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Design Strategy: How Customers Respond to Your Brand's Colors

Design Strategy: How Customers Respond to Your Brand's Colors
Credit: Tiplyashina Evgeniya/Shutterstock

When you see yellow, do you think about the sun or feel cheerful? When you see red, do you associate it with anger, or perhaps passion? Color directly affects your moods and subconsciously connects you to certain symbols or experiences.

This is an important factor to consider when you're choosing a color scheme and crafting branded materials for your company. The palette you use for your brand can instantly turn clients on or off to your products and services.

"The science behind color processing is extremely powerful because it affects people's emotions on a subconscious level," said Steve Baker, president of Brandfolder, a digital asset management company. "Studies show that humans may react specific ways to certain shades – a fact that marketers and designers should leverage. When used correctly, color can influence a consumer's perception of your brand, and can persuade someone to purchase your product."

What kinds of connotations do your branded materials have? Research by 99designs and a recent study by Vistaprint about color psychology showed the following associations people make with certain colors, and which industries each works best for:

  • Red – excitement, passion, anger, love, danger, strength (example industries: retail, fitness, travel)
  • Orange – invigoration, energy, value, candor (example industries: construction, lawn service, farming)
  • Yellow – friendliness, youth, cheer, warmth, sunshine (example industries: heating repair, travel, pool services)
  • Green – nature, environmental responsibility, sustainability (example industries: agriculture, education, environment)
  • Blue – maturity, trust, competence, dependability, security (example industries: finance, business, travel, technology, healthcare, real estate, entertainment)
  • Purple – wisdom, sophistication, glamour, elegance, style (example industries: beauty, arts, clothing)
  • Pink – femininity, beauty, friendliness (example industries: beauty, floral, fashion)
  • Brown – ruggedness, masculinity, seriousness, endurance (example industries: fitness, construction, auto repair)
  • White – purity, cleanliness, simplicity (example industries: business, medical, technology)
  • Black – slickness, luxury, strength, tradition, formality (example industries: car repair, religion, fashion)
  • Gray – impartiality, composure, neutrality, balance (example industries: legal, finance, counseling)

Pamela Webber, CMO of 99designs, noted that customers' responses to colors are influenced by three major factors: aesthetics, learned associations and programmed associations.

  • Aesthetics: Some color combinations harmonize well, while others clash and turn the customer off, Webber said. On the other hand, consumers will tune out bland, too-similar color palettes.
  • Learned associations: Deeply ingrained cultural associations, such as brides wearing white as a symbol of purity or funeralgoers wearing black to embody a somber occasion, can also affect how a person perceives color.
  • Programmed associations: Researchers suspect that at least some color associations are the result of evolution, Webber said. For instance, few people choose brown as a favorite color because of the hue's association with rotting produce, while red is a universal sign of heightened, passionate emotions. 

When designing your logo, website or marketing materials, you need to choose color combinations that work well with the message you want to convey.

"Spend some time thinking about your brand's personality, identity and values, and make sure the colors you consider reflect these," said Dr. Sally Augustin, practicing environmental and design psychologist and principal at Design With Science. "While a traditional business may use a conservative color palette, a bold business should go with bold colors."

Augustin added that if you're struggling to choose a single color for your brand, you can experiment with combinations that complement each other.

You'll also want to consider what your competitors are doing. Rather than choosing the same hues as other companies in your industry, stand out by choosing a more original color scheme that still achieves your desired psychological positioning.

"For example, if your industry is saturated with yellow logos but you're hoping to convey a friendly, approachable image, you might consider pink or orange instead," Webber said.

Ultimately, Baker said, the best thing you can do for your business's color scheme is to do your research upfront, and consult with an expert or professional design firm before you make any big decisions.

"Color is a powerful force," Baker said. "Use it to your advantage."

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Business.com and Business News Daily staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. Sammi loves hearing from readers - so don't hesitate to reach out! Check out her short stories in Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror, which is sold on Amazon.