Psychology of Colour

Colour

l’m a fan of small, almost effortless, low cost marketing tweaks that can make a difference very quickly. 

Some may sound odd or flippant but those who try them, often email me to tell me they worked. Today’s suggestion is no exception.

Are you feeling blue, in a black mood? Seeing red or green with envy? Is life a little grey, or maybe it’s not that black and white?

Yes, you’ve guessed, I want to talk about colour.

You may think this is something you’re more likely to hear your home-schooled off-spring discussing, but it is a proper grown up topic. It’s even a research topic for psychologists. 

Using the right colours at the right time could help make you more money. 

This might sound a bit ‘woo woo’ but it’s true. Whatever you want to promote, you need your target markets to feel positive about you, to understand and like what you do, and react positively. Colour can help. It can make your activity stand out. It can make your content more readable.

It can make people feel warm and positive about you. It can help reassure, calm, persuade.

I’ll get on to how and what you can do in a moment.

First of all, let’s look at an example of the power of colour 

I learnt about this it was during a conversation with Stelios, the owner-founder of Easyjet. It was about 25 years ago, when the first low cost airlines started. I've never forgotten it because of the impact it had.

It might sound crazy to compare your small business with an airline - bear with me. I'm guessing you think your marketing budget is small? When he first started the airline, Stelios spent all his money on buying planes. There wasn’t any money left over so his marketing budget was also tiny, in comparison with all the giants like British Airways.

I met Stelios* on one of the first flights when he systematically went from seat to seat, talking to every passenger. He thanked everyone for flying with him. He didn't say 'thanks for flying with EasyJet'. Instead he said, 'thanks for flying with me', presenting it as his very own business so everyone felt glad to have met the owner, and felt like they were part of a club, instead of customers. At that time corporate, faceless airlines like British Airways were the norm.

Then Stelios asked everyone some questions about themselves. Being nosey, I listened to his questions and their answers**. He had several ways of basically asking the same questions in order to profile his passengers and find out their reasons for travel.

When he got to me, I asked if I could ask him some questions instead. He grinned and agreed. I asked him why he was on his own flight and asking so many questions. He pointed out that he didn’t have a budget for research but needed to know as much about his customers as possible. So he frequently travelled on his own flights and just talked to people. “And people can see how lovable I am so I hope they’ll talk about me to their friends”***.

Then I asked him why he’d chosen that bright orange colour. It was everywhere – on the outside of the planes, on the seats, the uniforms, the marketing. Everywhere. He asked what I thought of when I saw that exact orange colour. The answer was obvious – EasyJet. He said he’d looked at other airlines and they all used a combination of colours. None of them were particularly memorable. He needed to use a colour that no-one else used. Even if it looked brash, it needed to be unforgettable.

He’d also considered how the colour orange makes people feel. It’s considered a fun, friendly colour. Not quite as hot as red, not quite as cool as yellow. It can feel energetic and positive. So orange became ‘his’ colour. EasyJet practically owned the colour orange. When they first started, Stelios barely had to do any marketing – he just painted everything orange and people thought about EasyJet.

You might not want to do this but the lesson is the same for any business - be consistent with the colours you use, for maximum impact.

So back to your business, presumably with an even smaller marketing budget. 

I’ll explain the connotations of some colours in a moment. First some things to think about.

  1. Do you have a word mark or logo or certain colours you always use for your business? Are you confident that it’s the right colour, or combination of colours, for your business and market place? 
  2. Do you use those colours consistently, for example through-out your website, on any signage, uniforms, car etc? 
  3. Do you use colour as a call to action, to get people to do what you want them to do, whether it’s to sign up for a newsletter or make a booking?
  4. Do you think about which colours to use for text, to make it more readable? For example, it’s much easier to read and remember black text on a white background. Your designer might want you to use a more distinctive fancy grey font but it’s much harder to read. Getting the balance between beautiful and useful isn’t always easy!
  5. Right now you might be thinking of creating some signage or diagrams to explain how you’re Covid-secure. Reassuring visitors is really important, so perhaps you need to consider which colours do that best?
  6. What does your marketing need to do? Do you need to calm or excite? To make your information feel urgent or soothing?

Here are some examples of how colour can make people feel, from Oglilvy. Search for 'colour psychology' and you'll find many more.

Scroll beyond the image for some more marketing lessons from Stelios.


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More marketing lessons from Stelios

*When he launched Easyjet, Stelios Haji-Ioannou insisted everyone use his first name. Otherwise he said people wouldn’t talk about him because they were scared of getting his name wrong.

But more importantly, he positioned himself as the cuddly, smiley, cheeky chap who was the face of the airline. He instantly differentiated his airline by using his personality. This was at a time when British Airlines was a major competitor and their marketing was always very corporate. Stelios immediately positioned his airline alongside Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, feeling more fun and approachable. Are you the front person for your business? How good is your 'about' page? 

** Stelios lesson number 2. Market research is important but doesn’t have to be expensive. Ask people questions. Use the answers.

*** Stelios lesson number 3. People buy people. Be the face of your business. Tell your story. Be human.

*** Stelios lesson number 4. Think of a way to make people talk. It’s the cheapest, most effective marketing method.

So which of these are you already doing? Any comments about how you use colour or respond to it?


2 comments

Laura Simpson

What about grey/dark grey? What does that signify to people? 

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Susan Briggs Staff

I think probably seen as a tone of black although grey has also become a 'trendy' colour, sometimes implying some kind of ' 'authority' or knowledge. Need to be careful with it though for text as can be very difficult to read for people who need stronger contrast for something to be more visible (I'm in that category and often leave websites because simply can't read them properly).

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