Color psychology is awesome and it matters

Since my last post was a bit dark, let’s brighten things up (pun intended) with a fun topic that happens to be one of my not-so-secret passions – color psychology! It may sound fluffy but there’s a lot of hard data out there that proves color use in marketing matters and when used in the right context, colors can (and should) be manipulated to achieve particular outcomes.

I’m just going to hit on some basics:

The Color Wheel

This maps primary, secondary and tertiary colors across the color spectrum. The ‘wheel’ layout is important because it shows how these colors correlate to one another, such as complimentary, split complimentary, and analogous colors. Here’s a super helpful overview of the basic 12 point color wheel principles:

ColorWheel_RGB

You would do yourself well to learn how to master the use of this color wheel. It’s not hard and lucky for you other folks already did the hard work to determine how to use colors for maximum effectiveness. For example, Paul Olyslager does a nice job in this blog concisely explaining how to use complimentary (think opposite) colors to draw the eye to the desired call-to-action (CTA).

resumator

The idea here is that the contrast of the complimentary color (red) jumps out against the blue background and draws the eye to the preferred CTA, which is of course to sign up. Cool, huh? If you like this and want to learn more about how colors impact conversion check out this post from ConversionXL.

Color Meanings and Associations

Believe it or not we all associate colors with tangible things and concepts. Don’t believe me? Let’s play a game:

Below is a list of colors, which I would like you to read one at a time and after each one, say the first thing that pops into your mind. This works better if you do it out loud. If you’re reading this on a plane or in the office, invite others to play along. Don’t be shy.

Here we go…

  • Green
  • Pink
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

Here are some common answers I get when I do this with others:

  • Green – Eco friendly, clean, luck, money
  • Pink – Barbie, cancer, babies, pepto-bismol, breasts
  • Brown – Earth, wilderness, government, safety
  • Red – power, winning, urgency, aggression
  • Yellow – fun, happy, caution, energy
  • Blue – technology, authority, peace, order

What’s really interesting about this game is everyone is going to have different answers depending on their current mindset, age, gender, social background and of course, geography. A 20-year-old guy might initially think of “breasts” for the color pink (yep, I said “breasts,” not “breast cancer” – it seems the cancer awareness part gets dropped quite a bit). Whereas a 30-year-old woman with children probably thinks of little girls’ toys and clothing. Similarly, red is a color of power and aggression in America, but in some Asian countries it symbolizes good fortune and wealth.

Colors also come into play when considering brand association. You’d probably find it pretty strange and perhaps even off-putting if you got an email from Target with a blue color scheme because we all have learned to associate Target with the color red.

When developing marketing materials and selecting colors, you need to consider your intended audience, how they perceive you and the message you’re trying to convey.

Context

Using colors in the right context matters. Just because you prefer a specific color doesn’t mean that it’s best to use when considering the context. Here’s what I mean…

Which color do you prefer?

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 9.17.48 PM   Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 9.18.12 PM

Most people will choose blue. You might think I chose intentionally gender-polarizing colors, so the preferences would be split, but in fact studies show that in general, women are more averse to pink than men are (there are of course specific contextual exceptions to this, such as when making purchases for female children and donating to charity).

Now, which image do you prefer?

guy pink   blue nerd

Most women, and probably many men, will choose image #1 in pink. I mean, the guy in blue is fetching but the guy in pink in downright distracting. You can’t help but look. In all seriousness, though, both images have a quality that draws your attention.

What if I now told you the purpose of this ad is to sell custom t-shirts.

Which makes you want to buy a T-Shirt?

guy pink   blue nerd

I mean, maybe the shirtless guy is just waiting for his custom t-shirt to be made…

My point is, you need to consider not only sentiment about colors but how they’re viewed in context and what they’re intended to do. Oh yeah…and who they’re for (that all-important audience thing again).

Testing Matters

These principles above are good guidelines to live your marketing life by, but even equipped with these nuggets of brilliance I will encourage you to keep testing your color options. The things that do and do not work may surprise you.

A story about the color purple:  Not long ago I ran a pretty extensive marketing campaign which was targeted toward an IT audience. The primary imagery and CTAs for the campaign were in purple. Generally, purple and brown are the least successful colors for CTAs, but we had recently used purple very successfully in a campaign targeted at law firms and decided to use it again. It flopped. Badly. We knew the color was the culprit because we saw an increase in click rates when we ran an A/B split test with different button colors: orange and blue were both much more effective. We continue to see good click rates with purple CTAs for the legal industry audience, which just goes to show sometimes you don’t know what works for which audience unless you test.

In summary: Colors matter. Context matters. Colors in context can have a material impact on how people perceive and interact (or don’t) with your marketing programs. And never stop testing.

There is so much great info about this topic out there and I can’t cover it all here because ya’ll would be sick of me, but if you want to learn more, here are some great resources to dive into:

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4 thoughts on “Color psychology is awesome and it matters

  1. In your first sentence you stated that “there’s a lot of hard data out there that proves color use in marketing matters.” I was just wondering if you had any references to that data. If so, please share! Very interesting topic!

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  2. […] The world of marketing really has changed. The plethora of technology; the expectation of budget-savviness; and the ability to measure every channel, tactic and touchpoint have created a marketing environment seemingly devoid of subjectivity. The Mad Men days are over. We don’t rely on gut instincts and feelings because we have tools and data. What will get people to click and take action can be boiled down to a formula – down to the color of the button (see my post on color psychology). […]

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