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The Psychology of Color in Content Marketing

Humans have always been visual creatures. Since the beginning of humankind, visual forms were used to record history and share thoughts. It’s only with the advent of advertising and now the ever-increasing role of personal technologies that creators seek to gain the psychological advantage of using color in content marketing to emphasize brand and compel viewers to act.

In today’s content-driven world, people and brands alike want to share the instant something happens. Using visuals (and the color inherent in those visuals) communicates quicker and more effectively than words. Think about the things that go viral; only visual materials go viral. Humans process visuals and color better than text.

Color communicates on a biological, psychological, and cultural plain. Professor Mriganka Sur of MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences says that half of the human brain is devoted directly or indirectly to vision, doing complex and sophisticated processing of visual information that not only computes color, but size, shape, and orientation, among many other components.

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In any one day, messages are bombarding us from a multitude of sources and it’s increasingly difficult to sort and make sense of all the incoming data.

What‘s Color Got to Do With Creating Digital Content?

It stands to reason that if your audience’s attention and memory are being pulled in so many directions, you are competing with much more than you realize. A staggering amount of content is generated daily. It’s no longer enough for content to look professional and have value. These days almost everyone has the ability to create quality content. The strategic use of color can give you an edge.

Color allows the human brain to dissect complex visual input and place it into manageable portions for interpretation. And because so much information is incoming, it falls on marketers to figure out how to create content in a way that breaks through the visual clutter. Successful content needs to help prospects translate what they’re seeing into something they want to take action on so it provides a return on their investment. Visual data and color choices not only grab a prospect’s attention but communicate much more than literal color.

The Way Color is Perceived

According to CoSchedule’s Guide to Color Psychology in Marketing, every individual perceives color differently based on many criteria including:

  1. Age—Bright colors are liked more by youth while older people respond more to subdued shades.
  2. Culture—Black is the color of mourning in the United States. In India, the color of mourning is white.
  3. Gender—Blue is liked most often by both men and women. Beyond that, green is most often cited by men as their favorite color. Women choose purple. Men most often dislike brown. Women most often dislike orange.

Color is a key factor in shaping mood as it has the ability to stimulate certain emotions, bring back memories, and even elicit tastes and smells. 

The perception of color is quite complex and has been studied for centuries by artists, scientists, and sociologists. When lay people think of color, it’s really hue under consideration, or overall color—a blue sky or green grass. Color also contains value—the level of a color’s brightness and chroma—a color’s saturation or level of vividness. Content creation tools, in their color wheel, allow designers to work with all three. The ability to finesse color to an audience’s mood is available to those who have the know-how. 

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What Colors Represent

Color is a powerful tool. Color can improve readership by 40 percent, learning by more than 20 percent, and comprehension by 73 percent. Content marketers who develop their materials using what color studies have already revealed will have an edge in gaining their audience’s trust and raising engagement. The colors you choose say much about your brand. A marketer’s color choices have the potential to influence the amount of time someone spends on a website, their likelihood of clicking on a link, and whether a purchase is ultimately made.

NewsCred Insights and Satyebdra Singh of the University of Winnipeg, in her paper, Impact of Color on Marketing, have much to contribute to the following insights on how people perceive individual colors.

  1. Red is the most active color. It sends a chemical message to the renal gland in our brains, which releases epinephrine. This then quickens our breathing and pulse rate. It’s a reaction outside of our conscious control. Bold and eye-catching, red brings about a sense of energy and courage. Red can also be associated with danger, power, and passion. It increases appetite. When pink in tone, the association turns to friendship and romance.
  2. Orange is most often associated with sunshine and health. It is not as aggressive as red and brings about feelings of enthusiasm and encouragement. Known to increase oxygen to the brain, orange is invigorating and a symbol of endurance. When taken to more gold tones, there is a feeling of prestige, wealth, wisdom, and quality.

Red and orange bring text and images to the foreground and are__ good to use to motivate viewers to make decisions. The most often clicked upon buttons are red or orange.

