Color Psychology in Branding: How to Choose your Brand Colors

Marcelo Smith smiling portrait

Marcelo Smith

Brand Designer

Marcelo Smith is a brand designer, content creator, and founder of Fun Studio, a brand design agency that helps businesses build powerful brands that stand out and connect with their audience.

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Table of Contents

3d render of a woman with iridescent colorful brain
3d render of a woman with iridescent colorful brain

Table of Contents

Have you ever wondered why the Starbucks logo is green or why Coca-Cola cans are red? Spoiler alert: it’s not just a random choice. That, my friends, is the magic of color psychology in branding. In this deep dive, we’re going to explore the fascinating world of colors and how they influence our perception of brands.

The Power of Color in Branding

Alright, let’s kick things off with a fun fact. Did you know that studies have shown that color is a huge factor in people judging how appealing or appropriate a brand?. Most people make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with either people or products, and a big part of the assessment is based on colors alone? Crazy, right? First impressions matter, and colors have a tremendous influence on how we perceive brands. For instance, think of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. What’s common among them? If you said blue, you’re spot on. Blue, being a color of trust and reliability, is often used by brands wanting to project these traits. Let’s take a look at some of the most common associations of specific colors.

The Psychology of Individual Colors

🔴 Red:

This is the color of passion, excitement, and urgency. It’s bold and attention-grabbing, making it perfect for brands that want to convey a sense of energy and boldness. Think of Coca-Cola or Netflix. Red is also associated with love, power, and anger in different cultures. In China, for example, red represents good luck and celebration. On the flip side, it’s also used for stop signs and fire trucks, signaling danger and the need to halt.

🔵 Blue:

Blue is like your trustworthy friend who’s always there for you. It symbolizes trust, reliability, and tranquility. Tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn use blue to project an image of dependability. In Western cultures, blue is associated with boys and masculinity, but it also signifies peace and calm, the color of the sea and the sky. However, it’s worth noting that too much blue can sometimes convey a sense of coldness or unfriendliness.

🟡 Yellow:

The color of the sun, yellow, exudes optimism, cheerfulness, and energy. Brands that want to appear friendly and approachable often use yellow, like the famous McDonald’s golden arches. It’s also the color of caution, as seen in road signs. In some cultures like Japan , yellow can represent happiness and good luck.

🟢 Green:

Ah, green, the color of nature. It symbolizes health, freshness, and tranquility. It’s a favorite among organic or environmentally-friendly brands. Take Starbucks or Whole Foods, for example. However, green can also signify envy or inexperience in Western culture (“green with envy”, “greenhorn”). On the positive side, it’s associated with prosperity, money and environmentalism.

⚫ Black

Black screams luxury, sophistication, and power. It’s often used by high-end fashion brands like Chanel or Prada. However, it also has negative connotations, such as death, evil, or mystery in many cultures. In branding, it’s all about context. When used correctly, black can lend an air of elegance and timelessness.

⚪ White:

White represents purity, simplicity, and cleanliness. It’s a popular choice for health and wellness brands or those aiming for a minimalist aesthetic, like Apple. It’s also used in healthcare due to its association with sterility and cleanliness. However, in some Eastern cultures, white is the color of death and mourning, showing how cultural nuances can impact color perception.

🟠 Orange:

Orange is the happy middle between the energy of red and the cheerfulness of yellow. It’s associated with friendliness, creativity, and adventure. Brands like Nickelodeon and Fanta use orange to project a fun and youthful image. However, it can also symbolize a warning or attention, as seen in construction signs.

🟣 Purple:

The color of royalty, luxury, and creativity. Its association with royalty and elegance gives brands that incorporate purple a regal and prestigious aura. Consider Cadbury or Hallmark. Purple also represents spirituality, imagination, and mystique, making it an ideal choice for brands seeking to inspire and engage their audience on a deeper level. Additionally, purple is often associated with innovation and originality, making it an excellent option for brands looking to establish themselves as forward-thinking and cutting-edge. 

So, there you have it. Each color carries a unique psychological, emotional, and cultural baggage that can significantly shape how people perceive your brand. When whe think about what brand design is, choosing the appropriate colors is a crucial step. Keep these color associations in mind as you develop your branding strategy, and remember that the context and culture of your target audience will play a key role in how these colors are interpreted.

Cultural Associations of Colors

A market full of Chinese decorations.

Let’s take our exploration of colors a step further and delve into how different cultures interpret these hues. Remember, color is not a universal language. What’s comforting in one culture might be alarming in another. Take the color white, for instance. In Western cultures, it’s associated with purity, innocence, and peace – think of wedding dresses and doves. But travel to some Eastern countries like China or Korea, and white takes on a somber tone, often linked with death and mourning. Similarly, purple signifies wealth and royalty in the West, thanks to Roman emperors and Catholic bishops who traditionally wore this color. But in Brazil and Thailand, purple is the color of mourning. The color red, symbolizing luck and prosperity, is widely used in Chinese New Year celebrations, while in South Africa, it’s associated with grief. Green, on the other hand, symbolizes luck in Ireland, but it’s considered the color of envy and inexperience in the United States. This shows how vital it is to understand the cultural context and interpretations of your audience when choosing colors for branding. The key is to ensure your color choices are not just aesthetically pleasing, but also culturally sensitive and relevant to your target audience.

