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The Importance and Power of Colour in Printed Communications

Given the ongoing debate over the value of print vs digital and the effect of the two mediums on the response and reaction of the customers we all try to reach every day I decided to do some investigation into ways of boosting the reach and effect of print in our everyday lives. Whilst I believe that we all know, at some level, that colour is more effective at attracting and, in some cases, holding the attention as is shown in various studies on the effect of colour, including the use of coloured paper, in both study and exam situations for students, there is also evidence of the power and effect of colour used for walls in workplaces to the use of colour in web pages. The fact that Facebook is Blue is not coincidental

Using colour in printed materials then, must surely have the power to invoke a variety of responses from a viewer, and it should be viewed as a critical marketing tool in building a brand and communicating with customers. Colour has been added to printed transactional and promotional communications to highlight important information for years now, and is used to try to differentiate products from competitors, and improve response rates in advertising campaigns. It has always been difficult to quantify the benefit and ROI that can be gained by colour printing compared to black-and-white, this research from InfoTrends highlights the benefits that can be obtained by printing with the right colour to match your product / message.

According to survey data from InfoTrends’ study entitled Customer Engagement Technologies: State of the Market 2015, businesses that invest in printed communications overwhelmingly consider colour to be a vital component of these communications. About 61 per cent of firms reported that colour was very important in transactional documents, while 63 per cent indicated the same for printed promotional materials. According to these respondents, using colour in printed materials generated a higher ROI, strengthened brand image, and made documents easier to read and review. Many also noted that since their competitors printed in colour, they needed to do the same to remain relevant.

Historically, direct mailers and transactional communication service bureaus have digitally printed in black-and-white and relied on offset printed shells to provide colour design elements such as logos, highlighted text, and tints. In recent years, variable colour printing has enabled these providers to eliminate the use of pre-printed offset shells while simultaneously leveraging full-colour personalization to improve response rates. According to InfoTrends’ research, businesses that plan to add variable colour to printed bills and statements believe that doing so will improve the customer experience (62 per cent), improve brand perception (59 per cent), and increase the effectiveness of marketing messages (55 per cent).

Although colour is certainly effective for a variety of marketing initiatives, it can be overused. Designers often advise using colour moderately and strategically because too much colour can undermine its effects. For example, too many colours in a transactional document can negate its ability to highlight important information or direct the reader’s attention to a specific call for action. Colour associations and preferences may be too subjective to scientifically quantify, but marketers understand that they can manipulate the emotions generally tied to a specific colour to support their brand’s image. Choosing the right colour helps build a brand’s character and can leverage the feelings and assumptions linked to that colour to convey a message about the company, its products, and its unique value proposition. The Figure below shows the link between brand logos, the colours they use, and the meaning those colours are meant to convey.

Some of these logos have changed since the creation of this infographic, but the chart still demonstrates that the colour choice must be appropriate for a brand’s personality. For example, a purple logo for Harley Davidson or the New York Times would not appropriately characterise these brands, but the green in BP’s logo helps reinforce the brand’s desired image as a source of clean, renewable energy.

That said, In my opinion, all of these efforts will be undermined if colour is used or applied inconsistently. Delivering reliable colour output across various substrates and printing technologies can be challenging for printers, so good colour management practices are very important to workflow. The ability to deliver consistent colour on any material and through any channel will be a key differentiator for print service providers in the years to come.

According to another InfoTrends’ study Direct Marketing Production Printing & Value-Added Services: A Strategy for Growth, the intelligent use of colour in direct mail often generates improvements in response rates. Full-colour images can capture a consumer’s attention with realistic depictions of advertised products. Colour can also be used to personalise messages by matching pictures or text to items that the customer has purchased in the past. Furthermore, as shown in the Figure below, nearly 49 per cent of consumer respondents reported that seeing colour on an envelope had a moderate or major effect on their likelihood of opening it.

According to InfoTrends’ research, colour was most effective on those between the ages of 25 and 34 (59 per cent reported a moderate or major effect) and least effective on those between the ages of 50 and 65 (39 per cent). Reviewing the survey results grouped by key demographic segments uncovered the following key insights:
• As household income rises, so does the likelihood that the consumer will open a piece of direct mail with colour printing on the envelope.
• Those with the highest level of education were the most likely to open direct mail pieces that included colour on the envelope.
• The effectiveness of colour print on the envelope of a direct mail piece was nearly equal regardless of gender, and the same was true for parents and those with no children.

While colour is an important component of successful mailed communications, it should be remembered that it’s only part of a larger direct mail communications strategy. A key determinant of success is focusing the offer toward the best possible prospects — the ones that are selected through robust data analytics and addressed with targeted, relevant personalisation. Furthermore, colour works best when it is used in concert with an attractive design, an appealing offer, and personalisation. Printing in colour can enhance other elements and assist in maximising the return on investment, but it can’t be used in isolation.

Article by Vaughan Patterson, Product Marketing Operations Manager for Production Print at Ricoh SA

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