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Psychology of colour, why it matters more than you think

Designer working at her desk using a colour wheel
Wavebreak Media ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

90% of snap judgements made on a product are based on its colour and that is why using the right colour for your branding and marketing is so important. Colour psychology and how colour can be used to enhance your brand, product or marketing isn’t a new topic, but it is an interesting one. And the more you read about it the more interesting it becomes.

Some key things to remember when using colours in your work

  • Personal experiences can impact how individuals feel about certain colours so while there are common themes there is no single answer of what a colour means for everyone
  • The meaning of colours differs between cultures, so if you’re working on a global project you need to think about that
  • Choosing the right colour isn’t always about what the colour means but also about how appropriate that colour feels to your brand or product

Why does colour psychology matter?

Whatever you’re working on you will have an objective to meet. So it’s important to know what colours are going to have the biggest impact on your conversion rate. Colour is so important to us as consumers, it has a big impact on how we digest images, information and content. Subconsciously it helps us understand where to look on a page and what actions we should be taking.

Here’s the science bit:

According to an article from Entrepreneur.com “When our eyes take in a colour, they communicate with a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which in turn sends a cascade of signals to the pituitary gland, on to the endocrine system, and then to the thyroid glands. The thyroid glands signal the release of hormones, which cause fluctuation in mood, emotion, and resulting behaviour.” 

Cultural differences

As I mentioned earlier the meaning behind colours can vary depending on an individual’s personal experience but overall, there are some key themes. These do however vary from culture to culture and for now, I’m going to focus on western meanings. If you’re interested in the various cultural meanings of each of these colours this infographic is really great! 

Boys vs Girls

It’s 2018 and as a society we’re fully submerged into the idea of gender equality and gender fluidity so it might surprise you that even recent studies discuss the idea that different colours and shades are appealing to males and females – now we could go on to debate whether this is because children taught from a young age through toys, clothes, brands, marketing etc. to favour certain colours but I am not an expert in this area and it feels like a dangerous place to go without enough knowledge to discuss it properly. The important and relevant part of this information comes if your product targets a particular gender, then you might want to dig a little deeper into what colours appeal to your audience.

Here’s what I do know, most people are taught that girls like pink and boys like blue – but as I’m sure you can imagine this isn’t true. In a couple of recent studies both genders have chosen blue as the colour they found most appealing, but it was the shade of blue where there was a difference. Women tend to like lighter more subtle shades, where men prefer a darker, more intense blue. And second to that women voted purple in second place where men very rarely selected purple at all. So while the concept feels outdated, it is still (for now) something worth thinking about.

What the colours mean

Blue

Key meanings: trust, peace, loyalty, calm, security

Brands that use blue: Barclays bank, Facebook, PayPal, United Airlines

Green

Key meanings: nature, environment, freshness, creativity, luck

Brands that use green: Subway, Starbucks, Android, WholeFoods

Red

Key meanings: love, sex, appetite, masculinity

Brands that use red: Coca Cola, Ferrari, Nintendo, Netflix

Orange

Key meanings: togetherness, affordability, fun, adventure

Brands that use orange: Easyjet, Amazon, Timberland, Nickelodeon

Purple

Key meanings: mystery, power, luxury, sentimentality

Brands that use orange: Hallmark, Cadbury, Yahoo, Zoopla

Black

Key meanings: luxury, sophistication, glamour, exclusivity

Brands that use black: Apple, Nike, MTV, Louis Vuitton

That’s all very interesting but how can it help me?

In the study Impact of Color in Marketing it was found that 90% of snap judgements made on a product were based on the colour! If that isn’t motivation to think carefully about what colours you want to use, then I don’t know what it!
Now remember, a key part of these colours working as they’re intended is their suitability to your brand, for example easyJet could change their brand colour to blue but it wouldn’t make everyone instantly trust them! So, the first thing to do is have a think about what it is you want to achieve, what your brand identity is, and how can you use colour to enhance that on your website, marketing materials, logo etc.

Then think about the next step in your journey, how are you going to use those colours to make your customers do what you want them to do = convert!

Without getting into the nitty gritty of UX and UI here are a few things you need to think about:

  • Once you’ve chosen the main colour for your brand use its opposite colour for your call to action buttons – research says something that stands out is more likely to be seen
  • Bright colours have the highest conversion rates, so forget about muted tones or darker colours – make sure you CTA’s stand out!
  • We learn how to think when we see certain colours and if you want people to understand your site don’t try and reinvent what works. If there is an error use red and if something is correct use green – it’s what we understand.
  • Never forget about the power of white, it helps create a sense of space and freedom within a piece of content or webpage and will make the important bits stand out even more.

I know what colours I want to use, what’s next

Well, first of all nail them down with your marketing team. Put together a brand pack and get your design teams to work out some style guides for your website and online work so everyone knows what the brand colours are.

Once you have the colours nailed down you can start using them. Now, these colours aren’t only relevant to logos and fonts, you can also use them in your content – including images. All you need to find images matching your brand colours on Alamy is the colours hex code. Then you can use the colour filter (image > style > colour) on the Alamy search results page to filter down your image search to just your brand colours…pretty cool!

Notes to photographers

  • Colour can often be an important part of an image buyers brief, so you could think about adding colour keywords to your images. We also have the colour search
  • You could use the idea of colours and their meanings for a future shoot, think about using these colours in models’ clothes, props, background colours etc. They’re more important to brands (especially the big ones) than you might think
  • Think about this for your own photography business, what colours do you use on your website, what colour is your logo etc.

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