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Colour psychology in marketing – your choice of colour matters

1980s colour based stay at home playlist

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Why read this? : We review the impact colour has on how customers perceive your brand. Learn the value of using colour psychology in marketing. We cover how colours are defined, and how they have different mental associations for people. Learn how to relate these to your brand identity. Read this for ideas on how to use colour psychology in marketing. 

Your choice of colours says a lot about you and your brand. When you see a colour, your brain makes a link to associations you already have with those colours. Colour acts as a signal for specific associations and meanings.

You can use these associations or signals as a short-cut to link your brand to what those colours represent for your customers. 

Want to make your brand look natural and healthy? Choose a green colour palette. Want to make your brand look calm and trustworthy? Choose a blue colour palette. 

Creatives, designers and printers know these colour signals. But most marketers are unaware of them.

That’s a missed opportunity.

1980s colour based stay at home playlist

Knowing how colour psychology in marketing works can add to your competitive advantage.  As we’ve just updated our colour in marketing guide this week, it’s been very top of mind for us.

Your colour choices impact your brand identity, your packaging, your advertising and your website. If you understand colour psychology in marketing, you can use it to make your brand activation stronger. 

As part of our research into colour signals and associations, we came across this great article on colour. It set out to define decades by colour. Because some colours have strong associations with certain periods of time. They signal specific time periods in history. 

So you can look at a set of colour samples, and say, oh yeah, that’s the 1960s or the 1980s. Because you associate those colours with those decades. 

Lockdown playlist social media fun

Inspired by that article, we had some fun with it posting a bunch of social media posts like the one at the top of the page and this one.

We put our top 10 tunes, based on the decade and the colour choice. But tunes that had a specific resonance to being in lockdown. 

In this example, we used the colours Natural and Harvest Gold (Hex references #c9a87d and #f7a141). These colours give off that dusty, beach, California free love vibe.

If you’ve seen Tarantino’s latest Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it’s full of this sort of colour palette.

But compare that to the eye-watering Pacman and Powersuit (Hex references#c8ff00 and #ff00ff) from the 1980s playlist at the top of the page. Those connotations are aerobic leotards and leg warmers, and vibrant music videos on MTV.

Very different, huh?

But the different associations and signals, are all generated just by the choice of colour. And that’s something marketers should know more about. 

Colour in marketing - where to start

As we outline in our newly updated guide, there’s a lot of practical things you can learn and use from colour  in marketing. 

To start with, to make sure everyone is talking about the same thing, it’s important to learn the different ways to name and describe colours. This can be as simple as the basic colour wheel of the 12 primary, secondary and tertiary colours. 

But obviously, there are more than 12 colours to choose from. So, it’s important to be able to name and describe colours specifically, so you get the same colour used consistently in everything you do. 

To get this, there’s the different ways colours can be described. And the 5 (!) different colour systems you can choose from. These are RGB, HSB, Hex, CMYK and Pantone.

We don’t know of a single marketing course which trains you in these systems. You usually end up hearing about them from designers or printers, and having to pretend you understand these systems. 

Colour wheel with primary, secondary and tertiary (hue) colours

It’s almost like the understanding of colour has to be picked up by some sort of osmosis.

Check out our guide for the fuller explanation of these colour systems. But, the short version to remember for now is that RGB and HSB are mainly for screens. Hex is for websites. And CMYK and Pantones are for printing. But naming colours to describe them accurately is only the first step when you learn about colour for marketing. There’s more to learn. 

Colour psychology in marketing

Where things get more pointed is in how you apply colours in your marketing activity to your advantage. And for us, we see a big knowledge gap in most businesses about this. 

Because, there’s a lot of great information out there about the psychological impact of colour.

But we reckon most marketers have little to no idea about this. They rely on designers and agencies to advise them.

It’s a missed opportunity. Because you can use the way people connect with colours as an insight to drive more growth.

The mental associations and signals mean colour psychology in marketing should be part of your marketing toolkit. 

Colours help create quicker and stronger brand associations. They reinforce what it stands for. 

So for example, we’re thinking of 3 brands we know well. You’ll know them too.

If we just describe them, without giving you the brand name, see if you can pick up what colour you think the packaging would be. 

Answers at the end of the article.

Colour psychology - an applied use of colour in marketing

Brand A

So Brand A is a brand which plays in the world of healthy nutrition. It has strong claimed health benefits. It spends a lot of time with healthcare professionals to build up scientific research to back up these health claims. This clinical, scientific approach comes through in its packaging, website and promotional materials. Its target audience like it because it gives them confidence it knows what it’s doing. 

Brand B

Brand B is an alcohol brand that’s mostly drunk in cocktails on fun nights out. It’s energetic and vibrant. It has funky product origins, stimulating product ingredients and a history of big night out advertising. You’d expect to see groups of younger drinkers necking this brand after midnight in a darkened nightclub. It’s all about a big night out.

Brand C

Brand C is in the snack business. Its main product is luxurious and indulgent. It’s the market leader, and seen as the “go to” brand in its category. It’s mainly consumed later in the day as an indulgent treat. The brand frequently launches new flavour extensions based on the latest food trends. 

Spend time thinking about your choice of colour

Marketing is challenging enough already. A good knowledge of how and where to use colour and colour psychology in marketing can take your whole brand game up a level. 

If your product is in the supermarket, as we show in our packaging guide, colour is one of the key ways you can make your brand stand out from the 40,000 other products that you’ll find in there. It signals what your product is, and what your brand stands for. 

As per our advertising and media guides, repetition driven by frequency is a key part of building awareness and recognition of your brand. And when you repeat the use of a colour in your advertising, it helps strengthen the mental connection between that colour and the brand.

For example, Check out Coca-Cola’s Christmas advertising and how they link the red and white colours into everything they do. (see also our Christmas advertising article which includes Coke). The repetition and consistency helps customers remember your brand and associate it with specific colours. 

And if website design is your thing, then a consistent use of colour is a critical part of the user experience. So much so that usability.gov has an entire guide on how to use colour to improve the user experience.

Conclusion - Your choice of colour matters

So, we hope our little push to learn more about why your choice of colour matters hasn’t made you blue. We hope when you read this guide it made you think about how often or how little you actually think about colour. And talking of read, or red, even, that’s probably our hue, sorry cue to close this post off. 

Check out our guide to colour in marketing to learn a lot more about this topic. Or contact us if you’d like to add a better understanding of colour into your marketing skillset. 

ANSWERS to brand colour test 

A – BLUE.

B – ORANGE.

C – PURPLE. 

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