Last Updated on August 18th, 2021
Many of us, who have seen the black and white era of television have reveled in the joy of having colors injected into our telly. But, let me ask the blessed individuals of 1954 and after, who came into a world where broadcasting media got colorful.
Can you imagine a world without colors? I’m not just speaking about television here, though that’s definitely a trailer of how contemptibly dull things could get.
Oh no! How about living without colors?
Saw quite a horrific picture in your mind there, didn’t you? No pink flowers, no blue sky, no green leaves and no yellow sun to make the world a brighter place.
The reason for this little activity? Just wanted to make a point: we are accustomed to colors! This is why colors and emotions have a never ending relationship. They aren’t just a part of our everyday lives, they actually affect our decisions, reactions and habits – as identified by those who have carried out extensive research on the psychology of colors.
I’m not speaking from mere experience and observation here. Psychology of colors and successful branding has proved the significance of colors and how they influence consumer behavior!
So, as a brand owner, you can just not go with your favorite or “lucky” color unless coincidentally your personal preference and your brand’s persona are on the same page.
In the year 2021, brands have taken the color wheel and its affects more seriously than ever! With emotions and reactions at their peak, brands look up to color psychology guidelines for assistance.
Colors and emotions are inseparable companions. Neither one can exist without the other but before I take you a step further towards the end of the rainbow, there’s a lot you need to know about how colors affect branding.
You probably know this already but here’s a refresher.
If we forget branding for a moment here, color psychology refers to how a human mind perceives distinct colors and the emotions or reactions that they stimulate.
Once we give our brands a toss in the color pool however, psychology of color has a greater role to play than merely getting a reaction out of someone. You may not know it but colors are royalty when it comes to branding so make sure you treat them right!
They get you what you want most: a buying action. Colors can seriously make or break a brand. This is because they have the power to influence consumer behavior. That’s a power we must honor, no?
Let’s talk about this in numbers. Statistics really open the curtains, revealing how much colors can impact your brand’s personality while stimulating consumer behavior. One look at your website, packaging and logo should tell people who you are and what do you sell?
Let’s try another little activity – practical always beats theory, right?
I am sure every one of you has a relationship with Cadbury chocolates on some level, particularly Dairymilk. Now, this popular chocolate has changed its logo and packaging a lot overtime – they’ve travelled a long way from 1905 to 2009 when they finally landed on a consistent packaging.
They evolved indeed keeping up with trends and technology, but one thing remained constant – the purple color! Why do you think that is?
Now imagine the same chocolate in light blue packaging with black colored letters instead of white. If you’ve had no association with the brand in the past, you probably won’t be tempted to buy it unless you’re searching for a coconut bar – just thought of bounty, didn’t you?
The gist of the matter is that just like colors and emotions can’t part ways, colors and communication are inseparable. Considering the Cadbury example mentioned above, the brand wants its customers to think they are enjoying a luxurious chocolate (the color meaning luxury according to color psychology) at a comparatively affordable price. Hence, the combination of purple and white!
Would you think of Cadbury as a luxury chocolate if it had an orange logo with black font? I don’t think so.
Similar to words, colors evoke multiple emotions in humans. What can I say, we are highly emotional and sensitive creatures. The strange yet interesting fact is that the same color might stimulate similar emotions across different cities and continents so that’s one area where we’re mostly all united!
However this theory too has a counter argument. Hey! There’s always an opposition – dark and light coexist don’t they?
Even though brands do depend on the effect of colors universally, different people from diverse cultures might perceive certain colors according to their traditions, values and even experiences!
Researchers have discovered that allotting a trait to a specific color may not be entirely accurate as territories and cultures change.
It’s quite simple. The color white might be associated with grief in some cultures such as in India. The same white is a sign of peace and purity in the west where the bride is usually dressed in white!
Let’s bring all these arguments into one basket. Can you still bring yourself to ignoring the influence of colors on your customers? Even a brand owner with a gray personality cannot cast aside the importance of colors/color meanings in advertising and selling his/her products.
Ultimately it all comes to answering one simple question:
If your observation skills are anything like mine (not bragging), then you must have noticed how brands from the same industry tend to use the same color.
Ever noticed how restaurants especially fast-food chains and Chinese outlets tend to use red and yellow a lot?
Here’s a little research to back me up.
