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The Psychology of Colour in Marketing and Branding

The psychology of colour as it relates to persuasion is one of the most interesting – and most controversial – aspects of marketing.

Gregory Ciotti

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Most of today’s conversations on colours and persuasion consist of hunches, anecdotal evidence and advertisers blowing smoke about “colours and the mind.”

To alleviate this trend and give proper treatment to a truly fascinating element of human behaviour, today we’re going to cover a selection of the most reliable research on colour theory and persuasion.

Misconceptions around the Psychology of Colour

Why does colour psychology invoke so much conversation … but is backed with so little factual data?

As research shows, it’s likely because elements such as personal preference, experiences, upbringing, cultural differences, context, etc., often muddy the effect individual colours have on us.

So the idea that colours such as yellow or purple are able to invoke some sort of hyper-specific emotion is about as accurate as your standard Tarot card reading.

The conversation is only worsened by incredibly vapid visuals that sum up colour psychology with awesome “facts” such as this one:

The colour yellow

Don’t fret, though. Now it’s time to take a look at some research-backed insights on how colour plays a role in persuasion.

The Importance of Colours in Branding

First, let’s address branding, which is one of the most important issues relating to colour perception and the area where many articles on this subject run into problems.

There have been numerous attempts to classify consumer responses to different individual colours:

Colour Emotion Guide

… but the truth of the matter is that colour is too dependent on personal experiences to be universally translated to specific feelings.

But there are broader messaging patterns to be found in colour perceptions. For instance, colours play a fairly substantial role in purchases and branding.

In an appropriately titled study called Impact of Color in Marketing, researchers found that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products can be based on colour alone (depending on the product).

And in regards to the role that colour plays in branding, results from studies such as The Interactive Effects of Colors show that the relationship between brands and colour hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the colour being used for the particular brand (in other words, does the colour “fit” what is being sold).

The study Exciting Red and Competent Blue also confirms that purchasing intent is greatly affected by colours due to the impact they have on how a brand is perceived. This means that colours influence how consumers view the “personality” of the brand in question (after all, who would want to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle if they didn’t get the feeling that Harleys were rugged and cool?).

Additional studies have revealed that our brains prefer recognisable brands, which makes colour incredibly important when creating a brand identity.

It has even been suggested in Color Research & Application that it is of paramount importance for new brands to specifically target logo colours that ensure differentiation from entrenched competitors (if the competition all uses blue, you’ll stand out by using purple).

When it comes to picking the “right” colour, research has found that predicting consumer reaction to colour appropriateness in relation to the product is far more important than the individual colour itself. So, if Harley owners buy the product in order to feel rugged, you could assume that the pink + glitter edition wouldn’t sell all that well.

Psychologist and Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker has conducted studies on this very topic via research on Dimensions of Brand Personality, and her studies have found five core dimensions that play a role in a brand’s personality:

Brand personality

(Brands can sometimes cross between two traits, but they are mostly dominated by one. High fashion clothing feels sophisticated, camping gear feels rugged.)

Additional research has shown that there is a real connection between the use of colours and customers’ perceptions of a brand’s personality.

Certain colours DO broadly align with specific traits (e.g., brown with ruggedness, purple with sophistication, and red with excitement).

But nearly every academic study on colours and branding will tell you that it’s far more important for your brand’s colours to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical colour associations.

Consider the inaccuracy of making broad statements such as “green means calm.” The context is missing; sometimes green is used to brand environmental issues such as Timberland’s G.R.E.E.N standard, but other times it’s meant to brand financial spaces such as Mint.com.

And while brown may be useful for a rugged appeal (think Saddleback Leather), when positioned in another context brown can be used to create a warm, inviting feeling (Thanksgiving) or to stir your appetite (every chocolate commercial you’ve ever seen).

Bottom line: I can’t offer you an easy, clear-cut set of guidelines for choosing your brand’s colours, but I can assure you that the context you’re working within is an absolutely essential consideration.

It’s the feeling, mood, and image that your brand creates that play a role in persuasion. Be sure to recognise that colours only come into play when they can be used to match a brand’s desired personality (i.e., the use of white to communicate Apple’s love of clean, simple design).

Without this context, choosing one colour over another doesn’t make much sense, and there is very little evidence to support that ‘orange’ will universally make people purchase a product more often than ‘silver’.

Colour Preferences by Gender

Perceived appropriateness may explain why the most popular car colours are white, black, silver and gray … but is there something else at work that explains why there aren’t very many purple power tools?

