How to Use Color Psychology to Boost your Brand’s Positioning and Perception
Life has a way to express itself through color. From the beginning of our life, we being to develop and adopt an emotional connection to colors.
The ultimate goal of a brand is to attract and maintain customers, and color psychology, if done correctly, can help you to achieve this.
So what Is Color Psychology?
Color psychology is the study of how certain colors impact human behavior. Different colors have different meanings, connotations, and psychological effects that vary across different cultures. Along with cultural differences, color psychology is largely impacted by personal preference.
The Brief History of Color Psychology
During the late seventeenth century, Sir Isaac Newton discovered the color spectrum and explored how each color is defined by a different wavelength of light. In 1704, Newton developed the color wheel. In the early twentieth century, studies were carried out on the effects of color in people’s behaviors. Further studies showed that colors could potentially affect and manipulate people’s emotions and this has since been used for marketing, architectural design, and more.
How Color Psychology Works in Marketing and Advertising
Businesses use color psychology in marketing and advertising for a number of reasons.
1. Brand identity: Companies carefully choose color palettes that complement their brand personality. The right color scheme is essential for expressing the perspective of a particular brand.
2. Customer targeting: Marketers conduct studies on how customers perceive different colors. By making specific color choices according to the color preferences of their target audience, businesses can hone marketing efforts toward certain demographics.
3. Conversion rates: Conversion rates measure the percentage of customers who finish a task set forward by a company. The task may be pressing a call to action (CTA) button or signing up for an email newsletter. Research shows that merely changing the color of CTA buttons can increase conversion rates.
When it comes to communication, color is unbeatable. Unconscious or otherwise, color can evoke emotions, inspire reactions, and change modes of thinking.
The reason it is important for you as a business owner to understand what each color means is so that you can use colors to convey certain emotions about your brand and help to connect with the intended target audience.
For example, a children’s toy brand using dark black would appear menacing to parents and they would most likely not want to buy toys for their children from this brand. Whereas if they use yellows, blues and oranges, this would be more of the mood that parents would be attracted to do when buying things for their children.
So let’s dive into what colors mean.
Red is associated with love, sensuality and passion, because of hearts, roses and you can see in romantic movie posters like Love Actually and Casablanca.
It also can mean danger and can be associated with blood and dark subjects when combined with black as in the movie The Shining, Black Widow, From Paris With Love and The Godfather.
Then it can be associated with energy like in these Coca Cola ads. Because of the energy feeling associated with it, you can find it used for buttons to buy on websites or on sales signs in stores as it can evoke impulse buying. Target uses red throughout its brand to convey this buying energy.
Orange is associated with enthusiasm, creativity and youth. Because it is a secondary color (a mix of the primary colors red and yellow) it has some of the energy from red, while also the vibrance and happiness of yellow.
When you see different types of orange, you can see how it can also have different meanings and uses. For example, The Lorax movie poster is about the youth and enthusiasm, whereas when you see this Australia poster it has a nostalgic feeling when used with this more muted shade of orange to convey a story about the past.
Similarly, when you look at The Lion King it is about life and when you look at this movie Finding Forrester, it gives a nostalgic feel to it. When mixed with red it can give the sense of explosion or devastation, such as Armageddon, Deep Impact and Signs.
Then looking at other designs using orange, this food truck used a dark orange to show the energy and enthusiasm vibe of this brand and to stand out in a city street. Then you have the brand Nickelodeon, which was always meant to attract kids being orange.
There may be unusual historical reasons behind a brand’s choice of color: luxury brand Hermès chose orange because it was the only paperboard available during World War II! It’s a confident color but not usually associated with luxury.
Moving onto the color yellow. This is associated with sunshine, fun and life and happiness and hope.
In both Little Miss Sunshine and The Help, both films’ premises have uplifting messages of hope. And in The Wizard of Oz, the yellow brick road leading Dorothy to the wizard that will help her is yellow also represents hope. And then on the contrary it can just be used to get attention and if used with more morbid colors, can convey other concepts such as in this Doctor Sleep poster or Kill Bill.
It can be used with more subdued tones, similarly to orange to be more nostalgic or health related as well.
This brand project for a holocaust museum for hope and humanity chose the perfect color to bring this dreadful subject to a more hopeful light. And probably the most famous example of yellow is McDonald’s logo which was created to make people happy with their slogan “I’m lovin’ it”. They used to have red as their primary color with yellow as the accent, but in a recent re-brand they switched it to be yellow as the primary color to add the happiness aspect with a touch of red. Too much red in the brand felt aggressive and shouty.
Then we go onto green which represents nature, health, wealth, and growth.
Whole Foods Market uses it for the health and nature meaning, and Starbucks went from its original color of brown to green to represent that it was not just focused on coffee (represented by brown) but was now offering other types of food.
It can be used in medical brands to convey health like in these brands with the second using a purple to complement the green.
You can see in this movie poster for Jungle Book it represents nature, for the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, it meant wealth. Look at Rolex, whose colors are an emerald green accented by the warm tones of gold. This is one of the most expensive watches in the world with the lowest starting at $5,000 and going up to almost $100,000 for one watch.
Totally separately, green can also represent greed, jealousy and illness. Green in movie posters can be associated with eeriness or scary premises such as Joker, Matrix, Alien and Frankenstein.
Next is blue which is the color you see the most in businesses. It is seen in nature in lakes, the sea and the sky and has a soothing effect as well as meaning stability, trust, peace and pureness. Different shades can convey different aspects of blue, such as baby blue for innocence and peace, where dark blue can be more deep and intense.
