A brand color is probably the most client-demanded visual aspect next to having a logo. And rightfully so, color resonates with the viewer intuitively, triggering basic thoughts and feelings in a human being immediately.
In branding, how does one approach finding the right brand color for a service or a product? Here are 4 guidelines to consider when finding the color that expresses what you want to communicate:
1. The Meanings of Colors
++ creative, secret, protection, formal, self-control, exclusion, high-end
— outsider, hiding, unfriendly, conservative
Industries: creative, fashion, film, theater, art
++ energizing, power, passion, strength, driven, masculine
— ruthless, aggression, danger
Industries: food, telecommunications, tech
Examples: Coke, Red Lobster, Virgin, Ferrari, Diesel, Canon, Nintendo
Red is considered a complicated brand color when it comes to international branding. For example, red in China is a representation of luck and celebration whereas in South America red is the color of mourning. In addition, bright red cannot be printed in CMYK (= regular office printer) – it will need the use of a Pantone color by a professional printer and can lead to more expensive print products.
++ warm, optimistic, affordable, independent, stimulating, adventurous
— shallow, cheap, insincere, informal
Industries: outdoors, food, tech
Examples: Amazon (with black), Home Depot, Hooters, Timberland, Harley Davidson, Fanta
++ reliable, orderly, calm, integrity, vast, loyal, honest
— rigid, conservative, weak
Industries: tech, banks
Examples: Facebook, Twitter, IBM, Samsung, Intel, AmericanExpress, Allstate, Deutsche Bank, Bluecore
Blue is people’s most favorite color (women: 29%, men: 42%), followed by green and purple.
++ wise, logical, communication, optimistic, creative, joy
— judgemental, too analytical, impatient, nervousness, unstable, deceitful
Industries: tech, banks
Examples: Sprint, McDonald’s, Ferrari, Ikea, Best Buy, Post-it
++ vital, balanced, nature, generous
— materialistic, too normal, inconsiderate
Industries: nature, food, finance
Examples: BP, Heineken, Whole Foods, Starbucks, TD Ameritrade, Land Rover, Spotify
++ purity, simplicity, new, modern
— sterile, boring, excluding, cautious
++ professional, wisdom, security, technical
— boring, cold, rigid, indifferent
++ compassion, sweet, feminine, calm
— immature, too emotional, demanding
++ inspiring, healing, confidence-building
— unapproachable, unreliable, idealistic
++ formal, comfortable, wisdom, practical, earthy
— too serious, unfriendly, passive
++ unusual, creative, intuitive, future, magical
— aloof, impractical, corrupt, pompous
2. Your Brand’s Personality Traits and How They’re Reflected in A Target Demographic
Given the positive and negative associations laid out above, we take a look at your brand’s personality traits and evaluate which colors could potentially comply with your brand’s traits and its industry. We then make a selection of 3 colors, we know exactly why we made that specific selection, and after that, we go to the next step: “The Brand Positioning” in reference to colors.
Considering disabilities is important, too. High-contrast colors are easier to identify for people with impaired vision. Blue, for example, is a good color for that.
3. Your Competitors’ Colors in Reference to your Brand’s Positioning
Positioning is highly tied to a brand’s business strategy, a topic we’ll discuss in a later article. In any case, in regards to a color-finding process it’s important to have all of your competitors listed (direct: another service or product with the same or similar offerings you have, and indirect: any other alternative the customer would buy). We lay them out in a spreadsheet: name, website, slogan, an image of their logo, brand color, description of what they do well and what they do differently than you and how they communicate. We make sure to stay positive in all of your descriptions, no brand would ever describe themselves as “boring”—it’s likely that they want to position themselves as “traditional.”
Branding itself is about finding a design and tone that is memorable to your customers. If a customer googles a product or service like yours and all of the search results have the same tone (or same look or color when visiting the individual websites), it’s harder for people to identify your brand. That’s unfortunate in the long run because they’re not attributing the subway ads you paid for last week or the t-shirt they got at the last insider conference specifically to you, instead, they may get things mixed up with one of your competitors.
Let’s say 60% of your competition’s brands are blue, and assuming blue is in your 3-color selection you definitely want to consider the other 2 colors you’ve picked a bit more. Positioning is differentiation. Get as far away from your competition as possible, in visuals, in tone, in advertising. But always stay in a world that your target audience will want to stay in (don’t go for purple if your customers think purple is a bit too magical for them): branding differentiation is often about fine-tuning all those aspects.
4. The Practical Stuff: Where A Brand Color Is Being Used
Color exists in many formats, in print, online, on t-shirts, in brochures, on old PC computers (if your target is 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 hard for people to think about these constraints at the beginning of branding a product or service. You need to consider or at least know about them at the start of a color process because you want to cut cost in the long run and keep all of your assets (1-pagers, website, t-shirts) as cohesive as possible.
Like mentioned above, a bright red, a Spiderman red, for example, looks great on a computer. If you need to print the very same red you’ll get disappointing results: it’ll be dull and brownish. An office printer, or any professional printer that will print in CMYK, cannot reproduce the same red because the medium (a printer or a computer screen) can only mix a color with what they have: magenta and yellow for a printer or r (as in rgb) for a screen. A professional print shop, however, can order pre-mixed buckets of paints and won’t need to use only CMYK – it can add another color, like the Pantone pre-mixed bright red. Or a real gold, a brownish ocher with metal particles for reflection.
If you’re in the sustainability industries (energy, woodworking, slow-fashion etc.) you may consider printing all of your marketing assets on a matte paper to communicate the sustainable aspect (many matte papers nowadays are made from recycled paper, they feel amazing and come in bright whites). Matte paper, in comparison to glossy paper, absorbs much more ink which will make any color look duller. Professional printers will send out print color samples on a variety of papers.