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How Color Theory Can Influence Your Customers

By Beth Doane, an award-winning writer, speaker, entrepreneur and the CEO of Main & Rose

There’s more to color than meets the eye. Top brands leverage color theory — the science of how different colors mix, match and contrast — to shape our emotional responses and persuade us to trust certain products. This matters because some studies suggest that people subconsciously make a judgment about a product within 90 seconds – and up to 90 percent of that assessment is based on color alone.

So, how do you use color theory to rise above the competition? I built an agency that uses color theory and design psychology to help some of the world’s biggest brands succeed. Here are four simple tips all entrepreneurs and business leaders can use to leverage color like a pro: 

Start with the logo, but don’t stop there.

Logos are the obvious application for using color theory, and with good reason. Consumers can identify popular brands based on a logo alone, and color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent, according to a study from the University of Loyola, Maryland.

If you invest in one thing, it makes sense to start by looking at the color of your logo. It’s no wonder that companies shell out for a good logo: The BBC spent $1.8 billion on its iconic box-based logo in 1997, to take one example.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that a logo is enough for your brand to stand out. Use the logo as the foundation on which everything will be based: business cards, letterheads, websites and marketing materials, as well as materials suited to your industry — coffee-cup sleeves for bakeries, walls and design for hotels, packaging for online retails, you name it.

Know your identity, and align with your industry.

The colors used in a logo or website visually communicate the essence of a business or organization, and so it’s imperative that they align with your core identity. Much of this happens at the subconscious level.

Have you ever noticed that food apps are often red? Food is a primal urge, and red is a primal color. Red has been shown to raise blood pressure and increase appetite— and Grubhub, Yelp, Seamless, OpenTable and many fast food brands know that.

Now, call to mind some logos for your healthcare providers or local hospital. I’d bet they’re blue. These brands want to establish a calming effect. However, blue is known to suppress appetite and hunger, so be sure to match your color to your product and industry.

Harness the power of symbols.

Color can be used compellingly to strengthen the symbolic power of your logo and other branding materials. Think about Hallmark, which employs a bold purple and gold contrast that makes for an eye-catching logo and reinforces the symbolism of royalty denoted by the crown.

The colors a brand chooses affect not only the perception of each shade in comparison to the others used, but also the interpretation of the brand’s identity and values through the associations between color and meaning. In this way, symbols are inseparable from storytelling. Color should be deployed to convey a symbol that tells your customers who you are.

Know your audience. 

Symbolic definitions and colors are complicated and dependent on variables such as context and culture, so it’s important to design with your specific target market, and their cultural and generational context, in mind. For instance, in some cultures, white represents innocence, but in others, it can represent death.

Even within a homogenous culture, color can have differing perceptions based on a company’s specific target audience. For instance, the color gold might be an effective choice for a hotel that wants to convey luxury and opulence, but if that same hotel’s target market is a younger, more environmentally conscious crowd, then that selection might carry connotations of being outdated, tacky or excessive. Marketing teams should conduct their due diligence to come up with a design strategy that caters to their target market. 

If your organization is looking to overhaul its reputation, color is a great place to start. By rethinking your logo and branding to better align with the values and purpose of your brand, you can start a chain of positive changes and become an industry leader. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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