Brand colors are one of the three most important branding aspects next to a brand name and a logo. Colors resonate with people intuitively, triggering thoughts and feelings immediately. How to find the right color for a brand? There are three cornerstones to consider when picking brand colors.
1. The Meanings of Colors
Blue is the most used color in Fortune 500 companies and people’s most favorite color (women: 29%, men: 42%).
Gray / Silver
Brand Colors Classification
Primary colors are red, blue and yellow. They’re considered more basic, they communicate simplicity and the strongest focus out of all colors when used alone. Secondary colors (orange, green, purple) are colors that are mixed by two primary colors, e.g. orange is mixed by yellow and red. They communicate strength too, less so than primaries, however. Additionally, they say “different” and “less basic.”
Tertiary or intermediate colors are mixed by primary and secondary colors: lime green, teal, violet, deep orange, sunflower yellow, pinkish red. These colors can be the easiest choices for brand differentiation in regards to competitors.
Complementary color groups like yellow and purple or red and green or blue and orange brighten and empower each other. Together, they can be jarring if not carefully adjusted. Analogous colors are the colors next to one another in the color wheel, e.g. yellow, lime green, green. They are harmonious, support serenity in design and are often found in nature. They lack contrast if not carefully selected. A triadic color group are three colors of an equilateral triangle on the color wheel. This is a more vibrant color group than an analogous color group and they create a strong, unique color palette.
A split-complementary color group is a complementary group with one of the complementary colors being split into its neighbors, e.g. green and instead of red, purple and orange (the two adjacents to red). This color group carries the same strength but without the tension of a complementary color group.
Pastel versus Saturated Brand Colors (Tints versus Hues)
Pastel colors have been a trend in millennial branding for the past few years — beige tones, muted greens, browns or reds — staying true to “back to nature,” with an emphasis on sustainability and a play on raw materials.
2. Competitors’ Colors
Branding is about finding a design and tone that is memorable to your customers. Positioning is differentiation. It’s easier for people to differentiate between brands if they look, sound and walk differently.
That’s true for colors too. Getting as far away from competition as possible is key. So is staying in a world that a target audience wants to be in (no purple if customers think purple is a bit too magical): branding is about the right measurements of all components.
3. In Practice: Where Brand Colors Are Used
Color exists in many formats, in print, online, on t-shirts, in brochures, on old PC computers (for a target audience of older people, for example), in the world of sustainable products, or fashionable one-offs.
Every color application comes with constraints, and the reason why I’m listing items with no apparent common denominator is because it’s an easy oversight to not consider these constraints at the beginning. Awareness and a sense for practicality before a color process is essential because it cuts cost in the long run and keeps brand assets cohesive.
Differences in Target Markets
Color selections need to be tested in different markets. For example, red in China is a representation of luck and celebration whereas in South America red is the color of mourning.
Considering disabilities, brighter colors and high-contrast color groups are generally easier to identify for people with impaired vision.
A bright red cannot be printed in CMYK (regular office or home printer) – it’ll be dull and brownish.
A Pantone color (a separately mixed ink) is needed which can lead to a) more expensive printing and is b) not always possible. Real gold ink with metal particles for reflection and a transparent ink that creates gloss are more obvious examples of color spaces that cannot be printed without the use of premixed inks.
For sustainability industries (energy, woodworking, slow-fashion) marketing assets are often printed on matte paper to communicate the sustainable aspect (matte papers can be made from recycled paper and can come in bright whites). Matte paper, in comparison to glossy paper, absorbs more ink and makes any color look duller. Print samples can be ordered through print shops.