Have you ever noticed that within a given industry, many companies seem to use the same or similar colors for branding? Flip through your social networks—I expect you’ll notice quite a few shades of blue among the social media giants: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all use blue as one of the main color resources for their brands.
Similarly, most fast food restaurants employ the colors yellow and red to lure you into their establishments—and it’s not because they all have ketchup and mustard on the brain. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, Burger King, Taco John’s… the list goes on and on.
All these similarities are due to the fact that while color in general is subjective, each one tends to carry a proven subconscious “meaning” for customers. In the case of fast food, yellow is cheery and optimistic, while red is said to make people hungry. In theory, when you drive by those signs, your brain thinks, “I could go for a burger, actually, and I think I’d have a friendly experience there!”
These hidden meanings make choosing your brand’s colors a matter of decoding messages to make sure you convey what you intend to your audience. It sounds complicated, but with a little help, you too can determine the best color fit for your business. This article will help you better understand how to use colors effectively on your website, in print and beyond.
Choosing your brand colors
Research shows that anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of consumer decisions to purchase products may be based on the product’s color alone. That’s what makes decoding your brand colors so important. It’s not simply an artistic choice—it’s a strategic one that will impact sales.
In order to choose the best colors for your brand, you must first understand who you are as a brand. Psychologist and Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker found five core dimensions that play a role in a brand’s personality: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness. By choosing which of these components (and their sub-parts) make up your brand’s personality, you’ll be better equipped to decide which colors communicate that message and identity to your audience.
Like so many other strategic moves, you can better understand your brand’s personality by doing market research. What colors do your competitors use the most, and why? Do you want to create something similar or stand out? Consider your audience: who are they and what personality traits will draw them in? Perhaps you are hoping to appeal to someone adventurous, someone bookish, or both! Consider what emotions you hope to evoke when someone looks at your brand.
Decoding colors: The meanings behind your choice
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to color. When a person views any kind of marketing message—color included—they are affected by their upbringing, personal experiences, culture and more.
That being said, some generalizations are regarded as “true” across the color spectrum, and therefore should factor into your color choices for your brand. Many of the color meanings below you can intuit, but some of these might surprise you!
- While yellow provides clarity and signifies warmth, the color orange expresses cheerfulness and confidence.
- Red is youthful, bold, and exciting (think of Nintendo’s branding), and is said to have an impact on hunger.
- Purple is best used for a creative and imaginative brand.
- Blue is the color of trust, and is meant to signify something dependable and secure. For this reason, you see it frequently used for many tech brands like HP and Intel.
- Green is peaceful and signifies health and growth, as well as good fortune and, of course, money.
- Neutral colors like black, white and gray provide a sense of balance and calm.
As you start to hone in on your perfect brand colors, don’t forget to think about any negative connotations a particular hue might have. For a health and wellness brand, based on the information above your instinct might be to choose something green, but the wrong shade could make someone think of illness and germs instead. Be specific about your choices in order to send the message you intend to your audience.
Print vs. onscreen: Common color types
Once you’ve made your choice, you have to be very careful about getting it right onscreen and in print consistently. You don’t just want “green” branding. You want your green, every time—whether you’re online, using a professional printer, or printing marketing materials in-house with your own ink and toner.
To assist brands, there are several universal color types that aid in reducing color variation online and in printed materials. Once you can decipher these types, you’ll be ready to implement your brand colors across your website, social media profiles, printing and packaging, and more.
- RGB (Red, Green, Blue) — RGB is the most commonly used color mode for TV, computers and mobile. If you design something online in RGB and then have it printed without converting it to another mode, your brand colors may appear less vibrant, as RGB relies on light and illumination for its final appearance.
- HEX (Hexadecimal Color) — Hex colors are simply a variation of RGB used for web design. They are a six-digit combination of letters and numbers that define a color’s RGB mix for coding purposes.
- PMS (Pantone Matching System) — You’ve probably heard of Pantone colors before, as the Pantone company has been around for over 50 years. Each color is patented and standardized, and all printers and designers select from the same universal set of swatches produced exclusively by the company. Pantone colors are used frequently for logos because the standardization means you’ll get a consistent brand color no matter who your printer is in the world.
- The Four-Color Process, or CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) — The final type, CMYK, is created when tiny dots of four colors are printed in different overlapping combinations to create a specific color from the color spectrum. When viewed through a magnifying glass, you can see the CMYK combos that created the color you’re looking at on the page.
So, what are the best colors for you?
Ultimately, the best colors for your brand are the ones that feel the most “you,” and not just from an aesthetic perspective. By identifying your brand’s personality and then matching the meaning of colors to that personality, you’ll be set up to choose and implement a look online and in print that showcases exactly who your company is.
How do you use colors to express your brand’s identity? Share below in the comments!
Sponsored by HP.