Sam - PsychUPFebruary’s Chinwag PsychUp brought together Karen Haller, talking about the psychology of colour (or should that be ‘color’) and Craig Sullivan (otherwise know as the one and only @OptimiseOrDie). The PsychUp events are part of a series, run by Chinwag, with the next event on Wednesday 5th March in London, leading up to the full Chinwag Psych conference in May.

Karen HallerKaren Haller shared many insights into the impact of colour. I have to admit that I started out a little sceptical, despite having invested in consultancy to choose the best colour scheme for a user interface in the past, but Karen quickly cut to some hard science and data, and I was won over. Colour psychology and colour physics have been rich areas of research in recent years. While people spend lots of money on visual identity, there isn’t always with a lot of science behind it. Brand colours that give out a different signals take away from the intended brand message. Think about it: We see the colour long before we see the words. If I were to name a big brand I am almost certain you could bring their brand colours to mind. Think of fast food… You are probably thinking about reds and yellows – uplifting and energising when they are the dominant colours – very popular with fast food chains.

People make their initial judgment in 90 seconds, and most of that judgement is apparently made based on colour. If you spend all of your money on great copy, but have the wrong colours, the readers might not get as far as reading the words – you lost them at the first glance. And it isn’t just the first impression, it is making that impression last: the correct use of colour can increase brand recognition by up to 80%.

Colour choice has also become something of a personal branding ‘thing’ – for example, look how Apple have extended the colour options of their product range. Similarly, head phones and other accessories are now usually available in a range of choices. Colour is a means of expression, but colours can give mixed messages too. Followers of behavioural economics will know that we tend to buy on emotion, then justify with logic. Colour is purely emotion, it gets into the game early. Colour signals go to the hypothalamus in the brain, which controls hormones and the endocrine system – it is a very primal connection. Karen says that colour is like your secret sales force. You need the right colour, for the right purpose, for the right use. And it is not just colour, it is the tone too. Good marketing means not trying to be everything to everyone; colour lets you focus on a target market. It isn’t just about bright colour to stand out… it is creating your identity and triggering the right emotions, standing out from your competitors, or associating with them. Take a read of Karen’s blog,  and her ebook “7 mistakes most business owners make with their brand colour”.

A final note on colour, that came up during the Q&A: There is “colour in culture” – we inherit cultural meanings to colour, for example red in China means prosperity.  A colour can provided a sense of belonging and identity – for example, in London, grey, black and dark blue let you fit in.

Craig SullivanCraig Sullivan has worked with an impressive client base, putting millions of people though split tests and A/B testing all sort of different options on web pages. He likes to talk about closing the “air gap” between what we observe or know, and what we can apply to web design. The web, somewhat uniquely, let’s us try out new design ideas and measure how they affect customer responses straight away, enabling digital marketeers to iterate and improve.

Craig’s talk, as his talks always are, was action packed. I have embedded the slides here so that you can flip through them and watch a slow-motion action-replay of Craig’s talk. A more general tip that I took away from Craig’s talk, was a way to motive staff in their jobs: connect people with the outcomes of their work. For example, Tesco putt IT people on the front line to experience the impact of what they did. Let developers and designers know the results that they achieved. It creates meaning and purpose, and drives motivation.

The measurement action isn’t just on-line, there is an increasing amount of off-line measurement too, as things like agile development had lead to the use of focus groups  coming back into vogue. focus groups really have to be used with caution. Craig was quick to point out that filling them with friends or co-workers is likely to lead to some very dubious results. Even with the right selection of people in a focus group, you have to be careful when you listen to what people say – Are you leading or influencing them? Separate what people operationally want, versus what “grinds them” – as Craig puts it. Listening is good. Measuring is even better. That said, get into the loop with your own products and services – do you sign up for your own newsletters? Do you call your own phone number, order your own products? Immerse yourself in what you do. You will be amazed at the opportunities for optimisation that you discover. Get the customer’s voice, not just surveys (although I think surveys are good of course), but observe behavioural feedback, and use tools like the 4Q task gap analysis.

One of Craig’s key calls to action was to make sure that your analytics are working – many business don’t have even basic working analytics on their digital properties. Instrument, calibrate, and get insight… Collect the right data, make sure the data is clean and aligns with KPIs, and make reports usable useful, insightful and actionable. Move from guessing, to action from insights:

  • Measure customer intent groupings
  • Measure bad things and errors
  • Measure interactions, not pages

The majority of gains in site optimisation come from playing with the words. On average five times as many people read the headline, so by the time you have written the headline, you have span 80cent of your dollars (to paraphrase D. Ogilvy). Every word, every piece of copy, each error message, all the email, the forms, the pages that you put out are your BRAND and EXPERIENCE. The words set the emotional landscape, and lens though which your entire product is viewed. Get them right, and keep making them better. Check out Think about hiring a direct marketing copywriter (they are very results focussed) and cross train them.

I am looking forward to the next PsychUp event – lots of insights to take away, and put to good use!