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The Importance Of Colour In Marketing – Does Colour Psychology Predict Consumer Behaviour?

What Is Colour Psychology?

Colour psychology is an area of research into how colours affect human emotion, mood and behaviour.

For marketing, its importance stems from its implications for consumers’ perceptions of a brand, making them more or less likely to engage with it and make a purchase.

Each of the major colours is assigned a set of associations, both positive and negative.

Colour Psychology, Colour Associations examples

Colour Associations In Big-Brand Logos

When we look at the branding of famous companies, we can certainly find examples that seem to fit the colour psychology theory. MacDonalds, with its combination of red and yellow, might suggest speed, excitement and fun. Netflix and Marvel’s red logos could indicate a thrilling experience. Blue logos, attributed with properties of intelligence, competence, wisdom and reliability, are the choice of a raft of technology companies, including Dell, IBM, Samsung, and Nokia, and of a number of financial institutions, for example American Express, Deutsche Bank and Prudential.

So will a simple “I’m a bank so I’m blue” type of formula solve our brand-colour dilemmas for us? It appears not. We don’t have to look far to find large, successful companies whose logo colour does not tie in so neatly with colour psychology’s list of colour attributes. Staying with our examples of red and blue, Levis jeans and technology companies Canon and Oracle have solid red logos, while Oreo biscuits and Domino’s Pizza make strong use of blue.

Maybe it’s not quite so simple, after all.

Why Colour Psychology Does Not Paint The Whole Picture

In reality, we all have individual associations with colour stemming from our personal experience, upbringing and culture. In their paper, An Ecological Valence Theory of Human Color Preferences, Karen B Schloss and Stephen E Palmer argue that humans apply layers of meaning to colours, based on the nature of their own exposure to them. With changing experience, our colour preferences and dislikes can change. Even age itself has been found to influence our colour preferences.

Also, some colours are simply more liked than others. Blue, for instance, is a very common favourite, and so, is popular with consumers. And in China, red is much chosen due to its cultural associations with happiness, luck and prosperity. On the other hand, yellow-brown understandably has bad associations for many, and is largely disliked.

So, colour psychology’s predicted emotional response may be overridden in random ways by our personal track history with colour.

Colour Psychology And Your Branding

Where does this leave you when choosing colours for branding?

Colour psychology’s colour associations are a good foundation to bear in mind. But they paint with a broad brush, and so, should not be considered as either an instruction manual nor a guaranteed formula for success. You need to consider your branding in terms of the overall feeling it creates and its fit with your desired company image. In particular, you should think about the following questions:

– What Colour Is Appropriate For Your Brand?

There are some generally accepted rights and wrongs in this area. A DIY store, for instance, would be unlikely to choose pastels, which most of us associate with softness, spirituality, and creativity rather than practicality, dynamism or determination. You are much more likely to see bold, “we can do it” colours, for instance B&Q’s orange and Toolstation’s strong combination of red and blue.

Similarly, a funeral director with brand colours of yellow and hot pink might be seen as taking your loved one’s departure with an undue amount of levity. In this area, we are likely to see blacks, greys, and the darker or more muted end of the colour spectrum to signify sombreness, dignity and respect.

It is not so much the actual colour which matters, it’s consumers’ perception of the appropriateness of the colour. People will feel more positive towards what they feel is “right”.

What colour fits your brand personality?

The importance of colours in branding stems from their effect on how consumers view a brand’s “personality”.

Studies have identified 5 dimensions of brand personality. Your brand might combine more than one of these elements, but it is usual for one of them to be dominant.

Dimensions of Brand Personality

Rather than trying to match your colour scheme to rigid colour associations, it is more important for you to consider how you can use colour to convey your chosen brand personality.

What Colour Is Appealing To Your Intended Customers?

Colour preferences might be individual but studies have uncovered some broad trends. Young children favour brighter colours, especially lighter ones. Men are more likely to prefer bold colours and colours shaded with black, while women tend to like softer and warmer colours, for instance reds and purples, and tints (colours lightened with white). Additionally, colour preferences change in different life stages, with blue the preferred colour of up to 80% of young adults but red and green becoming more favourite in older people.

– How Can You make Your Branding Memorable?

One potential problem with following colour psychology’s precepts too closely – and for that matter, the findings of all the other studies – is that your business might end up as just another in a raft of companies with similar brand colours. Consumers prefer brands which are instantly recognisable so your branding needs to clearly and immediately identify your business.

Furthermore, research has shown that the item which stands out as different from its cohorts is much more likely to be remembered. So you might wish to choose anomalous or distinctive brand colours which differentiate you from competitors. Pink Storage’s use of that colour in its logo and name is a great example of the the colour itself making the brand memorable.

How Can You Make Your Branding Timeless?

Good branding should stand the test of time. Ideal examples are Coca-Cola’s logo, trademarked in 1893 and hardly changed since, and Shell Oil’s logo, which has been a scallop shell since 1904 and a version easily recognisable to us since 1948. It is interesting to note that the font used by Coca-Cola was very “of its time”. Because in general, it is a good idea to avoid colours and fonts which are “this year’s trend” since by next year they will generally look outdated. There is no way to predict how style trends will change, but you can timeproof your branding as much as possible by sticking to classic colour schemes and fonts.

In summary, colour psychology is just the starting point

Colour psychology provides a useful background when choosing colours for your brand, but there really is no magic formula to bring customers flocking to your door. There are just too many complexities in human perception of colour for there to be simple answers to what brand colours you should use.

Colour is just one element of branding and your colour scheme needs to fit with the overall look and feel of your brand, along with your brand name, logo, slogan and any other brand elements you use.

In a way it would be nice if we could simply go and look at a chart to determine ideal brand colour. It certainly would make life simple.

But if that were the case, logos would be same-y and predictable, with no room for creativity and innovation. And who would really want that?

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Pink for Girls, Red for Boys, and Blue for Both Genders: Colour Preferences in Children and Adults

The Effects of Colors on Brand Personality in Advertising

Why your favourite colour is probably blue

Biological, cultural, and developmental influences on color preferences

Changing Colour preferences with ageing: a comparative study on younger and older native Germans aged 19-90 years

An Ecological Valence Theory of Human Color Preferences, Karen B Schloss and Stephen E Palmer