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Creativity with colour in communication

Colours can have a tremendous psychological effect on people. They can evoke certain emotions and memories – they can even put someone off buying a product or reading a magazine. But just how important is the use of colour in communication? And, how can internal communicators harness this knowledge to engage their employees?

Why is Facebook blue?

This was a question that struck me one evening while I was Facebooking – probably writing statuses about the Great British Bake Off and liking cat pictures (the usual).

In a moment of curiosity, I decided to search for the answer to this colour conundrum. The New Yorker came to the rescue with a simple solution: Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg is red-green colourblind. This means that blue is the colour that Zuckerberg can see best.

“Blue is the richest colour for me; I can see all of blue,” he explained.[1]

So, curiosity satisfied, right? Wrong – this got me thinking even more (I’d had a lot of caffeine). In the case of the Facebook brand, blue was a subjective colour choice based on Zuckerberg’s own colour preferences. But why are other colours chosen for branding campaigns? How can this knowledge be harnessed to create engaging communication?

A golden opportunity for marketers

As a writer, it’s easy to see how the use of colour can create meaning through language – someone is caught red-handed, or is green with envy, or appears out of the blue, or tells a little white lie.

But, the role that colour plays visually is even more important when it comes to creating meaning. If, as shown by the Social Science Research Network, 65% of the population are visual learners, then surely colours are the first things that will jump out when someone picks up a magazine or checks out an advert.

Of course, none of this thinking is new. Colour psychology has been around for years and centres on in-depth research into how colours evoke emotions and which combinations are most popular. It’s colour that has helped to communicate some of the biggest brands out there.

Here’s an example. According to colour psychologists, McDonald’s – with its infamous yellow ‘M’ – should evoke feelings of optimism.[2] Perhaps Ronald McDonald and his marketing team chose yellow for this very reason – associating their brand with feelings of positivity (and it’s true that popping in for a chocolate milkshake always makes me feel pretty happy).

Passing the test with flying colours

figure_17Now take a look at this (right). It’s just one of many illustrations produced by YouTube designer Marc Hemeon as part of his Button Test*. It was designed to show how brands can be identified just using their colours. The figure to the left is a button for a well-known social media site – but can you guess which one?

The answer is LinkedIn and the colours are meant to signify trust, positivity and calmness. You may think this is a load of nonsense, and – as we’ve seen with Mark Zuckerberg’s example above – what evokes positivity for one person might be completely different for another. Surely opinion on colour is based on personal preference, individual experiences and cultural differences?

Nevertheless, there’s no denying that using colour effectively gives marketers a valuable tool to make their communication stand out against the competition. And, if this is true for marketers, then it must be true for internal communicators too.

A grey area for IC?

Let’s not forget that internal communicators aren’t choosing colours for a product – they’re picking colours for employee magazines, intranets and campaigns. Colour choice therefore needs to be appropriate and needs to complement the existing internal brand.

But, alongside this, perhaps there is more scope to use colour in employee engagement strategies. Take Google as an example. The company conducts tests to find out which colours make different departments or employees more productive. They’ll constantly repaint a room to see how it affects mood and creativity.

The ‘Isolation Effect’ should also come into play here too. The 80-year-old theory suggests that communication that stands out ‘like a sore thumb’ is more likely to be remembered again.

So, next time you’re refreshing that intranet page, blog post or newsletter, why not have some fun with colour and get it noticed? Your employees might just be tickled pink…

* You can find out more about The Button Test here.

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