From the orange at Hermès to the red coating of Christian Louboutin‘s shoe soles, brands have often distinguished themselves by incorporating emblematic colors into their products. The increasing amount of trademark infringement lawsuits are indicative of just how much brands rely on certain colors as integral parts of their DNA — and the lengths they’ll take to protect their singular use.
The shades used by a business are key to its branding — color has long been touted as a vital component of the in-store experience. But as carried shopping bags turn into digital clicks, the colors used for digital marketing are part of overarching omnichannel strategies.
Brian Lischer, founder and CEO of branding agency Ignyte, confirmed that color psychology plays a pivotal role in digital marketing. “From established best practices on the prominence of calls to action to more subtle aesthetic decisions evoking brand personality, every digital marketer is utilizing principles of color psychology, whether they know it or not,” he said.
And the more these principles are understood, expressed Lischer, the more they can be optimized. “While the emotional effect of colors differs based on gender, cultural context, personal experience and neurological variances, there are some general guidelines that have been borne out by countless color psychology studies,” he said.
“The human brain gathers, processes and interprets visual stimuli in a very predictable fashion: It starts with the simplest type of information and then moves on to increasingly more complex data. This all happens in a fraction of a second, but the progression of visual complexity turns out to be shape, color, content,” he said. “When you develop your digital marketing with an understanding of color psychology and its role in the sequence of cognition, you have the power to radically differentiate it and foster deep subconscious connections with your customers.”
Fostering these connections, according to Lischer, is of particular importance to retail brands. “Brands are chock full of meaning conveyed via visual and verbal language,” he acknowledged. “Visual branding leverages the rich meaning implicit in color, shape and other visual clues to tell stories that have deep significance for audiences.”
Recognition is at the core of why visual branding is so important for retailers. “Color can trigger brand recognition almost immediately. Think of H&M’s red, Starbucks’ green or Gap’s blue. These brands have become virtually synonymous with the colors that represent them,” he continued. “The consistency and frequency with which each of these brands utilizes their flagship colors evokes not just instinctual recognition but also a reassuring sense of trust and reliability.”
Lischer pointed out that the use of color in digital channels is not particularly different from in-store experiences. He explained that in both situations, color is used for similar purposes: brand recognition, storytelling, directing a shopper’s attention and calls to action. And this similarity can be leveraged, added Ken Butts, director of global key accounts at color management solutions provider Datacolor, which works with brands like Nike, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Under Armour. He confirmed an omnichannel approach in relation to color is crucial.
“It is critical in today’s digital world for a brand to build a strong visual brand image and color theme, and communicate that consistently across all the channels (digital and physical) to build that personal connection and brand loyalty with its consumers,” said Butts. “Consumers expect the same experience regardless of the channel, so brands need to be consistent.”
Lischer said studies have shown color can have up to a 60 percent influence on purchasing decisions. Butts agreed that color often can impact the buying behavior of a consumer — especially online, when other senses are more challenged to target. “Effectively leveraging the psychology behind the right color for a brand’s logo, website design and other marketing materials can help communicate the brand’s value, inspire strong emotions and lead to greater sales.”
Butts noted that brighter colors are more effective online than in brick-and-mortar stores and that different colors can inspire different emotions in consumers. Blue might invoke trust, for example, while red might inspire passion. Because of that, Butts urged that selecting the appropriate color that aptly reflects a brand’s value is central in relation to its ability to build a personal connection.
As Butts explained, black might show sophistication (think Chanel), blue or gray can conjure trust and power (Burberry), and black and red combinations might bring to mind sensuality (Victoria’s Secret). Color undoubtedly plays a role in marketing — both in-store and through digital channels — but, as with any situation, context remains fundamental. “There simply isn’t a magic bullet when it comes to leveraging the power of color,” said Lischer. “I would love to be able to tell a retailer that they could expect to see a tenfold increase in revenue if they paint their walls purple, but it simply does not work like that.”
Shades that appeal to women might be different from those that appeal to men, he explained, and a younger audience might be more accepting of a given color than an older one. “Understanding how your brand’s target audience will react to a given color is the goal,” summed up Lischer. “As with everything in branding, you can’t understand what the most effective use of color will be until you understand your customers first.”
From Ignyte’s color selection within its brand identity services to Datacolor’s color management solutions that help retail executives meet shorter lead times, cost pressures and increased quality and productivity, branding services and color management solutions abound and are on the market for footwear retailers.
Through color, retailers and brands can communicate the message they are trying to send and paint themselves accordingly.
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