate it from other close competitors.
Did you know…
In the United States, purple is a colour associated with honour and valour. The Purple Heart is the oldest and highest distinction that a solider can receive.
Pink is a colour that we directly associate with femininity, and as such it’s regularly employed by brands who wish to showcase romantic allure, seduction or eroticism.But know that pink lowers your heart rate, and has a calming effect on blood-pressure, as well. It’s a relaxing colour that lowers aggressiveness. We also associate it with tenderness and good mood – think of the expression “la vie en rose”!
When used in a darker shade, or alongside geometric shapes, it can be bright and modern, and is currently very trendy. Be careful not to use it in excess, though, or you risk over-feminizing your brand image.
Did You Know…
In the court of France’s King Louis XIV, all the men wore pink. Why did this change? Because his Queen, Marie-Thérèse decided that it was her favourite colour. After that, men who wore pink were suspected of trying to seduce her, and avoided the colour lest they be beheaded in public!
The colour of purity, propriety, elegance and peace, white is clean without being overstimulating, but its overuse risks portraying your brand as cold and lifeless. Used sparingly, it’s an excellent choice for products or brands that emphasis hygiene or technology. When used in packaging, white represents luxury, soberness and understated elegance.
Did You Know…
For 22 years, Apple’s iconic logo was rendered in bright rainbow colours. At the time, Steve Jobs wanted his then-underdog company to stand out amidst the bland tans and greys their competition. A year after returning to the helm of the company, however, he decided to remove all colour from the logo to accentuate the company’s modern and design-oriented approach. Now, Apple’s clean white lines are more recognizable than the company’s rainbow hues ever were.
Black is THE colour when it comes to luxury. When used well, it communicates prestige, exclusivity, elegance, respect and seriousness. Used right, black can give your brand a much-needed injection of maturity and class.
Its power comes, in part, from its ability to highlight any other colour on the spectrum. After all, the saying is true: black goes with everything!
Le saviez-vous ?
To reduce costs on the first run of his famous Model T car, Henry Ford made the decision to produce the car only in black! When asked once by a customer which other colours were available, he famously replied “You can have any color as long as it’s black.”
When choosing a colour to represent your brand, product or service, you can’t simply rely on your own personal tastes and preferences. Colour choice should be the result of careful thought and deliberation, as colour plays an integral role in how your company visually communicates its values to customers.
Knowing about the effects of colour can allow you and your brand to stand out in a crowded – and monochrome — marketplace.
Now that you know the basics, you can work to perfect the subtle art of marketing by colour! Go try out these tips and techniques – when you start thinking of colour strategically, the possibilities are endless!