Product Managers Need To Decode The Secret “Color Language”

by drjim on July 11, 2011

There Are A Lot Of Colors, Which Ones Should You Use?

There Are A Lot Of Colors, Which Ones Should You Use?

Product Managers make decisions about colors all the time. Sometimes it has to do with a product logo, sometimes it has to do with the images that we use in a product brochure. The problem, is that most of us have ever had any training in this whole color thing. What are the colors that we are using telling our customers?

Colors Are A Big Deal

Unless you are a graphics artist, you probably don’t spend much of your time each day thinking about colors. However, most of the company’s that want you to buy their products do. That’s why when you open a magazine, walk by a wall poster, or even when you walk into a department store you get bombarded by a whole array of colors that are designed to communicate a message to you.

Now I’m not saying that there is some sort of secret “color language” going on here. Rather, due to our upbringing both you and your customers have a certain association with colors – different colors have different meaning to you. As Product Managers this means that by picking the right colors, we can make sure that our customers perceive our products the way that we want them to.

What The Colors Really Mean

Cynthia Cornell, a color researcher, at Color Communications points out that certain colors provoke a common response in people. This means that we need to understand what a given color will be telling our customers before we use it. Here is a list of the most common colors and what they mean:

  • Blue-Based Reds: These colors are associated with products that are more expensive. Think of raspberry red cars and bed linens.
  • Orange: is associated with products that are affordable.
  • Yellow: has less of a meaning and is more of communication tool. Because of how we humans are built, yellow is the first color that our eye will pick up. This means that when we use yellow with dark colors (yellow text on a black background), the contrast is powerful and is easily read by your customers.
  • Green: is associated with both possibility and hope. Additionally, in recent years green has become associated with environmentally sensitive products.
  • Blue: is associated with both safety and confidence. Product managers who are responsible for health care or financial products often associate their products with this color.
  • Purple: is another one of those colors that has no clear association with it. Since it has no known association, we see it used with multiple types of products from chocolate to high fashion.
  • Black: has always been associated with a concept of power (think of the American Express Black Card that Hollywood types carry with them). If you want to boost the power of black even more, then add a matte or sheen to it when you use it.
  • White: tells your customers that your product comes with a higher end price, but also that it is both sophisticated and formal.

What All Of This Means For You

So there you have it, finally you understand just how powerful the colors that you choose to use with your product are. No, this isn’t the same thing as getting an art degree, but at least now you know that all colors are not created equal.

Product managers need to understand that their products do speak to customers. What colors you use with your product messages can have a profound impact on how this conversation goes. Now that you can speak the language of colors, go out there and make sure that your product is saying what you want it to say!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you can confuse customers if you use too many colors with your product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m willing to bet that if you got a bunch of product managers together and had them all sit in comfy chairs, lean back, close their eyes, and then you asked them what one thing in the world they most wanted at that moment, they would all tell you the same thing: real time marketing data. Well, ok, maybe not all of them. But there would probably be one of them who would say this (the rest would have fallen asleep because they are all overworked). Just what the heck is this “real time marketing data” stuff?

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