Color Psychology In Marketing: The Beginner's Guide
Have you ever noticed buy buttons are always red? How are reds and yellows mostly used in fast food logos? Or how doctors and scientists around the world always wear white lab coats?
These are not just coincidences. These are conscious marketing decisions that are carefully informed by color psychology.
In this beginner's guide to color psychology in marketing, learn how to use the science of color to make your own marketing decisions.
We explain basic color theory, show you how to choose the right colors for your branded content, and reveal some key consumer color associations that you should know about.
Ready? Let's get into that in a moment.
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What is color psychology in marketing?
Color psychology is a field of research that examines how colors affect our perceptions and behavior. When we apply this to marketing, we specifically study how these colors can affect consumers' impressions of a brand, and how they affect their purchasing decisions.
By better understanding how the colors we use affect our customers, we can make more informed marketing decisions.
Why color psychology matters
Understanding color psychology is critical to the success of your marketing content. Color is what gets your audience to see what to see, to feel what to feel, and to do what to do.
The color choices you make will have a huge impact on the usability of your website and the readability of your content, as well as how consumers will perceive your brand and products and the likelihood of them making a purchase.
If you do it right, you can increase your conversions, increase sales, and improve the success of your marketing content. Get it wrong, and all of the great content you have produced with the time and money will miss the mark. Your customers are less likely to hit the buy button and your profits will suffer.
But don't just take my word for it. Take a look at the statistics (source: WebFX):
- Consumers are subconsciously judging your content for the first 90 seconds, and up to 90% of these people base that judgment on color alone.
- 80% of consumers believe that color increases brand awareness.
- 93% of consumers rate visual factors as the most important factor when making a purchase.
- 84.7% of consumers cite color as the main reason for choosing a particular product.
Basic Color Theory (Key Terminology)
Okay, before we dive into marketing, let's start with a basic color theory.
There's a lot to learn – too much to cover in one article – so we're only going to go through the most important basics.
Here are the key concepts and terms you need to be familiar with in order to keep up from here.
The three primary colors are red, blue, and yellow (or magenta, cyan, and yellow when it comes to light). These are the three colors from which we get all other colors.
Mixing the primary colors evenly gives you the three secondary colors: purple, green, and orange. Red and blue make purple; Blue and yellow make green and red and yellow make orange.
If you mix primary colors in uneven proportions or mix a primary color with a secondary color, you get tertiary colors. For example, if you mix red with blue but use more red than blue or red with purple, you get red-purple. All tertiary colors have these separate names and are sometimes referred to as "two-name" colors.
Pure colors are "pure" primary, secondary or tertiary colors to which we have not added any additional colors or black / white. They are very bright and not subtle at all. They are often used in things like children's toys.
A hue is a pure color mixed with white. Adding white decreases the intensity of the color, making it lighter and paler. Think pastel colors. The more white you add, the paler the color will be.
Shades are the opposite of shades – you get them by adding black to a pure color. Adding black to the mixture will dampen the brightness and create a darker hue.
If you add both black and white (i.e. gray) to a pure color, you get a "tone". Creating a tone mutes the intensity of pure colors. Here we get the term "weakened".
Cool / warm colors
You can plot primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, and hues, shades, and tones on a color wheel to show how they relate to one another.
If you cut the color wheel diagonally in the middle, you can split it into "warm" and "cool" colors. Warm colors contain more yellows and reds, while cool colors contain more blues and greens.
The term "contrast" in color theory refers to how distinguishable two colors are from one another. High contrast is when we use two colors that really stand out from each other, while low contrast is when we use two colors that don't. This definition will be important later, so take note of it.
It is less a difference in color itself that creates contrast than a difference in brightness. Some colors are inherently darker than others (i.e. blue is darker than yellow), but it's the tone that makes the biggest difference. When two colors are the same tone, they have little contrast.
How to use color psychology in marketing
Ok, now we're all familiar with the basics of color design theory. Let's get to the good things.
Here are some important guidelines for using color psychology in marketing.
Customize your brand colors to match your brand personality
There are many theories on the internet about the "best" brand colors for different types of businesses based on stereotypical color associations. I would recommend that you take these with a pinch of salt.
The truth is there is no easy answer – every brand is different. The right color for your brand depends largely on the context. Factors like what you are selling, who your customers are, your market positioning, and your competitors need to be considered first.
While there aren't hard and fast rules for choosing colors for your brand, there are some general guidelines to help you make a practical decision.
The most important of these guidelines is that the colors you use should showcase your brand's personality.
Based on a framework presented in dimensions of brand personality, there are five dimensions for brand personality: sincerity, excitement, sophistication, competence and robustness.
Ask yourself which of these best represents the personality your brand is trying to represent, then choose colors that will help you convey that personality.
Here's an idea of how different colors might match these different personality traits:
- sincerity – Blue / white / pink
- excitement – Red / Orange / Yellow
- Sophistication – Black / purple
- competence – blue / green / brown
- robustness – brown
Based on the above, an outdoor clothing brand aimed at men who market themselves as sturdy and sturdy would be better off using brown than pink, for example.
However, that doesn't mean that brown is the right choice for all outdoor clothing brands. If your brand is trying to set new standards and differentiate itself from established competitors, or if you have a different target market, you may want to go in a different direction.
