How Colors Affect Your Investment Decisions

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.


Effective Colors


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: 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. 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?

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Author: Average Joe

A 16 year veteran of the financial planning and financial media circus. Lover of hamburgers and ice cream.

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  1. WOW – powerful post! I had a bit of knowledge in terms of colors and feelings, but not in relation to sales. This stuff is amazing, Joe! Thanks for sharing. I’m doing a post on marketing tomorrow, ironically, so I’ll definitely have to link you up. Oh, and did you HAVE to mention ice cream so early in the morning?? I thought I’d be able to make it till at least noon before Ben and Jerry started calling my name. :-)
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..4 Meals for $10My Profile

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    • We have this wicked ice cream brand here called Blue Bell that I’d rather not think about EVER….too delicious. I love ice cream, but I’ve never finished a bowl and thought, “I’m glad I did that.”

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  2. Now I’m tempted to adjust the color scheme on my site!

    Very interesting post! I’m definitely going to put more thought into the colour of my attire.
    Kamara @YesSheCAN! recently posted..Dress For SuccessMy Profile

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    • That purple is so soothing, though, Kamara!

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  3. We do mostly blues and browns in our house – but then again Mr PoP is red/green colorblind, so we like to keep it in the range of what he can see accurately.
    It always baffles me why so many financial graphs use red and green (we are guilty of it on our graphs, too!) when 8% of men can’t tell them apart. Seriously. 1/12 men are red/green colorblind.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Spend Money To Make Money – Investing In Your CareerMy Profile

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    • I like board games and manufacturers always have to be careful to have symbols AND colors for different players so colorblind people can enjoy the game, too.

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  4. No need for me to wear colors today, but you’ll notice most of the big four accounting firm use darker colors which are seen as more professional and traditional. My old firm did the same thing, the ended up going to a fresh blue and light green…. Never knew why they picked the colors, but I knew about the darker and lighter colors.
    Lance @ Money Life and More recently posted..Best Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses – March 2013My Profile

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  5. It’s amazing how important subtle cues like color are to everything we do. Our subconscious minds are always at work and play a much bigger role than any of us realize. Of course, that can be used to our advantage as well.

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    • Exactly, Damain! It’s far more fun to be the shark than the minnow.

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    • I’m sure it would. I think that’s why NLP worked so poorly in clinical applications….people’s individual responses differed too much to show that treatments would help.

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  6. Great post Joe! It’s amazing what a simple color can communicate, isn’t it? We see this all the time with our business as we’re working with ad agencies and companies forming their marketing campaign and it’s amazing to see how little thought some will put into their color scheme. We see some really good choices and then some total doozies that make no sense. As to what I am wearing…purple! It’s soothing, and more importantly, the color of my Alma Mater! :)
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Festival of Frugality #381: It’s Spring Edition!My Profile

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    • Your alma mater needed to play better in the NCAA Tourney! What happened, dude?

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    • I didn’t realize the importance of color in home interiors until Cheryl and I decided to accent our house in deep blue. Bad idea.

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  7. I always thought of color for interior design and the way you wanted to feel in a room. I never thought of colors for advisors. I read about color and mood, especially when it comes to what a person wears and how they feel. Dark blue = sad, bright colors =happy. Interesting to hear about it in such a context as selling.
    Financial Black Sheep recently posted..Do you Want your Change Back?My Profile

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    • It’s huge at the grocery store. Red = hunger, so a McDonalds has TONS of variations on red in their stores.

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  8. I used color when I interviewed. I would wear a navy (pin stripe) blue suit, (pin or chalk stripe) white or pale blue shirt and red or burgundy tie. I referred to it as my all American (red, white & blue) outfit. It gave me confidence and I was pretty good in most, if not all interviews. I am sure color influences our buying decisions. Also, people who handle money always must come across as conservative and successful.
    krantcents recently posted..Follow Me to Wealth!My Profile

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  9. LOL @ your response to Lance above!

    I’m really glad you brought up this topic because I never thought how my choice in the colors I wear affect others perceptions. Really good read. BTW I also realized the challenges in pulling off yellow without making myself look even more pale 😉
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..4 Ways to Make Money if You Need it ASAPMy Profile

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  10. This is awesome. I use green in funancials because its relaxing and it’s the color of money. Beyond that, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it.

