A Complete Guide to Choosing the Right Colours for your Brand

guide-choosing-right-colours-for-brand

The application of colour in branding is more than just a creative concern. It is not something that should be based on a whim (I want my logo to be red because red is my favourite colour!) or a design look (green is the colour of the year!) with no regard to the implications the choice of colour brings. Colour is not just a design element as some business owners and graphic designers tend to believe. The right application of colour can connect a brand to its target market, can communicate much more effectively than the logo form and can determine whether a brand can be trusted.

Often, the application of colour to logo design and branding results in a passionate discussion between opposing points of view. One side believes colour and persuasion, or even a call to action, are intricately linked. That red makes you bold, yellow makes you happy and green makes you health-conscious. The other side believes that colour is too dependent on “personal factors” like age, gender, state of health, upbringing and culture to be categorically “boxed”. They argue that colour can mean many things to different people across different cultures. That while white is a colour of purity in the Western world, in China it is a colour of mourning. And while red is the colour of purity in India, it is the colour of mourning in South Africa.

Whether you are for or against either of these two opposing views, that is not what this article is about. It is about the common thread these opposing views share: How to choose the right colour for your brand?

“The first point of interaction is shaped by the color, and color is the most memorable sense”, says Leslie Harrington1, the author of Color Strategy: Leveraging Color. “Before anything else, they see color.”

The power of choosing the right colour

However a colour is defined, whatever emotion or action it promotes, it will continue to affect branding (and yes, even purchasing). Why? Because colour communicates meanings and messages faster and more effectively than words.

Colour demands attention, creates a perception and registers recognition before form does. It is therefore safe to assume that before the consumer can make sense of what your illustration is about, colour has already begun to do its work.

color-quote

About 62-90 percent of people base their perception of a company or a product on colour alone2. This means that what your consumer thinks of you depends largely on the colours you’ve chosen to represent your brand. Keep this in mind the next time you design meticulously but chose colour recklessly. Remember it when you focus so much on the form of your logo but not enough on what colours it will have.

Finding the right colour requires just as much thought, if not more. Colour is a very powerful tool. Colour can increase your brand’s recognition by as much as 80%.3 Colour is crucial to establishing your brand identity (who you are) as well as your brand personality (how you come across). The following infographic from WebPageFX sums up how important colour is.

psychology-of-color

Rule 1 – Choose a colour that communicates the personality of the brand

In a study done on brand personality, there are five dimensions, or five ways, people perceive brand identities.4

five-personality-dimensions

Where does your brand fall? Most brands fall into one dimension while a few fall into several. It is important to focus on the primary dimension of the brand and focus on the most dominant trait. One primary dimension; one dominant trait.

Now, let’s “translate” that dimension and trait into a communicative colour.

Colour Connotations

Colours evoke differing interpretations and emotions for people from various cultures. However, there still exists a standard response to particular colours that is shared by the majority of people. Designers can use this universal interpretation as a base reference for their designs.

A thesis done on consumer’s perceptions of colour used in logos tried to prove that consumers associate certain colours with specific characteristics or traits.5 The findings do seem to contradict the interpretation of colours in the cultural context (at first glance) until one realises that this time, it is not about making the consumer do or feel something. It is about communicating to the consumer what the brand is about. These are two different things. One is focused on the consumer and the other is focused on the brand. One is after an action while the other is after an understanding.

While there are hundreds of articles (no exaggeration, there are really hundreds) written on what a particular colour stands for, we opted to present and use “colour interpretations” backed up by research6 to match colours to particular traits:

colour-connotation

Pick one colour, or pick two if you think your brand strongly falls under two dimensions. Choose freely, but wisely. Do not choose a colour simply because all those in your industry have the same. No industry can lay claim to a colour (green is not only for natural products). Never limit yourself by thinking you cannot choose a colour simply because no one else in the industry is using it, or by choosing one simply because every other business has that colour in their logo.

