Posted to Leigh Carver's blog on September 9th, 2013

The Psychology of Color and Your Brand

With the increased conversations about intelligently branding a product, many marketers and brand specialists have been delving into the psychology of color in the hopes that displaying a logo in #ff00a6 will turn a brand into the runaway hit it could never be when the logo was a dull #ff00a5 in hue. But if you're pinning all your hopes and dreams on using one color to evoke one specific response, it's time for a reality check.

The idea that specific colors evoke precise response-- for example, that Facebook blue somehow conveys more competence than navy-- is about as accurate as using astrology to figure out what day to launch your next line of product. Is there something to the psychology of color? Yes. But should color psychology be the end all, be all guiding principle of your design? Absolutely not. Here's why.

First and foremost, consider that different cultures have different meanings constructed around colors. For instance, in South Africa, red is the color of mourning, while in China it's the color of good luck, while in India red is the color of purity, and in the US it is associated with danger and/or passion. Blue, meanwhile, is the color most associated with heaven in Iran, while the Cherokee natives associated it with defeat. In many eastern countries, white is the color of mourning, while in the west, it is a color of purity and peace.

Is your head spinning yet? As business becomes increasingly global, attributing specific psychological responses to certain colors and hues is a risky maneuver. (There is, however, quite a spate of academic literature on the physiological responses to color. It's interesting and I highly recommend reading it if you have the time and stomach for it, though I won't be getting into it this blog entry.)

Instead of trying to get a color that will define your brand, let your brand define the colors you choose. If that statement seems confusing, consider that people will purchase from a brand whose color choices they think appropriately convey the personality of that brand. This is where you get into social constructs, with brands marketing themselves differently across varying cultures. Take into account as well that some colors appeal more to one gender than the other, and you're in for a headache.

So how do you pick the right colors for your brand?

A/B and other multivariate testing is always, always a great decision. (For those of you running Drupal, consider using the Multivariate module to A/B test the appearance of your logo and website-- and the Color module will let you switch the colors of your theme easily.) It's also a great idea to reach out to loyal customers and partners and ask for their opinion-- several months ago, Content Gems was rebranding, and reached out to me for my opinion on their proposed logo and name changes. Not only was I happy to give feedback, but I felt more loyal to the company because I knew they valued my opinion. That's the kind of relationship building that can't be beat.

Lastly, if you're trying to figure out what color to use on a call to action or other conversion action, use a color wheel to paint your button or CTA in the opposite (or complementary) color of what your page is mainly themed in. Is your website green and white? Use red-- it'll be eye-catching, and using opposing colors has been proven to increase conversion rates by double digit amounts. For the rest of your website, go with colors that are analogous, or can be found next to each other on the color wheel.

When it comes down to it, don't let the psychology of color drag your brand off into the woods. Be intentional about your color selections for your logo and your website, and whatever you do, test, test, test!


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