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What colors really attract customers to take action?

David Houston Written by: David Houston |

What colors really attract customers to take action?

Whether it’s an iPhone notification icon or an email call to action button, there’s no question that high saturation colors and strong contrasting colors compel action in the digital world.

It turns out these same tricks work well with in real life marketing applications too. We know because here at DMG, we specialize in digital marketing and brand activation.

Our digital marketing and promotional product marketing teams usually approach strategy in different ways. But one key tactic our office agrees on is the user experience and the big role that vivid, eye-catching colors make in driving customer behavior across our business. We’ve taken to calling these colors STOP colors.

Whether it’s designing a website or a promotional water bottle, these are the four parts of choosing STOP colors.

  1. Choose high saturation colors
  2. Choose colors appropriate for brand
  3. Think about colors beyond the logo
  4. Review effect of color combinations

1) It’s not just about hue

Hue gets most of the attention in the color marketing world, but it shouldn’t.

For those non-artists out there, here’s a brief review of the parts of color: hue, value, and chroma.

The hue of a color is where it fits on the light spectrum between red and violet. In our culture, each hue brings association such as pink with femininity or black with luxury. You’ve probably seen infographics that show where logos of famous brands fit on the rainbow.

But there’s more to color than hue. As marketing psychology consultant Nick Kolenda writes: two underappreciated parts of color are:

Value: This is the level of brightness. Darker colors with more black in them are known as shades, while lighter ones with more white are known as tints.

Chroma: This is level of vividness: High chroma colors look saturated, while low chroma colors look washed out.

Kolenda argues value and chroma are worth paying attention to because they actually influence human perception more than hue. To simplify enormously, in most marketing contexts, saturated colors outperform the low-saturation pastel ones. That’s especially true when the goal is to get a customer’s attention or to get a customer to take action.

Another problem with relying on hue too much when choosing marketing colors is that many associations with hues are cultural, not biological. That means people from different cultures may have different or contradictory associations with colors. A classic example is the color white, which is associated with death and mourning in China, and with purity and innocence in the United States.

2) Brand context is key

There’s no one single right color for getting people’s attention: only a right color for each specific brand.

Here at DMG we start conversations about colors with a review of who a company’s customers are. Then we think about how we’d want those customers to perceive the brand.

For example our client Cecelia Health needed a logo and color palette that reflected its role as a healthcare technology company. Cecelia Health helps its clients manage diabetes and other chronic diseases through health coaching and technology.

Because Cecelia Health has a nurturing relationship with its customers, the aggressive red hue common with hospital and medical laboratory branding wouldn’t be appropriate. Instead we went to the other side of the color wheel to pick a cooling blue hue.

To complete the logo we chose analogous colors - neighbors to the original color on the color wheel - which together provide a soothing effect.

The color of the lines in the logo also needed attention. To convey friendliness and informality, we choose gray instead of black.

3) Think about colors beyond the logo

Logos tend to get the most graphic design attention, and for good reason. They’re the standard symbolic representation of a company.

But there’s still more to a company than a logo. And unless your company is doing something like sponsoring a NASCAR driver or a soccer team, your logo will likely be quite small compared to the branded object it’s on.

We frequently think about the power of color for branding in promotional products. For t-shirts or many other types of products, it looks tacky to festoon a huge logo across the front. But a well-chosen color with a small logo can both communicate your brand’s message and cover a large canvas in an aesthetically pleasing way. Think of Home Depot or John Deere. For companies that have built strong associations with their imagery, a specific color is the brand in the same way that a logo is.

With promotional products, finding products that match your brand’s color can be a technical challenge. We’ve found that a valuable tool is Pantone’s color matching service, which we used to provide Cecelia blue waterbottles and vibrant purple sunglasses for our music rewards app client Owly.FM.

4) Palette choices are as important as dominant color choices

People don’t perceive individual colors in a vacuum. When they see red and green, they don’t think about two individual colors, they likely think of Christmas. Add yellow to the mix and the combination becomes a stoplight.

In general, complementary colors (which come from opposite sides of the color wheel) provide the greatest contrast, which makes things stand out. But complementary combinations can also be overpowering. Analogous colors (neighbors on the color wheel) fit naturally together, but provide minimal contrast.

Palette choices affect accessibility in addition to aesthetics. All the work emphasizing messaging in a product’s color goes out the window if any written messaging isn’t legible because of poor color contrast choices. Online tools like colorable can test out different text/background combinations to check readability. They’re also just fun to play with.

Where to start with STOP colors

Our advice to companies that want to try introducing STOP colors is to experiment.

One reason we have such precise information about how color affects action in the digital world is that it’s so easy to conduct A/B tests to conclusively demonstrate the power of color, such as when HubSpot did a red button/green button test.

Outside of the digital world, it’s not as effortless to collect metrics. But your color choices for things like promotional products and trade fair booth design still have a powerful effect on lead generation. It’s worth the effort to use some of the STOP color techniques and study the effects. You may be surprised by the results.

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Orignially published on October 30, 2019, updated on October 30, 2019

Topic: Digital Marketing