One of the better studies on this topic is Joe Hallock’s Colour Assignments. Hallock’s data showcases some clear preferences in certain colours across gender.

It’s important to note that one’s environment – and especially cultural perceptions – plays a strong role in dictating colour appropriateness for gender, which in turn can influence individual choices.

Consider, for instance, this coverage by Smithsonian magazine detailing how blue became the colour for boys and pink was eventually deemed the colour for girls (and how it used to be the reverse!).

Here were Hallock’s findings for the most and least favourite colours of men and women:

Gender Favourite colours

 

Gender least favourite colours

The most notable points in these images is the supremacy of blue across both genders (it was the favourite colour for both groups) and the disparity between groups on purple.

Women list purple as a top-tier colour, but no men list purple as a favourite colour. (Perhaps this is why we have no purple power tools, a product largely associated with men?)

Additional research in studies on colour perception and colour preferences show that when it comes to shades, tints and hues men seem to prefer bold colours while women prefer softer colours.

Also, men were more likely to select shades of colours as their favourites (colours with black added), whereas women were more receptive to tints of colours (colours with white added):

Tints vs shades

The above infographic from KISSmetrics showcases the disparity in men and women’s colour preferences.

Keep this information in mind when choosing your brand’s primary colour palette. Given the starkly different taste preferences shown, it pays to appeal more to men or women if they make up a larger percentage of your ideal buyers.

Colour Coordination + Conversions

Debunking the “best” colour for conversion rates on websites has recently been a very popular topic (started here and later here). They make some excellent points, because it is definitely true that there is no single best colour for conversions.

The psychological principle known as the Isolation Effect states that an item that “stands out like a sore thumb” is more likely to be remembered. Research clearly shows that participants are able to recognise and recall an item far better (be it text or an image) when it blatantly sticks out from its surroundings.

Blurred image

(The sign-up button stands out because it’s like a red “island” in a sea of blue.)

The studies Aesthetic Response to Color Combinations and Consumer Preferences for Color Combinations also find that while a large majority of consumers prefer colour patterns with similar hues, they favor palettes with a highly contrasting accent colour.

In terms of colour coordination (as highlighted in this KISSmetrics graphic), this would mean creating a visual structure consisting of base analogous colours and contrasting them with accent complementary colours (or you can use tertiary colours):

Tertiary colour chart

Another way to think of this is to utilise background, base and accent colours to create a hierarchy(as Josh from StudioPress showcases below) on your site that “coaches” customers on which colour means take action:

Background base accent

Why this matters: Although you may start to feel like an interior decorator after reading this section, this stuff is actually incredibly important in helping you understand the why behind conversion jumps and slumps. As a bonus, it will help keep you from drinking the conversion rate optimization Kool-Aid that misleads so many people.

Consider, for instance, this often-cited example of a boost in conversions due to a change in button colour:

Button colour

 

The button change to red boosted conversions by 21 percent, but that doesn’t mean that red holds some sort of magic power to get people to take action.

Take a closer look at the image: It’s obvious that the rest of the page is geared toward a green palette, which means a green call to action simply blends in with the surroundings. Red, meanwhile, provides a stark visual contrast (and is a complementary colour to green).

We find additional evidence of the isolation effect in a myriad of multivariate tests, including this one conducted by Paras Chopra and published in Smashing magazine. Chopra was testing to see how he could get more downloads for his PDFProducer program, and included the following variations in his test:

Download button colour test

Can you guess which combination performed the best? (Hint: remember, contrast is important.)

Here were the results:

Download colour button results

As you can see, example #10 outperformed the others by a large margin. It’s probably not a coincidence that it creates the most contrast out of all of the examples. You’ll notice that the PDF Producer text is small and light gray in colour, but the action text (“Download for Free”) is large and red, creating the contrast needed for high conversions.

While this is but one study of many, the isolation effect should be kept in mind when testing colour palettes to create contrast in your web design and guide people to important action areas.

Why We Love “Mocha” but Hate “Brown”

Although different colours can be perceived in different ways, the names of those colours matters as well!

According to this study, when subjects were asked to evaluate products with different colour names (such as makeup), “fancy” names were preferred far more often. For example, mocha was found to be significantly more likeable than brown – despite the fact that the researchers showed subjects the same colour!

Additional research finds that the same effect applies to a wide variety of products; consumers rated elaborately named paint colours as more pleasing to the eye than their simply named counterparts.

It has also been shown that more unusual and unique colour names can increase the intent to purchase. For instance, jelly beans with names such as razzmatazz were more likely to be chosen than jelly beans names such as lemon yellow. This effect was also found in non-food items such as sweatshirts.

