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Can a Colour Scheme Boost Small Business Performance?

It’s no secret that, from a marketing perspective, colour is hugely important: we’ve posted on this site before about how picking the right hue for something as specific as a ‘buy now’ button can even influence conversion rates.

The study of colour and its effect on psychologies and behaviours – sometimes referred to as chromology – has long been considered a valuable tool in building the outward-facing platforms of companies both large and small. Websites, logos and staff uniforms are just some of the key business assets now famously designed with advanced colour theory in mind.

It’s a field that will always invite a certain degree of scepticism, which is perhaps understandable. Some of the claims made for its efficacy look suspiciously bold at first glance – it’s often suggested, for example, that the reason so many fast food chains use red in their branding is because it makes us feel hungrier.

And yet, as much of a stretch as that sounds, the science behind it is relatively plausible: red is commonly thought to trigger a subtle physical reaction in humans that evolved due to the colour’s inherent association with scenarios requiring an active response. In short, it’s always been an ‘alert’ colour in nature (it’s no coincidence that almost all warning signs and lights are red too). The fact that our reaction to it is mildly physical – and thus metabolic, to an extent – should logically result in a very slight increase in the body’s subconscious demand for fuel.

But what about the interior, day-to-day operational life of a workplace – if colour theory is widely reckoned to help nudge customer behaviours along a particular path, could it potentially have any sort of positive impact on employees too? Many researchers and industry experts believe so, and in fact have done for years; in the late 1960s, a US prisons study on the relationship between ambient environments and inmate-officer aggression resulted in the walls of many facilities being repainted a specific shade of soft pink).

Today, colours are widely understood to have multiple effects on the ways we perceive our physical environments. Indeed, an entire interior design industry has blossomed from findings originally devised as fairly dry academic exercises – any paint manufacturer will point out that dark, bold hues can make small areas feel more cramped, or that ambient temperatures will often feel slightly higher in a room dominated by ‘warm’ shades (typically earthy, autumnal reds and oranges) than in spaces where more light is bounced around by brighter, crisper tones.

Basic qualities assigned to the primary colours offer perhaps the most simplistic insight into colour theory. While bold red is understood to provoke a more physical reaction, blue is often cited as the primary colour that most directly appeals to mental processing. (Green falls somewhere in between, and is thus considered to impact predominantly on an emotional level). As the most cerebrally stimulating of the primary colours, blues are regularly suggested by chromologists as an appropriate background for supporting chiefly intellectual tasks, and thus a good choice for work environments in which productivity is driven by focused and meticulous thought.

Of course, the majority of modern staff roles rely on a much wider skillset than pure intellect – depending on the nature of the business or job in question, attempting to cherry-pick different aspects of colour theory to increase creativity, improve customer service or reduce workplace fatigue may offer more of a direct route to boosting productivity. In other words, it’s always important to bear in mind from an interior design standpoint that different tasks will benefit from different stimuli.

Angela Wright, a prominent colour psychologist who has worked with huge corporations like Motorola, Shell and Unilever on various aspects of chromology, also points out that the saturation level or intensity of the hues chosen can have almost as much impact on behaviours as the colours themselves. Vivid shades of blue, for example, are broadly considered to be helpful in clearing the mind and sharpening focus on a specific task or goal, while paler or lighter blues exert more of a calming influence that can help diffuse feelings of pressure when multitasking. And, where red tones are thought to help stimulate the appetite, blue is often claimed to have the opposite effect – colour theory would back the idea that restaurateurs should avoid too much blue in a décor scheme, at least until it’s time to run that self-serve buffet promotion.

There’s an awful lot of information out there on this field, and the small business owner’s mileage will certainly vary depending on how deep into the more academic end of the colour spectrum one wishes to delve. Ultimately though, it’s safe to say that managing all aspects of corporate branding and performance are crucial in helping small companies gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Anything that’s likely to offer a potential boost is surely worthy of consideration – even if it’s just testing whether a few tins of the right colour paint can help lower the heating bill.

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