The goal is to select a colour because it best speaks about your brand’s personality. Choose one that your target customers will relate to and understand within 90 seconds or less.

Take for instance the combination of red (exciting/hardworking) and yellow (energetic/fast). Why do you think the following companies need to “project” these traits to their consumers? What makes it important that these traits be communicated in the first 90 seconds?

famous-red-yellow-logos

Design colour guide: Catch my attention

But what about colour preferences? Don’t they count? Isn’t it important to know the colours that will appeal to your audience? The answer is YES. It is important. BUT not as important as selecting colours that MEAN something and COMMUNICATE who you are.

Was there any research to help designers determine which colours appeal to specific markets like age and gender? This is where Kissmetrics seems to trump the rest of those who have presented similar ideas. Kissmetrics amazingly presented data from various studies in a clear, cohesive infographic that packs in just about everything that matters on the topic. It’s hands-down, the best infographic ever made on colour preferences.

gender-colour-preferences

Kissmetrics presented that colour blue is the favourite for both men and women. Fifty-seven percent of men said blue was their favourite colour, followed by green (14%), black (9%), red (7%) and orange (5%). Purple got zero. For women, blue (35%) was first, followed by purple (23%), green (14%), red (9%) and black (6%).

Least favourite colours for men were brown (27%), orange (22%), purple (22%), yellow (13%), white and grey (5% each). For women, it was orange (33%), brown (20%), grey (17%), yellow (13%) and purple (8%). Both male and female participants considered the following colours to be cheap or inexpensive – orange (26%), yellow (22%), brown (13), red, white (9% each) and grey (8%).

Using Dimension/Trait and Colour Connotation while keeping in mind which particular colours will appeal to your target market, selecting branding colours thus becomes a more logical and scientific process than the creative, “feel-good/look-good,” hit-and-miss one most people would like to think it is.

colour-preferences-by-gender

So, are we done now? No. It is important to keep in mind that choosing a colour based on appeal is NOT as important as choosing a colour that communicates the brand personality or a colour that is appropriate to the product. Colour preferences by age or gender are a guide. It is not a rule and some brands have successfully “defied” this.

Take, for instance, the colour yellow. Both genders list yellow as their least favourite colour. Both genders also stated that yellow is synonymous with cheapness. If this was a rule, Ferrari should not be one of the world’s most luxurious sports cars and their predominantly yellow logo would not be recognised worldwide.

ferrari-logo

Rule 2 – Select a colour that is appropriate to the product

The keyword in choosing colour is congruity. It is the perceived appropriateness of a given colour to the product being sold as gauged by your audience. For instance, if your product is an all-natural, biodegradable, “Mother Nature at her finest” kind of thing, choosing the colour gold over earth-tones like green and brown will not make sense to your customers. Gold will not “feel” right.

In the same manner, choosing the colour pink to brand a chainsaw will not make sense either. Softer, feminine colours will be out of sync with the powerful tools often associated with, or used by men – unless of course you are a brand that specifically/exclusively caters to women who use power tools.

This is what is meant by congruity or appropriateness. The chosen colour must be appropriate to the product.7

There are two ways to go about choosing a suitable colour. One way is to choose one that implies a function of the product. For example, the soap brand can be coloured blue because this “shows” that the product is safe and that it can really clean. Another way to colour “appropriately” is to choose one that implies an idea about the product. For example, the soap with all its special nutrients will make your customer’s skin feel baby soft so you choose the colour pink for health and beauty. Determine which message is important to get across to your target consumer. Knowing this will help you determine the best colour for the brand.

detergent-brands-logo

It is no wonder that most detergent brands share the colour blue (reliable/trustworthy) and yellow (energetic/fast). Additional colours perhaps stand for more traits, or are included in the mix simply because they look good.

Another study confirms that colours influence how consumers view the brand’s personality.8 The stronger the perceived “appropriateness” or connection between the chosen colour, the product and the brand, the more effectively it can establish itself in the market.