As strange as it may seem, choosing creative, descriptive and memorable names to describe certain colours (such as “sky blue” over “light blue”) can be an important part of making sure the colour of the product achieves its biggest impact.

Wilmington, Del.,-based Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist at Help Scout, the invisible email support software for small businesses. He also writes about behavioral psychology at his blog Sparring Mind.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Claire Brandon

    Jun 2, 2014 at 11:57

    Excellent article. There is still so much ignorance about this. I’ve seen businesses increase their turnover by following the principles you speak about.

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Branding

Brush Up On Your Personal Branding To Cement Your Success As An Entrepreneur

Check your life skills ratings in these three key everyday areas to see whether you need to pull back from the edge.

Richard Mukheibir

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When you run your own business, you are the brand champion and the brand ambassador – in fact, you are the brand. That is why in all the turmoil of start-up or getting a new product launched, you need to spare a moment to step back.

Think about how you are presenting to the world the brand that is so precious to you and that means so much for your future. Your clients certainly want to know and even see evidence that you are deeply committed to your brand. But there is a fine line between living the brand and letting the brand take you over and cloud your better judgement.

This is where personal branding becomes as important as your innovative product solutions or your customer service excellence. Edgy entrepreneur is one thing – but clients might shy away if they think that you have stepped over the edge and are more involved in process than delivery.

Check your life skills ratings in these three key everyday areas to see whether you need to pull back from the edge:

  1. Time management: Despite traffic problems or transport schedules, getting this right is vital. If you do not make it on time to an initial meeting with a client, this will raise alarm bells. The client’s immediate thought is, “Can I trust this person’s word about delivering on time?” Time is money and not being on time could ultimately cost you money.
  2. Look the part: If you look tired, dishevelled or have poor hygiene, instead of giving you a high five for pulling an all-nighter trying to troubleshoot a new product, clients might simply think that you do not fit with their corporate culture. Ask yourself if you even fit with your own corporate culture? Is this the way you want to present your brand and your business to the world?
  3. Clear the decks: You might just get away with your office or workshop looking like a tip where only you know where to find something. But do not let that attitude spill over into the world outside.

That apparently friendly and innocent courtesy of being escorted to your car by your host when you leave the meeting could cover them checking you out. Many business people judge potential service providers or partners by their car – not the brand but what it looks like.

Is it covered in dust and badly in need of a wash? Is it full of the rubbish of several lunches on the road and a muddle of paperwork? It is likely that they will deduce that this is how you run your business and how you would run your business relationship with them. In other words, the state of your car might get you the thumbs up or put an end to what had been a promising negotiation.

You can be how you like, do what you want when you are off duty. But when you are on your own business’s time, you are your own brand and you need to live up to it if you want to make your mark.

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Branding

5 Things You Can Do To ‘Humanise’ Your Brand

Face it: Consumers don’t automatically trust your brand or anyone else’s. Whaddaya gonna do?

Syed Balkhi

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Let’s face it, consumers don’t trust brands. Most people view companies like faceless enemies; they’re just out to make money; they’re just telling us what we want to hear. So, if your company wants to win over more customers, you’ve got to get them to trust you.

In fact, according to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey 2018, more than one in three consumers surveyed ranked “trust in brand” among the top three factors, other than price, influencing their decision to shop at a particular retailer. How do you get consumers to trust your company? You do it by showing them the human side of your brand. That will inspire more trust from consumers and boost your conversions.

To form meaningful relationships with your audience, check out these five ways to humanise your brand.

Show off your funny bone

netflix-tweet

One easy way is to show off your funny bone. According to researchers from the Turku PET Centre, Oxford and Aalto universities, social laughter leads to an endorphin release in the brain and may promote the establishment of social bonds. So, if laughter can make us feel good and encourage connections between people, you should consider using it to get the same results for your business.

Not a comedian yourself? Don’t worry; you can share popular and funny content that already exists. It’s what Netflix does when the media giant shares funny images from its shows.

Showing your more playful side will help consumers see that you’re not just a business focused on selling a product; you’re a human who can put aside your seriousness and have some fun.

Related: Boutique Branding Consultancy Morake Design House

Put your team members in the spotlight

Letting consumers see the people behind the business is a powerful way to humanise your brand. If consumers are looking at just your logo all the time, they might not see your brand as human. So, put your team members in the spotlight.

