Every famous brand is testimony to the principles of colour psychology. Research shows that colour can boost recognition, memory recall, instantaneously convey a particular impression, and improve a marketing message.
However, applying colour psychology to branding and marketing is more complicated than simply choosing a colour and assuming that it will engender certain emotions or associations in your target market. While there are certain stereotypes associated with colours, the truth is that colour psychology requires complex considerations.
This article looks at the research on colour psychology and outlines some effective strategies for applying colour to your marketing and branding efforts.
What the research really says about colour psychology
Stereotypical colour associations
Stereotypical colour associations have been widely used to simplify what colour can mean to consumers. Yellow, for example, is associated with fun, friendliness, clarity, and energy. Red is associated with passion and love. Blue is seen as calming, focused, credible, and corporate. Green is associated with nature, organic, and ecological.
Other stereotypical colour associations include:
- Orange – Orange is most often associated with enthusiasm, creativity, dynamism, and energy.
- Purple – The colour purple and its variations are associated with the sensual, sophisticated, magical, and creative.
- Black – Black is associated with strength, exclusivity, glamour, power, and professionalism.
- Brown – Brown is seen as an earthy, reliable, dependable, and grounded colour.
- White – White is associated with clinical environments and with cleanliness, purity, and freshness.
- Pink – Pink is commonly associated with femininity, gentleness, and sweetness.
While colour association can be relevant when applying colour psychology, they should be taken in the wider context. For example, while yellow is traditionally associated with brightness and energy, research has surprisingly shown that it’s the least favourite colour for most people.
The colour orange might be associated with enthusiasm, but studies suggest that it’s the colour of good value and bargains. The lesson is to consider universal meanings of colour in the specific marketing context.
The complexity of colour psychology
The meaning of colours can vary depending on the culture, industry, and context. Evidence also suggests that colour and the impressions associated with colour can be dependent also on personal experience.
However, the data is encouraging for companies that want to use colour effectively in their branding. Research shows that consumers will respond positively if the colour(s) used is appropriate for the brand, and in turn make a purchasing decision based on that. In other words, choosing an appropriate colour for your brand personality is crucial for the colour to be effective as a branding tool.
Colours should be appropriate in that they support the brand personality and harmonise with it. For example, a brand that sells hardware should probably avoid using pinks and pastel colours in their logo, as these colours would be considered to be contradictory to the brand by most people.
Other impacts of colour
There’s also evidence to suggest that colour can affect perceptions of temperature. A person can perceive a cool space to be warmer than it actually is if they are surrounded by warm colours. Marketers can use this to lower heating costs, or to avoid using too many warm colours in certain seasons.
Colour and gender
The gender of the brand’s target market should also be considered when deciding on a colour. More than half (57%) of men surveyed have blue as their favourite colour, while brown, orange, purple, and yellow are men’s least favourite colours.
Women who were surveyed preferred blue (35%), purple (23%), and green (14%) as their favourite colours, while orange (33%), brown (20%, grey (17%), and yellow (13%) were their least favourite colours.
Hence, blue is the single most widely accepted colour for both genders. Studies have also shown that, generally speaking, men prefer brighter colours while women prefer softer colours.
Colour combinations and contrasts
Colour coordination is another important consideration. Combining base analogous colours and setting these base colours off with accent complimentary colours is a good approach for using colours in logos, websites, or other marketing material for consumers.
How to apply colour psychology
Colour psychology isn’t simply about choosing a colour that will appeal to everyone. Businesses should start by identifying their context and their target market.
1. Consider context
Consider the context by identifying your brand personality, and then work from there to choose the colours that will best support your brand personality. Culture, gender, and other considerations may need to be taken into account. For example, if you’re marketing baby clothing and your brand personality is about purity and reliability, using loud colours such as reds in your logo might contradict your brand personality.
However, if the marketing purpose is to create signage to attract foot traffic with seasonal signage, it might be effective to incorporate some louder colours into your posters and flyers.
2. Choose a dominant colour
Using a dominant colour can make your logo or marketing materials much more effective. Use this colour consistently throughout all your promotional channels. Set off and support this colour with analogous and complementary colours for best results.
3. Use it to distinguish your brand
When choosing your colours, make sure they’re distinct enough to differentiate your brand from your competitors. Avoid using similar colours to competitors. The colour should always tie back to your brand personality and key marketing message, even as it makes your brand and business stand out from that of competitors.