Brand Color Theory: Why Color Matters
The Psychology of Color
Colors have a powerful impact on our emotions and can evoke specific feelings or moods—whether we like it or not! Okay, it may be a little more nuanced than that. Color psychology is the study of how colors impact our emotions, behavior, and perceptions. While it's true that our brains are wired to respond to certain color stimuli in specific ways, much of the way we react to color is based on our own experiences. Personal preference, cultural history, and context all play a big role in how color affects our psyches.
Despite the complexity of the psychology of color, applying color theory to branding is a key part of establishing a successful brand identity. Simply put, color matters for your brand. A brand's colors alone may not be able to convince you to buy a product or use a service, but strategically chosen colors can help build brand equity and recognition.
By understanding how colors impact our emotions, businesses can strategically use color in their branding to create specific associations and emotions in their target audience, helping to create a strong brand identity and marketing strategies to increase consumer engagement.
So which colors should you use?
Well, there's no easy answer. If you search for brand color theory, you can find dozens of articles that break down what each color "means." For example, warm colors like red, orange, and yellow tend to create a sense of excitement, energy, warmth, and confidence, while cooler blue is dependable, strong, and secure. Green evokes nature, growth, and freshness, and purple wisdom and imagination.
But it's really not that straightforward. Something as simple as changing the shade or tone of a color can create different emotions.
Even similar colors applied in different contexts can change the meaning and effect. Barbie pink and T-mobile pink are functionally almost the same color, but because of the vastly different brand voices and strategies behind the color, the pink evokes different reactions in their audiences.
Basic color theories exist to give a logical architecture to how we use color to define specific concepts and feelings, but it's important to remember that without a cohesive strategy behind a brand's palette, colors can be largely up to individual interpretation and lose impact.
With all that in mind, we can start with some of the most basic associations and build from there.
Bold, brave, energetic, passionate, dominant, youthful. It's even theorized that red stimulates hunger!
Think: McDonald's, Kellogg's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, Coca-Cola, Target, Nintendo, Marvel, ESPN, and Old Spice.
Cheerful, fun, friendly, lively, confident, optimistic. Darker shades of orange lend themselves to more "earthy" feeling brands, while brighter shades evoke an exciting playfulness.
Think: Nickelodeon, Home Depot, Harley Davidson, Reese's, Firefox, MasterCard, Dunkin', and Bitcoin.
Positive, happy, energetic, youthful, attention-grabbing, safety, caution. Because of its brightness, the eye is often drawn to yellow first, making it great to use as a pop of color paired with other colors in logos, packaging, and displays.
Think: Snapchat, IKEA, Sprint, Best Buy, Nesquik, Mailchimp, National Geographic, Lipton, Pokemon, and Lays.
Nature, balance, freshness, health, growth, prosperity, luxury. Green is overwhelmingly used in branding to indicate natural, fresh, and environmentally-friendly products or products and services related to agriculture. It also connects to wealth and money, so we often see it used for financial products and services. With a darker green tone, we head into luxury brand territory.
Think John Deere, Whole Foods, Animal Planet, Spotify, Girl Scouts, Sierra Club, Lacoste, Land Rover, Sprite, Quickbooks, and H&R Block.
Trustworthy, dependable, clean, business, likability. Blue logos are popular, and that's because blue is a popular color, with surveys reporting around a third of Americans citing blue as their favorite color. Blue also is frequently used in the business and corporate sectors because it feels predictable and official.
Think: Chase, Intel, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Ford, HP, PayPal, Samsung, Pfizer, Dell, The Weather Channel, and Aquafina.
Wisdom, creativity, imagination, fantasy, femininity, luxury, decadence. Purple can be a wild card when used in branding because many colors use it to differentiate themselves from competitors, as purple is less commonly used as a primary logo color.
Think: Twitch, Taco Bell, SyFy, Roku, Claire's, Yahoo, FedEx, Prilosec, Cadbury, and Hallmark.
Feminine, happy, youthful, love, kindness, seductive, confident. It's no secret that for decades pink has been largely used to sell female-focused products. Today, we see pink popping up more and more as an unexpected way for businesses to stand out in a crowded market.
Think: Barbie, Avon, Victoria's Secret, Cosmopolitan, Lyft, Taco Bell, T-mobile, Baskin Robbins, Trolli, and Betsey Johnson.
