Why colour matters: branding and the psychology of colour
Colour is one of the most noticeable components of a brand – perhaps even the most important. It has a significant impact on consumer perception, buying decisions, and the future success of the overall brand. Colour helps with recognition and memorability: studies have shown that brand colours increase recognition by 80%.
Having said that, we shouldn’t be swayed by our emotions: it’s not about what we like, it’s about what’s right for the business. Men and women perceive colours differently and, in general, have different colour preferences. But when it comes to colour psychology, there are fundamentals that shouldn’t be ignored. So, when a designer suggests your logo should be red, it’s unlikely to be because they personally like the colour red, but because they think it best represents your brand.
Coming up with an appropriate colour for your brand is often a challenge for businesses. This is where a basic understanding of colour psychology, and common colour associations, can help to set you on the right path. Here are some essentials everyone should know.
Yellow is perceived as positive, happy and warm – just like we feel on a sunny summer day, which is often one of the most common connotations it’s used for. Alternatively, it can be attention-grabbing and used to warn the audience.
Common word associations used with yellow are caution, cheerfulness, curiosity, happiness, joy, playfulness, optimism, sunshine and warmth. Brands that use yellow include Nikon, Stanley and Caterpillar.
Green is the colour of nature. It invokes a strong emotional response with safety and balance. It can symbolise growth and healing. Darker greens are often associated with money and wealth, while lighter greens are calming and caring.
Common words associated with green are fresh, healthy, eco-friendly, nature, growth and fertility. Examples of brands that use green include Macmillan, Starbucks, Land Rover and BP.
Blue is perceived as trustworthy, loyal, dependable and serene. It’s popular with organisations that want to present an image of trust and dependability, such as banks. Blue is also popular with cleaning products and with airlines. Brands often choose blue to use to target men.
Common word associations with blue include authority, calmness, confidence, dignity, dependability, loyalty, logical, honesty, security, serenity and trust. Brands that use blue include Barclays Bank, IBM, Intel, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Purple is a rich colour, often associated with royalty and luxury. It’s also a rare colour in nature and many relate it to mystery. It’s said to stir up feelings of nostalgia.
Common words associated with purple are fantasy, mystery, sensuality, nobility, courage, boldness, sophistication and luxuriousness. Brands such as Cadbury, Hallmark, Asprey, Yahoo, Monster and Zoopla use purple.
Overall, pink is seen as a feminine colour that conjuring feelings of delicateness and sweetness. However, bright and vibrant pinks have a bold and modern appeal.
Common words associated with pink are romance, gentleness, femininity and softness. Brands including LG, HMV and T-Mobile use pink in their branding.
On the one hand, red is associated with danger, energy and power. On the other, it’s aligned with love, passion and desire. It’s an emotionally-charged colour with high visibility, so it’s often used to label sale items in shops or Buy Now buttons on websites. Red can also stimulate appetite, so it’s frequently used by food brands.
Words associated with red inclue love, passion, adventure, action and danger. Brands that use red include McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Nike and Walls.
Energetic and warm, orange combines attributes of both red and yellow. It’s associated with joy, sunshine, playfulness and is often used in logos to stimulate emotional responses.
Common word associations for orange are creativity, enthusiasm, lightheartedness, affordability and youth. Some brands that use orange are RAC, B&Q, Halfords, Easyjet and JCB.
Brown is associated with nature and utility, and a sense of security or safety. It’s often used in relation to construction or in food packaging. Brown is regularly found to be people’s least favourite colour – although alternative names, such as mocha or tan, are seen as more likeable.
Brown word associations include wholesomeness, warmth, honesty, earthiness, natural and simplicity. Brands that use brown include UPS and – before its now-iconic rebrand – Starbucks.
Black signifies luxury, exclusivity, elegance, sophistication and authority. Brands that use black are usually secure and believe that their reputation speaks for itself – meaning they don’t need colour to convey their stability and value.
Common word associations for black include independence, authority, distinction, formality, power and professional. Sony, Bose and Adidas are three of many brands that use black in their visual identity.
Grey evokes a sense of professionalism and calm, and is often seen as sleek and upmarket. Grey can sometimes be substituted with silver.
Common word associations for grey include practical, solid, timeless, neutral, professional and sophisticated. Brands that use grey in their branding include Apple, Mercedes-Benz and Nintendo.
Yes, white is a colour – or, technically, the absence of colour. It’s used to signify purity, cleanliness, simplicity and freedom. It evokes a sense of spaciousness and clarity.
You don’t really see brands use white – their logos are often only white when used on top of another colour. Instead, white may play a large part of a brand’s visual identity, like the skincare brand Simple – to support the brand values or brand message.
Colour theory in practice
Single colours are one thing, but the fun really begins when you use more than one colours: analogous colours, complementary colours, split complementary colours, triadic colours, tints (adding white to a pure hue) and shades (adding black to a pure hue). Many brands combine two colours to great effect. The McDonald’s logo is red and yellow – what does this tell us about the brand? Colour psychology tells us that red is high in energy and increases appetite, ideal for a fast food company. Meanwhile, the yellow is friendly and cheerful, associated with the company’s mascot, Ronald McDonald. For McDonald’s, red and yellow is the ideal colour combination – and it’s one that’s replicated in many fast food giants.
What does all this mean for the average person?
Well, there are no hard and fast rules for choosing a brand’s colours. However, by understanding the psychology of colour, you can make a selection based on years of insight. Remember that the colour you choose will trigger an emotional response in your customer, and it’s that response that you need to think about. Choosing a colour that embodies the personality of your business is critical to building an authentic brand.
Download the Think! Colour Theory Chart here.