At President Obama’s final State of the Union address, Michelle Obama commanded attention with her marigold-colored dress. The positive reactions she received wearing the dress, which sold out online before the president finished speaking, helps illustrate the often overlooked power of color to make an impact.
“Most of us learn about the color wheel as children, but color theory goes deeper than knowing how to mix finger-paints to get the right shade of purple,” says Pamela Webber, chief marketing officer for the online graphic design marketplace, 99designs, which recently completed a comprehensive research project on the power and psychology of color as used by small businesses in their branding and marketing.
“Color theory is the collision of science, art and culture,” Webber says. “How your customers respond to colors and color combinations is influenced by aesthetics, learned cultural associations and evolutionary programing.”
Color Affects Mood
For decades, business professionals have found anecdotally that colors do affect mood, claims Donna Hamilton, chief wellness officer of Manifest Excellence, LLC and author of Wellness Your Way. “Early landmark studies found that the color red, considered a warm color, was associated with the increased emotional responses of love, fear and anger, and if already energized, those who experienced red found it disturbing," Hamilton says. "Blue, on the other hand, is considered a cool color and was found to have a calming effect. Business research shows that colors can have a strong effect on how customers perceive and react to your brand.”
—Pamela Webber, chief marketing officer, 99designs
Color can be a powerful tool, agrees Mona Patel, founder and CEO of Motivate Design and author of Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think. “Different colors can make us feel different emotions,” she says. “Warm colors [reds, oranges, yellows] make us think of the sun, so they can be used to create a cozy feel and bring people together, whereas cool colors [blues, greens, purples] remind us of the sky and ocean, so they calm us. Motivate Design's primary brand color is bright orange, which is sharp and alive. The color creates a welcoming, collaborative office environment and portrays our employees as creative, friendly, focused and standing out from the crowd.”
Choosing Company Colors
“Because color can affect psychological and emotional response, it’s wise for small-business owners who offer in-person services to pay attention to the colors they expose their clients to, such as in their office decor and clothing, like staff uniforms,” Hamilton says. “For example, companies offering stress management or relaxation products and services might want to use a more soothing palate in their office, for their logo and on their website, whereas businesses that promote services based on speed might want to use more stimulating colors.”
“Choosing the color of your company’s logo or brand identity is not as simple as liking green and wanting a dark forest logo,” Webber agrees. “Consider the traits and attributes associated with the primary colors used in your brands and logos and whether those are traits you want your business to communicate. The ideal colors enable you to share your brand’s true personality with customers.”
When selecting your brand colors, you may also consider the choices of others in your industry. “Many food and beverage companies use reds, blacks and yellows. And Internet, software and social media companies have a tendency to use blues," says Patel. "When it comes to color choice, it can be advantageous to position your brand within the norms of your industry, or you might want to deliberately set yourself apart.”
“Consider your specific industry and the most popular colors used in that sector," Webber adds. "Maybe it would be best to stand apart and be memorable by choosing a more original color scheme. Can you benefit from being the exciting, fun company in a more traditional field? Sometimes zagging is far better than following everyone else’s zigging.”
Also consider the effect office colors can have on you and your employees. “You can’t work well if you don’t feel well, so use colors that have a positive emotional effect on you and your staff,” Hamilton says. “Depending on the sensitivity of your office team, some people could feel overly stimulated, especially by warmer colors, or overly sedated by cooler colors.”
Color and Company Image
Color can be most important in defining your company's brand identity, believes Patel, who suggests creating a color palette with primary and secondary colors that are harmonious, yet contrast. “After deciding on a color palette, use it to design all visual touch points of your brand, such as the logo, website, promotional materials, signage and social media assets,” she says. “You want to create a cohesive experience for your customers.”
Once you've decided on a color palette, stick with it, advises Patel. “Don't add colors haphazardly. The use of color should always be considered and intentional. By adhering to a defined set of colors for your brand in a consistent way, you can create brand recognition and trust with your customers, and that can set your company up for success.”
Read more articles about branding.