Communicating Love in Business: Colors & Imagery

I decided to break from writing about small business strategy and actually speak from my own biz context: I’m a graphic designer after all, not a marketer per se, so what can I share about love in a business context? How about what it LOOKS like…or at least how it COULD look.

Citing Google Images search results as an opener is the digital-age equivalent of starting an article or speech with Webster’s definition of the topic word: it’s cheesy and belies an initial inspiration void when one sat down to write the thing. And yet (or “and so”):

Plug simply “love” into Google Images, and you’ll get pictures of hearts…like millions and billions of them. Not anatomical ones, either, but the ones that look like butts if you turn them upside down. (Read more about bad medieval artists and extinct contraceptive seeds here). There are a few themes that rise from within the red-and-pink deluge of images that give us more clues as to what love looks like to our culture:
• There are lots of images featuring primarily or only text, and these fall into two distinct categories: sentimental or scriptural.
• Lots and LOTS of the images feature some visual representation of swirling, rising energies, whether it be depicted as pink mists rising from hearts, as light bursting upward, as clear skies decorated with puffy white clouds, or even balloon-like hearts themselves floating upward and away.
• Silhouettes. On the beach.

There’s even something glaringly missing, relative to the typical practices associated with Valentine’s Day:
• There are actually almost no images featuring chocolates, flowers, diamonds, or even sex.

Then, of course, there’s also this:

Love-Hurts

As featured at bellafatima.blogspot.com


So our visual language of “love” shows us that this emotion is profound, yet light and exhilarating. It can be huge and nearly formless, or can be shared intimately with just one other. It is not necessarily consumed nor consummated.

Clearly, romantic love dominates the topic, but what about love of country, or when one “loves” rollercoasters, or snowboarding, or blogging? Do you LOVE your car? Some of these kinds of love can be well expressed as colors…perhaps those of a flag, or yellow for an exciting activity, or light blue for something that puts you into smiling contentment.

So what’s with all the red? One of my favorite resources is the Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color, and after noting that the color red commands our attention by representing both blood and fire – elements that sustain life, but also indicate danger – here’s what it has to say broadly about this most dramatic of love colors:

The pituitary gland really springs into action when it sees red. A chemical message is sent to your adrenal medulla and releases the hormone epinephrine. This alters your body chemistry, causing you to breathe more rapidly, increases your blood pressure, pulse rate, heartbeat, your flow of adrenaline and Galvanic Skin Response (perspiration). These reactions are physiological, and we have no control over the effect. As a result, red is indelibly imprinted on the human mind to connect with excitement and high energy.

Potent stuff! What if you want to put a little love in your business, to communicate that YOU love what you do, and/or that you love your clients and customers? How could you represent that, visually? The physiological effects of red are hard to pass up, but let’s look at a few other samples:

Pink has a very wide range, much of which pushes into “fake and plastic” territory…but many shades can be seen as sensual, healthy, or optimistic.
Orange tends to stimulate the appetite for food. Brighter shades are very “hot”, while softer shades come across as nurturing and approachable.
Yellow is generally cheerful and high energy, associated in every society with the splendor of the sun.
• Many browns can elicit positive associations to earth and health, but in some contexts can simply seem dirty.
Blues tend to be trustworthy and restful…great feelings to give to someone(s) you love!
• Clean, fresh, and secure all come in one color: green.
• Like pink, purple is a rich and complex color, usually associated with sweetness and high value.
Neutrals like grays and beiges are all about stability and timelessness. If you want to say “I’ll always be here for you”, gray might be in the picture.
White whispers purity and simplicity, though it can be easily and subtly tinted warm or cool…and quickly get sweet or frigid.
Black is dramatic, powerful, even a little dangerous. It’s also very “heavy”.

Some of those are pretty easy picks for communicating certain types of love, but what about the imagery we noted before?
Text-only
Every once in a while (time) or here and there (space) make a poetic declaration to your customers. Remind them (and yourself) what they mean to you, and what your commitments are. BUT BACK IT UP with action, because humans unfortunately see through overly romanticized but essentially meaningless bullshit in business no better than they do in relationships…which is to say, we swoon easily. Eventually, she hits her head as she goes down, and he throws his back out trying to catch her. Better if we just walk our talk from the beginning.

