4 Ways Brands Can Use the Psychology of Color as a Competitive Edge

Opinion: Think of Coca-Cola’s characteristic red, or the yellow golden arches of McDonald's

Give more thought to the way you use colors narvikk/iStock

Are you looking to improve your brand and win more customers? Then you should give more thought to the way you use colors.

Humans are visual beings. The brain processes pictorial information 60,000 times faster than it processes text. In addition, 90 percent of the information sent to our brains is visual. And an important component of that visual information is color.

Color psychology, the study of how color affects human behavior, is a hugely debated topic. The debate about the specific ways color affects humans is as old as color itself. Some groups even dismiss color psychology completely because the individual perception of any color is dictated largely by personal experiences and interactions with the color.

But color does have an impact on our lives. For example, in marketing and branding, color plays a prominent role in memorability: Think of Coca-Cola’s characteristic red, or the yellow golden arches of McDonald’s.

For brands, paying attention to color psychology and applying what holds true for a majority of the populace can help in getting an edge in a highly competitive marketing scene.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways brands can use the psychology of color to their advantage.

Creating a visual identity

As mentioned earlier, one of the important ways brands use color is to create a visual identity for themselves. This helps to differentiate the brand from that of the competition. It also helps with memorability.

How do brands go about doing this? The first step is to identify the core components of your brand personality.

In her publication, Dimensions of Brand Personality, Stanford University professor and psychologist Jennifer Aaker identified five core dimensions that play a role in a brand’s personality: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness.

After identifying elements that represent your brand, you can then go about creating a color scheme that communicates those elements. Studies such as Interactive Effects of Colors have proven that it is important for a brand color to “fit” what is being sold.

Content marketing expert Neil Patel suggests using color psychology to make a good impression the first time people come in contact with your brand, such as on your website. The colors should immediately communicate what your brand represents, leaving a lasting impression on the prospect.

Link-building expert Brian Dean also hints on the effectiveness of using color as a differentiator and visual identifier. In his video about YouTube search-engine optimization, he explains that by making his thumbnail design and color different from the videos of most other YouTubers, he makes his videos easy to spot and recognize. And this ties in with the overall goals of his brand.

Appealing to specific audiences

One of the most important lessons from color psychology is that people respond differently to color based on their gender, age and cultural background.

Research has established that blue is the most popular color for both men and women. Then women are particularly inclined toward pink as men are toward blue. Big brands have wielded this information to create powerful brands.

A good example is Victoria’s Secret. Its characteristic shade of pink was not just chosen at random—it is a favorite of the company’s target audience: women. The color also reinforces the image of the brand personality; pink is an “elusive” color, and its lighter shades are barely visible. Using pink not only plays on the “secret” in the brand name; it also shades the product, underwear.

Age is also known to influence color preferences. Whereas younger audiences might be drawn to bright, youthful colors, older audiences might prefer cooler shades.

Understanding how culture affects color perception is also important for brands targeting international markets. A color considered acceptable in one culture may be a complete turn-off in another.

By choosing colors that the audience is most receptive to, brands can get an edge over their competitors.

Associating your brand to a specific mood

Another important tip from color psychology is that certain colors put people in a specific mood.

Brand strategist Thomson Dawson explains it this way: “All colors create a specific frame of mind for people—it’s called a mood. Having people be in the most receptive mood is essential for their engagement with your brand. Color sets the mood of brand expression and, more important, creates mental associations to the meaning of your brand within the context of the world it lives in.”

Research has shown that the color red causes people to react with greater speed and force, which might prove useful during athletic activities. Little wonder car companies like Ferrari and Lamborghini combine red and black to create a balance between the powerful and the luxurious.

Coca-Cola also takes advantage of the effect of the color red. For some people, a mere sign of the characteristic red color is enough to get them thirsty.

The key is to understand how your audience will feel about a color and find a way to fit that into your brand’s message.

Increase conversions and click-through rates

One area where the psychology of color is particularly relevant in marketing is in the use of call-to-action buttons. Several studies have been conducted on the importance of choosing the right color for call-to-action buttons. The reason for the attention is simple: The aim of marketing is to get the consumer to take the desired action. On the web, a call-to-action button is a gate to the desired action.

An example is a study by Hubspot, which A/B tested a green button vs a red button. Again, red won. The red button outperformed the green button by 21 percent.

This in no way means that every brand should use red for their CTAs, but it does mean that paying attention to CTAs and making sure that they are prominent can determine whether they get the click or not.

This also applies to social media campaigns. Whether it’s a photo or video shared, the text or area showing the required action should stand out and convey a sense of urgency.


Color is a powerful visual component. Brands can not only apply the color psychology in differentiation, it can be used to appeal to specific audiences and elicit certain responses from their prospects. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the right combination of colors for any brand can only become evident through consistent testing.

Peter Trebek is CEO of Go Transcript, a web platform offering transcription services.