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Influence Customer Behavior by Marketing with Color

by Braulio Agnese, Staples® Contributing Writer

The human eye can distinguish between 2.5 million and 10 million color variations. Combine this with the fact that graphic design and printing capabilities are more powerful and affordable than ever, and it means your small business has a practically limitless palette for influencing customer behavior and buying habits with signage and marketing collateral.

But don’t go crazy with the million-pack of crayons just yet. “It’s one of the biggest challenges today — avoiding too much color,” says Tomás Snorek, creative director at ripe, a Washington, DC, graphic design firm. “More is not necessarily better.”

To get the most out of your marketing materials, you need to increase your knowledge of the link between color and behavior, particularly the effect of color on consumer purchasing habits.

Learn the Basics

“Color is like a language,” says Jason Delfos, founder of San Diego Small Business Marketing Services. “It works in one scenario but not in another, and it speaks different things based on the combinations.” A little understanding of color and behavior can go a long way toward creating smarter, better-looking brochures and ads that motivate customer behavior. Start here:

  • Temperature gauge: Colors are generally understood as warm or cool. White, black and gray are neutral. Warm colors (red through yellow) are associated with energy, excitement and calls to action. Cool colors (green through purple) create a calm and soothing tone.
  • Opposites attract: Why are the Los Angeles Lakers’ purple and gold uniforms so sharp? Because the colors are complementary. When the rainbow is bent into a circle (also known as a color wheel), complementary colors, which offer the highest contrast, can be found on opposite sides. Other common combinations include blue/orange and red/green.

Ask Questions

With every piece of marketing or advertising collateral you create, ask yourself these questions:

  • What suits my industry and enterprise? “The first thing to think about is what showcases the business in the best light possible,” says Shawn Graham, an independent marketing consultant in Pittsburgh, PA. “Don’t use color for color’s sake.” Within every industry there are color trends, and different business sectors gravitate toward certain hues: blues and browns for professional service firms or greens for companies connected to nature. But there also can be value in standing out from the crowd, Delfos counters. “Look at your competitors, measure what they're doing, and find a way to differentiate yourself.”
  • What’s the emphasis? If you’re showcasing products or people and the images are in color, Snorek suggests using white paper or a white background. Colored paper affects how ink color will look on it. “Anytime you add color to text, you affect readability,” says Snorek. “Keep the text a darker color, and use a bolder, larger font.”
  • What’s the consumer behavior? “Know your audience,” advises Delfos. “Who are you speaking to, and what are the feelings you want to evoke?” Colors can convey emotions: yellow and orange are happy and vivacious, while deep blues and greens are more somber. Softer tones are more trustworthy, and brighter tones more sales-oriented.

Knowing more about how customers interpret the colors in your collateral — and the consumer purchasing behavior those colors motivate — can help your marketing messages come through with flying colors.

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