Light-emitting, lighter-than-air energies
DON’T go all MySpace and put mists and glitter all over your website and customer-appreciation mailers. Just….just, don’t. We can certainly use specific colors to achieve some of our happy-energy communicating goals, as noted earlier, but we also want to keep things light. In visual terms, dark = heavy, so use dark anycolor sparingly when trying to communicate love. Most broadly, I’d say gradients that are lightest (though not necessarily white) on the top would to a decent job at communicating lightness of weight. More common lighter-than-air objects not overtly associated with romantic love include clouds, bubbles, and hydrogen-filled dirigibles. Ok, maybe not that last one.

Silhouettes and intimacy
Black profiles of beach-strolling couples are as corny as starting an article with Google Image results, but what they tell us is that feelings of love can be simple and focused. When showing your clients love, strip out the details and make it specifically about THEM. Look into their virtual eyes. Listen. Whisper “I love what you bring to my experience. Thank you.” No strings attached.

How could I not share a couple of my favorite love-flavored clips with you?
On the left, Sandler’s had “the blues, the reds, and the pinks” and it ain’t doin’ it for him. Perhaps you can now suggest a different strategy to those trying to woo him? On the right, Pumbaa and Timon represent your competitors as you cuddle up to your customers. Also, one of your competitors is Nathan Lane. :)

This topic is most easily introspected on as a consumer: what business communications have you RECEIVED that you perceived as loving?

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival: small business bloggers sharing hard-earned – and often funny! – wisdom about business and life, for free. For you. Check out all of this month’s articles (as well as archives from way back to our humble beginnings) at wordcarnivals.com.

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12 Responses to Communicating Love in Business: Colors & Imagery

  1. Annie Sisk says:

    Ooh – excellent post, evan! I love (ha, see what I did there?) the emphasis on colors and how they impact our reaction, especially to marketing materials. I think it also has to do with mutual respect – if I sense a biz has no respect for me, is mocking me or my needs, I’m so out of there.
    Annie Sisk recently posted..Self-Love: Embracing Your Inner MarketerMy Profile

  2. evan, I was halfway through putting mists and glitter on my website when I got to that paragraph. Damnit… that’s a whole slew of CSS3 transforms that I have to erase now!

    It sounds like to me that you’ve got your safe-search on. I get an entirely different set of results, but that’s neither here nor there.

    I couldn’t agree more about careful selection of colors – but more important than that: only put color on the important things you want people to have that emotion towards. Filter everything else back. There’s a reason why I painted my entire office orange – not just because it looks really cool on WebCam, but because it energizes me while I’m there – and there’s no other room in the house that’s orange, so when I leave, my work is behind me for the day.

    Awesome articulation on a very important subject, evan! :-)
    Nick Armstrong recently posted..Small Business Marketing: The Difference Between Love and Lonely Nights is SeductionMy Profile

    • evan says:

      MUAAAHAHAHAHAHAAA! I just saved you from yourself. :)
      Interesting about Safe-Search. I checked and mine’s off too.

      Anyway, I love the advice to be selective with color, and of course our experience backs that up: even as infants, we are drawn first to CONTRAST, and later to colors found in unusual contexts. If everything’s awash in color, it’s just a meaningless blur. I painted my entire office light blue, but I like your rationale for orange…it’s my accent color, but I could handle more of it…

  3. Great take on this, evan. I’m a pink-ophobe and materials and sites with that as the main color have to be really, really useful to make me stick around – give me a pleasant green or blue any day!
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..So You Want to Hire a Professional Blogger?My Profile

    • evan says:

      Do I ever hear you on the pink!! It’s one of the worst colors for me, since I’m red-green colorblind: the red wavelengths simply don’t show up strongly enough unless it’s vibrant bubble-gum pink, leaving it looking simply gray most of the time. Sorry, cupcake-selling websites, your carefully chosen hue is lost on me (but may be doing wonders for others!)

