The Power of Color In Doing Business Across Cultures


Do you know what the colors of your clothes are saying about you   ?

Is your website and brand logo appealing and attractive to your potential buyers or users ?’

Do you have a favorite color ?

Color is a form of non-verbal communication and if you do intercultural business, you need to understand the effect it has on the interpretation of the messages you send to people from different cultures

The Meaning of Color 

There are two ways in which colors acquire meanings:The natural universal association like green for vegetation and psychological and emotional association or color symbolism based on individual experiences, cultural norms and values.  For example black is for funerals in most western countries while Chinese use white as the color of mourning (see table). Reference: The Psychology and Meaning of Color in Email and Websites, Aug 2011

Red Yellow Green Black White
China Good luck, celebration, happiness Nourishing Exorcism, Adultery Youth, the color for young boys Funerals
United States Love, passion, danger, stop, rage Hope, hazards, coward-ness Spring, go, St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas Funerals, death, antagonists, Halloween Weddings, purity

More about color meaning and cultures: http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/cultural-color.html

Color Psychology

Color has a powerful subliminal and subconscious effect on our physical and emotional well-being. For example if you enter in a mall with colors without color except black, gray and white. Would you be inspired to buy nice clothes, make-up or even drink coffee? Probably not!! Color stimulates all our senses and as a result it has an effect on all our purchasing decisions. People make decisions based on their  emotions and then justified them with logic! So it is essential that you are aware of both the positive and negative impact and response of each color on the emotions. There is no such thing as a bad color, just colors that are more suitable for your particular business purpose in order to get the response you want.

What does your personality color say about you? (reference: personality colors )

This again depends greatly about cultures. Here an example that matches most Americans:

  • If your favorite color is red, you are action oriented with a deep need for physical fulfillment and to experience life through the five senses.
  • If orange is your favorite color, you have a great need to be with people, to socialize with them, and be accepted and respected as part of a group. You also have a need for challenges in your life, whether it is physical or social challenges.
  • Lovers of blue have a deep need to find inner peace and truth, to live their life according to their ideals and beliefs without having to change their inflexible viewpoint of life to satisfy others.
  • Lovers of black have a need for power and control in order to protect their own emotional insecurities.

Colors In International Marketing

When you want to do business globally check the meaning of colors for each country. Color symbolism impacts businesses and personal brands through website or blog graphic design, consumer product development, packaging and corporate identity. The significance of some colors is universal. Other colors, however, have meanings that shift in various cultures.

In the Internet age online advertisers should really be careful about cultural differences in color symbolism since color is the first thing that is noticed on a web site or banner, even before the person understand the language or what the message says.  A miss-match between colors and meanings in a  web site content can potentially ruin the marketer’s objectives. The customization of color pattern for each country is becoming more and more critical as the population profile of Internet users is shifting rapidly. Latest statistics for 2011 regarding internet users show that Asia has the most internet users accounting for 44% of all users world wide,  Europe 22.7 % and North America 13.0%  (Click for Reference).  The top 3 languages spoken on the internet is English with 26.8 % of users Then Chinese with 24.2% and Spanish 7.8% Reference: (Click for Reference )

In an increasingly competitive, global, interconnected and saturated market, communication needs to be carefully targeted. Few companies have a brand that is powerful enough to generate same response world-wide. For most companies it is important to understand what the impact of communication and color use will be on the targeted group. Therefore it is not only important to understand its meanings but also to find easily applicable rules for translating them.

A very good example of color customization is MacDonald’s. The company has different website designs and colors for each country. For example the site for Japan is Yellow and for Egypt is red.

How to dress for a job  interview 

The first impression you make during a job interview is the most important one. The first judgment an interviewer makes is going to be based on how you look and what you are wearing and color has probably the greatest impact. Recruiter must remember you for who you are and not for your outfit.

Men’s Interview Attire: In the united states, men should wear a suit  with solid color – navy or dark grey. Tie color and pattern should be conservative and non-distracting, for  example, dark blue and dark red.with subtle patterns such as stripes and dots are preferred. Shirt should be white or pale blue.

Women’s Interview AttireSuit navy, black or dark grey. Coordinated blousewhite or ivory any light tone that matches your suit is appropriate. Light make-up and perfume

More reading: How to Dress for Success 

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5 thoughts on “The Power of Color In Doing Business Across Cultures

  1. Judith October 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm Reply

    Anne, This is a terrific post and I want to connect. I used to be a color therapist and read auras. Judith

    • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach October 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm Reply

      Thanks Judith, I am honored you found this article interesting as you are a color expert. Intuitively I know that colors affect our mood, “cold ” colors like light blue or green are “relaxing” while having a bedroom painted in red might be too stimulative. Please share your experience about color therapy.

  2. Amy Bly October 26, 2011 at 9:33 am Reply

    Hi, Anne, I saw your comment referring to me as well on Michael Cohn’s blog post. I actually don’t know much about color as it relates to personalities, although I would love to read and learn more on that subject! I mostly do home staging, and my job there is to tone down and neutralize or eliminate strong colors and patterns in homes which tend to be too personal and can even “scare off” potential buyers. In decorating, I do find clients are at least somewhat influenced by trends — the aqua blues, teal greens, celery greens, and oranges are popular now as accent colors. But my main job with color in decorating/staging is to consider color “flow” in a home, the way color relates to and is affected by other colors, nearby reflective surfaces, and lighting, and how to coordinate those colors.

  3. Jennifer Kumar, CC, Cross-Cultural Coach October 28, 2011 at 6:44 am Reply

    This is a fascinating topic. It’s not only what types of clothes we wear- but colors do influence us, too. I would like to know more about this topic.

  4. carterarchitecture April 11, 2012 at 11:53 am Reply

    Color is a subject I find fascinating. We use it and respond to it every day. Great article.

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