Colour theory: why colour could make or break your brand

Applied colour psychology expert Karen Haller discusses a misunderstood marketing tool that will always trigger an emotional reaction.

Colour theory: why colour could make or break your brand
Colour theory: why colour could make or break your brand

If you were to describe the impact of your brand colours in three words, what would they be? When I ask this same question to groups of professionals, the words I often hear are: sharing, open, fun, exclusive, cutting edge... which makes it very clear that colour is more than just a visual experience; it is an incredibly powerful phenomenon used to influence us every day of our lives. Colour can affect our mood, feelings and behaviour. It can make us move quickly, feel relaxed, take action, eat more and spend more.

That's right, colour influences our purchasing behaviour - a fact that is sadly underestimated by most businesses.

Why is colour the single most misunderstood marketing tool, when help to use it correctly is so readily available? Wouldn't you want to tap into this secret sales force at brand level? I don't believe businesses ignore colour on purpose, but are simply unaware of its potency because it works on such an unconscious level. If you're not consciously aware of the powerful role colour plays on your customers' emotions and their purchasing decisions, then it's not surprising that other areas get more of your marketing attention. But whether you give it your attention or not, your brand is still unconsciously speaking to your customers. You just don't know what it's saying.

During the past century the psychology of colour seemed to fall in and out of favour and at times was totally overlooked. It may be because we are only about 20 per cent conscious of the colour choices we make, even though by the time you started reading this article you probably made dozens of daily colour decisions without even realising it.

With global competition stronger than ever, there appears to be a resurgence in brands looking for that extra edge to connect with customers on a personal level. The science of applied colour psychology is proving itself to be that extra edge and people are becoming curious again. Brands, marketing companies and retailers in particular are looking to colour to create a stronger awareness, leading to brand loyalty.

Emotive connection

You've probably heard the saying 'we buy with emotion and justify with logic'. What you may not know is that colour triggers this emotional response. Colour is sentiment. It is only visual as it moves through our eyes; once it enters the brain, colour is processed in the same area that processes our emotions.

Simply put, if you want customers to know who you are and to keep investing in your business, you need to know what your brand is really saying and which emotions it is triggering. At every step of the customer journey you want to create an emotional connection and help it thrive. In other words, you want loyalty and fans. Using your brand colours consistently - meaning the precise tone - builds trust. By not doing this, doubt and mistrust soon creep in.

And you'll want to encourage the behaviour of these fans. Do you want them to linger, relax and take their time? Or do you want them to move quickly, make firm decisions and go? For the vast majority of people, soft, lighter colours sooth, while intense, vibrant colours stimulate. Which is right depends on your business values and purpose.

Around 85 per cent of shoppers place colour as a primary reason for buying a product or service, according to customer intelligence platform KISSmetrics. Whatever it is you want your customer to experience, colour is at every touchpoint in that journey, quietly making those all-important emotive connections with your brand.

Eye of the beholder

If you're investing in an event for your brand, to launch a product or showcase an existing one, the experience you create will determine whether the event succeeds or fails. If people make a subconscious judgement about a person, environment or product within 90 seconds, and up to 80 per cent of our subconscious judgement is based on colour alone (according to merchandising specialist Colour Communications), it isn't far-fetched to argue that colour can make or break a customer's experience.

So even if you have the most beautifully designed event space, show stand, brochures and gifts, if your brand colours aren't right no amount of decoration will overcome your unconscious colour messaging. In addition, getting your brand colours and tone wrong will confuse customers and you may find yourself having to work doubly hard to try to win them back.

Planning your customer's journey begins long before it is even launched to the public at your event. It starts with your stakeholders clearly identifying or reaffirming the underlying message, values and personality of the brand, before aligning those elements with a distinct target market. Then, and only then, can the colours that will make that connection be scientifically determined.

Ultimately, brands simply cannot afford to underestimate the impact that the use of colour will have on their overall customer experience - and their sales.

Karen Haller

Karen Haller, colour psychology expert

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