Make Color Work for You

Color plays an influential role in our everyday decisions. It can tell us when a banana is ripe, where to find an exit, and which clothes to wear. A study on the impact of color in marketing found that people make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interaction with products, and up to 90% of that assessment was based on color alone. How we interpret color is shaped by several factors, such as biology, culture, and technology. It’s obvious to see why choosing the right colors for your brand is so important, because it affects how customers, employees and other stakeholders perceive and remember it. Here are four things for brand-builders to keep in mind when considering how to make the most of color:

  1. Connect to Strategy
    Each color has unique meaning associated with it—and this meaning can vary from culture to culture. For example, red has come to signify love and passion in many Western cultures, while symbolizing luck and fertility in several Eastern cultures.

    It’s important to harness the right color to reinforce the ways you want your audiences to perceive the brand. The colors you choose need to connect back to the brand’s strategy for the greatest impact. If your aim is to appear more luxurious, high quality and premium, you’ll want to consider purple. If your brand focuses on sustainability and growth, you’ll likely want to lean towards green. The colors you select to represent your brand communicate quickly and clearly who you are to the person on the receiving end.

  2. Differentiate from Competitors
    Color can be used as a powerful tool to stand apart from competitors. It’s usually the first thing we recognize in a brand, so owning a unique color can create a lot of impact. Color needs to represent the brand essence, but if it makes strategic sense to choose an uncommon color within the market then it’s a smart move. Think of Lyft—by choosing a bold pink they easily stood apart from Uber’s black and white palette as well as yellow taxi companies. By owning a striking and expressive color, Lyft made its brand distinctive and memorable enough to challenge and compete with category leaders.

  3. Establish the Palette
    How brand colors interact with one another is important to an identity’s success and goes beyond the logo. When a palette’s colors are complementary, it creates a unified look for a brand across its materials—shirts, brochures, website and more. And each color has an important role to play: some colors will need to be in the spotlight, while others act as essential backdrops that add depth to a scene. Mailchimp is one brand that does a fantastic job with its palette. Its energetic yellow is grounded by black and white elements, while its tinted secondary colors dynamically extend the palette—nicely interacting with the yellow. Allowing each color to play to its strengths avoids colors competing for importance and creating disharmony that would confuse the audience and signal a lack of sophistication.

  4. Define the Colors
    Once you settle on final brand colors and their use, make the palette shareable! Incorporate that information in your visual identity guidelines. There you can clarify its application and provide each color’s RGB, CMYK and PMS. This ensures easier and clearer communication between those who developed the brand’s identity and those responsible for deploying it.
    • RGB (Red, Green and Blue) is the color space for digital mediums. The light source on your screen creates various colors using only these three, varying their concentration. Representation of RGB can differ between devices, so the colors you see on your phone may not match up with what you see on your computer screen.
    • CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key [Black]) are colors used for printed materials. These four inks are mixed to create a multitude of colors. The same CMYK color can also change depending on the printing machine and the substrate it’s printed on. For example, colors on coated paper will appear brighter because the paper does not absorb the ink as much.
    • PMS (Pantone Matching System) is a standardized color matching system used widely across the world. The numbered system allows us to easily identify and reproduce colors with little to no communication between parties. Because PMS works from a wider range of base colors, you can get more specific with a greater number of hues compared to RGB and CMYK.

Now it’s time to take these ideas and create a color palette that reinforces your brand, to create a lasting impression in the minds of those who matter.

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