Here’s what top brands know about color and perception

July 18, 20174 Minute Read

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What is it about the use of color that makes a brand stand out? Brands don’t choose a color by accident—it’s a strategy to attract the ideal customer. Some marketers argue that the dynamic of how color affects brand perception may be more important than the actual product itself. As Ad Age puts it, “There are no superior products. There are only superior perceptions in consumers’ minds.”

Sight is the most developed of our senses, which explains why visual perception trumps everything else when it comes to our feelings about a brand. There are physiological reasons why we respond to color in the ways that we do—and businesses intentionally use color to make a powerful connection with their customers.

How color affects brand perception

Researchers have discovered how color affects our psychological response to brands. According to Quick Sprout, color can influence up to 90 percent of the decisions we make about brands after forming our initial impressions.

Red stimulates the appetite, which is why so many food companies like Frito Lay, Coca-Cola, and Budweiser use it. Red is often used during clearance sales, as the bright color draws attention to the lowered prices and encourages shoppers to make impulse buys. Blue inspires trust in authority, a sense of reliability, and is a popular choice for banks like Chase and Citibank. It’s also frequently used on our go-to social networks, Facebook and Twitter. While blue is a trustworthy color, it may also curb our appetite—which is why you won’t see it popping up very often among food companies.

Perceived brand fit is a big factor in how we respond to color in branding, which is why you’ll see brands avoiding colors that clash with their brand identities. But a color’s meaning can also change depending on the context. As Entrepreneur points out, brown may suggest ruggedness when advertising a leather product, warm hospitality for a Thanksgiving-themed campaign, or decadent flavor when promoting a chocolate brand. The way we respond to a specific color may change yet again depending on our own personal experiences or cultural backgrounds.

Color’s impact across demographics and cultures

We have a broad understanding of how most people respond to color, but common associations are only one factor to consider when it comes to how we interpret color. Personal experiences, cultural differences, or gender can all impact how a specific audience interacts with a color. For example, research indicates that men tend to prefer bold, vivid colors while women favor soft tinted hues. A specific color might only have a moment in the spotlight, influencing marketing campaigns and consumers’ tastes along the way. New York Magazine reports that a trendy hue known as “Millennial Pink” has been taking the social media and fashion worlds by storm since 2012—with no signs of tiring out.

Cultural differences may also influence how color affects brand perception in certain countries. In the US, red often means danger, but it also can stir feelings of love and passion. In China, red indicates good fortune and happiness. In the West, green fosters associations with nature, wealth, and spring, but it also creates impressions of inexperience or jealousy. In Middle Eastern cultures, green has a tremendous symbolic significance because of its traditional association with paradise in the Quran. Cultural differences surrounding color can be powerful enough to convince a company to change its use of color when it wants to perform well in a certain market. McDonald’s—which has long used red in the background of its marketing materials—has strategically incorporated elements of green in its European campaigns to convey a more eco-friendly message to an audience that values sustainability.

The how and why of brand colors

Given the tremendous power of color, a brand will probably give the issue a lot of careful thought before picking one for its logo and corporate branding materials. Oftentimes, choosing a color comes down to brand personality—the attitude and style that the company wants to communicate. But a brand might also select a specific color to inspire a psychological response such as excitement, as Target does with the color red.

A brand’s choice of color may be guided by its customer demographics. If women prefer softer colors and ladies make up the majority of a brand’s customer base, the company may pick a color with characteristics that will resonate with their audience. The competitive landscape might also factor in. If a brand’s competitors are all using the same color, it should pick a different one in order to distinguish itself from the rest.

Color can definitely have a strong impact on how we think about a brand. With that in mind, it may be time to reconsider the benefits of color printing and how it can strengthen your brand appeal. Customers are 3.5-4 times more likely to consider a document “very appealing” if it’s presented in color, and they’re three times more likely to continue reading a color document than they are a monochrome one.

Color consistently grabs the attention of consumers, making them feel favorably about a brand, and inspiring them to engage with it. If your company hasn’t explored how color can boost its brand, it might be worth discovering the powerful benefits that color can offer.

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