From the September 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

It's time to kick off fall marketing programs, which means you're wrestling with design decisions. But are you considering which colors your marketing tools will wear this season? Selecting the best shades isn't as simple as black and white. But making the right color choices can have a strong impact on sales.

Say It With Color

Color has a subtle, yet immediate and powerful, effect. Each time customers ares exposed to your marketing materials--anything from business cards to direct-mail campaigns--they tend to make instantaneous decisions about your company and the products or services it offers, often based largely on their emotional reactions to colors.

Basic colors have universal meaning in our culture. We all know red is the color of passion and love. Blue, cited by most Americans as their favorite color, connotes respectability and tranquility. Both men and women like purple, an androgynous color most often associated with royalty. Green, the color of money, also represents nature and the environment. Yellow is linked to feelings of happiness, while orange, a hot color, conveys energy and emotional stimulation.

But basic color is just the beginning of the story. What's most critical when it comes to selecting the right look for your marketing materials is shade, the value of the color range. Take green, for instance. Chartreuse conveys a trendy image. Choose apple green, and you make a modern, artistic statement, while the deeper shade of hunter green appeals to a more conservative audience. Each color value sends a slightly different message.

Often, the first materials your customers see are your stationery, business cards and company brochure. "Many companies use color as a way of identifying themselves," says Jay de Sibour, president of the Color Marketing Group, an association of independent professionals. De Sibour suggests selecting and sticking with a color for your company identity that represents the nature of your business. Eventually, it will become associated with you--much as "IBM blue" and "UPS brown" are immediately recognized today.

What's Hot for Fall

While your company color symbolizes what you're all about, the colors for your point-of-sale, direct mail, presentations and other marketing tools must be selected based on an understanding of your target audience and what will appeal to them. "If you're targeting the Latin market, for example," says de Sibour, "you can use brighter shades of red, yellow and orange."

You should also choose shades of color that reflect what you are marketing. For example, a caterer who wants to prepare a direct-mail campaign would use richer, more saturated shades to market anniversary parties and weddings, and switch to brighter hues for packages featuring children's birthday parties.

Every season, some colors drop out of favor and new ones replace them. This fall, Americans' desire for tradition, family, nostalgia and spiritualism will spur a move toward colors we feel safe with, says de Sibour.

The most popular colors with women this fall will be turquoise and a teal called "mallard." Younger men will prefer "madder red," a deep orange-red, and older men will find a combination of deep navy and indigo most appealing, according to Margaret Walch, director of the Color Association of the United States, which standardizes and forecasts color trends.

There's a wide range of tastes even within a targeted market, and Walch says geography also plays a key role. Once you've selected the colors for your marketing materials, she suggests trying them out on five members of the target group to see how they react. That should be enough feedback to let you know if you're on the right track.

To learn more about choosing colors, visit www.colorassociation.com and www.colormarketing.org.

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