You will see it used in a lot of tech brands such as LinkedIn, American Express, PayPal, Dell, IBM, HP, General Motors, Facebook, Twitter, Signal, DropBox, Zoom, Behance and you will see it in medical brands such as this one here due to the color creating trust and appealing to all genders. But when someone wants to stand out from the usual, they will tend to go a different direction, for example AT&T is blue and other phone companies went different directions: Verizon went with red, T-Mobile with Pink. So just because it is a very commonly used color doesn’t mean it is a good idea to always use it.
In Star Wars blue is associated with good and red is associated with evil.
The next color is purple. This one is often associated with royalty, mystery and spirituality. Queen Elizabeth the first even made it illegal for anyone else other than the royals to wear purple. And you can still see the royal family of England wearing purple today.
You will see it in the first Bridgerton series poster complemented very nicely with green, black and white.
Here is a great example of using purple to differentiate from too many blue brands with this dating app doing a rebrand and choosing purple and then orange to complement.
This dreamland brand has this kind of mystical night vibe to it and they chose purple in their branding and packaging. Night has some sort of mystery to it and I think this was a really great choice.
Some famous brands that use purple are Yahoo, Cadbury, Hallmark, FedEx, Taco Bell, Roku and the Lakers.
A fun example of purple is in the Wonka brand from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Willy Wonka is very mysterious and wears purple himself. And then Bohemian Rhapsody (the movie about the band Queen) was purple to represent the royalty of the band’s name. Aladdin’s movie poster is purple representing the magic and mystery of the genie. And then La La Land’s poster which has this deep purple fading into blue with the perfect accent of Emma Stone’s yellow dress in the foreground. Representing the magic of goals and Hollywood.
Next color is pink: which is associated with femininity, romance, sensitivity and playfulness. You will see this color used in a lot of female products such as beauty, wedding and feminine brands as well as in things that are sweet like donuts, cupcakes and candy.
Companies with pink in their branding are Victoria’s Secret, Barbie, Cosmopolitan, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts, T-Mobile.
Movies that use pink in their posters are usually feminine such as Legally Blonde, Clueless, Pretty in Pink, Funny Face and Mean Girls.
The next color is brown which evokes a nature, outdoors, warm, friendly, dependability communication.
Famous brands that use brown are UPS which has been well known for its reliable service, Cracker Barrel, which has a very homey, farm, friendly feel to the whole restaurant. And then you will see it used a lot in chocolate brands such as Godiva, Hersheys, M&Ms as well as coffee as the color of coffee and chocolate is obviously brown. Nespresso and Gloria Jean’s Coffee (used to be the color of Starbucks) and then in Ugg, some luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and cotton.
You will see brown in movie posters that are associated with historic adventure movies such as Indiana Jones, westerns, medieval times like Lord of the Rings and nostalgic type movies such as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Brown can be a really nice complement to the color green in natural brands and designs. It can also work great on artisan and bakery companies and can convey the wholesome homey feeling associated with home.
Black comes next and means elegance, power, exclusivity and can also have more dark connotations if used in pairing with certain colors like red. Black can work as itself for a brand, It can be added with white to add impact and silhouettes, or paired with another bright color for impact as well as used with gold or silver to convey high-end elegance and class.
Black can be seen often in men products. It adds a certain depth to a design. It can also be associated with heavy metal, rough or gothic type brands such as some of these bands and Hot Topic.
And I am also going to bring in white here as often when there is a brand that is black there will also be white in it.
Famous brands that use black and white are Puma, Adidas, Nike, Apple, Mont Blanc, Coach, White House Black Market.
White has the sense of clean, purity, virginity, simplicity and minimalism.
Apple uses the incredible power of white with the hint of black and silver to set the stage for the elegant products it creates. Weddings show very well the innocence of white.
And then grey comes in as a combination between white and black and can be used as a softer alternative to black where you want to convey a wise or less deep contrast. There are many variations of grey ranging from close to white all the way to close to black. Any of these shades will look great with other colors to add a sense of contrast.
How to Use Color Psychology in Your Brand
As we’ve established, color is far from just a visual experience; it can affect your mood, your wants, your reactions, so on and so forth. However, such a powerful tool is wasted if you don’t know how to use it effectively.
#1. Understand the purpose of your brand. And of course every brand owner knows what they do, but rarely they know WHY they do it and is in the latter where the purpose lies. Understanding this will allow you to understand what colors to use to communicate this purpose.
#2. Understand the audience. Defining and understanding your target audience cannot be overstated.
Your target audience begins wide and should be focused down to a narrow group – the narrower, the better for your marketing activities.
#3. Define your Brand Positioning. Brand positioning is all about setting your company apart from the rest and defining your unique value to the customer. Positioning is about understanding how you compare to the competition and where will your business sits in the industry comparatively.
#4. Create the Brand’s Personality & Attributes. Going above and beyond simply defining your brand position, you need to firmly convey your brand’s personality and attributes in your brand strategy.
Personality is something we attribute to humans, which is why it’s so impactful in branding. People like to interact with other people and when we create a human personality in a brand, people will more likely interact with you.
#5 Match Your Brand’s Attributes To Relevant Brand Colors. Once you can clearly communicate your brand personality, brand position, and focused target audience, you can then think about choosing suitable brand colors. Do youthfulness and cheerfulness characterise your brand? A yellow may be apt. Are you a luxury fashion boutique looking to make a splash in the elegant and sophisticated but competitive world of high fashion? Then black would be a great base, but consider other colors to help differentiate your brand.