Simple because of: The truth about the psychology of colors

The psychology of colors and their effects is one of the most interesting and controversial aspects of marketing. Much dispute has always flared up in the depth of the analysis, because the color theory is a very complex area with many nuances. Unfortunately, the omnipresent infographics on the subject do not really go deep into the subject. Today we are trying to explore this difficult topic a bit wider.

Common misconceptions about the effect of colors

Research shows that personal preferences, experiences, education and cultural differences can affect colors differently. So the idea of triggering certain emotions in us with a certain color is not tenable in practice.

But there is much to learn about colors and their effects. We also have to examine whether we want to accept it humbly, that there can be no guarantees and really concrete answers.

The important meaning of colors in branding

First, let’s take a look at the branding and color perception associated with branding. Countless studies attempted to classify consumer responses to different colors:

Color Emotion Guide - The Psychology of Colors in Marketing and Branding

The Logo Company

The truth is that the effect of colors is too dependent on personal experience to be able to assign certain emotions universally to a color. And yet, certain patterns exist in the perception of color.

In a study entitled “Effects of Color on Marketing,” the researchers found that up to 90 percent of purchase decisions are attributable to specific colors-by product, of course. In terms of the role that a particular color plays in color Branding plays out, another study found that the relationship between a brand and its color is very important. Consumers are quick to notice if the color of the brand matches what they want to sell.

Another study found that consumers’ buying intent depends heavily on the color used for the brand. Colors influence how customers perceive the personality of a brand. Who buys a Harley Davidson without feeling that these things (and long beards) are ultracool?

Our brain wants to recognize brands as such. Recognition is therefore an important element when it comes to creating a brand identity. The Coca-Cola logo in blue would not be half as effective in brand perception and thus in the sale of the product. To position ourselves against a direct competitor requires strong brand identity and the right color for branding.

When it comes to finding the “right” color, research found, it may be more important to predict the consumer’s reaction to a proper color than the individual color itself. The Harley-Davidson logo conveys robustness and coolness while Coca-Cola Refreshment, get the Apple logo. Therefore, it is important to find the colors that can best play with these emotions.

Psychologist and Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker conducted her own studies on this topic. Her research titled “The Dimensions of Brand Personality” indicates that five core dimensions play a role in the brand personality.

The five dimensions of brand personality
Trademarks sometimes have a mix of two of these characteristics, but mostly they are dominated by only one. Certain colors are generally associated with specific characteristics, such as brownness with robustness, purple with sophistication, while red is perceived as exciting. However, almost every study will suggest that branding is better at finding a color to support the personality rather than relying on stereotype color associations.

So there are no clear guidelines as to which color should use particular brands. Of course, “it depends” is a frustrating answer to the question of optimal color choice, but it is the truth. A color must always be seen in the context of the brand being created. It is the feeling, the mood and the image that influences the color choice of the brand or product.

Color trends for men and women

One of the most interesting research on this subject is the work of Joe Hallock on “color mapping.” Hallock’s data show some clear preferences of different sexes in terms of colors. Blue seems to exercise a predominance over both sexes here. Lila, on the other hand, shows the different preferences of man and woman.

It is important to include the environment and cultural perception when it comes to the suitability of a particular color for a gender. Because often the environment and the cultural environment dictate the perception of colors. Of course, this can also influence individual decisions. In our cultural environment, a soft blue and a pink are often associated with boys and girls.

Here’s Hallock’s findings in the picture:

The favorite colors of men and women

color perception-sorted by gender

Blue is one of the favorite colors in both sexes.

These colors do not like men and women

These colors mostly do not like men and women

These colors mostly do not like men and women.

Research clearly shows that nuances in color perception and preferences often matter. Men usually prefer brighter colors, while women prefer softer, more delicate colors.

The male sex tends to prefer shades of black-colored colors, while women may prefer shades of white. The different preferences of color preferences have always been a hot topic, though brands can and should easily work outside gender stereotypes.

Breaking expectations can certainly be rewarded, as some famous brands already show. Red does not like the majority of both sexes, yet the red color is the foundation for some, really successful brands. An appropriate color choice can therefore contradict your favorite colors and yet be very successful.

Harmonious color matching

The psychological principle of isolation states that an element that acts like a “miraculous thumb” is highly likely to be remembered. Research shows very clearly that study participants can remember much better an article or a product if it stands out from its surroundings and stands out.

Two other color combination studies – one dealing with the measurement of aesthetic reactions and another with consumer preferences – found that a large majority preferred color patterns with similar colors. However, palettes with a contrasting accent color were also perceived as very pleasant.

In color matching, this means creating a visual structure that consists of a base of analog colors and contrast with complementary (or tertiary) colors.


Another way to go is to use a background, a base, and an accent color that support a clear hierarchy of the website, “training” clients and visitors on specific actions. We had written an article on this topic.

Why is that important? Understanding these principles means achieving better conversion rates. Notice the effect on our psyche when only the color of a button is changed. Which button will probably be clicked more often?

increase with-color-conversion-rate-

To preface it: thered buttonis the clear winner in the test Hubspot performed. The conversion rate increased by 21 percent. Of course, this is not due to the red color, but to the isolation of the button color scheme.

The rest of the website was designed with many green elements. This ultimately means that the green button in the perception just goes down. The red button, on the other hand, immediately catches the eye and clearly stands out from the other colors used. That’s the reason for the better conversion rate. So this is a good example of the use of complementary colors.

We find a similar effect in a test multiple variants, which Paras Chopra published in Smashing Magazine. Paras tested some variations of download links for its PDFProducer program.

The following variants were put to the test:

Paras Chopras Test the right download link colors

Can you guess which combination achieved the best results? Here comes the resolution:

results-download link-test

The variant 10 worked much better than any other. This definitely can not be considered a coincidence, because variant 10 has the best contrast of all examples. The text PDFProducer is small and designed in gray, but the red call-to-action text Download For Free creates a great contrast, which is important for higher conversion rates. But how do we best define success for such tests? Do we only measure the clicks or the logins?

Of course that depends on what is to be achieved with the call-to-action. In this case, the applications would certainly be correct. Because the free download is paid with the e-mail address of the interested user; you have to register for the newsletter.

Why we prefer sky blue to the light blue

Although different colors can be perceived in different ways, the descriptive names of these colors also count. A study called “A rose with a different name” asked the subjects to rate products (such as make-up) with specific color names. It turned out that fancy names of colors were preferred. Thus, “mocha” was perceived as much more sympathetic than the real name of the color brown. For this test, the subjects were given two identical products, the only difference being the name of the color.

The same effect applies to a variety of products application. Elaborately named paint colors were perceived as more pleasing to the eye than their simply named counterparts. Unusual and unique color names work much better for the majority of products – from gummy bears to sweatshirts. A chalk sells better with the color name Razzmataz than with the real color name lemon yellow.

Find your own color palette

Even at the end of this post, many questions remain unanswered. There is still no cheat sheet for the perfect color choice. Maybe there will never be the only correct answer. However, there are some suggestions that we could pursue. A suggestion can certainly always be a good tip: start A / B tests with two variants you’ve chosen. Use contrasts and the power of complementary or tertiary colors.

(This post first appeared in August 2016 and has been kept up-to-date ever since.) The last update is from March 11, 2019. The post image is from Providers portfolio.