More to colour than meets the eye

Colour Affects’ Angela Wright looks at how the use of colour can impact the retail and hospitality environments.

More to colour than meets the eye

More to colour than meets the eye

Colour has a multi-level role to play in the Retail and Hospitality sectors. What the two most obviously have in common is the need to create a light, welcoming environment (actual or virtual) that people will enjoy being in.

In any sector, the single most important design element influencing product or brand selection is colour – it is also the strongest influence in building customer loyalty. There is a large body of corporate research supporting this, but while almost universally in agreement, it is largely anecdotal.

It is therefore more expedient to explain the scientific principles underpinning these claims:

  1. Colours are wavelengths of light coming from the sun on the same spectrum as microwaves, radio and TV, infrared, X-rays, etc. All of these energies affect us constantly, physically as well as aesthetically and emotionally.
  2. It is a scientific fact that colour is the first thing we instinctively look for to tell us about anything that confronts us, and we immediately know how to respond.
  3. Throughout eons of evolution, humanity has depended on colour to guide us and help us survive, so colours creating mixed messages make us very uncomfortable.
  4. Colour is the universal, non-verbal language that everyone speaks and understands – whether consciously or not.
  5. Colour instantly increases recognition and breeds familiarity – as long as it is consistent.
  6. Today, although we are not as aware of it as we were in prehistoric times, colour is still subconsciously driving our behaviour as powerfully as ever.

Follow through on the details

It is important to take some time choosing your predominant corporate colour (the first colour everyone sees in your branding) and make sure that your printer can consistently and accurately produce it. Then you need a palette of secondary colours that work in harmony with the main one to support your message, powerfully and consistently, in all of your corporate communications. Pay as much attention to the standard of your colour reproduction as you do to the conscious effects of the words and content – the unconscious mind never sleeps.

Sometimes people let their colours slip. A common example of that is in coupons, vouchers and other similar items. If you are offering point-of-sale (POS) discounts or specials of any kind, you will still need to make sure your colours are consistent. Continue to draw on the colours from your corporate palette rather than introducing new ones that may, or may not, relate positively to your brand. You could perhaps use brighter versions of existing colours to capture attention.

Resist the temptation to ‘cop out’ and use black and white or greyscale. The psychology of these options is to evoke no emotional reaction at all – they are at their most useful when you wish to communicate pure information without evoking any emotional response. This fact has obvious implications for documents, coupons, vouchers – or indeed anything that you use to motivate your customers in any way. You need an emotional response to keep redemption rates and customer loyalty high. Black and white will not contribute to achieving these objectives. In general terms, these achromatic tones have no place in branding, particularly in Retail or Hospitality. After all, a cold welcome is not what you are offering is it?

The colour of money

You want to encourage your customers to spend more money with you and – especially in the case of retailing – keep ‘buyer’s remorse’ to the minimum. It is worth remembering that the one hue that does all of that best is green.

Green is the colour of money – many currency notes around the world are green, including the mighty US dollar. This is no coincidence. Green is in the centre of the spectrum and is therefore the most balanced colour. Think about it, when the world around us contains green it indicates the presence of water and healthy vegetation so we know instinctively that we are not in any danger of famine. We are reassured by it and we feel secure in our purchases.

The best hues to start building your brand palette

Warm colours are the most effective in the Retail and Hospitality sectors. In décor, yellow is the most welcoming colour to feature in a reception area. However, red is best for emphasising important messages in signage (bizarrely, yellow does not do that – in graphic designs it can play tricks with your eyes). Although red is not technically the colour most visible to the eye, it always grabs the attention first because red objects appear to be closer than they are – hence the decision to use it in traffic signals the world over.

Just a word of caution: make sure the dominant colour in your corporate palette – whether it be in the graphic design of promotional materials, on your website or in the decor – is the appropriate colour for your brand. For example, red will certainly be noticed, so it might be the perfect choice for promoting pretty much any Retail or Leisure premises – and it is very popular in both of those sectors.

