For years, brands have been using colors strategically to persuade shoppers to buy on impulse. While some marketers reject the connection between colors and buying habits, others believe color psychology can be a powerful tool when used correctly.
Although there's still a lack of concrete data, marketers are experimenting with color psychology to create brand identities and influence shopper behavior. Millions of dollars are spent annually to test new color palettes and find the best-performing combinations. So while science hasn't yet vindicated color psychology, companies have managed to improve their performance using the right set of colors. For example, HubSpot found that a red CTA button performed 21% better for them than a green one. Coincidence? Maybe... maybe not.
What is color psychology?
Simply put, color psychology is the study of colors and their impact on human behavior. Sometimes color can influence unexpected things like our sense of taste. According to Neil Patel, "Color is 85% of the reason you purchased a specific product." Sounds like good enough reason to implement a couple color psychology tricks into your own branding efforts.
However, keep in mind that our feelings about certain colors are personal and depend on both life experience and culture. For example, while the color white is used in the Western world to represent purity & innocence, in Eastern countries white is a symbol of death & mourning.
To learn more about the cultural meaning of colors, we recommend these reads:
Crayola: Color in Culture by Mari C. Schuh
Types of colors and their impact on human behavior
The color wheel features two types of colors: warm tones & cool tones. Warm colors include red, orange & yellow and are associated with energy, passion & creativity. These tones are great for adding life to your designs. Cold colors include green, purple & blue and have a calming, soothing effect on people. (This is why you never see flashy colors in hospitals and waiting rooms.)
There's another type of color which isn't represented on the traditional color wheel: neutral tones. Neutral tones include white, grey & brown. In design, these colors are mostly used for backgrounds. To make those colors stand out more, you can add texture to your artwork.
Color psychology in branding
The concept of branding is based on the belief that colors (and other design choices) can evoke specific reactions & feelings. Despite the ubiquitous use of color in marketing, there's not enough research to back up every assumption. However, over the years, marketers & designers have identified patterns that appear to influence customers' purchase decisions.
If chosen correctly, your color palette can influence how customers feel about your brand.
Red represents fire & blood and can be associated both with warmth and with danger. In branding & marketing, this color tends to represent strength, ambition and power. McDonald's uses red to provoke the appetite and a feeling of urgency. (Good move for a fast food chain.)
Other brands that use red: Virgin Active, Canon, Coca-Cola, Netflix, H&M, Kellogg's.
Orange can be also associated with fire, combining the warmth of red with the happy brilliance of yellow. Orange tends to communicate energy & optimism. Usually, orange is associated with youth and creativity. If you want to look adventurous & competitive, orange is your color!
Some brands that use orange: easyJet, Nickelodeon, Harley-Davidson, Fanta, Penguin Publishing Group.
Yellow is a bright color associated with sunshine. It conveys happiness, cheerfulness and friendliness. In branding, yellow tends to grab attention as a very bright color that stands out. Snapchat uses yellow to appeal to younger generations and make their experience light & fun.
Other brands that use yellow: Post-It, IKEA, Subway.
Green is all about nature and is used by bio-friendly, organic and sustainable brands. If you want to portray your services as environmentally safe, green is your color of choice.
Some brands that use green: Animal Planet, Whole Foods, Tropicana, Holiday Inn.
Blue is the color of the ocean and the sky—it's all around us. Invoking feelings of peacefulness & reliability, blue is the favorite color of tech & finance companies. For example, look at Facebook and Twitter. Those two companies use different shades of blue to portray trustworthiness & authority.
Other brands that use blue: PayPal, Visa, American Express, Intel.
For centuries, purple has been the color of royalty. (Before the modern age, purple dyes and fabrics were both expensive and rare.) With its history, it's not surprising that companies use purple to portray their brands as expensive & luxurious.
Some brands that use purple: Hallmark, Aussie, Cadbury.
Like red, black can convey both positive & negative emotions. It can invoke associations of power & minimalism, or on the other hand, it can portray something dangerous or gloomy. Depending on the context, its meaning can differ. In branding, however, black usually comes across as exclusive & luxurious.
Brands that use black: Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, Apple.
How to use color psychology in branding
If you want your brand to be more recognizable and attract more customers, consider rebranding with colors that speak directly to your audience. Test possible color palettes, and design a couple of attractive logos to see which performs better. Play around with different website layouts, in-store marketing and product packaging.
What might work in one medium might be a total waste of time in another. It's worth considering that as you build a well-rounded color palette that's versatile enough to use across different channels.
Apply your colors to all visual elements of the brand, from Twitter avatars to business cards. After experimenting with different options, you'll find the winning combo that will help you build a stronger brand identity.