How To Choose Your Brand Colour

A step by step guide on how to choose your brand colours, and when to use them

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Posted by Cat How, May 22, 2018

Colour is one of the most primitive, instinctive forms of communication we have. On both a conscious and subconscious level, colours convey meaning – not only in the natural world but also within the artifice of society and our visual culture.

Colours can set a mood, convey an emotion, attract attention or make a statement; and harnessing colour psychology and the feelings that colours can conjure or create, is one of the most powerful tools a designer has.

It is important to understand that your brand colours are what people will recognise, and associate with your brand. It is this combination of colours, or lead brand colour – not specifically the logo – that people will remember. Think Cadbury’s iconic purple, or Tiffany’s iconic robin egg blue (see hero image) – colours that have become synonymous with both brands (and trademarked by them too). In 2012, Cadbury won a landmark hearing to win the exclusive use of its signature Pantone 2685C – as used in its Dairy Milk packaging.

In fact research by Color Communications found that it takes about 90 seconds for someone to form an opinion of a brand. Within that time, between 62% and 90% of decisions are influenced by colour alone. So if you make the wrong decision on the colour for your brand, you’re passing up on a great opportunity to make a strong first impression – which would be a huge shame! Below is a step by step guide to help you make the most informed decisions.

Colour Wheel designed by Polleni

1. Understand what colours mean, and how they make people feel

Colours are imbued with multiple layers of meaning – some formed from primitive responses based on millions of years of evolved instinct; to the complex, cultural associations between colour and emotion we make based on learned assumptions. According to a study called The Interactive Effects of Colour, colours are most effective when consumers believe that the brand’s colour ‘fits’ the brand – and speaks to them on a certain level. Read my post about the specific meanings of colours here but for example – a company selling to discerning organic-focused foodies, should probably use green or brown in their branding rather than vibrant yellow or acid orange, associated with processed food.

2. Think about what brand identity you have an what you want it to represent

If a colour speaks to a customer, what is it you are wanting to tell them about your brand? Leading on from what we discussed above about foodies – the fast food industry has undergone significant brand colour re-alignments over the past few years, specifically because they want to change their perceived brand values… through colour. McDonalds has been synonymous with red and yellow since it was founded in 1955. They are colours associated with speed and efficiency, and research has also shown both colours stimulate appetite. However a backlash against unhealthy processed food and intensive farming, have meant McDonalds have undergone a colour re-brand. Extensive research found that red has become more associated with bad food than with fast food, so they changed their colours to natural colours – greens and browns – to allude to seemingly healthier credentials. They manipulated our emotional response to colour, in order to change our opinion about what we think their food is like – and how healthy it is – on a subconscious level.

3. Start with a neutral colour

After you have thought about meaning, you can then move on to thinking about the technicalities. Get started by choosing your colour base and extrapolating from there. One to two neutral colours will be the canvas onto which you’ll paint. Neutral colours can be split into “warm” or “cool” and are generally defined as black, white, ivory, silver, grey, brown, tan, gold, and beige. As a general rule – blacks, browns, tans, golds and beige are considered warm; while white, ivory, silver, and grey are considered cooler.

4. Then add one to two ‘pop’ colours

Once you have your neutral colours, start adding to your palette. These pop colours are the main ‘hook’ colours that will become representative of your brand, that grab the attention of your audience and what people will remember about you as a snapshot in their mind (remember Cadbury and Tiffany’s). Choose these colours depending on your brand values – what your brand stands for, and what you want it to convey. As a rough guide, cool colours like blue and green tend to have a soothing effect. Warm colours, like red and orange, are lively, feisty and excitable. Often people choose a cool palette of main / neutral colours and then a pop of warm colours to bring it to life.

5. Choose a ‘call to action’ (CTA) colour

A call-to-action colour is one that is chosen because it stands out. It is a colour which tells a viewer what to do, in the use of things like a button, link or way of navigation on a website. It should be complementary of your main brand colours, but a contrasting colour on the opposite side of the colour wheel in order to give it that ‘attention-grabbing’ factor that will make you stop and take notice. For example, if you have a calming blue / green colour scheme going on – then it might be a good idea to use a bright orange or red as a CTA colour as this will still complement it whilst at the same time be very different to everything else. Use it sparingly, and viewers will learn that this colour only appears as a means of communicating a specific action.

After you have worked through these steps – employing a set of loose rules as well as instinctive feelings based on your brand values – you should have come up with a system that best represents your new entity. Good luck!

A Rainbow of Brands by Red Door Creative