How to Use Color Theory to Create Better Emails

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When someone opens your email, they immediately make a judgment. Whether or not that judgment is accurate doesn’t matter. That first impression will determine if the recipient will engage further with your email.

What goes into this crucial first impression? Color. Before the text, before the details in the images, recipients are struck by the color of your email.

Did you know that 60 to 90% of product decisions are made based on color?

That’s why color is so important in your emails. This is your first — and sometimes only — a chance to capture the attention of the typical email skimmer.

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First, let’s go over a bit of color theory, examining the main colors, how they relate to design and examples of their use in B2B emails.

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Red is a powerful color. It can indicate danger, importance, and passion. In the context of design, it can be fairly overwhelming, which is why it is often used as an accent or as the color for an action item.

Hubspot did an A/B test comparing a CTA with a green button vs. a red button. Despite the common associations with the two colors, the red button actually did 21% better.

While these results are positive, use red with care. It is hard to determine what exactly triggers a spam filter, it seems that red in your email text will be a factor in triggering spam filters (colored text in general will set it off). So use with care.

Notice how Ginger combined the blue-green of its logo with red, using complimentary colors to really make it pop. They also obviously learned from Hubspot’s test, using red for the “Upgrade Now” CTA.

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Orange is vibrant and energetic, while in its muted forms, it can be associated as earthy. In design, orange is a strong and energetic color like red, but it isn’t as harsh or demanding. It is more friendly and inviting than red.

Freelancer uses a variety of colored backgrounds for each of its emails. The company is always trying to excite people and get them moving on freelance projects, so the orange is a good fit. Using the variety of shades also breaks up what could be an overpowering background.

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Yellow is associated with happiness and sunshine, but also deceit and cowardice. It adds a youthful, optimistic touch to design, as well as being warm. Darker shades of yellow are good to convey a sense of antique or permanence in an email.

Here, this trend based store uses a darker yellow, patterned background to give their email a retro-feeling theme.

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Green is associated with new beginnings, growth, renewal, and abundance. In design, green can be balancing and harmonizing, or convey a sense of wealth or stability. A bright green is vibrant and energetic, while olive greens remind us of nature. Darker greens are symbols of affluence and stability.

In this email from ADP, the CTA button is a bright green, one of two instances the color appears on the page. It definitely pops this way, more so than if red was used, as the logo is already red and the color is sprinkled throughout the page in less important areas.

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This is perhaps the most popular color to use in emails and for good reason. Men and women alike seem to like blue. It’s the favorite color of 57% of men and 35% of women, making up the largest percentage for both genders.

Not only but blue is supposed to indicate trust and security which is likely why so many brands utilize it not just in their logos, but in their email design. Light blues are calm and relaxing, bright blues are energizing and refreshing while dark blues are good for corporate sites because they indicate strength and reliability.

That’s why so many of the emails that I pulled from my inboxes are blue. These are companies that want the people on their lists to trust them. And not only does everybody like blue, but it is also the color of trust, making it a great choice for B2B companies trying to gather leads through their lists.

Notice the same pattern as the orange email shown above. This email has quite a bit different of a tone, maybe because it is focused towards companies and not freelancers themselves. This is that trendy blue that many businesses use as part of their logos, like Skype, Twitter and others utilize.

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Purple is the color of wealth and luxury, especially in its darker forms. Light purple reminds us of spring and romance. In design it can be used to express luxuriance and creativity.

Notice Marketo’s use of purple as the main color in this email. Being an ad for a trade show app, the color works, as it gives both the app and the email an almost luxuriant feel.

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These are the less vibrant but still critically important pieces of design. These colors take on the style and characteristics of the colors they are combined with. These base colors can be combined with any number of color combinations to create modern, minimalist, fun or funky designs.

Gray is best in corporate and formal settings.

Brown and beige both offer a sense of warmth and make good background colors. Brown is also a suitable replacement for black in some cases. They are often combined with green for an earthy feel.

The examples above utilize many of these base colors. They are used for typography, whitespace, etc.

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Generally, B2B emails need to be a little more sedate than B2C emails. The first thing to consider is the color of your logo, something you may or may not have control over. The colors of your logo will drive the design of your emails.

Then you need to take the following color combination rules into consideration:

  1. Analogous colors — these are colors that are side-by-side on the color wheel.
  2. Complimentary colors — these are colors that bring each other out by being across from each other
  3. Nature-based color schemes- nature knows these color schemes look good, so the work is already done for you.

These are good rules to keep in mind as you match the colors of your logo to additional colors in your emails.

For B2B, grey and blue color combinations are well-used and for good reason. Not only do they go together well, with both indicating trust and integrity as well as a sense of professionalism, but also they are soothing and calm. It goes without saying that these are all important factors in creating a relationship with a lead that is reading the email. They are calm, muted colors, which conveys authority and steadiness.

Remember that too many bright colors or garish color combinations will rob you of this authority. So remember that splashing in a bit of color here and there is great, but too much color will just make you seem unprofessional and some might even find it totally off-putting.

B2B relationships are all about trust and long-term commitments. Keep this in mind when designing your emails and you’ll find that your emails are better-received, inevitably leading to conversion and hopefully the sale.

Written by

HIPB2B is a demand gen solution provider, utilizing content, email, and marketing automation to drive outcomes for marketing and technology clients

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