Color can play a major role in consumer decision-making. Without even knowing what your product is about, customers initially rely on brand colors to decide whether or not they want to engage and learn more about your brand.
Whether you lead a team undergoing a rebrand or plan to launch a game-changing new startup, understanding the impact of color on consumer behavior will help you choose the right colors to improve your brand image and recognition. To generate a positive customer response that leads to brand loyalty, use both the psychology of color and marketing design expertise to your advantage.
Below you’ll find six steps to guide you as you make color choices that reflect both your brand personality and your business goals.
Color psychology is the study of how colors affect perceptions and behaviors. From color meanings and symbolism to their impact on consumers, the research behind color theory allows us to understand color and use it to our advantage in branding and marketing. In a way, there’s a story behind every color, and that story is what can shape the mood and perception of your customers.
The popular brand examples below have done an incredible job building a brand that can be recognized by color alone. With a better understanding of color and research into the brand image you want to convey, you can also develop a color palette that is easily recognizable and loved.
Red is associated with danger, excitement, and energy, which can lead to impulsive behavior. Coke’s recognizable red came about for practical reasons. At that time, alcohol was taxed, but soft drinks were not. It turned out to be a good move, though, since we now know red can be a trigger for impulse buys.
Pink evokes a feminine energy that is sentimental and romantic. Different shades, like hot pink, can be youthful and bold. For example, the Barbie toy brand uses a saturated pink color that has been described as “Candy pink,” a color and item often associated with kids. When the brand and Barbie doll product were first created, the target audience was more or less exclusively young girls. Although the brand has evolved in its product line by introducing more diversity, it still maintains its signature hot pink color throughout its branding.
Orange, like its namesake, is fresh and full of vitality. It’s also creative, adventurous, and associated with being cost effective. The children’s TV station Nickelodeon (or Nick) is also known for its very childlike, bold, and bright brand color. The company’s logo, website, and social media marketing materials all incorporate a signature orange color. The color represents the many TV shows the station produces, full of youthful adventure and creativity.
Yellow conveys optimism. The color is associated with playfulness and happiness. Moreover, it is a color that is easiest to spot from a distance at night. It’s no surprise that McDonald’s made a strategic choice with its yellow arches. McDonald’s also uses red, a stimulating color that increases the heart rate, and as a result, the consumer’s appetite.
Blue and green are both trustworthy and reliable colors. Blue has a calming effect and is often used to comfort those in distress. Green provides an association with nature and is often used to demonstrate sustainability. But it can also align with prestige and wealth.
For example, Google’s brand colors consist of primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, as well as green. This simple and “back to basics” palette has a calming effect that makes its technology seem less intimidating and more trustworthy—appropriate for a company that prides itself on making things really easy to use.
Brown is another color that conveys a down-to-earth and honest appeal. It is often used for organic, wholesome products or services. For example, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)’s brand colors are brown, orange, and green. Since the color brown represents an organic, earthy aesthetic, it helps to strengthen WWOOF’s mission of building “a global community conscious of ecological farming and sustainability practices.”
Purple represents royalty and majesty. It is often associated with spirituality and mystery. For example, rumor has it Cadbury’s regal purple, aka Pantone 2865c, was chosen as a tribute to Queen Victoria. More than 100 years old, Cadbury first trademarked the color back in 1995; however, this started a chocolate war with Nestle, which argued it wasn’t distinctive enough to own. Today, although Cadbury no longer owns the color trademark, the company continues to protect and covet its distinct royal purple.
White is associated with pureness, simplicity, and innocence, often with a minimalistic feel. Black conveys a sophisticated and elegant style, which can be formal and luxurious. Apple is a famous brand that comes to mind when you think of both white and black branding. Passionate about design, Steve Jobs knew white is the color of purity, and it was in line with his vision of beautifully designed and flawless products. The crisp, minimalist feel of the white also stood out against the gray color used by competitors.
Multicolored branding represents a united company that is open to all. Using a multicolor approach is great for capturing the spirit of diversity. For example, Instagram’s logo and color scheme include a mix of 10 different colors. Its colors range from different shades of blue and purple to shades of red, orange, and yellow. Altogether, these colors symbolize Instagram’s passion for trust, ambition, creativity, and sociability.
Of course, within this spectrum, there are many additional colors and color combinations. Different hues, such as baby blue or navy, also contribute to the color story.
As a brand manager or leader, it’s important to be able to communicate well with your design team. If you don’t already know all the language related to color, do some research and learn the basics.
Using the proper terminology will help you increase efficiency and accuracy throughout the color selection process. Educate your team so that they can also articulate any thoughts or suggestions as you develop your color palette.
Here’s a quick breakdown of color terms you should know:
Once you know the language of color descriptors and design terms, you can make more specific requests and adjustments with your design team. Experiment with different color combinations and color settings to produce the exact brand colors you and your team need to boost your brand image.
