Brand Color Theory and Practice – Part 2: How Color Can Make or Break a Brand

Choosing a primary brand color and a palette of secondary and tertiary colors to represent your brand in advertising, packaging, signage, and so on is an important step in the strategic branding process. The colors you choose could have far reaching effects to your business. In fact, color can make or break your brand.

brand color theoryHow do you choose the right color for your brand? It’s not a simple decision based on your personal preferences. Instead, the choice should take several factors into account: consumer preferences, competitor color palettes, consumer expectations, the brand promise, production considerations, and color psychology.

In Part 3 of the Brand Color Theory and Practice series, I’ll talk about color psychology. This post addresses some of the other factors that affect your color palette decisions. And if you missed Part 1, which explains why brand color matters, follow the preceding link to read it now.

Competitor Considerations

Before you can choose your brand color palette, you need to do some competitor research. What colors are your competitors using to represent their brands? What are the predominant colors in the industry? Do you want to blend in by using a similar color palette or go against the grain?

Take a look at the logos below. Did you ever notice how many web brands use blue as their primary brand color? The same is true for tech companies. Take a look at this infographic of the most powerful colors in the world to get a better idea of the most popular brand colors.

web logos

Think of it this way — what are the predominant brand colors for banks? Take a look at the image below to get the answer.

bank logos

Banks love to use blue and red for their brand color palettes. New banks have a choice — stick with the tried-and-true blue and red or stand out from the crowd with an unexpected color. And that leads us to company considerations.

Company Considerations

Next, you have to look internally to make sure the colors you choose for your brand identity accurately communicate your brand promise and are appropriate for your brand based on your strategic long-term goals for it. For example, choosing pink for your women’s clothing brand could limit it if you want to market to men in the future. Pink is typically considered a feminine color and could alienate some male customers.

In other words, you need to look at your brand and business today and in the future. Consider your stretch goals and choose a color palette that will work for years to come.

It’s also important to think about production issues related to reproducing your brand in print, on signs, in ads, online, and so on. For example, for each additional color you use in your logo, your print production costs will go up. Of course, you can print your logo in a single color, but consistency is critical to brand building success.

Similarly, creating a logo with halftones and other design elements that can increase production problems and costs is something you should avoid. Trust me, I’ve worked for companies with halftones in logos and it’s a production irritation and expense you can easily avoid by creating a logo the right way on Day 1. Choosing a logo that is easy and inexpensive to reproduce in any medium is just smart business.

Consumer Considerations

Choosing a brand color palette begins by understanding what consumers expect from brands in your market and what they expect from your brand based on your brand promise to them. You need to consider their preferences and how they feel about colors and brands in your market before you can choose the best color palette.

That’s where market research comes into the picture. By combining consumer research results related to brand colors with color psychology, you can determine which colors will position your brand for success and which to avoid.

Brand Color Market Research

Brand color market research begins by determining how consumers react to colors in your market. For example, you can use a tool like AYTM’s consumer panel survey to test emotional responses to color palettes, learn how consumers feel about existing brand color palettes, and what they like or don’t like about various color combinations.

Don’t simply ask consumers, “which color do you prefer?” Instead, show them colors and ask them to describe their emotional responses. Ask them to provide an analogy likening the color to an experience, an animal, a place, and so on to gather the responses that they might not be able to clearly articulate through an answer that merely says, “I prefer the blue logo.”

Use open-ended questions to get the details that you need and create logo and package prototypes to present during the research process in order to gather response data that’s more closely aligned with real-world experiences. Your goal is to dive deeper through research, so ask the probing questions that will give you the answers you need to make the right brand color decision. Learn more about brand research.

In Part 3 of the Brand Color Theory and Practice series, I’ll discuss color meanings and color psychology. In the meantime, check out Part 1 to learn why brand color matters.

Image: stock.xchng

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.