Colours are so emotional that it’s hard to see clearly when you’re at the stage of choosing your brand colour palette.
And it’s important that you do, because it’s a science before it’s an art. We have to employ research and psychology, and only then let our own taste come into it.
You want to stand out? Develop a colour palette that’s all you.
Colour psychology and theory
Before we go any further, it’s worth thinking about the basics of colour psychology. So much money has been poured into this by junk food brands that we don’t have to spend any of our own to get the gist.
I’d never be governed solely by this research (partly because subjects don’t always tell the truth, consciously or unconsciously) but it’s good to have the knowledge so we can apply it as a test later, when we have the full context of our brand’s positioning.
For example, bright sexy pink might not sit too well in the funeral home industry. Or, it might be perfect, if you’re going for life insurance brand DeadHappy-style controversy.
Next, we have colour theory. This is the science of colour: which colours work together and how you can use tones in a palette. Everything you need to know about the colour theory and psychology is right here. I can’t beat that.
Learning the basics of colour theory and psychology will help you decide not only the emotional play you want to make, but also the contexts to keep in mind when you’re choosing, like how a colour will work as a call to action.
Your market research can lead you to select a brand colour palette because it’s what your customer expects from your industry – or the very opposite, like DeadHappy.
Trade service providers like builders or plumbers favour blue and red. Why? Because blue is commonly associated with dependability and red is associated with speed. Now that’s established, it’s hard to kick, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When you’re doing competitor research, don’t forget to keep track of their branding choices. Having their colours and logos on file can really help to assess the sweep of market choices.
In insurance, the last 10 years were dominated by blue and orange – orange being associated with cheapness (hello, Easy Jet).
Now, with the rise of ‘alternative’ insurance brands like Lemonade in the US, pink is firmly IN. Just as with DeadHappy, pink seems to be a symbol of contrast with the traditional expectations of an industry. I was asked recently why I wasn’t tempted by pink for my brand when so many insurtechs were using it. Um… that’s why.
Don’t automatically dismiss a traditional palette because lots of industry titans have used it for years. That’s when you have to consider what customers are expecting. But when all the most recent brands are using a colour, be wary of joining the heard. That, my friends, is a trend.
Resisting trends is part of standing out, but it’s more than that. If you’re branding a new business or you’re rebranding, it is so important that your choices have longevity. It’s got to have time to gain traction: to be seen by people, to earn recognition. If you start over again in two years, that work is lost.
The problem with going with what’s trendy in any visual choice is that it will eventually lose its appeal. The market becomes saturated with the same stuff at the same time, so your brand starts to look ‘of a time’ – and that dates you. No one wants to look soooooo 2010, do they?
OK, OK, finally you can let your own feelings come into it. Although in all things marketing, we should be led by what the customer needs, you do have to like your brand’s colour palette.
Colour can have a powerful impact on how a brand evolves (are we a cute aqua babe or are we a strong, decisive slate?) and initial dislike can result in you wanting a change before too long. Change is expensive and it loses the work you’ve already put in to gaining brand recognition.
I worked on a brand that started out with a light blue as a secondary colour. Within months of launching, the founder had taken to calling it ‘hospital blue’. Wishy-washy.
It was a total pain finding a replacement. It’s always hard to deviate from something that exists, which is another reason to get it right the first time.
The designer and I worked our way through everything from bright purple to terracotta (not our finest hour). Then we started using a bright, electric teal in the experience design for a new product, and it brought such a fresh outlook to how we saw that product that we began introducing it into the brand as a whole. Never looked back. It’s perfect.
Everyone has an opinion on colour. It’s hard to take all feelings into consideration, but if someone important (and I mean instrumental, not well-paid) in the brand has a visceral dislike of a colour, it’s probably for a good reason. It’s probably also not worth the hassle of having to change everything later.
How hard could picking a few colours be? When you’re thinking about it the right way, pretty hard. And worth the effort.