If you run any kind of business, you’ll need to think about branding and color schemes eventually. A lot of subtle and not-so-subtle psychology goes into brand color meaning. While awful branding mistakes may be obvious, smaller issues can easily fly under the radar. These little design mistakes are insidious because they have a small, ongoing impact without companies even noticing. If something feels off about your design, trust your instinct and look into it.
In this post we’ll explore the meaning of brand colors and how to wield them correctly.
Brand Color Research
Colors have a major impact on brand recognition and public perception. While your logo and color scheme won’t run your business, they will have a subtle influence over everything you put out in the world. This is where color theory for business comes in.
The simplest way to understand brand colors is that they communicate without words. Language speaks to our left-brain, logically-driven mind. Meanwhile, color communicates with us through the right-brained world of feeling and intuition.
Various studies have shown that consumers are far more driven by emotion than by logic. We’d all like to think of ourselves as rational decision-makers. But the fact is, most people make gut decisions when it comes down to it. Especially nowadays with consumers experiencing so much decision fatigue and option overload, it would be impossible to weigh the pros and cons of every decision.
When uncertain or overwhelmed, the brain lets the gut take over. With this understanding of consumer behavior, brand colors become far more important than a silly afterthought. When selected strategically, colors facilitate your goals as a brand.
How to Define Your Brand
Whether you’re choosing brand colors for the first time or re-branding, an internal audit is key. Start by looking at your brand and defining it (“brand archetypes” are a good place to start). Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does public perception of your brand match your intended brand identity?
- Does the content you publish match your intended brand identity?
- Does your current brand design conflict with your intended brand identity?
If something isn’t working, it’s never too late to pivot. For example, if you notice your customers respond emphatically to your humorous side, there’s no reason you can’t reshape your brand with humor as a staple ingredient.
Once your brand personality is clearly defined, you can start exploring which colors make sense for you.
The Meaning of Brand Colors
In reality, color interpretation is subjective. It’s an art, not a science. People have unique aversions to certain colors and affinities for other colors. But that doesn’t mean color can’t be used strategically to evoke certain feelings and associations. Those who intuitively ‘get’ your brand will support you. Those who don’t simply won’t be a part of your target audience.
Determining the meaning of brand colors isn’t rocket science. A great way to start is with brands you don’t know. Look at the small business logos below and see what impressions they give you. If you’ve never shopped from these brands, you have no idea who they actually are. What insights can you glean from the logos and colors alone?
Too often, brand designers focus on visual appeal and neglect the underlying symbolism.
When your colors evoke the same impression as your actual brand, you’ve hit the branding lottery. That’s when you know your logo designer has done their job.
Some branding experts warn about negative color associations. For example, many connect blue with sadness and red with anger. But this isn’t something you need to worry about. If you’re putting your best foot forward, customers won’t make these negative associations. When your brand embodies the higher expression of its colors, it won’t be misunderstood.
Some general color associations are:
red: passionate, hot, urgent
orange: warm, playful, energetic
yellow: happy, sunny, eccentric
green: natural, healthy, peaceful
blue: calm, professional, intelligent
purple: royal, wealthy, mystical
brown: earthy, practical, vintage
white: pure, innocent, clean
black: classy, serious, minimalist
Brand Color Meaning + Cultural Context
Some of the above associations come from a Western perspective. It’s critical to remember that your culture heavily dictates color meaning. For example, Chinese cultures have traditionally used red for celebrations. It’s common for the bride and groom to wear vibrant red at a Chinese wedding. Meanwhile, most Americans would never use red in this way. Instead, they wear black suits and white gowns, which hold their own symbolism.
Your brand’s color scheme should align (rather than clash) with color associations in your culture. It’s possible to reinvent the wheel. But you may be working against preconceived notions, which can be challenging.
How to Choose a Color Scheme
Good branding adapts. There are a few strategies for choosing a color scheme that stands the test of time. As your company grows, you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself with an odd color scheme. Start by looking at color schemes in web design to see how color can be flexible.
Monochromatic, analogous, and complementary colors are a good place to start. From there, use the above chart to experiment with more complex color combinations. This color palette generator lets you experiment with different ideas.
Exploring the meaning of each color is helpful. However, it’s even better to define a color as it relates to your brand. Nothing is set in stone. Through your brand personality, you show customers how to interpret your design assets. This is where the magic of color theory and your unique expression team up.
Remember not to limit yourself with too many arbitrary rules. While it’s common for brands to choose 2-3 colors, you can break the rules if it makes sense. Plenty of businesses have even opted for rainbow branding and logos with success.
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