Last week, in episode 5, we looked at how to choose fonts for your brand, and this week we’re going to do the same for colour. Obviously, you can’t see colours on a podcast (doh) but I will pop some handy resources for you towards the end of the shownotes.
So: Colour! Colour is the visual component people remember most about a brand. According to the Institute for Color Research, people make a judgment about your content or your brand in 90 seconds or less. And, up to 90% of that judgment in that very short amount of time is influenced by the colours they see. Research shows that the proper use of colour can increase brand recognition by as much as 80%.
That says quite a lot about the importance of choosing the right brand colours, right?
In branding, there’s a lot of talk about colour psychology and the internet is full of pretty infographics with colours and their meanings. Colour psychology is the study of how colours affect our feelings and behaviours. In marketing and branding the focus is mainly on how colours impact people’s impressions of a brand – and whether or not they persuade consumers to consider a certain brand or buy a certain product.
Colours can communicate feelings or set a mood, and allow a consumer to form an initial impression without even really knowing what your product is about.
Let’s take a quick look at some colours and the typical emotions and qualities associated with them in the Western world:
Red is often seen as a powerful and passionate colour. It is generally associated with energy, excitement, and passion. It’s the colour of love, but also the colour of danger. It’s attention-grabbing, but can also be provocative.
Yellow is often associated with a feeling of positivity, sunshine, hope and optimism. It’s a bright and cheerful colour that can trigger feelings of happiness and warmth.
Orange mixes the optimism and the brightness of yellow with the passion and energy of red. It is a creative and cheerful color that evokes a friendly, outgoing and adventurous feeling.
Green is associated with calmness, safety, and freshness, but also with wealth, luck and of course: the environment.
Blue is actually the most popular color choice in branding. It is thought to put people at ease, and is associated with trust, security, and confidence.
Purple is a sophisticated and slightly mysterious colour with associations to royalty and elegance. Purple is also commonly linked with spirituality.
Black is both classic, sophisticated and powerful – and is often used for luxury brands. There’s a timelessness about this colour, that means it’s never going to go out of fashion. Black is often combined with other colours to add emotion, or to tone down the starkness.
White represents simplicity, purity and cleanliness. Modern and minimalistic brands often rely on lots of white to create that airy and clean look.
That was just a really quick overview, because I don’t want to place too much emphasis on the exact meaning of each colour.
Because is it really as easy as looking at the typical traits that are associated with each colour, and then picking the one that fits the bill on paper? No. Because colours are so subjective. We all react differently to colours, depending on our personal experiences, our cultural and/or religious background. Where red can mean danger! In one country, it can mean luck in another. So how can we make sense of all this, and how do you know which colour is right for your brand?
I wish there was an easy answer to this.
Researchers have found that the relationship between brands and colour largely depends on the perceived appropriateness of the colour being used for a particular brand or product. In other words: whether or not the colour fits what you’re selling.
Also, we have our basic colours there, but that doesn’t take into account the various tints and shades you can make from these colours. In short, when you add varying amounts of white to a colour, you’ll get different tints and a lighter look (think of red, which when we add white becomes pink), and when you add black you get different shades – and a more muted look. If you add both black and white to a colour, you get different colour tones.
So as you can see, or in this case: hear, green isn’t just green. Red isn’t just red.
Let’s take green as an example. In its purest form a really vibrant and fresh colour. Add black and you can get some really earthy, olive green shades. Rugged, almost. Add white and you end up with delicate, feminine pastel tints. Add black and white, and you can get colour tones like sage green and dusty mint. You might look at the pure green and think “nah, green isn’t right for my minimalistic and feminine brand” – but with the right tint, shade or tone… maybe it still is?
Then there are colour combinations. Most brand’s don’t just use one colour, but have a brand colour palette with one main colour and one or more accent colours. How you put these together will also make a difference to the overall look and feel of your brand.
You could go for a subtle monochromatic colour palette with different tints, shades and tones of the same colour. This would appear calm and understated, almost gentle.
You could go for clear and contrasting colours for a bold and striking look; maybe even picking colours that are at opposite ends of the colour wheel for maximum impact – such as a blue for your main colour and orange as your accent colour.
You could go for a hybrid approach, with different tints, shades and tones of your main colour, and a single contrasting accent colour.
And I could go on and on and on….
But in the end, what matters is that your brand colours match your brand personality, and that they resonate with and attract the right people. So again, and I know I keep going on and on about the importance of a strategic approach, but you really need to go right back to your brand foundations and look at what you want your brand to be and who it is for.
Personal taste matters less in all of this, what you need to have in mind is “who are we trying to reach or influence with this brand?” And then look at the brand as a whole – where the brand colour palette is actually just one piece. The colours you choose go hand in hand with the fonts you choose, the logo, the photos – how you combine these elements can make a big difference to the overall visual look.
Colour can also be a differentiating factor, so take a look at what colours other brands in your market are using. Depending on whether you want to differentiate your brand or blend in (again, go back to your underlying strategy!) you can decide whether you want to choose a colour that is considered untraditional for your industry to make you stand out – or if you want to draw on the recognition of a more commonly used colour to “fit in” or build trust.
One last thing I’d like to say is: unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t go overboard on the colours. Too many colours in a brand colour palette can make it so hard to keep to a consistent visual look. If you’re DIYing your brand, pick a base colour and one or two accent colours, that’s going to make things so much easier for you! (And remember you can always make tints or shades of those if you need more variety.) If you want to go advanced here, with a multi-coloured extravaganza of a brand, at least put some clear guidelines in place for how to use them so you don’t look like a different brand each time.
Ooops, I lied. That wasn’t the last thing. I have one more final tip:
If you’re still struggling to find colours that feel right for your brand, here’s a tip: gather images that have the feel you’re after, and use them as a starting point for creating your colour palette. Sometimes that’s easier than looking at a bunch of colour swatches! There are some pretty good tools available for this, one of my favourites is Adobe Color. They allow you to upload a photo to extract colours from, and you can also save your colour palettes – as well as browse and be inspired by other people’s colour palettes.
So to sum up:
- Nope, there are no clear-cut rules for choosing colors for your brand. While that would be nice to have – the reality is that the answer to “what colours are right for my brand?” is always “hmmm… it depends.”
- Ask yourself: What do I want my brand’s personality to be, and how can I use colour to communicate that personality? Do the colours I’ve chosen for my brand align with the feeling I’m trying to give my customers?
- And like all other aspects of branding: consistency is key. Once you’ve picked your brand colour palette, stick with it!
That’s it for today, I hope you are now one step closer to figuring out how to choose the right colours for your brand.
Here are some colour theory and -psychology worksheets to help you get started: