When you think about a brand, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it their logo, a catchy strapline or tone of voice? Color too, is fundamental to our recognition of brands, which can be seen through examples ranging from Oral B and Ford to Coca Cola and Virgin.
But it should not only be industry giants that leverage color as a marketing tactic. It is equally important for small business owners to understand common color associations to ensure customers remember their brand, and make appropriate connections to their area of business. For time-strapped small business owners who wear multiple hats, choosing the correct colors may not be front of mind when developing their brand. It’s also difficult to know which ones will send the right message to customers, or set the appropriate tone – without the help of an expert.
The Science of Color
Vistaprint decided to support small business owners with this challenge, by helping them develop a better understanding of common color associations and how these can be applied to their business. We started by looking at the colors our customers choose when designing their marketing materials. The top color choice was overwhelmingly blue, followed by black and red.
With so much research out there about color psychology, we also consulted an expert, Dr. Sally Augustin of Design With Science. Dr. Augustin analyzed our customer data and provided further insights on how small business owners could use color to evoke specific feelings and associations to benefit their own businesses.
Common Color Connections
Overall, Dr. Augustin felt our customers’ top color choices were unsurprising, as rigorous scientific investigations demonstrate how these three colors can influence the way consumers think and behave. She also provided useful scientific observations relating to different colors, and how you may be able to apply these to your small business. Dr. Augustin’s reflections are captured in this infographic.
Blue: Globally, blue is most often ranked as people’s favorite color. This may be because several things our distant ancestors valued were blue, such as clear skies during good weather. Blue is generally associated with competence and trustworthiness, which makes it a suitable option for small businesses whose customers demand high reliability – such as financial services providers and travel agents.
Black: Black is a widely used and preferred color. Many associate black with strength, sophistication, tradition, and formality. Small retail businesses or those offering car or handyman services could benefit from using black in their branding.
Red: Red is linked to love, danger, and excitement. Seeing red gives customers a burst of strength. This makes it the perfect choice for fitness-related businesses. This color also signals danger, so it is a smart choice for warning labels.
Green: Green is associated with nature and environmental responsibility, which can make greens a good color option for firms that sell solar panels, for example. This color is also linked to spring and rebirth, making it appropriate for businesses selling services that will help people start new lives, such as health or education products.
Yellow: Yellow was one of the colors least likely to be selected for marketing materials by Vistaprint customers, and this chimes with wider research on color psychology – it’s universally unpopular. Despite being less favorable, there are always exceptions where yellow can be used as an accent color to help stand out. It’s association with warmth, heat, and sunshine also make it a good choice for heating repair or pool services businesses.
Brown and Purple: Brown is linked in our minds to ruggedness and purple to sophistication, so, generally, any situation that encourages the use of one probably discourages utilizing the other. While brown would suit construction and auto repair businesses, purple would be appropriate for companies selling beauty and spa services and arts and crafts.
Each color has different associations and can elicit strong feelings from customers. Therefore, the colors small business owners select to promote their business shouldn’t be taken lightly. So, what steps can you take to ensure your colors are sending the right message, and positioning your business is the best possible light?
Put the Customer First
It’s natural for small business owners to gravitate towards universally popular colors like blue, black, or red to promote their business, but what’s most important is that you choose colors through the lens of your customers. Rather than play it safe, step back and carefully consider your target audience, their tastes and preferences, the type of response you need to elicit from them, and how they currently perceive your business. Don’t make any assumptions either. Review any colors you choose with a small sample of people you’d like to respond positively to your brand and marketing materials to check that they’re receiving the intended message.
Make sure the colors you pick for your marketing truly echo the nature of your business, otherwise you run the risk of confusing your customers. A traditional business may want to use a conservative color palette, but a bold business should go with bold colors. Ultimately, the colors you select should reflect your brand personality and identity.
Leverage Color Combinations
It’s often the case that small business owners need to send different messages and evoke a range of feelings from their customers. Combine complementary colors to enhance the impact of your brand and marketing materials.
A small business selling wellbeing-related services, such as a spa or massage clinic, needs to prompt customers to feel healthy, and confident that these services can help them to switch off, relax, and recharge. An appropriate color combination in this case might be green, thanks to its association with rebirth, and blue, which suggests competence and trustworthiness. If your business uses a neutral color like grey, you could pair it with a more energizing or relaxing color.
When considering color combinations, remember to avoid pairing colors with contradictory associations, such as brown and purple.
Consider Cultural Differences
If your small business attracts an international customer base, or if you’re selling products or services abroad, be cognizant of how colors are interpreted in different cultures. A color that evokes a positive response from Western customers could have the opposite effect in Eastern cultures.
For example, green is often associated with nature, sustainability, and rebirth in Western societies, but in some parts of Asia it is linked to rot and decay, which would make it a poor choice for small businesses offering health or gardening products and services. On the other hand, yellow isn’t as poorly received in China as it is in other countries, due to its historic associations with the emperor. In France, this color is associated with infidelity.
Avoid Your Competitors’ Colors
To maximize your opportunity to stand out, avoid choosing colors that are very similar to those of your competitors.
Clearly, your colors need to make sense from the perspective of your customers and brand, but you can make subtle changes to differentiate from your competition.
Using color combinations is one way you can achieve this, but also consider varying your color shades to evoke different associations for customers. According to researchers, looking at sage greens with lots of white mixed into them is relaxing, as these colors are not very saturated, but relatively bright. Looking at more intense and pure shades such as kelly greens, which are saturated but not too bright, has an energizing impact.
Colors conjure strong feelings from your customers, and will influence their response and overall perception of your brand. Choose wisely and apply what psychologists already know about the science of color.