The term ‘psychology of colour’ may sound a little bit like voodoo.
And when you read blogs that imply you can magically and drastically improve your email marketing conversion rates, if only you choose the right colour for your call to action buttons, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s a nonsense pseudo-science.
The fact is that the human brain is a wonderful and complex thing. The way we perceive colour, and the effect it has on us both psychologically and physically is amazing. And if we can begin to understand those effects, we can use them to our advantage!
The influence of colour on decision making
The first thing to acknowledge is that individual responses to colour can be very subjective, (based on everything from personal experience to cultural background).
The thing is, people will make decisions about your content in less than 90 seconds. And when you take into account that between 62% and 90% of that decision is based on colour alone, you can see why it’s important to have some understanding of how colours might be influencing the perception of your brand.
Different colours trigger different responses in the brain, and these can be both positive and negative, depending on context, and the reader’s expectation of your product or service (colour appropriateness).
With that in mind, we’ve examined some of the most common associations that the brain makes with different colours.
Short on time? Look at our lovely colourful infographic instead:Go there now
The colour red has been shown to stimulate the nervous system. We have a physical reaction to this colour. Our brains see it as being closer than it is, which means it grabs our attention first. It is seen as a powerful and dynamic colour. And in the right context, it can portray friendliness and strength.
This comes with a word of warning – red can also be viewed as demanding and aggressive. Use it sparingly for best results.
Yellow has a really interesting effect on the brain. It has the strongest psychological effect of all colours, and is the first colour babies respond to. It’s linked to joy, optimism, inspiration, confidence and fun.
Be careful with yellow, though. Use too much of it, use it out of context, or use the wrong tone, and it can trigger negative emotions like fear and anxiety. Yellow is a great colour to use in the right context, when your message is happy and fun. But don’t overuse it if you don’t want to stress your audience.
Orange combines the energy of red with the friendliness of yellow to create a sense of fun and freedom. It creates an impression of positivity, and can be used to motivate. It’s often used for food related marketing, as it’s known to stimulate the appetite.
Overdoing it on the orange can suggest frivolity or a lack of sophistication, so make sure you don’t undermine your own brand by making it too orange!
Blue is seen as the colour of intelligence, dependability and responsibility. Where red affects us physically, blue has a measurable impact on our mental state. Strong blues stimulate our thought processes, while softer blues calm us and help us to concentrate.
Bear in mind that blue can sometimes be perceived as distant or cold. So if you want to create a sense of being both trustworthy and friendly, you may need to combine it with another colour.
Green represents balance and harmony. It balances emotion with logic in the brain. It is often associated with the idea of growth, and reassures us on a primitive level.
Green is also seen as the colour most closely related to money, so in the wrong context, it can be viewed as overly materialistic.
Purple combines red’s power with the stability of blue. It is the colour of spirituality and imagination. Purple is often associated with luxury and quality, bringing to mind thoughts of royalty.
Its ability to spark creative thinking can also cause distraction, as thoughts begin to wonder.
Black is serious. Black is sophisticated. Black portrays control and reservation.
Too much black can cause negativity, so use it sparingly for impact.
White represents purity and peace. It is associated with simplicity and clarity, and a good use of whitespace can really help to draw attention to important content.
It’s all about how you use it
Have you noticed how many times I’ve repeated the word context so far? That’s because it sits at the heart of everything we know about how people respond to colours. Brands that use colours to reinforce their identity get the most benefit from the psychological impact of colour.
Of course, your brand colours are most probably already in place. And it’s important to create brand recognition across all of your messages, so it’s best to use your brand colours in your marketing.
But perhaps you might like to introduce an appropriate action colour for your calls to action?
Did you know that we have seen an increase of over 50% in click through rates when we changed the button colour in a client email?Browse our email design portfolio now
Cast your mind back to your primary school art lessons. Remember the colour wheel? Complementary colours are ones which sit opposite one another on that wheel.
Combining complementary colours can help you to make important content stand out.
Perhaps your branding uses a lot of blue? Use its complementary colour (orange) for your calls to action to make them really stand out (a good balance is around 70/30).
What colours mean to us
Studies have been carried out looking into the conscious colour associations that people make with certain words and concepts. The results support the ideas above about our responses to colours.
Trust: Blue came out top with 34%, followed by white with 21%
Security: Blue was again the most common answer with 28%, then black with 16%
Speed: Most people agreed on this one, with 76% answering red
Quality: Black won this one with 43%, and blue came second with 20%
Cheapness: Orange came top with 26%, with yellow at a close second on 22%
Fun: Again, most people said orange (28%), closely followed by yellow with 26%
✔ It’s important to understand the potential implications of the colours you use in your marketing, but it isn’t a magic bullet.
✔ You can’t create a new brand identity through the use of colour, but you can support and develop a strong identity with the right use of colour.
✔ Colour alone won’t make people take action, but by using the right colour in the right place, you can draw their attention to the things you don’t want them to miss, and give a certain impression about that information. This all adds up to an increase in engagement, and ultimately higher conversion rates.
✔ The best way to figure out what represents the ‘right’ use of colour for your business is to test it.
Run split testing with different action colours, and different balances of white and background colour to see what gets the best response.
Find out how our creative team can help with your email design and colour choices:See email design service