You may think a discussion of “hot” colors is only relevant to owners of teen clothing stores and house painters. Well, you’re wrong.

There’s a trickle-down aspect to trendy colors: Hot hues are usually unveiled on fashion runways and quickly make their way to the aisles of Target and other mass merchandisers. Of course, knowing the current color trends is important if you sell clothing, fashion or decorative accessories, housewares or furniture. But choosing the “right” colors is equally vital when designing your store, office, website or marketing materials.

Color sets a tone and evokes emotions. It can enhance or detract from customer experience and cement an impression of your business. As we’ve seen the past few years, color is a mood enhancer. Pantone, the respected color authority, named turquoise the “color of the year for 2010” (we’re still awaiting the company’s 2011 color choice). It’s not a coincidence that the popularity of bright colors like turquoise and the ubiquitous orange seen everywhere the past few years rose as the economy sunk.

So how can you ensure your business is using the right colors to represent your brand, while still matching consumer sentiment?

 

Back to basics

Starting with the fundamentals, think about your logo and other branding. The color you choose telegraphs a lot about your business, so you want to make sure you’re sending the right message. When it was first introduced, eBay was positioned as a new, fun way to shop — and its bright, primary-colored logo expressed that. On the other hand, if you’re a therapist, or you own a spa, your space should convey a calm, understated vibe.

Think about the difference in ambience between fast-food restaurants and Starbucks. The fast-food places are generally decorated in reds and oranges, because studies show that those colors influence people to eat more food and consume it quickly. On the other hand, the muted tones in Starbucks and other coffeehouses make consumers want to hang out and relax.

But color also impacts functionality. It not only helps attract attention, but also aids the readability of signs, ads, marketing materials and websites. Yellow is the most visible color and is fairly easy to focus on. If part of your marketing budget is invested in a fleet of vehicles emblazoned with your company name (like construction companies or cleaning services do, for example), then it might make sense to have yellow vehicles with black logos.

Advice from a legend

You should also consider color when designing your website. Legendary adman David Ogilvy always advised against using reverse type (white print on a black background) in ads. The same holds true for your site (and printed marketing materials). Black text on a white background is the easiest to read. Using large amounts of four or more colors on a single Web page can be “too noisy” and distracting to site visitors.

Because popular colors come and go (and come again), it’s all too easy to become a slave to a color’s “hotness.” At the same time, retailers with old colors in their shops run the risk of instantly broadcasting, “Our products are outdated.” And there are other considerations. For example, the “wrong” colors on the walls in an accountant’s office can give the impression that he or she is untrustworthy or frivolous.

Given the many challenges small businesses face these days, choosing the right colors might not be high on anyone’s priority list. But, given the way color can impact one’s bottom line, smart business owners should at least assess (or reassess) their color choices.

COLOR GUIDE:

Neutrals: White, gray, beige, brown

Neutrals are frequently background colors (though white often stands for purity and freshness) and normally have a positive influence.

Warm colors: Red, orange, yellow, purple

These colors are amplifiers and stimulate the nervous system. They also attract the most attention. Yellow and orange are often considered “fun” and playful colors, while red signifies strength and authority.

Cool colors: Blue, violet, green

Often found in spas and other relaxed environments, cool shades are calm and peaceful.

Want the scoop on more trends that can grow your business? Sign up for Rieva Lesonsky’s free TrendCast reports at www.smallbizdaily.com. Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her at twitter.com/rieva.