Color Combinations and Their Impact

Choosing the right color combination for your brand is crucial as it significantly influences how your brand is perceived by your target audience. Therefore, understanding color theory and the psychology behind colors is a key aspect of effective branding. When you combine different colors, they can either work together harmoniously, or clash and create confusion. Hence, the way you combine colors matters as much as the individual colors you choose. A strategically chosen color palette not only enhances brand recognition but also helps to establish brand consistency across different platforms and mediums. In a world where a consumer’s first interaction with a brand often occurs online, the importance of a well-thought-out color scheme cannot be overstated.

1. Monochromatic Colors

Monochromatic color schemes involve various shades, tints, and tones within a specific hue. This color combination is known for creating a harmonious and balanced look. Because it’s all in one color family, it evokes feelings of simplicity and coherence. Businesses that want to project a minimalist and clean image often opt for monochromatic colors.

2. Analogous Colors

Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match well and create serene and comfortable designs. They are often found in nature and are harmonious and pleasing to the eye. Companies aiming to communicate trust, reliability, and consistency often use these color combinations.

3. Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, blue and orange, or yellow and purple. When used together, they create a vibrant and high-contrast look. This color scheme is best used when you want something to stand out. Brands that aim to be dynamic, bold, and energetic often go for complementary colors.

4. Triadic Colors

Color Palette blue and green
A triadic color scheme involves colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. This scheme is popular among creative businesses due to its visual contrast and harmony. It offers a vibrant visual experience while maintaining balance and richness. This is the go-to scheme for brands that want to project creativity, diversity, and excitement.

Choosing the right colors for your brand

Jansport bags in different coolors.

Choosing the right colors for your brand design can feel like trying to find the perfect pair of shoes – it’s gotta match your style, suit the occasion, and feel just right. But don’t sweat it! Here are a few pointers to help you pick the right color palette for your brand.

1. Know Your Brand Personality

Just like people, brands have personalities too. Are you playful and fun, like Snapchat? Or are you more serious and reliable, like IBM? The colors you choose should mirror your brand’s personality.

2. Understand Your Audience

You want to choose colors that your audience will relate to and appreciate. For instance, if your target audience is children, consider bright and vibrant colors. If you’re catering to a luxury audience, opt for deep, rich colors that evoke a sense of sophistication.

3. Consider Your Industry

The industry you’re in can also guide your color choice. Tech companies often lean towards blues and greys, while organic food companies typically go for greens.

4. Be Consistent

It’s important to be consistent with your color use across all your branding materials. This helps in creating a cohesive brand image.

5. Test Different Colors

Don’t be afraid to experiment and test out different colors. Gather feedback and see what works best for your brand. And remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the right color for your brand. It’s all about understanding your brand, your audience, and what you want to convey. So, go ahead and play with colors, and let your brand shine!

Fit In or Stand Out?

Alright, here’s another pickle you might find yourself in – should your brand fit in with the industry standards, or should it stand out and shake things up? Let’s weigh the pros and cons of each approach to help you decide.

Fitting In

Pros:

Familiarity

If your colors align with the industry standard, customers will instantly know what you’re all about. This can build immediate trust and recognition. For example, if you’re in the healthcare industry, blues and greens can signal a sense of calm and health.

Trust

Sticking to industry norms can communicate stability and trustworthiness. It sends a message that you respect and adhere to established practices.

Cons:

Blend into the Crowd

If you stick too close to industry norms, you run the risk of blending into the crowd and being overlooked.

Lack of Originality

Customers value originality. If your colors are too similar to your competitors, it might come off as a lack of creativity or innovation.

Standing Out

Image full of white sheeps and one black sheep.

Pros

Memorability

Unique color schemes can make your brand more memorable. If you’re the only pink tech company among a sea of blues, you’re likely to stick in people’s minds.

Differentiation

Standing out visually can help differentiate your brand from competitors. It shows that you’re willing to break norms and think outside the box.

Cons

Misalignment

If your colors are too out of the ordinary for your industry, it might confuse potential customers. For example, a neon color scheme for a luxury jewelry brand might send mixed signals.

Risk of Rejection

If you go too far off the beaten path, you run the risk of alienating your audience, especially if they’re more traditional or conservative.
The decision to fit in or stand out ultimately depends on your brand’s personality, your audience, and your industry. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s important to strike a balance between being unique and being relatable. Whether you choose to fit in or stand out, make sure your colors authentically represent your brand and resonate with your target audience.

Resources for Exploring Color Palettes

Ready to play around with colors? Perfect! We’ve got a list of some fantastic online resources that can help you experiment with different color palettes. Each one offers unique features and tools to help you discover and create the perfect color scheme for your brand. Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect from each of these resources:

1. Adobe Color

Adobe Color lets you use their Color Wheel to create harmonious colors that make a palette. Choose your base color, then select from a variety of color harmonies like analogous, triadic, complementary, and more to create beautiful designs. You can also save your color palettes and use them later on.

2. Coolors

Coolors helps you create the perfect palette and get inspired by thousands of beautiful color schemes. Coolors lets you customize your palette, compare other combinations and save and export your chosen color palette.

3. Canva

Want a color scheme that perfectly matches your favorite images? With Canva’s color palette generator, you can create color combinations in seconds. Simply upload a photo, and Canva will use the hues in the photo to create your palette.

Final Thoughts

watercolor colored swatches

Alright, let’s wrap this up. There’s no denying that the colors you pick for your brand pack a punch. They’re not just splashes of paint or pixels; they’re emotional triggers and subconscious influencers for your customers. It’s all about choosing colors that not only look good but also tell your brand’s story the way you want it told. Remember, it’s not just a matter of what you like, it’s about what your audience will connect with. So do your homework, think about who you’re trying to reach, and don’t be afraid to shake things up. Good branding isn’t just pretty – it hits you right where it counts, and color is a big part of that punch.

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