Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Color from a Business Point of View

Color is one of those elements in our lives about which we think little ­— unless we are trying to buy a sweater to match a particular pair of slacks, or unless we are trying to choose paint from the thousands of chips available at our favorite home improvement store. Color is usually just there in our background. But color is more than just there when it comes to your business and how it can prompt consumer behavior. I once read that, like death and taxes, there is no escaping color. It is ubiquitous.
To better understand why color is such a powerful force in our lives, it will help to remember just what color is. In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton discovered that, when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all the visible colors. He then found that each color is comprised of a single wavelength and cannot be further separated into other colors. Additional experiments showed that light could, however, be combined to form other colors — i.e. red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color. Thus, we got the color wheel with its three primary and three secondary colors.
Artists, designers and retailers have long realized the importance of color psychology to marketing. They know that color can dramatically affect moods, feelings, emotions and the perception of time. It is a powerful tool to communicate and persuade. It can even affect brand image. Think about IBM Blue, Coca Cola Red, Victoria Secret's Pink or Bloomingdale's Brown Bag. Even a woman's LBD (that's Little Black Dress) carries a certain image.
All business leaders have to be skilled in the art of persuasion. While there are many factors that influence how and what consumers will do, visual cues can be a strong motivator. And color can be a very strong motivator. So when renovating, remodeling, or rebuilding a space in your building, or the building itself, understanding the role that color can play in the outcome is critical to facility planning.
A caveat here: how a customer feels about a particular color can be deeply personal and often rooted in his or her own experience. For example, I don't like to be in a blue environment because every room in my childhood home was painted a shade of blue and had a blue-tiled floor or blue carpet. Even the garage walls and floor were painted tones of blue. I'd had all the blue I ever wanted by age 10! Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. While white is used in many western countries to represent purity and innocence, it is seen as a symbol of mourning in many eastern nations.
As you plan for your next update — whether it is just a coat of paint to spruce up the lobby or an extensive remodel that changes the building's footprint — put color at the top of your list of marketing tools for enhancing and inspiring customers. As a jumpstart, here is what researchers have generally found some colors to mean in the US.

  • Red is emotionally intense and stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. It has been found to influence sports performance. One English study found that competitors in boxing, taekwondo, and wrestling who wore red were more likely to win their bouts during the 2004 Summer Olympics. Similarly, teams wearing red uniforms beat their opponents more often.

  • The color of water and the sky, blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals, evoking peacefulness and tranquility. This is why it is particularly popular for bedrooms. Blue also denotes loyalty and trustworthiness, which is why it is often used in brand logos. Although it is well-liked, blue is not appetizing because blue food is rare in nature. Researchers say that when our ancestors searched for food, they learned to avoid toxic or spoiled objects, which were often blue, black or purple. They have also found that when food is dyed blue and served to study subjects, they lose their appetites. So, no blue in any eating space.

  • Cheerful yellow gets attention, which is why it is often used on "sale" signs in retail. In large doses, it can be hard for the eye to take in so it is often used in smaller doses or tempered. It enhances concentration, speeds metabolism and is optimistic. Yellow is a youthful color, making is a favorite for children's and teen's areas.

  • Green is a very popular decorating color because it symbolizes nature. It is the easiest on the eye, is refreshing, calming and has even been found to improve vision. People waiting to appear on TV sit in "green rooms" to relax, medical facilities will use green because it relaxes patients, and in the middle ages brides wore green to symbolize fertility. And, of course, for me, it means Spartans.
The color of royalty, purple, denotes luxury, wealth and sophistication and symbolizes good judgment. It is also the color of people seeking spiritual fulfillment. It is said if you surround yourself with purple you will have peace of mind. Purple is a good color to use in quiet rooms such as a reading room or library. The combination of red and blue, the warmest and coolest colors, purple is believed to be the ideal color, which may be why most children love it and is the color most favored by artists.

  • Orange is associated with the benign warmth of the sun and is said to increase the craving for food, making it a possible choice for eating areas – especially casual outdoor patios or snack bars or even employee break rooms. It also stimulates enthusiasm and creativity. Orange suggests a certain call to action. Lady luck's color is orange. In fact, I was once told that if a change of any kind is needed in life, just burn an orange candle for seven nights.

  • Black, of course, is the color of authority and power; it is also stylish and timeless. White is always popular in decorating because it is neutral and goes with everything, but it can be difficult to keep clean. And every tint, shade and tone of any color will subtly alter its impact on consumers' behaviors.
Whichever one you choose for any space, color will be one of your most powerful methods of facility design and of marketing. And if you are skeptical of this statement, just remember these findings from a consumer study by 93 percent place color/visual appearance above all when shopping and 85 percent place color as the primary reason to buy anything. These stats apply to your customers and your business too.

Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD is a professor at The School of Hospitality Business and Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.

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