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The Science of Colors

We found this great article about colors and marketing by Leonhard Widrich on Huffingtonpost.com.  Check it out:

“Why is Facebook blue? According to The New Yorker, the reason is simple: It’s because Mark Zuckerberg is red-green colorblind. This means that blue is the color Mark can see the best. In his own words Zuck says, “Blue is the richest color for me — I can see all of blue.”

Not highly scientific, right? Well, although that isn’t the case for Facebook, there are some amazing examples of how colors actually affect our purchasing decisions.

After all, the visual sense is the strongest developed sense in most human beings. It’s only natural that 90 percent of an assessment for trying out a product is made based on color alone.

So how do colors really affect us, and what is the science of colors in marketing, really? As we are also trying to make lots of improvements to our product at Buffer, this was a key part to learn more about. Let’s dig into some of the latest, most interesting research on it.

First: Can You Recognize the Online Brands Just Based on Color?

Before we dive into the research, here are some awesome experiments that show you how powerful color alone really is. Based on just the colors of the buttons, can you guess which company each group represents:

Example 1 (easy):

the science of colors in marketing
Example 2 (easy):

the science of colors in marketing
Example 3 (medium):

the science of colors in marketing
Example 4 (hard):

the science of colors in marketing
I think these awesome examples from YouTube designer Marc Hemeon show the real power of colors more than any study could.

How many were you able to guess? (All the answers are at the bottom of this post!)

Which Colors Trigger Which Feelings for Us?

Which color triggers us to think in which way isn’t always obvious. The Logo Company has come up with an amazing breakdown of which colors are best for which companies and why. Here are four great examples:

the science of colors in marketing: black
the science of colors in marketing: green
the science of colors in marketing: blue
Especially if we also take a look at what the major brands out there are using, a lot of their color choices become a lot more obvious. Clearly, every one of these companies is seeking to trigger a very specific emotion:

the science of colors in marketing: color guide
On top of that, especially when we want to buy something, the colors can play a major role. Analytics company KISSmetrics created an amazing infographic on the science of how colors affect our purchases.

Especially the role of “green” stands out to me as the most relaxing color we can use to make buying easier. We didn’t intentionally choose this as the main color for Buffer, actually. It seems to have worked very well so far, though.

At second glance, I also realized how frequently black is used for luxury products. Of course, it’s always obvious in hindsight. Here is the full infographic:

the science of colors in marketing: buying
How to Improve Your Marketing With Better Use of Colors

This all might be fairly entertaining, but what are some actual things we can apply today to our website or app? The answer comes, yet again, from some great research done by the good folks over at KISSmetrics.

If you are building an app that mainly targets women, here is KISSmetrics’ best advice for you:

  • Women love blue, purple and green
  • Women hate orange, brown and gray

the science of colors in marketing: women
In case your app is strictly targeting men, the rules of the game are slightly different. Here it goes:

  • Men love blue, green and black
  • Men hate brown, orange and purple

the science of colors in marketing for men
In another amazing experiment Performable (now HubSpot) wanted to find out whether simply changing the color of a button would make a difference in conversion rates.

They started out with offering a simple choice between two colors (green and red) and trying guess what would happen.

For green their intuition was this: “Green connotes ideas like ‘natural’ and ‘environment,’ and given its wide use in traffic lights, suggests the idea of ‘Go’ or forward movement.”

For red their thinking went like this: “The color red, on the other hand, is often thought to communicate excitement, passion, blood, and warning. It is also used as the color for stopping at traffic lights. Red is also known to be eye-catching.”

So, clearly, an A/B test between green and red would result in green, the friendlier color, winning. At least that was their guess. Here is how their experiment looked:

the science of colors in marketing performable
So how did that experiment turn out? The answer was more surprising than I had expected: The red button outperformed the green button by 21 percent.

What’s most important to consider is that nothing else was changed at all: “21% more people clicked on the red button than on the green button. Everything else on the pages was the same, so it was only the button color that made this difference.”

This definitely made me wonder. If we were to read all the research before this experiment and ask every researcher which version they would guess would perform better, I’m sure green would be the answer in nearly all cases. Not so much.

At my company Buffer, we’ve also conducted dozens of experiments to improve our conversion rates through changes of colors. While the results weren’t as clear, we still saw a huge change. One hypothesis is that for a social media sharing tool, there is less of a barrier to signup, which makes the differences less significant.

In fact, when we recently launched the new Buffer for Business, we inverted our colors completely to orange, which has had a very powerful effect for signup conversions.

Despite all the studies, generalizations are extremely hard to make. Whatever change you make, treat it first as a hypothesis, and see an actual experiment what works for you. Personally, I’m always very prone to go with opinions based on what I read or research I’ve come across. Yet data always beats opinion, no matter what.

Quick Last Fact: Why Are Hyperlinks Blue?

This is something that always interested me and is actually a fun story. It’s to give the best contrast between the hyperlink and the original grey background of websites:

why are hyperlinks blue?
Here is the full explanation:

Tim Berners-Lee, the main inventor of the web, is believed to be the man who first made hyperlinks blue. Mosaic, a very early web browser, displayed webpages with a (ugly) gray background and black text. The darkest color available at the time that was not the same as the black text was that blue color. Therefore, to make links stand apart from plain text, but still be readable, the color blue was selected.

I think it is extremely fascinating that simply changing something as small as the color can completely change the outcome of something. What have been your findings in terms of colors and marketing? I’d love your ideas on this.

Solution to the riddle: Example 1: Facebook; example 2: Google; example 3: Flickr; example 4: LinkedIn.

Quick note: For a better way to use images and colors in your social media marketing, we’ve recently tried to add this to our powerful analytics tool to track engagement on social media with the new Buffer for Business.

This post originally appeared on the Buffer Social Media blog.


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