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  • Writer's pictureHarry

An Introduction to Colour Marketing

You may have noticed that this blog is all about the glorious grayscale palette cleanse. That doesn't mean that I consider rainbows as my mortal enemy and identify as a vampire! On the contrary, I use B&W because the internet is a splurge of colourful fluff, scattered all over in boring ways. Colour has a powerful function in marketing and psychology; enough for me to refer to it all as Colour Marketing. So, for once, let's talk colour.



Colour Theory


In marketing, we make use of the principles in colour theory when creating designs, enacting branding procedures, analysing products, target audiences, brands and basically everything that is creative. I think it is important for all marketers and business people who dabble in creativity to at least know what these concepts are on a basic level.


At the University of Lincoln Business School where I studied marketing, the power of colour in marketing wasn't brought up at all, and I had to learn its value through experience. Sure, they did mention that red equals power, energy, sex and so on, but that kind of superficial understanding was delivered in a combined whopping of 15 minutes total (amazing value for all the student debt).


My first contact with colour was when I was self-learning graphic design and writing a masters' dissertation on 'Exploring the Big 5 Personality Trait Model: Creativity in the Modern Workplace'. While performing my literature review, I went on a tangent, which revealed that colour theory is the collection of rules and guidelines which designers use to communicate with users through appealing colour schemes in visual interfaces.


To pick the best colours every time, designers use a colour wheel and refer to extensive collected knowledge about human optical ability, psychology, culture etc. Here's a basic example of the colour wheel:

Effective use of the colour wheel requires an in-depth study, and because this is your intro to this theory, I'll point out some entertaining resources and a personal trick that I always use (see below: Develop your Brand Palette) to use colour in branding effectively. Here are some resources on colour theory that I personally find useful:



Sight Psychology


People are designed to scan the environment for signs of danger (anxiety), food (satiety), community and other cues for conditions of being or survival. Sounds a bit formal, doesn't it?

But this is the exact way marketers, who specialise in reading marketing data think, especially if it is related to colour. The scientific literature is clear on drawing parallels between humans and other mammals when it comes to sight psychology and the neurological processes behind our basic instincts derived from sight.

Facial recognition is one of the most important aspects of our psychology. We recognise facial features easily, sometimes to a logical fail. Remember when there was that famous toast with Jesus' face on it, that sold for lot's of $? That's our facial recognition in action. Here, I've searched it for you:

The white in our eyes is there to make it easier to judge intention and to make human communication more effective. Humans and chimps are some of the primary examples of animal species that use sight and the biology behind their facial expressions to communicate. The white in your eyes makes it easy to detect your pupils, which are consciously and unconsciously manipulated to generate communication. Direct eye contact is evidence of an established and ongoing communication, while such acts as 'sizing up' or chaotic eye movement may mean aggression or social anxiety.


When it comes to food, there's a robust theory that our ability to perceive colour comes from the need to identify the ripeness of fruit and other food. The bright colours attract animals, which pick up the fruits, digest it, before spreading it around, covered in natural fertilizer (what a lovely scene - you're welcome). Here's some info about the evolution of our sight:


In marketing, we imitate these naturally evolved applications of colour and use them in ads or basically any application that involved direct comms with the target audience.


Ratatouille

Enter the modern grocery shopping experience. Now, this is a can of worms that was introduced to me by the university - how the supermarket was created by the biggest and most complex ongoing marketing research experiment ever. Imagine rats in the most technologically advanced maze, observing every twitch of their being to influence behaviour. That's us.

So let's follow a rat that enters this maze. First, you pick your parking spot - the surveillance system picks up the time of arrival, plates, car type and brings up your profile for review. You enter the store, pick up the trolley or basket (all tracked), and enter the maze. Your movement will be observed with infrared cameras, contributing to heatmapping data, which allows judging the peak times and visitor movement and concentration within the maze. This helps to develop a maze that is unintuitive for movement, presenting the need to explore the area before learning its in's and out's - perfect for increasing the time window for an impulse buying decision!

You are met with brands, colours, shapes, sections, sizes, special offers, scent, music and touch. It's a full sensory experience.


The maze has an objective - to sell as much as possible during a visit that is as short as possible, and to have you come back to enact predictable behaviour. Decreasing the length of the duration is often wishful thinking, as there needs to be enough time to facilitate exposure to advertising and to make the purchase happen. Predictability is established when you scan your loyalty card - the most powerful incentive-type marketing tool to collect your data because using it you give full consent by default, so government or ethical interferences are not possible.

Regarding colour marketing, the items that need to be sold ASAP will be in what retail marketers call 'the red zone'. It's the zone at your eye level, located in the most open and obvious positions within the store, where the traffic is higher than average. If you live in the West, items on sale will be marked in yellow, red and orange - colours representing energy, speed, impending action and impulse. This is designed to make you buy now and more.

Since rats are good at learning their way very efficiently (as most mammals are), they learn to shoot for the most essential items and leaving the maze without impulse buying. To fix this, the maze owners switch around the store sections every year to confuse us and to have us relearning the maze experience, therefore leaving more chance for impulse buying decisions. To this end, the bright yellow and red colours will be taken off, and the prices of various items re-inflated to give your colour perception a break, before putting the sales on again for a greater effect on your psyche.


Soon, all of the data will be used to identify a route towards an effective seasonal promotional strategy, which will see that your presence as a consumer in the maze will be predictable to a high degree of accuracy. Welcome to the machine, folks!



