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Healthcare marketing strategy2 min read Say it with color: How color affects our perceptions and marketing

How color biases affect marketing efforts—and how to look beyond our own preferences.

June 16, 2020Julie Christian, Art Director/Senior Graphic Designer

If you're looking for a passionate response from preschoolers, ask about their favorite colors.

As adults we may feel less strongly about our preferred shades, but nonetheless, we continue to carry with us color preferences and associations. And while we often assume certain colors carry specific meanings (red = anger), individual responses to a certain color are actually quite complex and can be fluid over time. After all, how many of us have cringed at a new color trend only to find ourselves happily purchasing that very hue of paint or clothing a couple years later?

So what influences our unique responses to color? Here are 3 factors:

1. General connections. Research shows there are some universal patterns of specific colors being associated with certain characteristics, such as blue with competence and brown with ruggedness.

2. Cultural background. Different cultures can have meaningful or symbolic uses for colors. For example, look at the variety of colors associated with "love" in this culture-coded color wheel.

3. Personal life experience. Perhaps your favorite aunt picked you up in her shiny green convertible for fun-filled outings. Seeing that shade of green may always fill you with happiness and excitement.

Colorful tips for healthcare marketers

So how can you use color to best communicate with your healthcare audience? Here are some tips we find helpful when thinking about color:

  • Know that there is no cheat sheet for choosing colors. (Sorry!) Working with designers? Provide as much information as possible about your audience and brand personality, so they can think critically and make informed color decisions. Research and testing with small focus groups can help you further hone decisions.
  • Establish and keep brand guidelines. A consistent use of color can help healthcare consumers recognize and build trust in your organization. That doesn't mean you can't use nonbrand colors in your marketing. It just means being thoughtful about how you use color.
  • Step outside yourself. Color should support your message and appeal to your target audience. This may mean leaving personal preferences behind sometimes.
  • Legibility takes highest priority. We know color can affect mood, but the last thing you want to do is cause frustration by using color in a way that makes text hard to read.
  • Consider the context. Color is affected by what surrounds it. For example, if your hospital's website is mostly white or light gray, a take-action button needn't be bright red to call attention. Blue or green would do the trick.

Interested in learning more about color?

We found the following resources educational and fun. Who knew the Minions from Despicable Me have their own Pantone color?!

The Psychology of Color: How It Affects Buying Decisions (ShortStack)
This 1939 Chart Explains How Color Affects Legibility (Co.Design)
Minion Yellow: Behind the Scenes (Pantone)

Just call us true blue

Coffey's designers work exclusively with healthcare marketers. No matter your platform, palette or preferences, we're confident we can deliver on great design for your goals and audience. See our work—and contact us about how we can help.