In 2012, Labrecque and Milne conducted a research on colors titled “to be or not to be different”. This was a thorough analysis on how colors affected consumer perceptions about products/brands. They discovered that the color red was common in more than 60% retail brands but they couldn’t find it in high-fashion brand logos, particularly those that catered mostly to females. Blue was quite popular amongst tech brands, banks, health, beauty and household brands. Blue and red were a hit in fortune 500 companies while purple was used in diverse brands for multiple reasons. The color they couldn’t really find in any famous brand’s logo was “Pink”.
Now, I’m not saying that exceptions don’t exist, neither am I getting into the debate of which color is more popular, rather I want you to gulp the fact that colors have a vital role to play in branding.
And I’m not stopping here.
So, are you ready to take a spin with me around the color wheel? Let’s just have a look at how brands have used colors to match their personas and what emotions (according to researches) does each color provoke?
Finding your brand’s true color can depend on a number of factors. As I’ve already emphasized and I am sorry if I get too repetitive – you just can’t pick a color with your eyes closed and by that I mean your mind’s eye.
While seeking inspiration is always encouraged and colors do affect your brand’s communication with your customers, remember to stand out! Just because KFC has a red and white color combination doesn’t mean you need to use the same combo. There are multiple ways to use red without the white spacing, right?
What you truly don’t want is for people to confuse your brand with one that is already on top of the food chain (pun intended).
A theory known as The Isolation Effect suggests that any item that “sticks out like a sore thumb” has a greater chance of being remembered.
Nevertheless, you just can’t choose a color that conveys a message or gives off a vibe that doesn’t connect with your brand vision or identity. Hence, you’ve got to stand out certainly but without being monotonous about it.
An important read for you: Color Theory and why it is Important
Red Alert! Heard that a lot, haven’t you? That’s because red isn’t just the color of love. From red roses to blood – that’s how contradictory red can be!
As mentioned earlier this color can commonly be seen in fast-food chains but their participation in branding isn’t restricted to the food industry. The color red has a knack to stimulate the appetite but it is also known to provoke enthusiasm.
It represents passion, energy and even danger! This is one color that can extract multiple reactions: it all depends on where and how you use it.
On one end the color is used by healthcare brands while on the other extreme it is used by brands such as Coca Cola and YouTube to exhibit an energetic and entertaining persona!
Commonly used to display positivity and vibrancy, yellow is one color that doesn’t need to seek your attention – you just can’t ignore it. Due to its ability to pierce the eyes, yellow is often used along with other, less enthusiastic colors such as black or a deep red.
The role of yellow isn’t limited to grasping attention – yes, it is very popular amongst the food industry owing to its power to make a logo and brand look attractive. Nevertheless some brands tilt towards this color to convey feelings of warmth, happiness and hope. On the other hand this lit color plays really well with its fellow hues and so many logos use yellow to simply “look good”.
What do you see when you hear “blue”? The sky or the sea most likely? This is exactly why the color meaning of blue is that of serenity, strength, reliability and harmony. Mostly brands that want to convey sophistication and trustworthiness use shades of blue to get their message across.
You could spot much blues in banking logos, the tech industry and social media. Why? Think about it. All of these industries/brands at some level need to establish a relationship of trust with their customers. They can’t just sell on creativity or taste because people lean towards them for solutions.
Health, nature and peace – these 3 traits are attributed to the color green when it comes to playing with the human psyche. Used by a range of eco-friendly brands and those that want to showcase “the health is wealth” slogan, green is a natural when it comes to portraying a brand in a nature-loving light.
Following the outburst of environmental issues, chemical reactions and the consequential shift towards more nature inspired or plant-based products, green has just travelled up the ranking charts. Even brands with products that aren’t remotely related to plants have incorporated green in their communications. No doubt to show “we love the environment”.
Furthermore green has become a personal favorite of skincare brands – now how could I miss that one out? With organic products becoming a necessity rather than luxury, logos have turned green and chemical-free!
Orange – the young enthusiast
Fanta! That’s the brand that tingles my senses when I hear “orange”. Probably because Fanta has really owned the color. Despite the whole logo revamping phase that Fanta has gone through over the years, it never let go of its true colors.
Why am I emphasizing on a single brand here? Just wanted to give you a glimpse of how the color orange is used by bubbly, energetic and fun-loving brands. While red exudes a passionate energy, orange represents a lighter, friendlier spark.
Can you think why? Hint: orange is a secondary color made from a blend of red and yellow.
