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19 Jan 2016

Why you need horrible colours in your business documents

Discordant insights: an adventure of Captain Horrendous and the Document of Doom

Colour is powerful. For example, Quick Sprout uses colour in a lead conversion bar on its site to generate 11% of leads and reports that KimberlySnyder.net gets a 20% conversion rate from a similarly coloured bar.

Quick Sprout says the colour, a garish red, may not be attractive but it is effective. That’s cognitive dissonance at work.

Cognitive dissonance is about inconsistency in our thoughts. For example, we expect to see a London bus painted red or a New York cab painted yellow. Similarly, we expect zebras to be black and white striped and elephants to be grey. You’d pick out a luminous pink meerkat from the mob in a millisecond.

That’s because you’re expecting roughly beige coloured meerkats in the context of game viewing or visiting the zoo. Your eye is naturally drawn to that which is unexpected. That’s cognitive dissonance.

Colourful cognitive dissonance is an important concept when communicating by business document. We want people to pick important information out of our documents and remember it. Many design elements help us achieve our goals and colour is a primary element.

Marketers understand cognitive dissonance. Depending on the specific field, industry, or business, we need to grab customers’ attention to varying degrees – based on competition and competitive proximity. Imagine the toothpaste shelf at your local SPAR, Pick n Pay, Checkers or Woolworths. These days there are about a million choices.

The boxes are designed to grab your attention through attractive, colourful designs and the text they use focuses on different benefits particular toothpastes may offer. We all expect to see boxes in red, white, green and blue, colours that tug at different psychological strings attached to various emotions that inspire us to buy one brand over another. Suddenly there’s a box at the edge of the shelf with a zombie invasion scene. That image doesn’t resonate with the image we’re accustomed to toothpaste manufacturers promoting around their products. Instead, this one depicts death and decay as opposed to perfection, health and vitality.

We can achieve the same effect with the use of colour in our business documents and that’s what businesses like Quick Sprout and KimberlySnyder.net have done.

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