How to choose your brand colors
Choosing your brand colors must start with strategy first. A strategy-first approach to branding will help you lay the foundation for all of the building blocks. Your brand strategy should inform every choice made about your visual identity.
When it's time to start thinking about color choices, start by asking some cursory questions. If you're rebranding, are there colors that already hold brand equity for you or colors you shouldn't use because they hold brand equity for a competitor? Are your colors going to be displayed mostly in a digital space, or do you have lots of physical materials or products that need packaging design? What colors are trendy in your industry? What colors speak to your brand's personality?
Choosing colors can feel deceptively simple, but your color selection can make a big impact on your brand's success. Employing the help of creative experts at a branding agency like Quill Creative Studio will allow you to feel confident that the colors chosen for you are rooted in thorough research and theory and don't miss the mark.
How many colors should you choose?
The number of colors in your brand's color palette will depend entirely on your unique business and what you're trying to achieve. As always, your color palette should be steered by the brand strategy you establish first. Then you can decide if you want to plant your flag in one specific color and make it "yours" or if you'll use more of a confetti approach with a variety of colors that you use more evenly throughout the customer experience. The latter is an especially effective approach for businesses that sell consumer products that need distinct packaging or service-based businesses that offer a diverse range of services.
Typically businesses have a few primary and accent colors used in specific combinations. Even if you go with a broader palette of colors, the palette should still feel cohesive and rooted in a consistent vibrancy or tone.
How to implement color theory into your branding
Think of your brand's color scheme and visual interfaces as another way to convey your message to your target audience. Your marketing collateral, website design, packaging, and each and every customer touchpoint should use your colors strategically. Pay attention to layout and imagery, which work in tandem with your colors to continue reinforcing your brand's identity.
If you work with a creative agency to build your brand, your brand guide should be an invaluable resource for effectively implementing your color palette, layout, and imagery. For example, when an organization receives a completed brand guide from Quill, they will always see a full overview of their colors, why the colors have been chosen, and a variety of examples of different layouts where you can see appropriate usage of colors.
Real-world examples of color theory in action
Following decades of producing raw pet treats and expanding distribution, Momentum Carnivore Nutrition knew it was time to invest in a brand update to better compete on a national level. They wanted their customers to feel the energy that momentum provides, even if they're seeing the packaging for the first time.
As Quill developed the unique brand position, we rooted our approach to visual identity in the idea that when you give your pet momentum, it's cause for celebration.
When creating the color palette, our brand strategists and designers worked together to create a set of colors with a muted vibrancy, evoking momentum and motion but remaining accessible. Steering away from competitor colors that traditionally highlight a natural or nutritional angle allowed us to differentiate Momentum in an impactful way.
On Momentum's packaging, a rectangular window that's moving in the right direction creates a design element that's repeated in a way that almost feels like confetti. This subliminal visual cue sets the stage for emotional benefits and provides consistency and eye-catching impact across the shelf and other touchpoints.
Rebranding an organization that has established brand equity is always a delicate task. Led by the brand promise and established positioning, Quill worked to evolve Fork Farm's brand while still supporting the core pillars of their mission.
Inspired by a design that's intimate, empowering, simple, and sustainable, Quill's team used clean layout, organic shapes, and approachable typography to bring the updated personality of Fork Farms to life.
The color palette is rooted in green, conjuring a feeling of both lushness and freshness and communicating the commitment to sustainability and natural practices. We use different, complimentary shades of green throughout the entire customer experience to create an accessible continuity.
This cottage outdoor gear company based in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is on a mission to design, produce and sell ultralight backpacks and outdoor accessories online. Their fun-loving, vibrant, and small-team approach provided a roadmap for creating a brand identity that matched that energy while also giving them a foundation to scale a rapidly growing e-commerce business.
Their unique and vibrant color palette seeks to represent their fun-loving yet authentic vibe, pulling colors and textures from their line of products to create a feeling of connection. The designers at Quill Creative Studio also paid special attention to selecting imagery that shifted to a more people-centered focus rather than a scenery-centered one commonly used by competitors.
Ready to get colorful? Let's chat.
Carefully selected brand colors paired with a solid brand strategy are a foundational building block of great branding. If you're ready to take your branding to the next level, chat with a brand strategist at Quill Creative Studio. We can help your business stand apart from the competition, one color at a time.