Creating the right impression with color

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About a year ago, the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), an Atlanta-based group dedicated to the advancement of the state’s technology industry, redesigned its e-mail newsletter. Its subscriber list—now topping the 7,000 mark—was opening its messages, but they weren’t clicking through or taking action. In addition, membership was dropping off.

One of the first things the organization did was change its newsletter’s look, said Candace Clark, the organization’s executive administrator. "We totally revamped the colors, the logos, everything," said Clark. "We knew that certain colors evoke certain emotions. Our newsletter was teal green, green, blue and canary yellow. We needed to make a change."

The color green, which is associated with money, healing and health, and yellow, which is often associated with playfulness and amusement, were too strong for the newsletter. TAG changed its format, choosing shades of blue for the background and logos and standardizing its text as blue or black. The change worked, said Clark.

"People started signing up for the newsletters again," she said. "Now, we have a 20% click-through rate and a 50% to 60% open rate."

Making little color changes such as the ones TAG implemented can create big results, said John H. Bredenfoerder, design director with Landor Associates, a global branding and design firm in San Francisco. But choosing the right colors isn’t always easy. Psychologists and researchers know that colors affect emotions, but they don’t affect everyone in the same ways. For instance, women and men react differently to certain colors, as do people of different ages.

"Red can be passionate, where blue can be calming," said Bredenfoerder. "Greens have a wide range. They can be cool and calming, but yellow-greens can be exciting, too. Oranges can be friendly. And certain colors definitely appeal to certain demographics."

Bredenfoerder said one of the smartest things businesses can do is to "own" a color (as UPS did with its "What Can Brown Do for You?" campaign last year). He said to start with this primary color for your logos and branding message, and bring in a different palette for your marketing message. Five or 10 years ago, b-to-b companies would traditionally use corporate colors such as navy, gray and burgundy, but unless you’re trying to exude a conservative demeanor, these colors may seem boring to readers, Bredenfoerder said.

Color Marketing Group, a nonprofit association of color designers based in Alexandria, Va., says the hot colors for 2005 and 2006 are affected by key influences such as the need to find balance between nature and technology, a desire for serenity and a need for luxury. The group recently released color suggestions for visual communications, but marketers should take note: You can’t be sure all of the colors, which include electric mud and teal zeal, will render correctly in a Web browser. Only 216 colors look the same in every browser.

Explained Bredenfoerder: "From a technical standpoint, you want to be consistent. You’ll want to look at what’s technically feasible before making color changes."

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