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Showing your true colours

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Showing your true colours

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Much ink has been spilled about colours and emails. How to get your customers in the mood? How to use loud colours to clickbait unwary readers? The psychological undertones of colours. The cultural shades of grey you gotta watch out for. And so forth. You know the drill.

Of course, colours do have the subtle power to make or break your marketing game. But you don’t have to deep dive in Freudian analysis or esoteric arts to get your paintbrushes aligned. What’s the tip from the field? It is all about branding and common sense.

Branding, dos and don’ts

Do: Apply your colours generously

The palette of colours you use in your emails must support your brand and highlight your brand personality. At the end of the day, it is about brand recognition. And this my friend has never been more vital in a time where inboxes are bursting with emails, whether legit, spam or scam.

“Research has revealed that a signature colour can increase brand recognition by 80%.”
(Source: survey of 2,648 consumers conducted by Reboot).

If my uptight, old-school bank sends me an email with funky colours flowering all over the place, I’ll delete it as fast as I can lest I catch something nasty. On the other hand, if I get a sober and somber email from a notoriously funky company, I’ll think it’s a trap. Colours serve as a quick, even subconscious, reminder of who you are. Know your branding guidelines and apply your true colours generously all over your marketing materials, whether online or print.

Don’t: Go overboard with filters

There’s a catch though. Just like with makeup, you shouldn’t overdo your colour signature. Some companies go overboard by applying a colour filter systematically on their visuals. It’s an easy solution for the sake of consistent branding, but soon enough all your visuals will look the same and be generally bland. Too much monotone or duotone, makes Jack a monotonous boy. You don’t want to lose the raison d’être of your visual: to catch the eye and to be impactful. So, avoid filters. Use clean, catchy images that may or may not have some elements of your colour palette. Ask yourself first if the colour supports the visual story. You can always use your colour signature elsewhere in the email.

Monotone vs duotone

Colour constraints versus colourful creativity, when is it ok to go wild and free?

As a marketer, are you a prisoner of your branding guidelines? In short, yes. But there’s always an exception. Sometimes a specific product, service or event will have a powerful personality of its own. This rebellious child will need creative space to spread its wings and achieve its full business potential.

How can you support the promising growth of such exceptional business opportunities if the company branding proves a hurdle? This is the advice a corporate art director gave me: Launch a standalone campaign that has its own branding, including its own colour signature. In such rare cases, you may recreate a whole new mini-branding universe if there are grounds for it from a business perspective. Paint that specific personality, give that campaign the true colours it needs to shine.

Exceptions however, should remain exceptions. Do not multiply such cases for the sake of your overall brand recognition.

Common sense

One thing that’s not so common nowadays is a healthy dose of common sense. Many marketing articles will show you heaps of studies on how to mind control your email readers with colours. Of course, colours are associated to human emotions and they come with psychological or cultural meanings. You’ll find plenty of resources online about colour associations. In this blogpost, you will not find the recipe for world domination through the use of colours. What you will find is basic common sense to help your reader follow through on his or her actions. Here are some examples of color uses in marketing.

Rouge - Red RED
Stimulates people to make quick decisions. Creates a sense of urgency. Represents power and passion.
Vert - Green GREEN
Associated with the environment, growth and security. Used often in the financial fields.
Jaune - Yellow YELLOW
Represents dynamism and optimism. Draws attention. Sometimes has low-end or discount connotation.
Noir - Black BLACK
Denotes strength and authority. Formal color that communicates elegance and prestige.
Bleu - Blue BLUE
Associated with knowledge and serenity. Creates a sense of calm, trust and loyalty.
Blanc - White WHITE
Color of purity and innocence. Used to demonstrate simplicity and minimalism.


There is a lot of debate about the colour you should choose for your call-to-action button. Should it be green, the colour of trust, or red, the colour of danger? Many bloggers are still scratching their heads over the red versus green case study. Why would red outperform green? Many in-depth studies and hypotheses about the deeper meaning of colour and human psychology have ensued.

Green versus red

Yet, no one has put themselves in the shoes of a reader who simply wants to easily click on a button to buy the stuff he or she has decided to get after reading the email. The best colour is simply the one that stands out more thanks to its contrast compared to the rest of the email. If you are using using a lot of green in your email, just don’t use a green button. Use something else. Some say orange is the new CTA button colour. That may be true, as long as there’s a sharp contrast acting as visual cue to the reader.

A/B tests

When all things have been considered, if the final question is the choice between two colours from the branding palette or which sections of the email should contain colours, your best bet is to run A/B tests. Colour remains an intuitive issue and when things tend to get subjective, A/B testing is a marvellous email marketing tool to set the record straight because you can’t win an argument against numbers. Also, A/B testing is simply a sound reflex for email marketers to have.

Final touch

The point of this blogpost is that when using colours in email marketing–like anything else–you must add some love and care. This is not a naïve statement, this is actually how you nurture relations with customers over the long run. Use colours that help your customers recognize your brand. Use colours that help your customers quickly grasp what your special product/campaign is about. Use colours to help customers find that button quickly once they are in action mode. Colours that, you know for a fact, work.

Colour in email marketing is not or at least shouldn’t be about trying to control the feelings of your readers. Be genuine, show your true colours. Your customers will reward you for the attention and care you put in every aspect of your emails that makes their day easier and more colourful.


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