Once you have an understanding of color theory and terminology, research and audit your competitors’ brand colors. To increase brand recognition and a preference for your brand, look for ways you can differentiate yourself with color.
Since your product often appears among competitors—either online or on the shelf—understanding why your competitors chose the colors they did can help your team make branding decisions that help you stand out. As you’re researching your competitors, use the following questions to delve into the why behind brand color choices:
If your product is sunscreen, you might find that many sunscreen brands choose to use lighter colors like yellow, white, pink, and blue. These colors symbolize the fact that sunscreen is often worn in bright, sunny places, near or in a body of water.
However, if your sunscreen product looks the same as everyone else’s, it’s easy for it to be overlooked. Instead, consider ways your product is different from other sunscreens. Is your sunscreen made sustainably? Is it environmentally friendly? If so, green is a great color option to use as your primary color or as part of your complementary colors.
Pinpoint colors that reflect your brand identity so that your audience immediately recognizes your brand when they see your colors.
One way to brainstorm your brand color scheme is to create a mind map of all the significant aspects of your brand identity. Using your competitive analysis data, brand identity, and core values, brainstorm color ideas with your brand marketing team. Consider which characteristics best represent your brand personality and attract your target audience.
Whether you are undergoing a rebrand or developing a color scheme for the first time, maintain a shared list of keywords and characteristics that describe your brand. This list can help your team spark relevant color ideas and ensure you maintain an objective perspective. It’s easy to perceive a color scheme as subjectively attractive to you rather than to consider whether it objectively represents your brand in the eyes of the consumer.
Consider what colors best mirror your business. Outline a clear description of your brand goals and how you want your target audience to feel. Work backward by focusing on the impact you want to make as a brand and the customer perception of your brand.
Prompts to help you work backward in your brainstorming session:
Let’s say your product is certified organic. A color typically associated with organic foods is brown. However, your brand identity and core values might focus more on celebrating innovation and sustainability. In this case, green or orange might be a better-suited primary color. Your secondary colors could be brown and/or yellow. When you combine all of these, you develop a color scheme to use in your branding materials as part of your brand color palette.
A color wheel or color palette generator helps brands find a swatch of colors that match their brand aesthetic or a style they are trying to emulate. Whether you have design experience or not, these tools are an efficient way to discover the exact colors that can make up your brand color palette.
Once you’ve finalized your brand color palette, create guidelines around which colors to use for various branding needs. These guidelines will help you maintain a consistent brand image. This is especially crucial if you work with a big team, freelance designers, or influencers. Your audience expects to see a certain color palette on social media.
To reduce audience confusion, make sure your guidelines are accessible to all content creators and stakeholders. Consult with other departments and team members to create a checklist of the most common types of marketing and branding content. Then choose the colors that match each of these touchpoints.
Here are some places where your brand colors can appear:
Create a mood board for each content type where your brand colors will appear. As you build your mood boards and brainstorm which colors to use where, consider the impact you want to make on your potential customer. Do you want them to feel excited and curious, leading them to contact you for information? Do you want them to feel emotional and moved to take action?
Test out your colors in various formats, like social media, printed business cards, or your website. For example, if your brand palette consists of both a soft, pastel blue color and a dark, bold red color, you may want to use the blue color more often on your website. In web design, blue is a popular coloramong consumers, and lighter, pastel colors elicit a more open and welcoming tone.
Once you’ve decided where your brand colors should appear, you can create folders to keep your branding elements and designs organized. When you create a folder for logos, a website, social media, and more, your team can refer to previous designs to ensure they are using the right combination of colors.
In addition to relying on past design examples for future branding designs, your team should have a single source of truth for all aspects related to brand colors. Create guidelines for your brand colors that are updated and refined regularly. These guidelines are key for consistency, collaboration, and efficiency.
Add your brand color codes and downloadable assets to your brand kit. For print or fabrics, be sure to include CMYK and PMS colors, as well as digital colors in both RGB and HEX. Your brand kit can also include relevant templates, designs, and images that give your team examples of how and when to use certain brand colors.
There are also various ways you can connect your other brand guidelines to your brand color guidelines. This includes:
Your brand overview. Decide which colors should be associated with any content about the history, mission statement, or personality of your brand.
Tone of Voice. The way you speak to customers or the messages you want to communicate may vary slightly depending on the circumstances. But the tone should remain consistent and be represented with a consistent font color.
Typography or font. Designate specific colors for each font style and its corresponding location (e.g., email, print, or website).
Image, illustration, and other design styles. Provide guidelines on the brand colors that can appear as subject matter or design elements in the photos you use on social media or your website.
When you have clear guidance on how your brand colors align with your brand’s tone of voice, typography, and other design styles, your brand management capabilities and efforts will pay off. Choosing the right brand colors will help you develop a positive brand image and reputation. By following the steps outlined above and developing a clear and purposeful color palette, you can turn your audience from casual onlookers to loyal fans.