When I was a new advisor, one area I failed to understand was the importance of color. We are, at our heart, 90% subconscious beings. Sure, we have thoughts, but while we’re deciding which ice cream to eat, our automatic mind is handling the so-much-more trivial tasks of (among many, many others) breathing and sensory response. Those who are able to reach those subconscious portions of us are more likely to sell us on pursing whatever it is they’re selling.
I was in the business of selling you on your goals. Better yet, I was in the business of selling you on the fact that you’d rather pay me to handle as much of your money as possible.
I wasn’t selling actual products, I was selling the concepts of trust, commitment and richness. These concepts can be expressed in colors.
Colors Affect Decision Making
The use of color in sales isn’t limited to investment advisors. On the contrary, most advisors have little understanding of the importance of the subconscious on a client’s decision to say “yes” or “no” to a strategy. Yet there’s tons of research available, from color’s role in shopping, to fruit-buying, and even clean energy and cleaning supplies.
Marketers understand the role of color. So should you.
My History of Learning About Color
I was fortunate to work in the office of one of the top advisors in the country. He was a big proponent of neuro-linguistic programming. That’s a mouthful, so I’ll spell it out. Two scientists at the University of California-Santa Cruz, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, studied the practices of leading hypnotists and noticed that language and patterns created reality for people they studied. While they had some startling successes (Anthony Robbins has credited NLP in his work), it has been largely discredited as a sure-fire method to work with people with phobias or other disorders. In sales, however, very successful practitioners have been able to use verbal and non-verbal cues introduced by NLP to uncover subconscious buying criteria of subjects.
If I had meetings with potential new clients, I’d choose royal blue ties. Royal blue suggests security and trust. My goal with new clients was to be the guy they could hand money over to manage. Imagine that you were meeting with an advisor that you’d never previously met. Would you trust a guy wearing red?
In later meetings, when we’d talk about investing, I’d switch colors to green. Hunter green especially is a wealthy color. This was most effective with clients who seemed to be in love with the pursuit of money. If I projected wealthy colors, they were more likely to accept my counsel and allow me to manage more of their assets inside my firm. Even so, if I wore green to meetings where we were signing contracts, it symbolized that these were going to be big money-making investments.
Avoid These Colors
I owned a kick-ass yellow tie. Nothing ever got done with yellow. Besides being the color of caution, my blondish hair created a pale, washed out look. I seemed like I might be sick. This unsteady, youthful, and pale look decreased sales.
Red was a color I played games with. I had a red marker on my dry erase board. When I was disproving something other advisors had told my client, or I was recommending areas we wanted to avoid, I purposefully used red. I switched to blue or green markers to illustrate my own strategies.
What Does This Have To Do With You?
Colors affect all of your buying decisions. If an advisor is recommending a change in your strategy, be aware of her choice of colors when making an argument. When you’re handed a prospectus for a product, look at the colors they choose. When you go to a financial company website, avoid the urge to choose based on the color pattern.
Let’s look at a few examples:
Fidelity.com: Bright, fresh green. The only orange is the “choose an account button.” Orange is a “call to action” color. Blue is only used in the words “See how Fidelity can help.” Remember what I said about trust? These colors aren’t accidents.
Vanguard.com: Red all over the place. At first blush, this seems like a mistake, but think about what Vanguard sells. They sell lower cost and the fact that you’re probably paying too much if you’re looking somewhere else. Even the key word on the side, “Vanguarding” suggests stopping to think. Red increases your heart rate, gets you excited and creates energy (in fact it also increases hunger, though I doubt Vanguard is hoping you’ll take a lunch break). Red is the perfect color for what Vanguard sells.
Scottrade: An interesting choice….purple. This isn’t a bad move either. First, it’s different from the others, but purple is a calm, soothing color. As a slightly smaller broker, Scottrade’s job is to get you to think of them as a steady ship (often I was surprised that many of my clients had never heard of Scottrade).
TDAmeritrade: Check out all the green.
Ameriprise: Tons of royal blue. Why? This is an advisor-driven company, so they’re not going to sell red. They’re selling a trusted relationship.
Northern Trust: All blue and green.
E-Trade: Maybe my least favorite color scheme because it’s so busy. Lots of green, some blue, and a little purple all make sense. The black across the top is interesting. Black is a power color. I usually stayed away from it because clients might see me as overbearing. I used it during what we’d call “come to Jesus” meetings (I don’t mean to be offensive…that’s the term every office I ever worked in called it when clients needed to either be given the boot or get on board….). However, it’s also an impulse shopping color (maybe because it’s so aggressive), so maybe E-Trade thinks they have to get people while the impulse is on.
Charles Schwab: Blue, with a big lime button in the middle “get guidance” button and an orange “open an account” button at the top.
The Most Important Point To Remember
As you can see, colors are being used against you all the time. To stay in control of your money, use colors defensively. Or, when you’re up for your next raise, use colors against your boss!
What color are you wearing today? Is it working?