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Branding colors: Selecting you color palette based on color psychology

2019-05-11

By: Kristen Kuchar

Color is a big part of our world.

The colors we surround ourselves with can impact our mood, change our energy levels, invoke memories, and even influence our decisions. As you can imagine, color is a powerful player in people's perceptions of your brand as well.

A blog post on Elle & Co. says 60% of people decide whether they're attracted to a message based on the color alone — and color reinforces brand recognition by up to 80%.

Point is, color makes a big impact on customers.

This is why Google has reportedly tested 41 different shades of blue in its logo to see which blue performed best. The winning color, according to dozens of charts and graphs, was not too green and not too red.

"It's interesting to see how you can change the way that people respond to the Web in ways that are not intuitive," Google executive Marissa Meyer explained.

Color branding is about your customers

Many brands have a signature color (or colors) that makes them easily recognizable.

In many cases, it would be odd to see their logo in a different color. Can you imagine McDonald's golden arches in a bright purple instead? What if Starbucks' logo wasn't green & white, Pepsi's logo wasn't blue & red, and Target's wasn't red all around?

When we see that bubblegum-pink writing, we know it's Barbie — and when we see the tiny blue f, we know it's Facebook.

But, it's not just the logo. As an article on SpellBrand suggests, there are many ways to incorporate color into your branding:

  • advertising

  • business cards

  • employee uniforms

  • interior design at retail locations (and in the office)

  • letterhead

  • marketing materials

  • product packaging

  • signage

  • social media graphics

  • website

According to Aprimo, marketing activities should focus on customers to create positive experiences each time they interact with your brand. Color will be part of those interactions, so deciding which color to use often comes down to who your customers are.

Emma Foley, design lead at Clique Studios, says, "As much as you might want them to, everyone is not going to be your audience. So, if you focus in and build a strong community of people you want to talk to, you can do a lot with using color as the first interaction with those people."

For example, color has the power to make your website stand out among similar websites.

"One of your website visitors might think, 'They are using this hot pink in a world of traditional blue and that's really interesting. I want to learn more about this company'," Emma explains.

She says there are really two schools of thought about how companies should manage color: 1) this is our brand color so we have to use it or 2) play around with colors because the rest of the brand is strong.

Before deciding which color makes sense for your brand, it's important to take a step back and think about what colors mean.

What is color psychology?

Simply put, color psychology is the study of colors and their impact on human behavior. Sometimes color can influence unexpected things like our sense of taste. According to Neil Patel, "Color is 85% of the reason you purchased a specific product." Sounds like good enough reason to implement a couple color psychology tricks into your own branding efforts.

However, keep in mind that our feelings about certain colors are personal and depend on both life experience and culture. For example, while the color white is used in the Western world to represent purity & innocence, in Eastern countries white is a symbol of death & mourning.

Types of colors and their impact on human behavior

The color wheel features two types of colors: warm tones & cool tones. Warm colors include red, orange & yellow and are associated with energy, passion & creativity. These tones are great for adding life to your designs. Cold colors include green, purple & blue and have a calming, soothing effect on people. (This is why you never see flashy colors in hospitals and waiting rooms.)

There's another type of color which isn't represented on the traditional color wheel: neutral tones. Neutral tones include white, grey & brown. In design, these colors are mostly used for backgrounds. To make those colors stand out more, you can add texture to your artwork.

Color psychology in branding

The concept of branding is based on the belief that colors (and other design choices) can evoke specific reactions & feelings. Despite the ubiquitous use of color in marketing, there's not enough research to back up every assumption. However, over the years, marketers & designers have identified patterns that appear to influence customers' purchase decisions.

If chosen correctly, your color palette can influence how customers feel about your brand.

Red

Red color branding

Source: Unsplash

The color red is associated with intensity, emotion, and a sense of urgency. It can invoke feelings of active energy, passion, trust, love, intensity, aggression, excitement and appetite.

McDonald's uses red to provoke the appetite and a feeling of urgency. (Good move for a fast-food chain.)

Red logos

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Brands that use red: McDonald's, Audi, Coca-Cola, CNN, Lego, Canon, KFC, TLC, ESPN, Target, Levi's, Virgin and Netflix.

Blue

Blue color branding

Source: Unsplash

While there are many shades of blue that mean different things, blue is generally associated with depth and stability. It's associated with conservative judgment, confidence, truth, order and understanding.

Invoking feelings of peacefulness & reliability, blue is the favorite color of tech & finance companies. For example, look at Facebook and Twitter. Those two companies use different shades of blue to portray trustworthiness & authority.

