The Power of Color In Doing Business Across Cultures


People react to other people emotionally. When it comes to people in networking situations, they connect with other people on that same emotional level. On a subconscious level, colors play an important role in human relationships and the integration of specific colors cause people to react in certain ways to others. For example, blue has a calming effect on people. If your colors are very neutral (beige, for example), other people may think that you are not a person of strong convictions.

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:

Color Psychology

Color has a powerful subliminal and subconscious effect on our physical and emotional wellbeing. For example, if you go into a mall 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 of our senses and as a result, it has an effect on all of our purchasing decisions. People make decisions based on their emotions and then justify them with logic! So, it is essential that you are aware of both the positive and negative impacts and responses 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 on cultures. Here an example that fits 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 they are 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 website or banner, even before the person understands the language or what the message says. A mismatch between colors and meanings in a website 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. The latest statistics for 2011 regarding Internet users shows that Asia has the most internet users accounting for 44% of all users worldwide, Europe 22.7 % and North America 13.0% (Click for Reference). The top 3 languages spoken on the Internet are  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 the same response worldwide. 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 probably has the greatest impact. The recruiter should 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. The shirt should be white or pale blue.

Women’s Interview Attire: Navy suit , black or dark grey. Coordinated blouse: white or ivory – any light color that matches your suit is appropriate. Light makeup and perfume.


Colors play a very important role when it comes to business networking (online and in person). It is very important for you to understand the effect that colors have on people and to make sure that your colors give a message of positivity and openness. There are many things that go into your successful business practices and you should count colors among one of the most important ones.

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Anne Egros

Professional Expat Coach

Anne Egros, Professional Coach, Provides Global Business, Career, and Expat Life Coaching Services For International Executives and Managers. Pharmaceutical Doctor (Pharm D) with 20 years of international experience as business manager in Fortune 500 Companies. Anne worked as an expat for 20 years: US, Japan, Europe, APAC region. Fluent English, native French speaker.

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