Small Business Branding: What Color Says About Your Business

What’s your favorite color?

It seems like an innocent question, right?

You may be surprised to learn that your color preferences reveal a lot about you.

Color has a deep and often subconscious effect on our behavior. Color is often used to persuade or influence us.

According to a study examining the effect of color on sales, 92.6% of people surveyed by the CCI: Institute for Color Research said that color was the most important factor when purchasing products.

Another study showed that people make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or thing within 90 seconds. That judgment was influenced, in 62%-90% of examples, by color alone.

Color is a critical influence on how we perceive the world.

If you’re starting your business or rebranding an existing business and thinking about your brand identity, you should understand how color impacts consumer behavior. How you use color will be an important part of your brand strategy.

How you use it in your business can significantly affect how effectively you convert visitors into sales.

Let’s take a closer look.

Color: truly in the eye of the beholder

The effects of color on each person can be highly subjective and deeply personal.

Choosing the right color for your business very important, as it must resonate with your customers and prospects.

Let’s take a look at the science of how we see color to illustrate this importance.

We can thank Newton for discovering that color is the sensation of light bouncing off something and entering our eyes. Newton found that light is made up of many different wavelengths, each perceived as a different color.

For example, the color red isn’t actually in the strawberry itself. The surface of the strawberry absorbs all of the light except for the wavelengths we perceive as red. These bounce off of the fruit and into our eyes.

How the eye sees color, via Ted-Ed

We have millions of light-sensitive cells, or receptors, at the back of our eyes.

Science considers these receptors as an extension of the brain, and for a good reason. Specific receptors are stimulated by the light coming into our eyes, and those receptors send impulses to our brain.

The brain takes those signals and interprets them as color: in this case, red.

Because the brain interprets the color, that means that color is, by nature, a sensation.

Sensations are personal.

It’s this fact that makes our choice and use of color so critical to our businesses’ success.

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The qualities of color

While our perception of colors and what they mean is subjective, there are some essential qualities that we can apply generally. Here are some of those qualities:

  • Red. Often considered exciting, attention-grabbing, warm, and connected to love, anger, life, and comfort.
  • Yellow. Seen as adventurous, evoking happiness, enthusiasm, youth, and travel.
  • Green. Of course, this color is connected to money, but it’s also known for its connection to balance, health, sustainability, and knowledge.
  • Blue. The color of honesty, high quality, competence, trust, reliability, and integrity.
  • Pink. This color evokes love, compassion, romance, gentleness, and sophistication.
  • Purple. Creativity, royalty, mystery, respect, and playfulness are often connected to purple (and violet).
  • Brown. Brown is the color of the outdoors and can be seen as friendly, organic, natural, friendly, and rugged.
  • Black. This color is all about sophistication, intelligence, seriousness, and expense.
  • White. The antithesis of black is known for its order, innocence, purity, cleanliness, neutrality, and space.
  • Grey. When you need to communicate timelessness, neutrality, refinement, of the moment, or practicality, you might want to use grey.

Culture and context can also influence how color is interpreted. Therefore, do your due diligence and research your audience so you can make the best choices based on their specific backgrounds.

To learn more, we recommend you read:

Picking the right colors

Research shows that anticipating your consumer’s reaction to a color and its relationship to your brand is more important than the actual color itself.

Customers want to see that a color “fits.”

For example, the color pink probably doesn’t fit with a brand like Ford or Harley Davidson, and black would be perceived as wrong for Fisher-Price or an organic health food store.

It’s not that the company name Harley Davidson by itself evokes a specific reaction from its customers. But the overall composition of the brand, including its logo, marketing, products, etc., produces a reaction that responds differently to different brand colors.

Other research confirms a connection between a company’s brand colors and consumers’ perception of a company’s personality.

The key takeaway here is that it’s less important what color you choose and more that you choose colors that highlight or accentuate the personality you want your brand identity and product to reflect.

Remember that branding is about experience and emotion. As we wrote previously:

A brand is the sum total of the experience your customers and customer prospects have with your company.

A strong brand communicates what your company does, how it does it, and at the same time, establishes trust and credibility with your prospects and customers.

Your company’s brand is, in many ways, its personality.

Your brand lives in everyday interactions your company has with its prospects and customers, including the images you share, the messages you post on your website, the content of your marketing materials, your presentations and booths at conferences, and your posts on social networks.

A powerful brand starts with a professionally designed logo. Color plays a vital role in logo design, as we discussed recently in our look at current logo trends.

The importance of color also extends to how you present your products, product packaging, and services to consumers.

Studies show that choosing colors that make customers feel or think of a certain quality and help guide their actions is key to your success.

As we wrote in 7 Important Packaging Design Trends:

In fact, marketers know that color is one of the most important choices you can make when it comes to packaging design. Recent trends have designers putting colors to work for their products in innovative, inspiring ways. It may seem like an artistic decision, but the primary color you choose for your design has a significant psychological impact on how people perceive it.

Studies demonstrate that colors play a significant role in how advertising and signage are read.

42% more signs and advertisements are read when a color (such as red) is used versus black and white. Comprehension is boosted as well.

So if you’re creating signage or imagery for your store or website, make sure to add a splash of color to give it a better chance of being noticed and read.

Blue, the color of repeat shoppers?