For example, a luxury outdoor apparel brand targeting the upper end of the market might use black to denote sophistication.
Use the contrast effectively
In contrast, you set elements apart in your marketing content and websites. This is a great way to get your audience's attention where you want them and to get them to specific elements (e.g., buy buttons, sales information, etc.). Hence, it is important to think carefully about contrast when choosing which colors to use for your content.
High contrast (dark on light or light on dark) is usually the best choice for highlighting important content that you want to get your customers' attention because it is the easiest to read. It also increases the likelihood that your customers will notice and remember your most important content thanks to what is known as the isolation effect, which states that protruding elements are more likely to be remembered.
On the other hand, too much contrast can wear out your customers' eyes and make your content appear too "busy".
Colors with low contrast are less legible, but more aesthetic and easier on the eyes. Because of this, it's important to strike a balance and use a mix of low-contrast and high-contrast techniques for your marketing content. We'll look at how to do that next.
Choose both complementary and analog or monochromatic colors
In color theory, complementary colors are those that “face” each other on a color wheel (e.g. blue-orange, red-green, etc.). As such, they visually differ from one another as much as possible and thus create a strong contrast.
Analog colors sit next to each other in the color wheel and are therefore in little contrast to one another. They are subtle, do not stand out from each other and do not disturb the eyes, which is why they are popular with designers.
Monochromatic colors are different hues, shades, and tones of a single color. Like analog colors, they are low in contrast, subtle and pleasing to the eye.
Remember how we said you need to find a balance between low contrast and high contrast colors? The way you do this is by using a mix of complementary and analog or monochromatic colors.
As a rule of thumb, you pick a base color and then use analog or monochromatic for 70% of your content and use complementary colors to your base color for the 30% that you want to highlight.
Keep it simple
One of the biggest mistakes small businesses that don't consult a professional designer make is using too many colors in their marketing content. Studies show that most people prefer simple color combinations with just 2-3 colors. So don't go crazy with your color choices.
Consumers prefer content that is clean and simple. This makes it easier for them to take in the content and doesn't interfere with your message.
Understand the psychology of different colors
Much research has been done into the psychology of different colors and our unconscious associations with each of them. We can use this research to decide which colors to use for our marketing efforts.
These associations are often based on biological factors. For example, there is plenty of evidence that red is an appetizer while blue is an appetite suppressant, which is why red is widely used in restaurant branding.
This is likely due to the fact that we are biologically subconscious that red is a common "food coloring" found in nature. It's the color of ripe apples and red meat. Blue, on the other hand, is not a natural food coloring.
Likewise, green is everywhere in nature, so it makes sense to associate it with health, organic food and peace. This is also why it is such a popular color across the food and supplement industry.
We don't have time here to delve into the psychology of each color – there are plenty of resources out there already – but here are some commonly used color associations to give you an idea.
- red – Affection, love, terror, fear, survival, energy, strength, aggression, appetite.
- blue – Trust, dependability, dependability, calm, trust, aloof, cold, unfriendly.
- green – balance, harmony, peace, bio, nature.
- orange – Physical comfort, warmth, protection, certainty, optimism, enthusiasm, fun ..
- yellow – Joy, happiness, fear, excitement, eccentricity.
- purple – Imagination, spirituality, luxury, mystery.
- pink – – Compassion, love, caring, romance, empathy, immaturity.
- brown – Security, protection, robustness, masculinity, boredom, restraint.
- gold – Luxury, wealth, abundance, prosperity, pride, achievement.
- black – Sophistication, seriousness, evil, mystery, independence, professionalism.
- White – – Purity, peace, cleanliness, innocence, calm, simplicity, imagination.
Take cultural differences into account
Cultural influences can also influence our perception of color. If you are in an international market, make sure you understand the color associations in the countries your customers live in.
In China, for example, red symbolizes luck and prosperity, while in a country like Ireland luck is more likely to be associated with a color like green or gold. This can have important implications for companies in the gambling industry such as casinos.
Politics also interacts with our cultural associations in different colors. Take the United States and Great Britain, for example. On the surface, two countries with (comparatively) similar cultures – both western, affluent Tier 1 countries with predominantly English-speaking residents.
In the US, however, red is the color of the right-wing Republican party and blue is the color of the left-wing Democratic party. In Britain, the opposite is the case – red is the color of the left-wing Labor Party and blue that of the right-wing Conservatives.
If your buyers are mostly liberal, left-leaning customers, red may be a better fit for the UK, while blue is better for the US.
Split test different color combinations
The best way to find out if certain color options work is to split tests. The split test tests two different versions of your content, where all elements are the same except for color, and measures key metrics to determine which color performs better.
Take color blindness into account
Statistically, around 4.5% of your customers are likely to be color blind – or even more if your buyers are mostly men.
Those with color blindness may have difficulty distinguishing between certain colors. To ensure that your content is accessible to color blind people, make sure there is high contrast and never rely solely on colors to convey information. Add additional text to graphics and images for clarity.
That concludes the beginner's guide to color psychology in marketing. As you can see, there is a lot to learn but hopefully this has helped you get to grips with the basics. Good luck!
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