Color in Small Business Marketing: What Matters Most

Color does more than make your product or branding pop. Learn how important a role color plays in your small business’s marketing efforts.

Whether it’s your product label, your email newsletters, your fliers or your logo, choosing the right color is crucial for your small business. Color is a key element in conveying your brand story.

Decisions about color will permeate everything from your website to your packaging to your advertising. Use these tips to put color to work in your small business.

Research Color Basics

Research on color use in marketing can serve as a starting point. Use this roundup of research findings as a foundation:

  • Match colors to your product. Use color to emphasize what your product stands for. Stick with earth tones for all-natural products, for example, or black or metallic if you are selling a futuristic, high-end product.
  • Consider age. In multiple studies, children have reacted positively to warm colors. If you have a younger target market, keep the colors vibrant.
  • Factor in gender. While the “blue is for boys, pink is for girls” concept is outdated, gender can impact color preferences. In part, this may be due to the reinforcement of old ideas. A large study found that men have a slight preference for blue and cooler colors, while women gravitate to warmer tones.

Analyze Color Trends

Over time, repeated use of color in your communications can help customers quickly pick you out from a crowd of other brands. However, keeping an eye on yearly trends may help you build on widespread color momentum. Annual trends are reflected in clothes, makeup, home furnishings and other products. While you certainly wouldn’t change your colors from year to year, you could add an accent to a display at a trade show or farmer’s market, for instance, or look for other ways to ride the color wave. Paint and design companies track trends and predict yearly color forecasts. Examples include Sherwin Williams’s annual roundup and Pantone’s color of the year.

Consider the Context

The way your customers react to color can depend on how you use it, and not so much their overall perception of the color itself. This means you can ignore the “red means power, blue is calming” advice you’ve read. Research has found, for example, that people’s general perceptions of blue can dramatically differ from their reactions to blue used in particular scenarios. For example, research subjects overwhelmingly characterized blue as “happy” when asked about the color generally — but when they saw it on actual product packaging, the “happy” description dropped to near the bottom of the list. The point here is to test colors in a concrete, not abstract, way.

Test Your Color Plans

People’s reaction to color is based in part on their experience with it. Put another way, your prospects are not a blank slate when it comes to color. Sally Augustin, Ph.D., practicing environmental/design psychologist and principal at Design With Science, advises businesses to check any color plans with intended buyers because of these pre-existing attitudes.

“Always check the specific associations people in the target audience have with particular colors,” she suggests. You can do this by sharing your intended choice with even a handful of prospects or customers to gain feedback on what the color evokes.

Competitors may arrive at similar color conclusions for their design and branding after considering their target customers, the product and other factors. Given this, also check your color plans against what your competitors are using. Find a way to differentiate your colors, perhaps by including an accent color, an unusual shade or other nuance that will set you apart.