However, it is always a good idea to give some thought to what your product is. For example, McDonalds makes great use of red to grab attention, while a motor manufacturer might be well advised to use green instead. Conditioning runs deep and you do not want potential customers instinctively stopping or, at best, proceeding with caution at the sight of your entrance.

Don’t go overboard

It is one of the first rules of colour psychology to retain balance in any colour scheme. Apart from the fact that McDonalds is not directing its signage to the mind-set of motoring customers anyway, they use just the right amount of red carefully balanced with their corporate yellow and other colours. Their use of colour has historically always been positive.

If you operate in Hospitality, you need to be aware that too much yellow in the bedrooms can produce tetchy, hard-to-please guests. My family and I first noticed this in the hotel where I was brought up – it was one of those weird (as we thought at the time) observations that we made over the years that led to my decision to explore the mysteries of colour psychology in later life. These days I know it is not weird, just science: yellow is one of the four psychological primary colours relating to the ego, self-esteem and confidence. Too much yellow, or a badly harmonised yellow, can induce anxiety. In simple terms, guests in the yellow bedrooms were not getting a good night’s sleep because the wallpaper stirred up their fears and anxieties before they turned off the lights. As a solution, judiciously adding blue or purple to the colour scheme, to balance the yellow, can work wonders.

General guidelines

Whist both Retail and Hospitality are driven by inviting consumers into their premises, and creating such a positive experience that they will spend money freely, they can still evoke different mind sets.

The psychology of retailing is likely to be more complex because when we go shopping there can be a variety of more negative feelings at play. For example, a sense of inadequacy (which the marketing industry is not slow to point out constantly) or distress purchases (something you unexpectedly have to buy, which you don’t necessarily want/like). On the other side, of course, it can also be pure retail therapy and a positive experience. It is your job to make the experience as positive as possible for all of your customers.

The leisure industries are usually dealing with us when we are feeling more positive. By definition, when we use them we are at leisure and (hopefully) less stressed. It’s playtime after all.

I have mentioned this before, and I will probably go on nagging about it, because it is such an unrecognised truth. In both cases, the most negative colour you can use is grey. Yes, I know it is popular and generally considered up-scale and elegant. Nevertheless, from a colour psychology perspective, it is the worst colour to use in Retail, Leisure or any kind of Hospitality. When we are surrounded or confronted by grey, the human instincts are:

  1. Hibernation
  2. Hoard resources! We could be in for a long winter
  3. Draw in
  4. Bad weather – stay at home.

Pure grey is the only colour that has no direct psychological properties. However, that does not mean it does not influence the way we feel. It is quite suppressive. A virtual absence of colour is depressing, and when the world turns grey we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, grey has a dampening effect on other colours used with it. Heavy use of grey usually indicates a lack of confidence and fear of exposure.

The other colour I recommend exercising caution over, specifically in the Hospitality industry, is blue. Blue encourages calm thought, efficiency and responsibility… it is not going to encourage anyone to splash out in your bistro, have some pudding or order another bottle – blue is not at all a convivial colour. Of course, context is all, so beautiful blue skies on a holiday brochure will always create very positive associations, at the moment I am focusing on the décor in your restaurant. I have seen many restaurants that have predominantly blue décor, and when they find themselves struggling it never occurs to them that their elegant blue décor might be inhibiting their customers and putting them on their best behaviour. That’s fine up to a point, but not likely to increase revenues.

So what is the best colour for a food-related brand? You will not go wrong with orange, it makes you hungry and it is the colour of secondary survival instincts, food, warmth, shelter, sensuality and fun. Orange is the fun colour and is complementary to blue, which means it is also psychologically opposite. Being a mixture of red and yellow it stimulates us physically and emotionally, so is perfect for any Sports, Leisure or Hospitality situation, especially where food is involved.

In the end, trust your instincts and keep it colourful – you will succeed.