Colour theory is an often-overlooked aspect of branding; too many people think of branding as nothing more than a logo and it’s styling, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Typography, styling, spacing and colour all have the potential to create a massive impact when it comes to the perception of your brand, with colour psychology taking the front-seat when it comes to importance.
To put it simply, certain colours typically provoke certain emotions, so the colour of your brand will have an effect on how your customers feel when they interact with your company.
What’s more, colour can also be used to achieve recognition. In fact, in some industries, certain companies literally “own” certain colours (think red and Coca Cola, for example).
Below, we’re going to delve deeper into colour and branding, and explore how it affects your brain, the impact it has on different people, and how you can use it to your advantage when branding a company.
Think of it as a crash-course in colour and branding.
The Colour Emotion Guide
There have been a lot of attempts over the years to simplify the subject of colour psychology into handy infographics, guides and resources; the most well known of which is perhaps the one featured above (created by The Logo Company).
This infographic assigns a rough emotion to each colour, and provides examples of well-known brands utilising said colour in their branding.
This is a great place to start when it comes to colour psychology and branding, as it offers a good indication of general colour psychology based on some of the research out there, but it’s important to remember that these rules aren’t set in stone.
You’ll see a number of well-known brands that go against the grain in this respect, and they’re doing just fine.
You may also notice that while most of these infographics/guides/resources generally associate the same emotions with the same colours, there are slight variations in the advice given (and the depth/detail of that advice, too).
For example, take a look at the excerpt above from an infographic created by www.FastPrint.co.uk ; you’ll see that the emotion(s) associated with orange vary slightly from some other resources (including the one previously featured).
The Colour Emotion Guide writes that orange is a friendly, cheerful and confident colour, whereas the second infographic pitches it as innovative, youthful, fun and affordable.
So, which is it?
The answer: it depends.
Like I said before, the answer is never set in stone, and this is something you really need to be aware of when following this advice. What’s more, the same colours can also represent completely different ideas for different brands.
The McDonalds/Coca Cola Example
If you were to ask almost anyone which colour they most associate with Coca Cola, you can be sure that the vast majority would say red, without a doubt.
As mentioned, Coca Cola pretty much owns red when it comes to branding, especially within the soft drink industry.
But, if you were to ask people what colour they most associated with McDonalds, chances are that they’d also say red (or maybe yellow).
Now, while both of these brands make predominant use of the same colour throughout their branding, they stand for completely different things (and I’m sure most consumers would think of the brand in completely different ways).
For example, here’s a recent promotional piece from Coca Cola (as part of their “Open Happiness” campaign):
If you’ve seen any of the Open Happiness promotions from Coca Cola, you might have noticed that Coca Cola is aligning itself with predominantly with the emotion of happiness, but also passion, warmth and youthfulness.
Coca Cola is attempting to position their brand (and therefore, their product) as something youthful and fun; something you drink together with your friends; and something that stands for “happy times”.
Now, here’s a piece of promotional material from McDonalds:
Hopefully, you see that despite the same use of red, the general feeling and emotion here is much different from that of Coca Cola.
Rather than coming across as youthful, passionate, or happy, the brand comes across more as energetic (see the infographic excerpt above).
Yes, the brand does still have aspects of passion and youthfulness to it (especially in other promotional materials and campaigns), but it makes perfect sense that McDonalds would align itself with the emotion of energy.
This is because McDonalds is a fast food brand; providing energy to their customers is exactly what they do. The whole concept of fast food is energetic in nature.
The point here is that the same colours can mean different things to different brands; so if you think it works for your company and your customers, go for it.
Colour Psychology and Gender
Another thing to note when it comes to colour psychology is that of the male/female divide.
While the various infographics and guides out there (including the ones featured above) are great at offering a general idea of colour psychology and emotions, they fail to take into account the differences in perception across genders.
Why is this a problem?
It’s a problem because typically (unless you’re a huge international brand like Coca Cola), brands will typically target a certain demographic (e.g. males aged 18 – 35).
Therefore, it can often pay to utilise colours for your brand that your target demographic are likely to respond to.
I guess the most stereotypical and obvious example of this is the old-fashioned: pink for girls; blue for boys.
However, that logic is pretty much flawed, as you’ll see below:
According to the research, blue is the favourite colour of females, closely followed by purple, green, then red.
For males, things look slightly different:
Blue is still number one (with 57%), but it’s followed by green, black, then red, etc.
It’s interesting research to say the least; favourite colours also vary significantly by age group (you can check out the full research here).
What Conclusion Can You Draw from All of This?
So, at this stage, you might be thinking, “that’s all very interesting, but how am I supposed to act on this information when branding my company?”
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer; colour psychology is always going to be subjective to a certain extent, but here’s the course of action that I’d personally take when contemplating brand colours for a new company:
- I’d look at the favourite colours for the age group and gender of my target demographic (based on the research above).
- I’d think about what I wanted people to feel when they think of my brand, and choose corresponding colours (based on the emotional guides above).
- I’d look at the colours competitors are using within my industry, and look for trends.
- I’d consider using a colour that stands out from the trend, to establish myself within the industry (can be a risky choice, though).
Aside from that, it’s going to be down to personal preference, unless you’ve got the budget to embark upon A/B testing, focus groups, and so forth (which most start-ups simply don’t).
Bio: Joshua is a brand enthusiast from England, UK. He has worked with brands of all shapes and sizes on brand strategy, and has achieved great results for his own companies in the past too. Two brands he really admires are Apple and Google.