In a sluggish economy, businesses of all sizes are squarely focused on two things: sales and productivity. But in the era of information overload, the burden is on the consumer to distill meaningful information from the noise, including the nearly 3,000 marketing messages the average person is exposed to every day.

Employees face a similar challenge as many struggle to stay focused on priorities amidst constantly refreshing social media feeds, a 24/7 news cycle and phones that serve as a pocket-sized entertainment system. For bottom-line oriented businesses, the answer to both of these challenges may lie in color.

In a color survey conducted by Xerox Corporation, 69% of people said that they understand new ideas better when presented in color. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed say they can find information faster if it's presented in color.

And the benefits don't end with productivity — color can also give companies a leg up in competitive differentiation and sales.

For Bing, the right color choice was the million dollar difference — or $80 million to be exact. Microsoft's research team found that blue engaged people the most, so they tested various shades of blue in user groups and determined that Bing's previous paler shade of blue lacked confidence. As a result, Bing decided to switch to a shade of blue similar to the one used by Google. Based on user feedback, it is estimated Bing's blue could generate $80 million to $90 million in advertising sales.

Color as a Sales Differentiator
According to Jill Morton, color psychologist and branding expert, when color is used correctly, businesses can draw the right attention to marketing collateral, signage and business documents. It's tempting to select color based on personal preference, but keying in on the colors that illicit the desired emotional response can pay dividends.

By using Morton's color symbolism and selection tips below, businesses can create documents with the appropriate emotional impact to incite reader action.

  1. Understand the basic formula for all colors: dark colors are professional and trustworthy; bright colors are youthful and energizing; light colors are peaceful and delicate; and muted colors are sophisticated and calming.
  2. Colors resonate differently across generations — like the color purple, for example. An older generation may look at purple as mysterious and magical simply because it is a hue that rarely occurs in nature. A younger generation may automatically associate the color with Barney, the purple dinosaur.
  3. Bright colors, like yellow, reflect more light and are great for grabbing the reader's attention on a flier promoting a sale or a document with an urgent task. Yellow and black combined attract more attention than any other color combination out there. Colors like blue or gray are soothing and would be appropriate for use on customer documents that report on annual charity giving or a letter on customer appreciation.
  4. Most document designs only need two to three colors to deliver a consistent look — three being the best. Using more than four colors causes visual clutter for the reader, which can lead to confusion and distraction.
  5. Documents should have a strong contrast between the text color and the background to ensure readability. Yellow text on a white background would be considered a bad contrast because they are both very light colors and cause strain on the reader's eyes. A deep purple text on an off-white background would be an example of a good contrast because of the ease the reader will experience while reading dark text on a light background.

Businesses can engage their readers, create a positive first impression and help their message stand out from the marketing noise by creating color harmony in document design. A document with smart, strategic color application will ensure communications are delivered with maximum value — impacting the company's bottom line with increased productivity and sales.

SHELL HAFFNER has more than 17 years of experience in high technology product marketing managing hardware, software and service offerings. Currently, Mr. Haffner leads the product marketing team for the Xerox desktop product family, including the ColorQube family of solid ink printer products.