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What Color Is Your Brand?

Jeanette McMurtry
Jan 15th, 2015
  • Estimated reading time: 4 min read
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    1Colors can be used to affect consumer behavior. 2Blue increases trust, while red increases urgency. 3Some color combinations cause distinct unease.
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Marketing Misc.

Crayons melting.

While it’s nice to think that we base our purchasing decisions on intellectual reason, research, practicality, and responsibility, this simply is not so. The more that scientists study the human brain, behavior, and purchasing processes, the more consumers have to accept reality: Most of what we think and do is driven by our unconscious minds’ reaction to stimuli around us.

According to the CCI Color Institute for Color Research, 62 to 90% of our judgment about a product, person, or environment is based on color, and we make that judgment within 90 seconds or less. That unconscious judgment has much deeper implications than we might think.

For years, Walmart and Target have been intense rivals, trying to out-price, outmarket, and outperform each other in earnings and so on. While Target has a higher customer satisfaction record per the American Customer Satisfaction Index 2013 score, Walmart steadily outsells and outearns Target by a wide margin. As of October 10, 2014, Walmart (WMT) had a stock price of $78.29, up $.43 or 0.55%, and Target (TGT) had a value of $60.58, down $1.01 or 1.64%.

Clearly there are many tangible reasons for sales performance and stock earnings, but one possible reason that hasn’t hit the news articles or investor reports is color. One brand is clearly blue on its webpage and its retail environment, and the other is bright red. While consumers might feel more energized in that trendy, chic red setting, and more satisfied when they leave, do they spend more?

Some fascinating research by Rajesh Bagchi, Associate Professor or Marketing in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech, suggests that the answer is no. Bagchi and co-researcher Amar Cheema from the University of Virginia studied how red and blue background colors on websites or throughout physical stores influenced consumers’ willingness to buy.

For retail store settings (brick-and-mortar or online), the likelihood of a purchase is lower with red backgrounds than with blue ones, the two researchers discovered. However in a bid environment, like eBay’s auction site, red creates aggression more than blue does. This aggression caused buyers to make higher bid jumps in auctions but lower offers when negotiating with sellers directly.

The big question is clear: Does color have a direct impact on Walmart’s, Target’s, or even your brand’s sales and stock value? Maybe. Maybe not. But colors do influence our attitude toward a brand, a product, or a person, and most of the time it is unconscious.

In fact, color has been shown to boost response rate for direct marketing packages by 80% and comprehension by 73%, according to a report summarizing numerous studies on color and marketing prepared by Xerox.*

Back to red and blue.

Red is a color of aggression and is even known to have physiological effects like raising our metabolism and blood pressure. Too much of it can cause us to feel overwhelmed; just a little of it can actually up our energy level in a positive way. The restaurant industry has discovered that when restaurants use red appropriately—not too much and not too little—they can actually increase appetites, according to a research paper published by Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Other studies have shown that when you mix red with black you create feelings of intimidation and unease. On the positive side, when used in moderation, red can create energy and desire—a good mix for influencing action, such as sales. It can also help buyers make quick decisions by creating a sense of urgency.

Blue on the other hand is calming, creates a sense of comfort, and puts our mind at ease to focus on the task at hand. One study shows that NFL players who worked out in a gym with blue walls were more productive than those working out amidst white walls.

Blue is also the color of trust and intelligence; hence, a clear choice for businesses in the financial industry. In addition, blue can create a sense of clarity and efficiency and is often used by communications companies for these very reasons.

Other colors have significant affects that influence our attitudes toward products, marketing materials, and brands. And because these attitudes impact our purchasing behaviors online and in stores, it’s mission critical for all marketers to take note of the messages that are subtly and, most likely, unwittingly sent to customers and prospects through color choices.

Just search color wheel meanings and take your pick of many sites and studies that pop up to help you better color your world and brand.

* The Xerox report cites various studies on color and psychology: Studies at Loyola College, Maryland, U.S.A., by Ellen Hoadley, Ph.D., Laurette Simmons, Ph.D., and Faith Gilroy, Ph.D.; Case & Company, Management Consultants; Bureau of Advertising, Color in Newspaper Advertising; Maritz Motivation, Inc., Southern Illinois. Published material: The Persuasive Properties of Colour, Marketing Communications, What’s Working in Direct Marketing, How to Use Color to Sell, Cahners Publishing Company; Grasp Facts Fast with Color Copying, Modern Office Procedures.

This article was written by Jeanette McMurtry, and published in Direct Marketing News.

Jeanette McMurtry is principal of e4marketing, is an authority on psychology-based marketing, speaking at business events worldwide. She is a Back by Popular Demand trainer, speaker, and course instructor for the DMA.

Direct Marketing News is the independent authority for direct and digital marketers.