Georgia O’Keeffe, never one to shy away from bold colors, once said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way.” For centuries, artists have used color, and combinations of colors, to elicit emotions from joy to despair. The same is true in marketing, where a distinct science has evolved around employing color to influence how consumers feel about a brand, how they value a product, even which product they eventually select.
The psychology of color in experiential marketing, leveraging your brand colors, will define the impact of your trade show exhibit. You have a short window of time to capture the attention of potential customers and help them understand your value: colors, when used with intention, can be your ally.
Psychology of Color in Marketing
When you use color to achieve an emotional connection with your customers, you’re working on a subtle level relative to most marketing efforts. Hurly Burly Live Food Culture uses colors drawn from the foods they sell, with different lively saturations of earthy green and yellow. Japanese men’s perfume brand Rasaru uses two variations of orange in its packaging to invoke vitality and health. Both brands have base colors to convey their messaging, accompanied by curated complimentary saturations and secondary values.
History can also come into play in how we interpret color. When Tiffany & Co. introduced their famous robin’s egg blue in 1878, it was following the popularity of turquoise jewelry at the time. It was a hit. The New York Sun reported in 1906 that “Tiffany has one thing in stock that you cannot buy of him for as much money as you may offer; he will only give it to you. And that is one of his boxes.” Over time, the color has become associated not just with the brand, but with luxury.
A 2011 study in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences showed that while base colors matter in marketing, their level of saturation and value, or the amount of light and dark, is just as important. Take Google’s use of rich, playful primary colors, which has been employed since the company’s birth back in 1998. While color establishes a brand personality, this can in turn “influence customer preferences and usage, transform customer experience, and serve as a building block for relationship building, trust, and loyalty.”
Setting a Tone in Experiential Marketing
In the context of events and experiences, you’re working on a much shorter timescale, so your focus should be on the more immediate uses of color. If your brand already has a recognizable color scheme, use that to allow customers to spot you from afar, and then use secondary colors and variations throughout your exhibit to match the theme of your current experience. For a high-energy experience, make the exhibit pop by turning up the volume of your scheme with livid hues and highly-saturated colors. On the other hand, if you want to evoke a sense of confidence and calm, combine cooler hues with stronger, primary colors.
When employed well, colors can convey meaning faster than any sales presentation. For Group Delphi client Prestone, we designed the walls of their exhibit to fade from icy blue to scorching red to show their range of products designed to work for cars in the face of extreme temperature.
The Geography of Color
With traveling exhibitions, color can be used to make your brand feel more localized and even seasonal on the trade show floor. Based on the locale of the event, shift your palette accordingly to reflects the local culture’s expectations and interpretations of colors.
One key thing to watch for with colors: their meaning often gets lost in translation. For example, while black may be associated with power and authority in western culture, it takes on a different meaning according to Chinese feng shui, where black is an element of water and “holds the energy of power and protection.” Meanwhile, in the Middle East, black signifies rebirth. Green in America means tranquility and calm, while feng shui offers it as a solution to absent-mindedness, rudeness, and nervousness.
One of the most culturally-definitive American businesses, McDonald’s, employs red and yellow as their brand color scheme not because of heat (red) and potatoes (yellow). Nor is it solely because the vibrant color scheme makes it easy to spot from a Great Plains highway. In fact, it is because red is a stimulating color that can quicken your heartbeat and make you hungry, and yellow is associated with happiness in the United States.
Combine and two and voilà, you’re pulling into the drive-thru quicker than you can say “a side of French fries.” Or is it voilà? In France, yellow is associated with jealousy, weakness, and betrayal. So, what works for a French fry in America may not do the same in, well, France.
Choosing a brand color scheme or trade show palette can be a delicate process with occasional cultural landmines, but it can also be an incredibly fruitful one when approached thoughtfully. Grab your customer’s attention, show them what you stand for, make them feel confident in a purchase, and do it all with a splash of color.