The key then, is not in discovering which colours will catch the attention of your target consumer – although that too is desired to a lesser degree. What is more important than getting your consumers to notice you is getting them to understand what you are about. What is more important than knowing which colour will attract your target consumers, is to know which colour speaks about your product and enforces the personality of your brand. Catching attention is one thing. Having a message is another. Having your audience’s attention without a message to tell is bad branding.

marlboro-package-color

Rule 3 – Select a colour that will differentiate you and not associate you with your competition

If you think being associated with your competitor (more so if it’s a huge company) is a good thing (simply because people will automatically know the kind of company you are), you are wrong. The “similarity” will never work to your benefit. You will always be compared to your competition. Your brand will never be unique. It will forever be just an imitation… a copy-cat… a “me-too.”

starbucks-copy-logos

If your brand is the first of its kind and you are in an industry by yourself – you get first dibs and are able to choose your colours freely. If you’re not the first, choosing a colour that’s not associated with your competition is the best way to go.

Rule 4 – Colour truthfully

Harrington stated: “Consumers know intuitively if the colour and brand connect, and if it’s authentic. If it doesn’t connect, it turns them off. Whether it’s trendy or not, or whether they like it or not, won’t necessarily matter as much as if it’s authentic.”

If your product is not a luxury brand and is priced mid-range, designing a logo that speaks “luxurious” in the hopes of getting that particular market to look your way, will not work. They will discover the discrepancy – that your brand not “luxurious” and that you are pretending to be one.

You have to be honest. A “good looking” logo must communicate the truth.

Design and communicate all you want but if the target market cannot process the message, then the logo no matter how great it looks, will fail to connect. It is not about having a good-looking logo. It is about having a logo that clearly communicates the important truths about the company. Truths like mission and vision, history and aspirations, value and character — all at least to a certain degree.

Don’t say one thing with your design and say an entirely different thing with your colour. It will not work. Even if you choose a colour based on an idea, rather than a function. People will see through the “discrepancy” and turn away from your brand.Colour is a potent tool. It isn’t just something you add to your logo or your brand to make it interesting or visually appealing. Just like form, colour must serve a purpose. However, unlike form, colour communicates your message in 90 seconds or less, and within that time, your audience has formed an idea about your company or your brand. Think about this the next time you look at a colour palette and instruct your designer: “I want my logo to be red because red is my favourite colour!”

Resources

  1. How to Choose the Right Colour for your Brand. Eric Markowitz.
  2. Satyendra Singh, (2006) “Impact of color on marketing”, Management Decision, Vol. 44 Iss: 6, pp.783 – 789. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/00251740610673332
  3. Jill Morton, Color Psychologist and Branding Expert. Author of Color Voodoo. Why color matters.
  4. Jennifer L. Aaker Dimensions of Brand Personality. 1997 August, Journal of Marketing Research Volume XXXIV pp437-356. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/sites/gsb/files/publication-pdf/Dimensions_of_Brand_Personality.pdf
  5. Jessica Lee Ridgway 2011 Brand Personality: Consumer’s Perceptions of Color Used in Brand Logos, University of Missouri. https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10355/14966/research.pdf?sequence=2
  6. Jessica Lee Ridgway 2011 Brand Personality: Consumer’s Perceptions of Color Used in Brand Logos, University of Missouri. https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10355/14966/research.pdf?sequence=2
  7. Bottomley, Paul Andrew and Doyle, John R. 2006. The interactive effects of colors and products on perceptions of brand logo appropriateness. Marketing Theory 6 (1) , pp. 63-84. 10.1177/1470593106061263. http://mtq.sagepub.com/content/6/1/63
  8. Labrecque, Lauren and Milne, George R. 2012 Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.- Springer Science + Business Media LLC, ISSN 0092-0703, ZDB-ID 11878654. – Vol. 40.2012, 5, p. 711-727. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11747-010-0245-y#page-1