    This reminds me if presidential ties. Red is powerful, blue is friendly. As you said, someone you can trust. This is an article I have yet to see in the blogosphere so I applaud you.

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  11. Ha, ha! It seems that I am a contrary one but dount anybody is surprised: TMP’s logo is red, whenever I go to Brussels I make a point to weare red (dress, coat this kind of thing) and in Oman I bought a lovely red pashmina – which I wore to present to a roomful of Omani men (and four-five women). I agree, colours are importnat!
    maria@moneyprinciple recently posted..The bedroom tax and UK budget stupidityMy Profile

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  12. I remember back when I was in high school, I had these nice suits for speech and debate. If I happened to stop by a clothing store while wearing my blue skirt and off-white shell, people would approach me for help, like I worked there. That never happened when I wore the red skirt and white shell.
    While I’ve never thought about the color choices on most websites, I do think about color choices when I’m going to interviews or meetings and the image I want to project. When I was applying for admin level jobs, I would often where beige slacks and a black blouse or navy blue and white/off-white, because I needed to be seen as someone that would fit in to the fabric of the department without making a huge splash. Now that I’m applying for higher level positions, I favor red/black combos. I need to be seen as not afraid to stand out and able to handle the scrutiny.
    I’ll just bet that if you take a look at what you wear when you need to feel confident and in charge, there will be a bright color in there somewhere. (Because the color effects us just as much as those we interact with.)
    shanendoah@the dog ate my wallet recently posted..Updating My Work Wardrobe (Someday)My Profile

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  13. I use to think NLP was a big hoax but I have seen it work time and time again. It’s actually pretty scary when you see it work first hand. Great post and a great starting point for anyone who wants to further educate themselves on NLP.

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    • This advisor I mention was was a HUGE NLP practitioner. It was awesome to watch him completely use this hypnosis-based technique to talk clients through incredibly complex financial schemes. I was always glad he wasn’t selling used cars!

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    • I think we all hope so, Paul! The reason NLP was discredited in the psychological therapy realm is because there is a segment of the population who isn’t affected…just like a certain segment of people aren’t affected by hypnosis.

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    • I know! It’s funny. Before doing this I immediately looked at our colors and went, “Damn.” Brown isn’t a bad choice, though. It’s more of a “call to action” color. Don’t be surprised if our next iteration includes more greens and blues, though!

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        • Orange is an action color, Justin. So, just think of your site as one big call to action!

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  14. Interesting post Joe! Color is super important in our buying decisions. You mentioned red as one of the colors your post. When I worked in food service, I was told that red is a color that stimulates hunger, which is why you will see a lot of red light bulbs and lamp shades in restaurants. I have no idea if that is actually true, but that is what I was told.
    Greg@ClubThrifty recently posted..Having Kids: Is It Worth It?My Profile

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    • I’ve been told it’s the reason why McDonalds uses tons of variations of red in their color scheme.

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  15. This is a fascinating post. On some level I’ve always been aware that color has a sub-conscious effect on decision making. But I’ve never really used it to my advantage with one exception. One time, I noticed that an ad I posted on Craigslist had an unusually high response. When I reviewed the ad (to make sure I wasn’t selling something worth $100 for $1) I saw that the pics all had brightly colored children toys in the background. Since then I’ve tried to get some bright colors into my ad’s. I can’t tell you that it’s a smashing success, but almost everything I list on Craigslist sell :)
    Jose recently posted..Envelope Budgeting – A Quick Introduction and Tour – Plus A Video!My Profile

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  16. Good discussion. Website color choice is VERY important. The subconscious mind forms opinions about everything and subtly influences our buying behaviors. I prefer that my clients not use blue in their website design as it is so overused as to be too much of a “follow” strategy rather than a “lead” strategy. To create uncontested market space, be different, but be mindful of what colors represent.

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  17. Fascinating how color can affect our behavior. Whenever I see red ties, I think of President Ronald Reagan. It seems he always liked to wear red ties. Then the Presidential Press caught on to this and THEY would be the ones to wear the red ties in hopes of catching President Reagan’s attention.
    Lisa @ Cents To Save recently posted..Joining The Great Food Fight 2013My Profile

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    • I’ve been so conditioned to wear greens and blues that I only own one red tie! I wore it when I had to strong arm a client out of doing something that was going to end up as a train wreck.

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