Why colour psychology in branding is important.

Have you ever considered how colour psychology could be affecting your brand?


Is colour theory affecting how your brand and your marketing is being perceived without you even knowing it? What is colour and why does it matter to your brand? In this post I will help you understand the role colour psychology plays in marketing. 


What is colour psychology?


Colour psychology is the study of how certain colours impact human behaviour. Different colours have different meanings, connotations and psychological effects that vary across different cultures.

To really illustrate the importance of colour psychology and why it’s so pivotal, consider that in his report, Impact of Color on Marketing, Satyendra Singh found that shoppers make an initial judgment about a product or website within 90 seconds and that 62% to 90% of this is based on colour alone. Similarly, a Statista report found that 42% of women say colour is an important consideration when making a clothing purchase.

Across the world’s cultures, colours can take on varying meanings such as wealth, trust, mourning and health. For example, the colour yellow can be seen as playful, happy, optimistic and bright in western cultures. However in Germany it is seen as the colour of envy, whilst in China, yellow has vulgar connotations and in other Asian countries it signifies imperial worth. In Japan, yellow is the colour of courage. Red is perhaps a colour which provokes the strongest emotions of all colours. Red is considered the warmest and most contradictory of colours. It has more opposing emotional associations than any other colour.  Red can be associated with passion and love while on the other end of the scale it can be seen to signify danger or anger. In the Americas and Europe red is seen to signify love, passion and fire. Whilst in China and India red is seen as the symbol of fertility and good fortune.

In marketing and branding, colour psychology focuses on how colours influence a consumers impression of a brand, and whether they convince consumers to consider particular brands or to make a purchase. It is designed to build brand relevancy and motivate customers to purchase by invoking specific emotions. As I have described above, colours can mean different things to different people and cultures. So how can you overcome this?

This is where the isolation effect comes into play. The isolation effect is a phenomenon whereby a user values something differently depending upon whether it is viewed in isolation or beside a strikingly different object. For example, a choice can be made to look more attractive if it is placed next to an alternative which it is distinctively lesser or different in some respect. This is the reason that all call-to-actions (CTAs) look different to other elements on a website or app. A good example of this is a website with a white and pink palette, which would find a CTA button more effective if it is bold and strikingly different to the main colour palette of the website, perhaps green or blue. Red could be considered for it’s ability to provoke a sense of urgency however being close on the colour spectrum to pink, it may not have as much impact as blue or green.


How is this applied in the real world?


In reality on a day to day basis the average person probably doesn’t think about a brand’s colour choices in any great detail. However, brands the world over use colour as a means to help reinforce their brand values and target their desired market with greater results. For example, what colour comes to mind when you think of Coca-Cola? How about McDonald’s? Brands like these have used colour psychology to create powerful associations in the minds of their customers. As I have discussed already, colour psychology is about more than just associating a brand with its signature colour. It’s about the feelings and emotions these colours inspire in us. By using red as their dominant brand colour, Coca-Cola aims to ensure it’s product is forever linked to feelings of positivity, fun, and energy. And McDonald’s? It is hard to think about their golden arches without also thinking about happiness, optimism and fun.

So let’s breakdown some colours that are proven to increase sales, along with the specific emotions they evoke.

Red is arguably the most powerful colour when it comes to colour psychology. Known for evoking feelings of urgency and excitement, red can boost feelings of hunger, love, and fun. This is why fast-food chains and brands such as Coca-Cola, KFC and McDonald’s have built success in their branding by using lots of red in their logo and marketing materials.

Red also works well for impulse purchases and this is why it is a popular choice for the buy button on many online stores. It is also often used to attract attention to various actionable items such as a call-to-action, special announcements and notifications.  Have you ever seen a sale sign that isn’t red?  I suspect not. This is because red is used to not only attract attention but also promote a sense of urgency. It is the main reason red is one of the most useful colours to make people buy.

Feelings of love, romance and kindheartedness are associated with pink. Although it can appeal to men, it is more commonly linked to femininity and can work very well in offsetting more aggressive colours such as red, orange and black. 

Purple has an intriguing balance of masculine and feminine traits. Purple is often seen as the colour of royalty and bravery and provokes thoughts of wealth, luxury and sophistication, particularly the darker shades. On the other hand, softer shades such as lavender can link to femininity, nostalgia and sentimentality. If you want to portray your business as an imaginative and creative brand purple is your perfect go-to colour choice.

Blue can be seen to have the psychological effects of productivity, trust, peace and stability. Where red triggers urgency, blue quells anxiety. It stands out as a great colour for backgrounds and conversion elements on eCommerce sites that deal with things such as insurance, medicines and finances. Colour psychology suggests that dark blue gives a sense of intelligence and tradition, while light blue is associated with freedom and security. Because blue is intrinsically associated with trust if it often used on conversation elements for websites with topics such as insurance. Have you ever noticed how eBay uses blue in all of its buttons – where one might think colour psychology would suggest they should be red? When you go through to PayPal their main brand colour is blue. This is because both brands want their users to trust that transactions with them are safe. In terms of eBay this is where the isolation effect and colour psychology comes into play together. eBay uses blue on the transitional buttons by using the isolation effect to make them stand out from the rest of the content on the page while playing of the emotions of trust, and security. eBay want to trigger confidence in your transaction.

Green evokes feelings of goodwill, health and environmental responsibility. Green can also be associated with money and provide thoughts of wealth. If you are considering green for your brand identity you should remember that colour psychology means that the colour will work for an eCommerce store dealing with outdoor equipment including gardens and sporting activities while also working well in the health and wellness niche. Green also ranks as a solid second choice for buttons. 

The colour yellow is associated with fun, cheerfulness and confidence and can work well in commanding a customers’ attention.  You should be careful in your use of yellow though, as too much can trigger feelings of fear, frustration and anxiety. This is because it is the most difficult colour to take in.

In between red and yellow sits orange. Orange is a stimulatory colour known to provoke feelings of ambition, energy and warmth. Not unlike red or yellow, it It is great for grabbing attention for example on traffic cones and in advertising collateral. Research has shown that consumers tend to associate orange with value, a fact that home DIY chain B&Q, has capitalised on.

An earthy, reliable tone, brown is known to create feelings of comfort and relaxation.  It has the dependability of wood or leather and more often a colour preferred by men than women.

Black is a versatile colour that can be used in a multitude of ways. It is associated with dominance, power and strength but it can also be the colour of mourning. It can be used to send a message of confidence to potential customers. Black is commonly used in luxury brands and is timeless and effortlessly stylish. Think the little black dress or a certain iconic black turtleneck. If your business is based around technology, electronic devices, computer supplies or high end fashions then black and white along with metallic colours will work well for you.

Grey has been shown to have no dominant psychological characteristic, none the less that does not mean it cannot be powerfully suggestive. Modern and sophisticated grey often works well for technology or luxury brands.

White gives feelings of innocence, purity, humility and cleanliness. Keep in mind though, that in some parts of the world white can have the opposite meaning and symbolise sterility and coldness. On e-commerce websites white is the most commonly used colour. Often overlooked as a tool in your marketing, white can create space in design when paired with a bright colour.

How does colour psychology in branding affect my company?

In a nutshell your brand’s visual identity strongly influences how the outside world perceives your company. Colour psychology plays a significant part in building your brand values as a whole. Choosing a colour that is sympathetic to your brand values, appeals to your audience and differentiates your company from your completion is one of the best ways to create a strong and powerful visual identity. Understanding the psychology of colours in branding is an important first step in selecting the best candidate on the colour wheel for your brand.


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