We’ve already looked at how specific colors have themes or attributes, but did you know colors can influence our behavior?

Research on the use of color in retail fashion stores shows that customers are more likely to return and make purchases in a store that uses a blue color scheme versus orange.

How do you spell relief? P-I-N-K

Pink is another color studied for its subconscious effect on people.

Researchers found that viewing the color pink causes people’s endocrine system (also known as the body’s chemical messaging system) to slow down and our muscles to relax.

So if you’ve ever wondered why so many products connected to soothing problems (such as pain-killers, stomach aids, and female hygiene products) include pink in their packaging, now you know: the color itself makes us think of relaxation and relief.

Another study found that patients given placebo pills in warmer colors like pink reported them to be more effective than pills with cooler colors.


Image via Wikipedia

Red means… go?

And those red sales signs? There’s a subconscious method to that madness, too.

Studies found that the color red causes people to react faster and more forcefully. This is probably in part due to our society’s connection to red and danger or warning.

Retailers capitalize on this reaction to red to impart urgency in their clearance and sales signs.

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Case studies

The psychological effect of color on our behavior is one thing, but how does this effect manifest itself in real-world usage?

We’ve gathered some case studies where the use of color had an impact on some output.


Performable ran an A/B test on which colored button performed better. Spoiler alert: Red won.

Case Study 1: Performable red vs. green study

As we said in our look at how 21 companies use color:

Interested in using the power of red to improve conversions, marketing automation company Performable A/B tested the difference in performance of a red call-to-action button versus a green one. The red button showed a 21% increase in conversion.

We’ve looked at how colors like red influence our behavior (and we’ve already been conditioned since childhood that “green means go,” but what kind of effect would it have in this particular scenario?

The results were fascinating:

We ran the test over a few days of traffic. In total, we had over 2,000 visits to the page, and for each visit, Performable recorded whether someone clicked on the button or not. (Using Performable’s tools, all analytics and conversion data were automatically gathered, so we could watch along as the results rolled in.) The result? The red button outperformed the green button by 21%

These results are impressive, but they don’t mean you should run out and change all of your buttons to red.

It’s essential to test any changes (like Hubspot did here for Performable) with your audience to see what works for your business and your specific audience.

Case Study 2: Ript color scheme button change

RIPT is an apparel company that sells one-of-a-kind designer clothes.

Intrigued by the idea of A/B testing, they decided to run their test using their Buy Now button as the subject.

(For more about A/B testing and how it can benefit your company, check out our guide on how A/B testing can help your small business.)

Their existing button was monochrome with a subtle arrow pointing at the call-to-action. They ran a test using this as the original and a new, colorful button as the control (or test) version.

The results were significant.

Much to their surprise, they immediately saw a rise in sales. Encouraged by the results, they went ahead and created another variation of the button… Following version (B) of the button increased their site sales by 6.3% (notice only the button was changed – no new offers, no new products, no new policies).

A 6.3% rise in sales is worth paying attention to, especially when you consider that there was no other change done to the design.

This update RIPT made exemplifies the concept we explored earlier: adding color, especially an “action” color like green or red, can affect behavior.

Case Study 3: Heinz ketchup color change

Heinz’s experiment with “America’s Favorite” ketchup is another particular case in color driving behavior.

Heinz’s “EZ Squirt” product was an attempt to rebrand ketchup and make it more attractive to kids.

Not only did Heinz give the bottle a more “fun” design, but they also committed ketchup heresy: they changed its color.

“Blastin’ Green” ketchup was a runaway hit, selling over 20 million units.

“We’re on track to ship in the first 90 days what we thought we would sell in the first year,” reported Heinz’s global marketing director Casey Keller. “This thing has taken on a momentum of its own, striking a chord with kids and people in general.”

As usual with anything targeted at kids, however, the longevity of Heinz’s experiment was short-lived.

It turns out kids are fickle consumers (who knew?), and sales eventually dropped off.

But the results still speak to the power that color can have on sales.

While we eulogize the end of “Stellar Blue” and “Funky Purple,” the fact that the new colors posted impressive results is another sign that the hue you choose can make a huge difference.

Case Study 4: Apple

Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy when Steve Jobs returned and turned it into a business school case study success.

Nowadays, they have more money than they know what to do with. (Did you know Apple made four times the profit in three months that Amazon made in its entire lifetime?)

But back then, things were dramatically different.

As Jeff Goldblum so eccentrically pointed out in commercials for Apple’s brand new “Bondi Blue”-colored computer, the iMac, color was a huge reason for this.

Referring to the existing IBM PC beige box status quo, Goldblum summed up Apple’s attitude: “It’s beige, it’s boring, it’s bland.”

An ex-Apple engineer, Gautum Baksi, noted about Apple’s obsession with finding the right color,

They go pretty far outside the box. They go far with different ideas. The innovations and attempts are what matter. It’s a very slow, slow, and deliberate thought process.

Living in color

You don’t need Apple’s vast resources to take advantage of existing color research and development, and all businesses can take a page out of their color strategy.

Be more intentional with how you choose colors for your business.

Take into account both the themes that colors represent and the psychological behavior that specific colors influence.

Research what colors best fit your target audience’s tastes and needs, and above all, don’t be like beige.

Don’t be boring.

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