Understanding the Relationship Between Color Psychology and Conversion
Whenever I’m on a first date and we hit an awkward pause in the conversation, I always go to my bread and butter question to get things going again:
“Sooo…..what’s your favorite color?”
Most of the time she’ll make an awkward face and then reply that she either doesn’t have one, or that it changes depending on her mood or what the circumstances are. This highly scientific data tells me a few things:
- As we get older we associate favorable colors within the context of where they appear
- Color associations and their meanings change from person-to-person
- I’ve probably been on too many first dates
When it comes to conversions, you’ll often times hear the phrase, “By changing the color of my CTA button to ___, I increased my conversion rate by _____” or “I changed the color contrast of my website design to ____ and saw my conversion rate go up by–”
Cue the *record scratch*.
Now before we get into it I want to say that color does play a huge role in our decision making. As highly visual beings, we cognitively form first impressions by colors alone at least 60% of the time or higher.
But the question is how much influence does our psychological relationship with color have on executing a decision based on informational context and value propositions? That’s what I hope to give you an update on today.
One of the most common myths around conversion is that CTA buttons should be a singular color because this color has been shown to have the highest conversion rate for such and such website. However, in terms of CTA button colors, the reason why a certain color may convert better than another has to be placed within a certain context. How does this color pertain to their brand or products? How does it fit in with the color scheme of the overall website? Where is it placed?
These are all valid questions that can shed light on the fact that the variables as to why one color can convert more than others can be just as vast and nuanced as the color palette itself. Thus, anyone saying that purple or brown will convert the best might as well tell you to get your weekly weather report from the neighborhood drunk.
Another misconception is that it doesn’t matter at all. Some marketers will tell you the real conversion factors have nothing to do with your CTA button being hydrant red or coral blue and that the real bottom line is your value proposition and brand persona. They’re not completely wrong here as the value proposition and brand persona do carry a lot of weight when it comes down to consumer decision making. However, there are always ways to improve, and the colors you use for your products matter just as much as the ones you use on your website.
The key to understanding color psychology in regard to conversion is that the truth lies somewhere in between.
Color psychology is the study of the relationship between cognitive choice and behavior to color associations. This is not to be confused with color symbolism, which associates colors to various meanings on a cultural level. The Wright Theory of color psychology dictates that color isn’t dependent on race, gender, or age. Other studies have found distinct correlations between demographics and color psychology. What is agreed on among the scientific community is that different colors can have different psychological and emotive associations.
Plutchik’s color psychology wheel ties emotional responses to different colors. To be clear, the emotional color associations have to be contextualized within certain situations. Color association is extremely dependent on people’s innate feelings and experiences, and can have subconscious effects on their decision making.
A famous example is the Blackfriars Bridge in London, a notorious place for people to commit suicide from. The bridge–originally stark black–was painted green in an attempt to curtail the amount of people jumping from it. The suicide rate dropped 34% after its repainting.
A similar phenomenon was found when Glasglow implemented blue street lights to prop up the city’s visual appeal. After doing so, crime rates on the streets with the blue lighting fell. The same tactic was implemented at Gumyoji Station in Yokohama Japan where a lot of suicides had taken place. Since the implementation, no suicides have been reported at the station.
Great, but how does this relate to conversions on my website?
From a marketing perspective, we can use a consumer’s emotional association with certain colors as a tool to create an emotional response to a product or brand by using particular colors.
Value-expressive products are products that consumers buy that reflect their values and inform their social identity. A value-expressive product could be anything from a fancy sports car to the shoes they wear. Utilitarian products are products that consumers use out of the sheer functional appeal they get from using it. These could be the kind of chocolate you eat to the type of soap you use. This study concluded that color is more influential for value-expressive products than it is for utilitarian products.
In modern advertising and marketing, these two functions are the most predominantly used. Value-expressive marketing focuses on promoting the lifestyles and visual appeal of consumers that use a company’s product. Utilitarian focused marketing uses more informational content to persuade consumers that their product will solve an objective problem.
You may be thinking, “Yeah okay, but I’m not selling my website, I’m selling my products”.
Many landing pages today feature a combination of these two strategies: headlines and subheadlines can be objectively and/or subjectively driven, while hero-images can have a similar effect, albeit one that leans more toward being value-expressive. You can view your website ultimately as an extension of your products which are an extension of your brand. Thus, it would look something like this:
Brand —> Products —-> Website
However, keep in mind that up to 90% of first impressions can be based simply on color. So if your brand isn’t globally recognized, consumers that visit your website can associate your brand and overall products with the colors you use. This changes the dynamic to something more like this:
Website —> Brand —-> Products
As a result, online businesses have combined value-expressive and utilitarian marketing practices for a more streamlined approach, such as the example below.
The headline and subheadings promote the functional aspect of the product and the hero-image reinforces it with a happy consumer appearing in the foreground with soft background colors to produce a tranquil atmosphere, illustrating that the product’s value has afforded her a calm, happy, and productive life. The CTA button is a nice contrast to the background and establishes a hierarchy with the second CTA.
The importance of evoking your brand persona starts with your website and your ability to express the individual and functional values that your product hopes to produce within the consumer. Thus, colors are an extremely necessary tool for first encounters with your brand which can be crucial when it comes to converting them.
Remember that time when you were about to buy that new cool pair of shoes online, but you saw the “Purchase Now” button was orange so you consciously decided not to buy the shoes?
Ten dollars and a rainbow says you don’t.
When wavelengths of light reach the retina they get converted into electrical impulses and sent to the hypothalamus, the part of our brain that releases hormones that affect behavior. Essentially color, similar to the foods you eat, has an effect on the hormones that get released in the human body.
Have you ever tried to sit there and make your brain trick your body into thinking you’re hungry after you’ve eaten a huge meal? It’s just not possible. Neither is the ability to tell your body how to respond to impulses created by certain colors. This sometimes makes our responses to certain colors unconscious, i.e, the way a person may instinctively shiver when seeing a dark gray sky upon walking outside, regardless of if it’s that cold or not.
We are affected by colors on a regular basis within color psychology; however, the effect it produces on us isn’t something we always control.
When it comes to CTA buttons, there are a ton of other factors that come into play that affect conversions. In terms of on-page factors, the size, location, and copy of the CTA are extremely important; however the color of it can be more so.
For example, from a consumer’s point of view the size, location, and copy of a CTA button all have objective functions; the size and location function to make you aware of the button and the copy is used to convey the result of pushing the button. There are of course ways that copy can persuade users further, however the process is more conscious than unconscious as users can decipher it’s meaning. On the other hand, color has a distinct objective role in making the button stand out more, but it also can have unconscious effects on a consumer.
This, I would argue, is a strong indicator as to why there are no universal colors that convert better over others. It largely depends on how people contextualize the colors they are seeing with the products, brand, and/or page design as a whole as well as the psychologically subliminal impact it has on a person-to-person basis.
Essentially, your CTA button can be any color as long as it objectively performs two functions:
- It should stand out as much as possible
- It should align somehow with your brand persona or the overall layout of the page in a visually appealing way
You’ll find numerous A/B tests online that test the different colors of CTA buttons, and while they may produce conclusive results as to which color had a higher conversion rate, they don’t offer a conclusive explanation as to why. That’s not to blame the tests; it’s just a problem that they and the scientific community face in regard to color psychology; they just don’t know yet.
Nevertheless, given all of the research and data we have pertaining to the influence of colors on decision making, it’s impossible to argue that colors don’t play a large role with how we make our choices.
I probably can’t drive home the point better than the Backstreet Boys, can so I’ll have them help me out.