Blue logos

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Brands that use blue: United Airlines, Chase Bank, Dell, Ford, General Electric, Twitter, Oreo, Lowe's, AT&T and Samsung.

Yellow

Yellow color branding

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Yellow is a bright & vivid color associated with positive energy, sunshine and freshness. It can make people feel alive, energetic, cheerful and optimistic. In branding, yellow tends to grab attention as a very bright color that stands out. Snapchat uses yellow to appeal to younger generations and make their experience light & fun.

Yellow logos

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Brands that use yellow: Subway, Shell, Post-it, Lay's, Denny's, Hertz and Snapchat.

Beige & ivory

Beige color branding

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While it's not used too often, beige and ivory can invoke a feeling of simplicity, calm and pleasant stability.

Tilemark is a great example of a brand that uses beige & ivory.

Beige color branding

Source: Tilemark

Gray

Gray color branding

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Gray is associated with security, reliability, dignity, practicality, conservative judgment, calm and intelligence.

Gray logos

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Brands that use gray: Wikipedia, Swarovski, Lexus and Nissan.

Green

Green color branding

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The color green is associated with the harmony of nature, the environment and renewal. When looking at green, people often feel calm, relaxed, trusting, peaceful, hopeful and healthy.

Green is all about nature and is used by bio-friendly, organic and sustainable brands. If you want to portray your services as environmentally safe, green is your color of choice.

Green logos

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Brands that use green: Holiday Inn, Starbucks, Animal Planet, Spotify, Land Rover, John Deere, Tropicana, Tic Tac and Hulu.

Purple

Purple color branding

Source: Unsplash

Purple is symbolic of luxury, royalty, glamour, power, nostalgia, romance, introspection, nobility, spirituality and wisdom. It also stimulates creativity and problem-solving.

For centuries, purple has been the color of royalty. (Before the modern age, purple dyes and fabrics were both expensive and rare.) With its history, it's not surprising that companies use purple to portray their brands as expensive & luxurious.

Purple logos

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Brands that use purple: Yahoo, Marketo, FedEx, Syfy, Taco Bell, Purplebricks, Purple, Hallmark and Wonka.

Orange

Orange color branding

Source: Unsplash

The color orange is associated with happiness, sunshine, citrus and the tropics. Orange is a playful color that makes people feel enthusiastic, creative and determined. It stimulates mental activity and supports energy, vibrancy and warmth.

Orange can be also associated with fire, combining the warmth of red with the happy brilliance of yellow. Orange tends to communicate energy & optimism. Usually, orange is associated with youth and creativity. If you want to look adventurous & competitive, orange is your color!

Orange logos

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Brands that use orange: The Home Depot, Nickelodeon, Firefox, Izze, Amazon, Fanta, Payless and Harley Davidson.

White

White color branding

Source: Unsplash

White symbolizes cleanliness, peace, innocence, youth, simplicity, purity and safety. As a reminder that colors mean different things in different cultures, it's interesting to note that white carries connotations of death and mourning in many Asian cultures.

White logos

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Brands that use white: The North Face, Tesla and Vans.

Black

Black color branding

Source: Unsplash

Black symbolizes luxury and the mystery of the night. It's bold, serious, powerful, elegant, wealthy, stylish and sophisticated.

Like red, black can convey both positive & negative emotions. It can invoke associations of power & minimalism, or on the other hand, it can portray something dangerous or gloomy. Depending on the context, its meaning can differ. In branding, however, black usually comes across as exclusive & luxurious.

Black logos

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Brands that use black: Chanel, Nike, Adidas, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Puma and Lamborghini.

Pink

Pink color branding

Source: Unsplash

Pink symbolizes love, romance, tenderness, caring, sweetness, warmth and youthful fun.

Pink logos

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Brands that use pink: Barbie, Baskin Robbins, T-Mobile, Lyft, LG and PINK.

Brown

Brown color branding

Source: Unsplash

Brown is associated with the earth, reliability, support, dependability, the outdoors, simplicity, endurance and support.

Brown logos

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Brands that use brown: UPS, Hershey's, M&Ms, Gloria Jean's Coffee and Cracker Barrel.

Key takeaway

While color has the power to affect people's moods, choosing your brand colors shouldn't be based on emotional response alone. As Emma Foley of Clinique says, "There's so much more that goes into a brand than a logo and color." Once you understand your brand's customers and values, you can create a brand color palette that speaks to them.

Ready to start testing your new brand identity? Try creating a few logo variations in Lucidpress, using your brand colors.

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Kristen Kuchar

Kristen Kuchar is a writer & editor who has had the opportunity to cover several industries for a wide variety of national publications. Her specialities include travel, as well as the beverage, food & restaurant industries.

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