How to use colour psychology

How to use colour psychology in branding and marketing Freedom Eche January 2019


Colour, it's everywhere and the irony is most of the times we barely notice it. And that, perhaps from a branding and marketing practitioner's perspective is the ideal set up. If we knew all the subtle and sometimes downright sneaky tactics that companies used to get us addicted to their products then turmoil in the marketplace would abound a plenty.

We all do notice colour at a basic, superficial level but we never really think deeper about why a brand favours specific colours over another. Some are quite obvious though. For example fast food chains be it KFC, McDonalds, Burger King all use bright warm colours ranging from Red, Orange, Yellow. Red is known to trigger stimulation, appetite, hunger and quite usefully, it attracts attention. Yellow is known to trigger the feelings of happiness and friendliness. Orange can trigger feelings of energy, excitement, enthusiasm and warmth.

In stark contrast a colour like green stimulates a feeling of renewal, growth and is the colour we associate most with the environment. Brown for examples evokes strength and reliability. It's often seen as a solid colour and associated with earth so therefore it's also associated with resilience, dependability, security and safety.

So, needless to say colour and brand identity is heavily associated with the product and the feelings that the brand wants to evoke with it's customers.

I've touched upon a small number of the colours in the spectrum, now let's look at a few of the others in between

Blue is associated with- Positiveness, intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.

Purple is associated with- Royalty and symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. It also conveys wealth and extravagance.

Pink is associated with- Physical tranquillity, nurture, warmth, femininity, love, sexuality, survival of the species.

Grey is associated with- Emotionless, a moody colour that is typically associated with meanings of dull, dirty, and dingy, as well as formal, conservative, and sophisticated.

White is associated with-purity, innocence, wholeness and completion. In colour psychology white is the colour of new beginnings, of wiping the slate clean.

Black is associated with-Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance.

However, there are no absolutes when it comes to using colour for branding. As noted above we associate green the most with the environment, growth and renewal so why does it work for a fast food chain like Subway and why does blue work for Greggs?

Subway might want you to focus more on the fact that they offer a variety of salad fillings with your 'cheese and toasted footlong' to convey a sense of freshness about their food instead of just stimulation only. So green could be said to be more appropriate for them.

This is an insight given deeper analysis in Gregory Ciotti's article. He notes “In a study titled “Impact of colour on marketing,” researchers found that up to 90% of snap judgements made about products can be based on colour alone, depending on the product. Regarding the role that colour plays in branding, results from another study show that the relationship between brands and colour hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the colour being used for the particular brand (does the colour "fit" what is being sold?)

A study titled "Exciting red and competent blue" also confirms that purchasing intent is greatly affected by colours due to their effects on how a brand is perceived; colours influence how customers view the "personality" of the brand in question. Who, for example, would want to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle if they didn’t get the feeling that Harleys were rugged and cool?

He further adds "our brains prefer immediately recognizable brands, which make colour an important element when creating a brand identity. One journal article even suggests it's important for new brands to pick colours that ensure differentiation from entrenched competitors.

When it comes to picking the "right" colour, research has found that predicting customer reaction to colour appropriateness is far more important than the actual colour itself. If Harley owners buy the product in order to feel rugged, colours that work best will play to that emotion.

What we should interpret from this is that choice of colour for your brand should not be based on stereotypical colour characteristics. It's more about communicating your personality and what type of experience customers should expect from you. Colour appropriateness is far more important than the actual feeling and mood of the colour.