As published in the Dakota County Tribune Business Weekly, February 25, 2010
by Coco Dugan Early, Interior Design Instructor
Dakota County Technical College
Color influences every aspect of our lives. Color can be approached from many different viewpoints: cultural, emotional, psychological and physiological—to name but a few. Color affects our health, moods, aesthetics, interiors, architecture, fashion, graphics and the way we market our products, our businesses and ourselves. Yet color is often taken for granted or overlooked as a frivolous extra when people compile factors that contribute to business success.
Among all forms of nonverbal communication, color is the most immediate element for understanding messages and meanings. The marketplace is saturated with color because it works as a critical ingredient when transmitting a positive, enticing image about a product or service. The careful application of color in business and marketing can lift a product or service above the your competition’s more dully defined offerings.
“Color sells, and the right color sells better,” reads the slogan of the Color Marketing Group, or CMG, the premier international association for color serving many business sectors. When companies recognize the incredible power of color and the enormous value of selling the right color at the right time, they invariably see a positive impact on the bottom line.
Consumers are human, which means that they react to color in a subconscious manner. They are generally unaware of the persuasive effects of color on their decision-making processes because the psychological effects of color are instantaneous and wield the tremendous power subliminal suggestion. Research has shown the amazing impact of color at every level of communication in the marketplace—from corporate identification, logos, signage, advertising and package design.
Color is so powerful in brand recognition that a handful of colors are now protected because they are so closely identified with a company or business. “Yes, the UPS brown is fully owned and a registered trademark of UPS,” confirmed Kris Carmichael in brand management with United Postal Service. “What can brown do for you?” is now inked in the minds of consumers.
An example of color’s marketing power is reflected in the following statement from the Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color: “As consumers speed down the market aisles, their eyes rest on a package for approximately .03 seconds. In that blinking-of-an-eyelash timing, the package must rivet the observers’ eyes, inform them of the package contents and, more importantly, appeal to their psyches.”
After capturing consumer attention, color must then convey meaning and express the desired value of the offered goods or services. For example, the color deep brown is often associated with good taste and luxury products. Fine coffees, richly brewed espresso, dark chocolates and the deeply polished patinas of rich leathers all communicate opulence inherently. The applied color must be evaluated as appropriate to that product to avoid any negative associations. Browns can also relate to dirt or something dirty, which is obviously not a positive association and has often been problematic in some industries, particularly fashion. In the case of UPS, brown offers the feelings of dependability and trustworthiness.
The color red, on the other hand, is universally associated with excitement and high energy. Red can be aggressive and demand attention. From sports cars to lingerie to food, red stimulates and excites the consumer. As with brown, red can deliver negative associations when linked to such emotions as anger and frustration. As such, red must be employed with caution in certain service industries.
Because color is subject to cultural and symbolic interpretation, businesses operating in multicultural societies or serving global markets must be especially vigilant in their official color selections. Many Asian cultures associate white with mourning and use red in marriage ceremonies. Understanding cultural differences can make a huge difference when addressing the perceptions of consumers from different cultural backdrops.
In terms of marketing, the cyclical nature of color should never be ignored. For instance, the 1980s witnessed a move toward mauve, gray and teal in interiors and consumer products. At the time, experts and customers alike considered the change a welcome relief to earth tones, which dominated the previous decade. Moreover, the colors that ruled the first 10 years of the 21st century will be different from the colors emerging in this decade. The influence of prevailing economic, political and social conditions all influence color cycles. Combined with consumer desires for new, fresh and changing colors in the marketplace, cyclical color preferences will always drive the introduction of new colors and new color combinations.
Consider the following compelling facts from various marketing studies cited by Color Marketing Group:
- Color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent
- Color improves readership as much as 40 percent
- Color accelerates learning from 55 to 78 percent
- Color increases comprehension by 73 percent
- Color ads are read up to 42 percent more than similar ads in black and white
- Color can be up to 85 percent of the reason people decide to buy
As you can see, color is a critically important factor in any business decision related to marketing and branding as well as in the conception of product lines or services. Businesses need to ride the cutting edge of color selection to keep their products relevant and attractive and their image current and engaging. Applied carefully and creatively and backed by proper research, color can shape consumer impressions and smarten up the bottom line of any business endeavor.