Colour Branding


When it comes to communication via colour, there's nothing more important than branding. It's where all comms start, gain colour, shape and definition. Powerful branding is something that creates a legacy, a feel, a brand experience through mere visual cue. It's what makes a brand distinct, representing a feeling, tone and style. It's home base for all creative marketing activity, along with the logotype.

In marketing, before starting work on any new brand, we retrieve and review the brand guidelines. If there aren't any, usually we pitch branding as a primary task before taking up any other task. This is because all strategic and creative effort must have a direction, which is essential for a long-term marketing strategy. Depending on the business, colours can be the defining aspect of the brand presence. For example, let's explore some cases where the colour green has a strong presence within a brand.

Starbucks

When you go into a Starbucks, you are met with the forest green-coloured circular logo, which then is assisted by darker undertones in interior design to create a homely, comfy, professional, sultry environment that is perfect for work, meet-ups, cruising through for takeaways and so on.


Forest Mana

A similar feat is achieved at Forest Mana, but it's all online and it's all in the light tones. When entering the official Forest Mana website, you are greeted by a similar green in a circular shape, representing a human figure within a forest/mushroom. The rest is a palette of green that is commonly used in pharmaceutical, professional branding. This makes the information provided in the website highly minimal, intuitive and readable. The product design follows a similar trend, with the overall objective to provide a 'clean feel' with the contrast between green and white. The UX design is there to bridge the gap between the complexity in the design with minimalism in web and copy; even though the logo dictates a strong connection with nature, the objective of secondary colour tones is to bring it down a notch, finding a neat little balance between professionalism and natural medicine.


Schema

If you look at my marketing agency and it's official website - Schema's going deep with a variety of funky, green, psychedelic neon with modern magenta undertones. The background of the website is meant to always move and to make the minimal website page structure come alive. The point here, is that despite the logo being white, the whole colour scheme is represented by the rest of the website. As part of the brand, all of the proposals, letterheads, business cards and other pieces of marketing material follow the 'green' branding strategy.


That's a lot of green

So why green? In colour psychology, green is a natural colour, seen in forests, grasslands, nature, your back garden. The lighter tones energise and surprise, while darker tones bring you into a state of calm and contemplation. A balance between the green tones can create brands that reach completely different results, as seen in the above examples. Starbucks was about quality, calm, professional environment; Forest Mana goes for energy and minimalism; while Schema goes for great depths with bursts of energy where it is needed.


If you need more info on how branding is done, here's a solid breakdown by The Futur:

Here's them focusing more on colour:




Personal branding


If you'd like, you can think of your name as a miniature brand. Any sort of official development of a personal brand draws inspiration from who you are as a person - this includes your fav colours. The brand behind the blog that you're reading now has 2 colours - black & white. Secondary colours are all greyscale.

Black and white are timeless; they're often used in contemporary marketing as a classic reference. The suit that you wear will always look good in black and white and it's the same in branding. These are my all time favourite colours in general, so if I were to trust my intuition, black would be the one.

When you go into your IG feed, you will be met with an explosion of colours, shapes, sounds, aggro advertising, mixed moods, sensations and so on - just like supermarket or any other marketplace. So my strategy to get your attention is to provide an option for a palette cleanse - pure white and pure black.


Aren't you tired of all the digital fluff and the boring SEO language in blogs? I am, and it bores me to see that the state of creativity in modern marketing is being overtaken by AI writers. Eventually, the largest bulk of content online will be effectively produced online by AI and genuine human speech, those quirky little errors and writing styles will be in the 2nd page in a given Google search. I'm here to make those mistakes, challenge mediocrity and to cleanse your palette from marketing fluff. To this end, black and white serves us the best.


Did AI writers catch your eye? Here's some helpful stuff on AI blogging:

When it comes to graphic design, I always start with black on white. In my view, the basic principle of logotype design in 2021 should aim for producing something that has universal application (it's ok if it is impossible, but it needs to be explored as a priority option). If it is recognisable in black, white and then the chosen brand colour - it's a sign of great design (to me, at least).


Make it personal - black and white, one and zero, all or nothing - this is kind of symbolic of my personal philosophy. Picking B&W was a call to action to simplify things, and a reminder that I used to see things in a binary manner - that's not good enough for a lot of things in life. For example: a bad thing is not only bad, it's the worst; a happy moment is the happiest moment. When all happy moments are the happiest, happiness tends to lose meaning. The creation of this very personal brand has forced me to consider these things and to develop a personal answer to break out of some self-limiting thought loops. The answer was: 'It is and it isn't. All at the same time'.

You can see that the thought process behind colour branding is not just about what looks stylish, pretty or edgy. You start from yourself, your creative essence and identity, before deciding on colours, shapes and tones that will act as an extension of your name. Even if you're not into having a branded digital presence online, I always recommend dabbling in personal branding, as it can help you understand your own personality, philosophy, character traits and so on.



Exercise: Develop your Brand Palette (coming soon!)


Let's keep it simple. There are many tools to develop your brand palette without breaking a sweat. One of the tools that I use is Adobe Colour. If you're already familiar with this tool, there's nothing to see here - carry on my young Padawan. If you're curious about my easy method to create your own brand palette, - you'll find the full guide below! NOT NOW, but, like, in a few weeks or so.


For all private branding and consultancy enquiries, contact me at hello@harrypoderskis.com

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