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4 Things Every Marketer Should Know About Color

by Morgan Hampton
color swatches

In marketing, we tend to pay attention in painstaking detail to words, imagery, story, and flow when creating ads and campaigns. It can be easy to think of color as a byproduct of these elements, but it plays a key, often primal, role in the effectiveness of a piece of marketing.

When humans process something new, we first take in shape and color. In those first instants, your animal brain is determining if this piece of information can fill one of your basic human needs, presents danger, or should be ignored to make room for processing other things. It’s in those microseconds that a piece of marketing has its first opportunity to either grab attention or crash and burn.

In many ways, whether or not a marketing message makes it past the very first stage of cognition is up to color. Here are four things that you should be mindful of when it comes to the selection of color in a marketing space.

1. Reduce the cognitive load

Before a user even reads or begins to understand your messaging, logo, or offering, your color palette is telling its own story. A complicated color palette that leverages multiple colors across the spectrum is telling your audience that this piece of information is going to take a lot of mental work to digest. Already, your brain is asking you, “do we have to?”

2. Increase contrast

It’s a tested fact that ads with higher contrast are better at converting, but why? This one also has to do with cognitive load. When it’s difficult to distinguish shapes, (remember that’s the other information your brain is processing in these initial nanoseconds) it’s easy for your brain to say, “eh… forget it.” But this also has to do with our animal nature. For example, as infants, we are drawn to bright, primary colors, which doesn’t change as we age—we like things that stand out. Our brains are calmed by things that seem clear and simple. It’s why black type on white paper is the universal standard. Our brains just like contrast.

3. Use color to create feeling

We aren’t born associating color to feeling, but the world around us quickly gives us a framework for processing information that uses color. As children, we learn that red means danger, stop, or important. Yellow is bright and happy. Green reminds us of nature, while blue is equated to the wide open sky and sea. As adults, our emotional relationship with color grows even more complex. The ever growing study of color theory is constantly identifying the ever-changing opinion on colors in our society. Some steadfast examples include that black communicates luxury, sleekness, steadfastness, and timelessness while red is often associated with love, passion, strength, and dominance.

The important thing to remember here is that color and emotions can be a moving target. For example, pink has always been a staple of femininity, but in recent years has been more associated with lively-ness, confidence, or irreverence, rather than softness and meekness.

The best thing to do is to use the most up to date color research to make color palette decisions for your brand. Think long term, but don’t be afraid to shift as global perceptions of color shifts.

4. Stand out

Finally, the most important thing that color can do for you is help you stand out. Remembering that absence of color is also a color (ie: white), leverage competitive research to inform your color position. Don’t be afraid of simplicity and white space. While it may be tempting to try to cram your whole story into a small ad, remember that your competitors are doing the same and march confidently in another direction. Use color and shape to first tell your story with simplicity. Remember that your ad will make your audience feel before they ever read a word and speak to that primal part of their brain that doesn’t want to process additional information, and convince it to dig deeper.

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