Color is Back In Business

Have you ever thought about how deeply a specific color can influence your mood, buying decision or offer a different perspective? Do you think you would be more apt to support a business or product if their logo was blue rather than red? How about pink instead of yellow?

While you may think your decisions are based on more than just the color of a logo, package or communication piece, subconsciously we all have a predisposed notion of what each represents; influencing how we choose to relate to the specific product or message being presented.

In business, choosing the right color is just as important as determining the message. Color is the first thing that attracts the customer’s eye, and once noticed, the color may determine the entire tone of the piece. Because much of the human reaction to color is subliminal, and for the most part inherent due to years of experience and conditioning, it is important for businesses to recognize the emotions each color evokes and how to use color to their advantage.

Choosing Color Wisely is Crucial
By examining the current color trends and popular shades used in business, we can determine what puts specific customers in the buying mood, when it’s appropriate to deliver a message in black over white, or if using a hint of color will better reach the intended audience.

With the current state of the economy, businesses want to instill optimism with their customers, employees and shareholders. For the past year, the general sense in business has been mainly doom and gloom, with less than impressive financial forecasts and extensive job losses. Now, as we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to recognize that consumers are trying to look toward the future with a better and brighter outlook. Therefore companies are beginning to change their collateral, messaging and tone to provide the same confidence and optimism.

As you most likely know, the Pantone® selected color of the year for 2009 is Mimosa.  Described as embodying hopefulness and reassurance in a climate of change, the warm yellow tone will garner attention but also creates a sense of relaxation. Naturally, humans are drawn to yellow tones since they exemplify the warmth and nurture of the sun. Yellow is seen by the eye before any other color and appeals to both men and women, making it the perfect shade for point-of-purchase displays and direct mail pieces. Dramatic results can be achieved using a bright colored sheet like Astrobrights Solar Yellow and pairing it with a rich iris blue ink color.

Rebirth of Color
Emerging from the muted tones of grays and off-whites that we’ve seen during this time of uncertainty comes the more vibrant shades, in addition to yellow, that’ll begin to take the stage as companies adapt to this new time as well as attempt to connect with a younger generation.  Light greens, oranges and pinks are coming back, representing a sense of renewal and youth. These bright colors tend to attract a younger audience as these colors are seen as fun, cheerful and energetic.

Appeal to the Sexes
While pinks have traditionally been used to communicate solely to women or girls, in the past couple of years the traditionally feminine color is making an inroad into men’s fashion. Although this is an up-and-coming trend, orange and green are more commonly used to appeal to a unisex audience.

If, however, you are only targeting women, the default color doesn’t always have to be pink. While some love it, others hate it. Think about your target demographics, like their age, and the message you are trying to convey to determine if the perception pink demonstrates is how you want your product or company to be seen by a larger audience.

This brings me to my next point, should blue be used to target men? Blue is traditionally a favorite color among both men and women of all ages; however, men have a much stronger preference for blue than women. Blue is often perceived as trustworthy, dependable, fiscally responsible and secure, and in the past it has most often been used as a marketing choice for targeting the male dominated audience in addition to representing financial institutions. Purple is starting to transform the traditional take on blue making it an updated, creative spin on the old color. Connoting a sense of sophistication and creativity, blue-based tones and dark plums are popping up to either put a fresh twist on an old logo or to illustrate a stylish new communications piece. Looking for a color combination that will appeal to a masculine audience? Try using a deep silver or gold ink in combination with royal blue. The rich colors of both convey a sense of mystery, sophistication and prestige.

Environmental Fill
It is important to note that in addition to color, the green movement is receiving a lot of attention, and corporations are under increasing pressure to produce collateral that is both attractive to the eye as well as sustainable. Warm basics, like the color of sea grass and rattan and shades of khaki, moss and thyme are becoming more apparent as companies try to illustrate their environmental commitment. While brown conveys simplicity, durability and stability, some consumers can relate it to dirtiness, therefore be careful when choosing within this family. Terracotta, a color popular among a female audience, can convey an upscale look, while using deep red with dark brown offers up a universally appealing color combination.

Generation Color Gap
As baby boomers begin to retire and the next generation becomes the leaders of tomorrow, companies are recognizing that they now must change as consumers and influencers begin to take on a new form. This new generation has been immensely influenced by technology. Digital cameras, MP3 players, DVDs and cell phones have all played a role in defining the color trends in the past couple of years. Noticing this, companies have used these palettes—think bright, vivid and futuristic hot pinks, silver and bright purples—to attract a younger audience to its products and services.  Furthermore, metallic and pearlescent finishes often tend to appeal to these Generation Y’ers.

While Generation Y continues to grow up and Generation Z  will soon be at their heels, don’t  forget about the classic colors of black and white that’ll always have a place for any communications piece or logo, no matter the audience you are targeting. Black is serious and bold. It creates drama and is often used to market expensive products. There will always be a place for black since the contrast is powerful when used with almost any color. White is simple, clean and pure. The human eye is trained to see white and the brightness of it will make any color stand out.

Colors will always remain a focus and an important part of how we view the world around us. It generates emotions, helps to facilitate a message, and creates a stimulating visual that catches our immediate attention. While specific shades may always connote certain feelings based on cultural or historic meanings, they are constantly transforming to illustrate the steady change in consumers and the society that they are a part of. Understanding the meaning of colors and which appeal to your target audience will allow a company to seamlessly transition as it continues to develop and provide its future services and products.

Jeff Fox is director of marketing for Wausau Paper’s printing and writing sector, a leading manufacturer of colored uncoated printing and imaging papers.  He is responsible for driving all marketing initiatives for the business and supporting their recognized brands, core market segments and strategic platforms.