Red makes you hungry, blue calms you, while yellow gives you a pick-me-up. Color psychology — leveraging colors to produce an effect — can influence 85% of customers’ purchasing decisions.
Color psychology has long been a powerful marketing tool. For example, merchandisers use different colors to trigger emotions needed to get customers to buy. It's also a great tool to use when picking a color scheme for your personal branding. Do you want your online presence to convey trust, serenity, or authority? Color is one way to help craft that image.
What Is Color Psychology?
Color psychology is research about how color affects human behavior and emotions. Different colors, hues, and tones bring up distinct associations that impact human mood and decision making. Color psychology can vary depending on personal preferences and culture.
In marketing, color can impact how buyers perceive different brands and products, so it’s crucial to pick the tones that align with your business’s goals and target audience.
How Entrepreneurs Use Color Psychology
Color often determines a consumer’s first impression of a brand or product. Consumers attach feelings they have about certain colors (e.g., black as luxurious) to the product. In turn, those color associations influence their perception of your brand.
Color psychology plays a major role in how consumers make decisions and evaluate brands:
- Up to 90% of an initial impression comes from color
- Color can increase brand awareness and recognition by 80%
- 93% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on visuals alone
Each color has its own influence on consumers. Kevin Kaminyar, CEO of creative agency Yellow Tree Marketing, used color psychology to better target his audience.
“I asked [my clients] what popped into their head when they looked at different colors, and yellow was overwhelmingly positive. They brought up kindness, warmth, empathy — and that aligned with my brand,” Kaminyar says of his process to create branding for his business.
Dan Antonelli, who runs marketing agency Kickcharge, looks to competitors for inspiration: “We use a more research-driven approach about the use of color that’s already in the market.” Using colors rivals have not chosen can help you stand out and increase brand awareness.
Creative director Hillary Weiss suggests thinking outside the traditional color wheel: “When we think of color psychology, people say I’m gonna be a calm brand, so I’m gonna use green. Or I wanna be high-end, so I’m gonna use black. I’m a big fan of subverting those expectations.”
Weiss uses a colorful trio of red, blue, and yellow to establish her innovative and unique brand identity.
Blue is the world’s favorite color, with 57% of men and 35% of women ranking it as their top choice. And brands feel the same way: This calming tone is the most popular logo color, with 33% of top brands featuring it in their logo.
Blue brings up feelings of security, strength, wisdom, and trust. Social media companies — like Facebook and Twitter — frequently choose blue to make them appear dependable, a crucial trait for businesses that store a ton of user data.
On the other hand, blue also has negative connotations. There are few blue foods in nature, so the color suppresses our appetites. It can also convey feelings of coldness and unfriendliness.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association uses blue in both its name and branding. As a health insurance company, they have to balance collecting personal data alongside providing quality service. Its color scheme signals to its customers that they can trust and rely upon the company when making important decisions.
The color purple symbolizes royalty and superiority. In the Roman Empire, high-ranking officials wore Tyrian purple, which cost more than gold at the time. Queen Elizabeth I even banned anyone outside the royal family from wearing purple.
Due to these ancient associations, purple generates a wise, wealthy, and sophisticated aura. Brands can use the color to signal a superior service, product, or experience. But purple can also represent decadence, moodiness, and excess — so take care to strike a balance when using this color.
Since purple has a more feminine association, Hallmark uses the tone as a nod to its predominantly female audience. The TV channel also leverages the color to convey its unique offering of movies — only a few brands use purple, so the color can make a company stand out.
This bright color conveys confidence, creativity, and courage. And because of its fun nature, it works well with noncorporate brands. Orange also produces a warm feeling since it’s associated with the sun.
Yet the color also has some not-so-sunny connotations. It can generate feelings of frustration, deprivation, and sluggishness. It may come across as immature or ignorant. In fact, 29% of people rank orange as their least favorite color. It’s the difference between Hermès and Cheetos.