You got there, didn’t you?
With yellow’s optimism and red’s passion, orange gives brands the power to appear youthful, happy and full of energy.
Purple – the noble blood
I bet royals bleed purple instead of red – I’m just trying to make a point here. Purple is undoubtedly, royalty. Many designers incorporate purple in their brands to show off a luxe appeal. Chocolates and cosmetic brands introduce luxurious products with purple packaging or a purple variation of their logo. These brands want you to know “we’re fit for royalty and nothing less”.
Black and white – the leading combo
Ironically, when it comes to colors for branding, black and white take the lead. Since minimalism became dominant, black and white have become even more dominant in the market.
The two opposite hues complement each other – opposites don’t just attract I guess. They are the go-to logo colors for high-street fashion brands, luxurious restaurants, real estate brands and corporate organizations. Combining purity (color meaning of white) with power and mystery (black) gives you a sophisticated, elegant and impactful brand identity.
Color psychology – Picking your brand’s color from the palette
We’re humans – yeah that was new. We feel more than we think even though both actions are ultimately linked to our brain. Now, I’m not just saying this out of personal experience. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s research suggests that customers tend to attach feelings to a brand and this has more “pull” as compared to what they think about a brand.
Well, and what is that pulls out our emotions the most in branding? Colors! Why hasn’t Coca Cola ever gotten around to changing its red color despite a long history of logo changes? How come Facebook’s F never went pink? They used the same color over and over again so that you can connect with these colors. The moment you see a red logo at a beverage counter or store refrigerator, you’ll instantly think: Coca Cola.
These brands know the consequences of introducing a color switch – we want to see these brands in the same color with the same personality.
Here’s a bit of extra info. You must know where your brand colors will be used before you can start the “which color do I choose?” game.
So now it’s time to break-up the lecture and answer the biggest question of them all
I’m not trying to scare you here but getting to know color meanings and what they represent was the easy part.
A study in 2006 suggested that the colors and brands have a co-dependent relationship. The right color for any brand depends on whether or not it would be perceived as “right” for the product or service that your brand is selling. Thus, you need to be fairly accurate in making a prediction about consumer reaction to any color.
So, even though a color might represent a particular trait, you need to consider whether or not that vibe is the right one for what you are selling?
So for instance, the color blue has been an idealistic choice for Facebook but do you think the same color can be used by say, Chanel? How would you perceive the brand’s persona if it had a blue and red logo instead of a black one?
However, selecting your brand’s color isn’t that much of a jump over the fence if you’re opting for a single color – just refer to my list above or do some relevant market research and you’re sorted.
It gets difficult when you’ve got to make a composition – choosing the right colors (not color) for your brand’s identity.
It’s alright, take a deep breath. I’m here to lend you a helping hand.
An interesting read: A complete guide to visualisation of Shades through this Color Thesaurus
Dedicating this part of my blog to all those who need to add more color to their logos and branding strategies.
I must warn you though not to use this as a technical guide to building the perfect color for your brand. It’s merely an outline to assist you so don’t consider these steps as instructions that you need to follow under any circumstances. There is after-all no right answer to the question “Which color should I opt for my brand?” The best answer though would be “That depends on…….”
These would include your base color, a neutral color and your accent hue. The base color would be the color that’s most dominant in your branding strategies and logo.
The accent color comes right after your base color in terms of significance since this will be the color that replaces the base color where needed. Selecting this could be challenging though since both your base and accent need to be a happily married couple – they need to be an ideal match for one another.
The neutrals (as the name suggests) are the supporting characters of your branding strategy and logo. They seem insignificant but are really the hues that keep the other colors in check, balancing the whole composition. White, beige and Black – these colors fall under the description. Black though can be quite dominant so be careful when you’re using black as a neutral color instead of your base color.
At the end though, it is you who knows your brand best! There is no rule book that can be followed with respect to how your brand should look – only you can be the judge of that. Nevertheless, the smart route to take is to always hire professionals to build your brand’s personality in accordance with your vision.
Since the colors trigger emotions, it’s unwise to completely ignore your feelings – your brand needs to connect with you before connecting with your customers, right?
Waqas D. is the co-founder of the branding and website agency, FullStop™. He supercharges brands by crafting memorable logos, brand identities and engaging websites. Besides thousands of startups and medium-size businesses, FullStop has worked with likes of Microsoft & L’Oréal. View our portfolio or get in touch.
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