      I wrote about the allure of blue here.

  4. Carol Lynn says:

    What a cerebral post today! I love this kind of thing. Color is so fascinating and you don’t have to look further than your living room to see how it affects your mood. I’m with you and Sharon – pink, ew! I’ve been trying to talk someone out of a pink logo… sadly to no avail.

    I had no idea that we actually had a physiological reaction to color. I wonder if other colors do that besides red? Is there a color that prevents a person from consuming large quantities of Oreos? If you find that out let me know!
    Carol Lynn recently posted..Money Can’t Buy (Brand) LoveMy Profile

    • evan says:

      I think it a fascinating awareness exercise to pay attention to which colors affect you, and in what ways. I find that people with fully functioning “normal” color vision often take colors for granted, so it can be a challenge to stop and actually THINK (cerebral!) about what they’re seeing and how it’s affecting them. Worth it though.

      Good luck with the pink logo client, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for an anti-oreo color! :)

  5. Nicole Fende says:

    First can I say I’m really NOT a fan of hearts or pink. Ugh. There are exceptions, like that awesome bear trap with heart bait picture you found.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the effect color has on us physically and psychologically. There’s actually this whole study on personality types driven from your reaction to colors. I must confess that any and all bold colors draw me in. I have to be careful or instead of looking like a glitter explosion on MySpace, I can create the effect of a post Cinco DeMayo umm… brown bag illness.
    Nicole Fende recently posted..Looking for (Business) Love in All the Wrong Places – Why Your Partnerships FailMy Profile

    • evan says:

      Ha, way to own being and exception AND a danger to yourself, in the color department! Personality types and color reactions….very intriguing concept!

  6. I’m a blue gal all the way, Evan! No. I’m not feeling blue. (Goofy grin)
    When I read “Blues tend to be trustworthy and restful…great feelings to give to someone(s) you love!”, I immediately understood why I love it SO much — especially the “restful” part. It’s easy on my eyes and I’m always drawn to it.

    Oddly enough, whenever I wear red, my colleagues at work tell me how nice red looks on me — even though I really don’t care for red at all. The articles of clothing I have in that color are not items I’ve purchased myself. One of my youngest daughters likes to outfit me in red so I’ll have to say she must know some secrets about matching the right clothing to hair color and skin tone. Come to think of it, she’s the artist in the family — a very creative young woman with a lot of spunk and flair! :)

    I may be a girly girl, but I’ve pitched my tent in the “Pink be gone!” camp. Don’t like it. Never have. Truth be told, it always reminds me of liquid Pepto Bismol. Yuck.

    I always pick the cupcakes with blue icing. :)

    P.S. Mere words of thanks won’t cut the mustard for the blog illustration you designed for me. I LOVE it, Evan!! It’s unforgettable!
    Melanie Kissell recently posted..Turn Your Blog Into A Perpetual Valentine | a.k.a. Put A Little Love In Your BlogMy Profile

    • evan says:

      It’s powerful to understand not only what draws you, but WHY! Thanks for sharing that, Melanie! Just a day or two after writing this post I met a woman who is a color consultant for people…matching them to their best colors in fashion and home decor. I didn’t get to speak with her very long, but I thought it a fascinating profession (?) to have, and may have to seek her out for a follow-up article.

      All that, and I tend to enjoy red as well, even though it’s one of the colors I don’t register very well! In large, bold quantities, however, it’s very powerful.

      I spoke with a very close friend today while on our weekly walk, and got some great, clear words of appreciation from him about that illustration. I shared with him that while I was unsure (apprehensive is even a tad too strong a word) about how it would be received and whether it would fit the bill or not, what was exciting and undeniably true was that the image you got was basically and exactly the first image that popped into my head when you sent me your topic. I had no model to use (well, my desk and iMac modeled, but no woman!) and I am completely pleased with how it turned out and how powerful it seems for some. Grateful kisses to you for the opportunity!!

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