Nickelodeon’s iconic splat is one of the most well-known orange logos. Since orange drums up feelings of creativity and even immaturity, it matches their whacky programming and quirky branding. Only a company with an orange aesthetic could house shows like SpongeBob Squarepants and The Wild Thornberrys.
This powerful color is associated with excitement, energy, power, fearlessness, and passion. In sales, call-to-action buttons use red to empower shoppers to convert because it exudes a sense of urgency. Red can also have a physical impact — the color makes people hungry.
However, red can foster negative feelings just as powerfully. It represents anger, warnings, danger, defiance, aggression, and pain. Red police lights warn drivers to pull over, while stop signs force drivers to halt. Disney’s Inside Out even represents anger as a fiery red creature. In branding, red works when used in the right context.
For example, Coca-Cola has chosen the color as its signature for decades. Red encourages buyers to consume its beverage products, and it aligns with the company’s exciting branding: Its current motto is “Real Magic.”
Without exaggeration, green represents life. Reminiscent of grass, trees, and bushes, green brings upon feelings of relaxation, health, prosperity, hope, and freshness. But because of its primitive nature, the color can also represent boredom, stagnation, and blandness.
Whole Foods uses green because of its reputation for fresh, high-quality products. The brand positions itself as “America’s healthiest grocery store,” so using a color associated with health and growth aligns with their mission statement.
Similar to orange, yellow represents youthfulness and happiness. It’s the color of smiley faces, sunflowers, and rubber ducks. Brands use yellow to tap into optimism, creativity, extroversion, and warmth.
However, yellow branding could also foster feelings of fear, irrationality, and anxiety. Police tape, traffic lights, and street signs all feature yellow. In other words, remember this cautionary tale before diving into the color.
McDonald’s golden arches make great use of yellow’s positivity. Its yellow branding, tied together with appetite-inducing red, generates a youthful and happy association for the fast-food chain. Happy Meals donned with a yellow smiley face further affirm its kid-friendly reputation.
On websites, emails, and logos, you’ll find black everywhere. Black as a staple color can make a brand appear sophisticated, powerful, and elegant. Many luxury companies (say, Chanel) use black to make their logos look sleek and refined. It also makes sense then that around 3 in 10 high-tech companies use black in their logos.
But black also represents oppression and coldness. People could even perceive black as emblematic of evil: Think Ursula the Sea Witch or Scar from The Lion King.
And while black works wonders in the fashion industry, that effect doesn’t always translate. For example, black is rarely seen in the health industry because it resembles death and mourning.
Nike utilizes black-and-white advertising and its signature swoosh logo to reinforce its power-focused branding. The company bases its messaging around empowering athletes and helping customers grow into stronger performers — a perfect use of the elegant black.
If your business is aiming for a clean, simplistic vibe, white may be an ideal choice. Alongside black, white evokes a modern feel and can help achieve a pure, innocent, and pristine look.
On the other hand, white can feel sterile — like a hospital. Without colors, it might make your brand seem plain, boring, and empty. But, like most colors, it depends on the context. Some of the most innovative brands in the world, including Apple and Tesla, have white logos.
Black works for Nike in the same way white works for Adidas. Unlike Nike, Adidas targets a less athletic sect of customers. They regularly partner with nonathletes, including musicians, artists, and more. So, white enables them to tap into a simplistic, universal appeal.
The most popular color to represent femininity, pink can work for any brand looking for a more youthful, imaginative, and quirky feel. T-Mobile, for example, leans into its magenta coloring to help it stand out among competitors.
Yet pink also generates childish or rebellious vibes. Its initial exposure has shown to wane as shoppers get used to the color — if you’ve ever been to a Victoria’s Secret, those rosy walls can feel nauseating after a while.
For companies like Barbie, pink can be the perfect combination of femininity and youthfulness. The play doll giant’s pink logo helps it market its products to a young audience.
Color Psychology Chart
Putting the psychology of every color together, this chart combines each color’s associated moods and logo examples to help guide your branding.