Colour Psychology: How to Use it in Marketing and Branding

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Color is an immensely influential element in marketing and branding. Studies have shown it can account for up to 90% of the reason someone makes a product purchase. Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that color has a strong impact on both our emotional and rational processing.

Understanding the science behind color psychology provides marketers with an invaluable advantage. This in-depth guide will cover:

  • The history and theory behind color psychology
  • Cultural and contextual differences in color meanings
  • The science: How color affects emotion and cognition
  • Color trends in marketing and branding
  • Tips for choosing colors based on psychology
  • Common color meanings and associations
  • Using color theory systems effectively
  • Practical applications across marketing mediums

Follow along for a comprehensive look at how to wield color strategically to maximize visual marketing success.

A Brief History of Color Psychology

Sir Isaac Newton was one of the first to study color theory in the 17th century. He split white light using a prism, observing the visual properties of color. In the 1800s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explored more abstract psychological impacts like mood and emotion.

Color psychology as a formal area of research emerged in the last century, pioneered by Faber Birren. He analyzed connections between color and human behavior. Birren identified how different wavelengths of light affect the retina, hypothalamus, and endocrine system, eliciting emotional and physiological responses.

His work influenced marketing and design fields to pay more attention to color. Research by Carl Jung and Max Lüscher further examined color symbolism and associations. Today’s color psychologists have continued building an emphatic evidence base on how color affects consumers.

The Importance of Cultural Context

While human biological response to color exists, cultural conditioning also plays a significant role. Contextual factors like traditions, customs, and religious symbolism influence a color’s meaning. Studies have found national differences in color preferences and associations.

Red is luck and prosperity in China but danger in the U.S. White signifies purity in Western nations but mourning in Asia. Green has healing properties in the Middle East but incapacity in South America. Marketers must tailor color selections to their target geography and demographics.

💡 Takeaway 2: Consider cultural context, demographics and color meaning when selecting your palette. Don’t rely on universal symbolism.

The Science: How Color Impacts Emotion and Cognition

Psychologists identify two ways color attracts attention and conveys meaning: bottom-up physiological processing and top-down cognitive processing.

Bottom-up processing involves the emotional impact of color. The limbic system, early visual cortex, and autonomic nervous system react automatically to color’s wavelength and saturation. This triggers direct emotional responses before the brain has time to process what we see semantically.

Top-down processing has more with cognitive interpretations and learned symbolism. The prefrontal cortex analyzes color associations picked up through culture and experience. These two systems interact to shape both quick emotional reactions and deeper meaning extractions from color.

🚀 Takeaway 1: Color has a powerful psychological impact – it influences both emotions and cognitive processing. Leverage this in your marketing!

Color Trends in Marketing and Branding

Several color trends have emerged from recent psychology studies:

  • Blues build trust for major purchases like healthcare, finance, technology.
  • Vibrant pinks appeal to younger demographics.
  • Natural greens and blues connote eco-conscious brands.
  • Multicolor gradients signal inclusivity and diversity.
  • Playful brightness appeals to a desire for optimism.

Brands should shift color palettes strategically when norms change or to renew interest. But recognize that drastic unexplained color changes may alienate customers.

Tips for Choosing Colors Based on Psychology

Consider these factors when selecting colors for your brand:

  • Target audience demographics like age, gender, and ethnicity
  • Cultural context, geographic region, and religious considerations
  • Color associations of your product or service type
  • Emotions and actions you want to evoke
  • Popular color trends in your industry
  • Feedback from customer surveys and focus groups
  • Competitor color schemes – differentiation or similarity

Research has revealed the following effective combinations:

  • Analogous hues for harmony
  • Complementary colors for contrast
  • Warm colors for excitement, cool for calm
  • Saturated colors for intensity, muted for subtlety
  • Light backgrounds with dark font for easy reading

Common Color Meanings and Associations

Although subjective to context, common symbolic meanings have been identified:

  • Red: Passion, desire, urgency, excitement
  • Orange: Confidence, friendliness, vibrancy
  • Yellow: Happiness, optimism, clarity, intellect
  • Green: Growth, renewal, health, stability
  • Blue: Serenity, trust, loyalty, wisdom
  • Purple: Luxury, spirituality, imagination
  • Pink: Love, warmth, playfulness
  • Brown: Reliability, simplicity, earthiness
  • Black: Power, sophistication, mystery
  • White: Purity, innocence, space

Using Color Theory Systems Effectively

Several frameworks like Munsell, Itten, and Ostwald help codify harmonic color combinations based on properties like hue, saturation, and brightness. While technical, color theory helps construct palettes pleasing to the eye.

Marketers must also consider practical factors like printing costs and display capabilities. Pure spectrums work for digital while CMYK simplifies print reproduction. Test colors across different mediums before fully launching.

Applications in Marketing and Branding

Effective use of color psychology spans all aspects of marketing:

  • Logos: Consistent primary and secondary colors
  • Packaging: Color coding for product varieties
  • Website: Clear call-to-action buttons and easy reading
  • Advertising: Attention-grabbing and reinforcing brand identity
  • Social media: Distinct from competitors and harmonious
  • Merchandise: Matching promo items to brand palette
  • Events: Thematic colors reinforcing messaging

A cohesive brand color scheme leads to strong recognition and recall. But strategic departures can also grab interest while remaining on-brand.

🎨 Takeaway 3: Use color theory principles like complementary hues. But also test different options and get audience feedback.


Color wields a profound psychological influence on consumers. Skillful use of color in marketing and branding demonstrates a strong understanding of your target audience. Follow core principles of color theory, but remain flexible based on cultural norms.

By keeping the psychological impact of color in mind, you can craft more effective visuals across all media. For a winning brand strategy, ensure your color selections align with messaging and audience expectations.

Jesus Guzman

M&G Speed Marketing LTD. CEO

Jesus Guzman is the CEO and founder of M&G Speed Marketing LTD, a digital marketing agency focused on rapidly growing businesses through strategies like SEO, PPC, social media, email campaigns, and website optimization. With an MBA and over 11 years of experience, Guzman combines his marketing expertise with web design skills to create captivating online experiences. His journey as an in-house SEO expert has given him insights into effective online marketing. Guzman is passionate about helping businesses achieve impressive growth through his honed skills. He has proud case studies to share and is eager to connect to take your business to the next level.