Shoot some quality photos of your staff members and display them on your website and your social media platforms. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer; iPhones today can take some pretty stunning shots. You might even share your employee of the month and include a story about what makes that staffer so great. Seeing the amazing people “behind the curtain” will help consumers put a face to the brand name.

Share user-generated content

Sharing user-generated content works to humanise your brand in two ways: First, it’s exciting and flattering to the user who gets his or her photo featured on your website or social media feed. Second, it shows other consumers that you have great relationships with their peers and that those people already enjoy your products.

Instead of being asked to blindly trust a company’s claims, consumers will see real-life people falling in love with your products, which will promote trust in your brand. Example? Airbnb does user-generated content well by sharing with its followers the amazing experiences its customers are having around the world.

airbnb-mozambique-holiday

If you don’t have any user-generated content, ask your customers for it. Do this in an email marketing campaign; add it to your branded packages for shipping; or create a post on social media encouraging users to take a photo of/with your product and share it in combination with a unique, branded hashtag.

Related: 5 Ways To Make Your Personal Branding Statement Stand Out

Tell authentic stories

Don’t spend all your time online just talking about how great your company is; humanise your brand by telling authentic stories. Sharing real stories about your failures, hardships and lessons that you’ve learned will help customers better relate and sympathise with you. According to Psychological Science, research suggests that shared pain may have positive social consequences; shared pain acts as a “social glue” to promote solidarity and togetherness between groups.

So, tell your target audience members stories that they can relate to, instead of simply presenting your brand as perfect. You could even share stories of your customers who previously struggled but then achieved success with help from your company/product. This will not only humanise your brand, but boost sales too.

Show appreciation for your customers

Letting your customers know that you care about and appreciate them is one of the best ways to humanise your brand. So, show appreciation for your best customers by sending them company swag or offering special discounts with a personalised message.

Buffer thanked one of its stand-out customers with not only company swag, but a personalised gift. I’m sure that those customers then became lifelong fans.

buffer-value-adds

Not every company can afford to send out swag to all of their best customers, but sending a gift to just a few of your rockstar fans can go a long way. For a less costly strategy, show appreciation to new customers by simply sending a welcome/thank you email. Not only will such appreciation for your customers humanise your brand, it’ll turn those customers into brand ambassadors.

Related: How A Branded Car Can Boost Your Business

Over to you

Be prepared for your business to have a lot more die-hard customers. With these tips for humanising your brand, consumers will be able to connect with your business, relate to you on a deeper level and want to have a relationship with your company for the long term.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Branding

How A Strong Brand Protects Your Business

Brand enthusiasts are welcome to follow Kyle Rolfe’s latest thoughts on brand building in South Africa and his analysis on relevant global trends and issues via Twitter @kylerolfeSA.

Kyle Rolfe

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It is all too easy for small businesses to become victims of intellectual property theft and seeing their products and services copied by unscrupulous competitors. A clear case in point is that of Woolworths, which was recently accused of copying a baby carrier made by Ubuntu Baba, having a cheaper version made in China and selling it as its own in-house product.

Woolworths eventually apologised and withdrew its product, after Cape Town entrepreneur Shannon McLaughlin exposed similarities between the retailer’s baby carrier and that made by her company, Ubuntu Baba.

Small business owners can protect themselves from having their products or services copied by developing a strong and unique brand.

Brand uniqueness and an authentically developed product will give you a level of protection in the market, as it will be more difficult for a competitor to copy your offering.

What small business owners should avoid is the “white label solution”. This is taking any product, even one manufactured overseas, and putting your own branding and packaging on it and reselling it as your own.

There is nothing stopping your competitor from sourcing that same product and putting their branding on it and selling it as their own. In this case, as a small business owner, you would have no recourse.

Ubuntu Baba’s unique brand and authentically developed product, designed and manufactured locally, is what helped the small business successfully take on a giant retailer like Woolworths. They didn’t simply take someone else’s product and rebrand it as their own, they actually designed and built their own product.

A unique brand and product will position you as more than just a reseller and will give you a certain level of strength and protection in the market. It allows clients to differentiate you from your competitors and can also positively affect their purchasing decisions, directly impacting your profitability.

Effective branding, that is well defined and distinct, will not only help build your reputation, but it will also make you stand out from the competition.

Ultimately, your brand is your business identity. It is the image that you show to your client, making it one of your company’s most valuable assets. Effective branding portrays a company’s values and attracts the right client.

A strong brand identity also has the benefit of making your company appear bigger and stronger than your competition and consumers are generally attracted to well-established companies. So, ask yourself whether your branding conveys professionalism, reliability and trust.

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