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Using color in your emails – what you need to know

Color adds visual intrigue and brings a new dimension to your emails beyond black and white text. It can also help you better direct your readers’ attention to important messages, buttons, or calls to action. After you’ve made sure your email is optimized for mobile and web, looks great, and has compelling content, consider adding color to your emails to make them even more successful.

What Your Colors Mean

Do you know about Hollywood’s obsession with orange and blue? If not, check out some of these movie posters, but be warned, you’ll start noticing every one using this color scheme. These two colors are a design power couple. They’re on opposite ends of the color spectrum and convey contrasting emotions: we interpret blue as calm or soothing, while orange is energetic, almost “crazy.” The opposing concepts (think also fire and ice, day and night, good and evil) pop against each other, draw in our attention, and promise us a complex story.

Remember our post on first impressions in your emails? Well, up to 90% of those instant judgements are based on color or visual cues. You’ll find plenty of claims out there touting the meaning of colors: red conveys courage, yellow implies optimism, green means balance, or blue suggests trust. While there is some truth to these, people also use their preferences and personal experiences to judge what colors mean for them.

You may not have say in your brand’s color scheme, but it’s still valuable for you to think about what colors mean to your customers. The colors in your emails should create a consistent experience between what people are reading and what they’re are seeing. For example, the colors of Helpscout’s educational emails reinforce their message.

Email marketing Helpscout design example

The grey-blue color accents are soothing (more on that later) while black text on grey and white make it easy for you to scan the email quickly. The calm, muted colors convey steadiness and authority, which for an email promising you information, is exactly what you want. Would you trust Helpscout as an expert on customer interaction if their emails were visually distracting or unpleasant? Probably not.

The right color can convey the value of your emails instantly to your customers. While you may not have a say in your brand’s logo or color palette, try to play around with different graphics, button colors, and text colors to maintain consistency between your email’s message and its intended value. One color won’t necessarily convey the same meaning to everyone. But maintaining consistency between your colors and your email’s intended message can make your readers’ experience more seamless, fun, and interesting.

We just said that you can’t generalize color experiences. But several studies have shown that seeing blue results in positive emotional experiences. A study by Joe Hallock found that the majority of men (57%) and women (35%) picked blue as their favorite color. Hallock’s follow-up study found that across all ages, from children to people over 70, blue was still the top pick.

In a related study, Faber Birren (1961) tested how different colors of light affected the growth of rats. He found that blue light reduces hormonal swings and relaxes the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for maintaining heart rate, tension, and respiration.

These studies suggest that blue may actually have relaxing and mood-boosting properties. And evidence proves that blue appeals to a wide range of people. If your email contains something positive or calming, like an interesting article or educational information, you might want to incorporate blue into your design if you can, perhaps as a button or graphic.

Use Bright Colors To Make Important, Actionable Items Stand Out

A study by Hubspot tested the effectiveness of green buttons versus red for driving clicks. After letting their A/B test run for several days, they found that the red button outperformed the green by 21%.

The key component here is contrast, not necessarily color. Known as the Isolation Effect, it states that people are more likely to take notice of words or images that contrast with their background, making them stand out. A study examining this effect found that when asked to recall words, participants recalled those that had been visually isolated. The isolated words stood out in their minds, making them easier to remember later.

Use contrasting colors to highlight buttons or calls to action. It will draw your readers’ attention to important items in your email, and probably encourage some extra clicks.

Keep Your Design Clean And Simple

No matter what colors you pick, what buttons you use, or how you design your email, keep things clean and simple. High contrast text on backgrounds are always easiest to read; black and white is classic for a reason. Build a consistent, optimized design for the body of your email, and then add the splashes of color.

You already know how to write and send great emails with compelling, interesting content. That’s what matters, and that’s what your subscribers will appreciate the most. But with a bit of color, you can give your emails a boost to take them to the next level.

Happy Emailing!