  1. Yellow, another active color, is the color of warmth. It brings about cheerfulness and increases energy. It is an eye-catching color but needs a dark color to highlight it. Used with black, it often communicates a warning. It’s also a good secondary color for children’s products. Many shades of yellow are unappealing, losing cheerfulness to dull shades that depict illness and decay. Yellow has more bounce off the retina than other colors, jumping out at viewers faster, making it a good color for a call-out.
  2. The color of nature, green symbolizes growth, freshness, and harmony. In advertising, green is associated with money and stability, as well as hope. Dark green can be associated with jealousy. Olive green has a tradition of symbolizing peace.
  3. The color of the sky and sea, blue is the most well-liked color and has associations of stability, trust, cleanliness, and confidence. Physically, blue slows human metabolism, producing a calming effect. Blue is the most often used color in corporate America. Light blues are often chosen to depict health-related products. Its softness works well with spas and products that promote healing.

Because of its calming effect, blue elicits patience. Viewers will wait longer for a website or video to load when surrounded by blue than by red. Use it in conjunction with long-form content to help your readers stick with the piece.

  1. Purple has historically been the color of royalty and nobility. Almost 75 percent of all pre-adolescent children say their favorite color is purple. And, aside from flowers, purple is rare in nature. People associate purple with wealth, dignity, independence, and magic. Lavender can evoke a feeling of freshness. Dark purples evoke somber feelings and have the potential to cause gloom.
  2. White is the color of cleanliness, purity, and goodness. White represents the good guy. The good guy always has a white horse.
  3. Black is a powerful color associated with power, death, evil, and the unknown. It also connotes strength and authority and lends formality and prestige. Black is the basic color of copy, but black backgrounds make white or any light color copy harder to read.

Black used with bright colors and white with dark colors gives content balance, space, and drama. Often, designers will use a darkgray instead of black for copy. The reader perceives the copy as black, but the gray increases readability.

Using the Psychology of Color as a Tool in Content Marketing

Color, while grounded in science is never formulaic. Science only goes so far. There is an art to combining colors for optimum aesthetics, readability, and emotional effect. There is no best palette. Colors should be chosen to support both the brand, the message, and the desired action.

Content marketers are well aware that purchasing decisions are not wholly made by logic. We identify with brands on an emotional level that can be manipulated by the effective use of color.

93 percent of buyers say they focus on visual appearance when choosing a product. Colors that elicit calm, strength, and authority provide the best backdrop for prospects conducting online research. When a website improves our state of mind, prospects have the patience to spend time deepening their relationship with your brand. Add red and orange to energize them when the time comes to click on that call-to-action (CTA) button and sign up. A button color test done by Hubspot showed that a red CTA button garnered a 21 percent increase in clicks over a green CTA button.

Just remember that warm colors urge users to take action while cool shades encourage contemplation. The stronger your contrast, the more powerful your visual message. Using fewer hues in your compositions will also make your piece easier to remember.

Color can either support your content marketing efforts or reduce the effectiveness of your efforts. When selling a car, red is an appropriate color. When selling bandages, you may not want to remind your customer of blood.

Armed with an understanding of the science and psychology of color, content marketers can make more strategic color choices that enhance customer choices.

Deborah K.

Deborah was the kid who would rather write book reports and essays than play ball during recess. Although she didn’t score many points with her peers, it did lead to her career creating content for TV, radio, print and new media for companies as varied as Dooney& Bourke, Panera Breads, Visa, SUNY Ulster and Hudson Valley Federal Savings Bank. She is also a principal of small packages – a digital design company, and past partner/marketing director of whatis.com, the world’s foremost reference on information technology. And, her love of food enabled her to become a contributing editor of both Gourmet Retailer and Food Distribution Magazines. Deborah has a bachelor degree in fine art from the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford and a masters in higher education administration from Stony Brook University. When she’s not writing, her love of quilting, furry animals, friends, and family sustains her.

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