Surely you’ve heard, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” Usually that refers to personal introductions, but it’s also true when people meet your business. And these days, that’s likely to be on the web. If so, that first impression will be overwhelmingly visual and the element that will have the greatest initial punch will not be shapes, words, or photographs. It will be color. And research tells us that initial judgement will occur without your customers even being aware of it. This is how it works.

At Fine Line, the man responsible for ensuring the color you choose creates a positive and appropriate impression is veteran graphic design artist Tom Brown.

“Studies show people tend to make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and that between 65% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone,” Tom says.

That’s why he often kicks off design meetings by asking clients for their favorite color. He follows that up with an explanation of how most people interpret specific colors and why. Fortunately, what different colors mean to people is pretty universal which is why you don’t see a lot of hardware stores branding themselves with pink.

Typically, says Tom, here is how most people interpret popular colors:

Green is comfortable. It implies health and tranquility while symbolizing money and nature. It falls into the most visible color range to the human eye and is mostly associated with relaxation and healing.

Blue implies clean, calm, and peaceful. It’s not hard to understand why. Blue is the color of the sky and the ocean (at least in the Caribbean.) And those are associated with weightless floating, fluffy clouds and leisure. Blue has also been found to increase productivity, make people feel cooler and curb appetite.

Black is seen as a practical and timeless color, suggesting serious, final and absolute.

Red is probably the most unambiguous color with the most obvious association. Red is the color of blood and is universally associated with an emergency and danger. It evokes strong emotion, increases heart rate and ramps up appetite. Used by a business it instantly signals a sale, as in “Red Tag Sale.”

Yellow is cheerful, warm and encourages communication, maybe why it is a popular color for kitchens.

Yellow tends to be associated with youth and draws attention. Though yellow stimulates thinking, it can also cause eyestrain.

Purple suggests royalty, wealth, success, and wisdom. It is often used to soothe or calm. In commercial design, it represents a creative or imaginative brand.

Current thinking is that our earliest color associations come from what researchers are calling a semantic vacuum. That’s when we learn something new but have nothing already in memory with which to associate it. Among our first stored anchors are colors, so with little else to choose from, infants use that to register information coming in from not just their eyes, but all of their senses. In that way colors are integrated into our whole network of information and language.

Though only a theory, it’s easy to imagine that happening in an infant. More surprising is the claim that it occurs to us all throughout life. Anchors increase exponentially, but it seems color is always among them. These original associations linger, though usually out of conscious awareness, even after we develop stronger associations. But some people retain unusually powerful connections between color and unexpected sensory input. For instance, they might hear or taste a color. This is called synesthesia and it occurs in about four percent of the population.

So though synesthetes are rare, the impact of color on our judgement is universal. For your business, that means the color you choose for branding your business is a critical choice.

“My favorite example is when Apple in the late 1990s introduced colored computers into the beige PC world and got a huge jump in sales and brand awareness,” said Tom. “Another example would be iPhones that come in a variety of colors even though almost all will end up being covered by cases. During the initial sale, people are drawn to specific colors.”

How important is color? “Marketers can point to statistics claiming 85% of consumers say color is the primary reason they purchase one particular product over another,” says Tom. And though he thinks 85 percent is a little high, it leaves little doubt that color is at least one of the top influencers in a client’s decision to buy.