What do your colors say about your brand?

Color Palette Branding

What do your colors say about your brand?

Life is full of commitments—to self, to family, to… color palette? Yes, even to that.

For small businesses and non-profits looking to refresh or just getting started with building their brands, understanding color psychology—one aspect of how the brain perceives and responds to visual stimuli—is key to creating a cohesive brand identity.

Your brand’s visual attributes shouldn’t be selected at random or be subject to the whims (likely disguised as taste) of stakeholders.

Branding is as much about psychology as it is about outreach and messaging. Before your customers even interact with your staff or get one page deeper on your website, the visual presence your brand has will either strike or repel them (assuming repulsion isn’t the intended result, of course). It’s that “first-impression” moment you’ll never get back again.

color theory consumer

Let’s explore color psychology just a bit further:

Color psychology of Red

red brand psychology

You enter a Target store. An hour later, you stumble out the front door, having bought 15 more items than you’d intended, feeling either excited or exhausted. You’ve encountered the Target vortex. If you think this reaction is the result of anything other than intentional—by design—think again.

Red is a highly motivating color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration, and raises blood pressure. It attracts more attention than any other color.

  • Symbolism of red: energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination, passion, desire, love
  • Red brands: Target, K-Mart, Kellogg’s, CNN, Exxon, H&M, CVS, Pinterest, McDonald’s

Color psychology of Orange

color psychology orangeOrange is one of the more controversial color choices—and yet one of the most powerful—on the spectrum. People either love orange or hate it, so it is important to consider how your audience will respond to the orange you choose, the amount of it you use in marketing collateral, etc.

Orange is often associated with joy and sunshine, pairing the energy of red with the happiness of yellow. It attracts impulsive shoppers and indicates affordability, yet also cautions and can signify aggression.

  • Symbolism of orange: enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, stimulation
  • Orange brands: Hooters, Nickelodeon, Discover, Bitcoin, MasterCard, Amazon.com

Color psychology of Yellow

yellow color psychologyYellow is the first color perceived by the retina. It signifies youthfulness, clarity, optimism, and cheerfulness. It activates the memory.

However, in design, it can also strain the eyes and can be difficult to use on light backgrounds. When overused, yellow may actually have an adverse impact on the brain. Studies have indicated that babies cry more in yellow rooms.

  • Symbolism of yellow: honor, loyalty, joy, happiness, intellect, energy, optimism
  • Yellow brands: Best Buy, Sonic, Lipton, Shell, Hertz, McDonald’s, Denny’s, Sprint

Color psychology of Green

color psychology greenIs your team super-motivated, agile, and spirited, looking to sell products in the eco-friendly space? You might think green is your star color. Think again: Green typically emits tranquil, calm energy. Push back against normative thinking and move to the warmer side of the color wheel where your brand attributes actually lie, and perhaps green could factor in as an accent.

Green is also associated with wealth and self-control, health and healing. Green alleviates depression and relaxes the mind.

  • Symbolism of green: trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, heaven
  • Green brands: Whole Foods, BP, Hess, Animal Planet, John Deere, Land Rover

Color psychology of Blue

blue color psychologyAh, blue. The corporate choice. The choice of least risk, most reward (or so many think). Everybody loves blue. Blue is the least gender-specific choice, creates a sense of security, is non-invasive, and aids intuition and productivity. While some shades may elicit a response of chillness or uncaring, overall blue is a widely accepted color.

Blue is so often the color of least resistance that it’s become synonymous with corporate culture. In other words, if you’re looking to stir your audience and create a bold reaction from your brand, use blue sparingly if at all. Opt for more dynamic, warmer options instead.

  • Symbolism of blue: trust, security, productivity, ambition, loyalty, calmness, serenity, reliability
  • Blue brands: Dell, Walmart, Lowe’s, Ford, American Express, GE, JP Morgan, Facebook, Twitter, Pfizer, AT&T

Color psychology of Purple

purple color psychologyCreative and eccentric types tend to gravitate toward purple. It conveys wealth and extravagance, but is also tied to themes of mysticism and magic, making it a bold choice for many smaller brands and an unexpected one.

Sometimes purple can create uneasiness, as it contains elements of red stimulation and blue calmness. With this combination in the wrong proportion, people may be negatively impacted by purple, so it is important to select the correct hue for your audience and your purpose.

  • Symbolism of purple: royalty, wealth, success, wisdom, beauty, calm, creativity, imagination, power, mystery
  • Purple brands: Taco Bell, Hallmark, Wonka, Welch’s, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Yahoo!, Barbie

The Neutrals

Brown

  • Symbolism of brown: stability, reliability, approachability, natural, organic, durable, practical, strong, simple
  • Brown brands: Doubletree, UPS, Hershey, Cracker Barrel, A&W Root Beer

Gray

  • Symbolism of gray: intellect, knowledge, wisdom, long-lasting, classic, refined, authority, control, dignity, compromise
  • Gray brands: Apple, Honda, Mercedes, Wikipedia

Black

  • Symbolism of black: prestige, sophistication, luxury, sleekness, timelessness, powerful, weighty
  • Black brands: The New York Times, Lexus, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Lancome, Prada, Puma, 816 New York

White

  • Symbolism of white: cleanliness, order, sterility, refinement, space, purity, innocence, safety, clarity
  • White brands: Cotton, Armani, Christian Dior, Adidas, Chanel, Under Armour

A lot goes into properly planning a brand build-out. Don’t ignore or diminish the psychological impact of the shapes, fonts, colors, and other visual elements that your brand embodies.

Smart brands strategize around the personality and likely responses of their target market—before they design a logo, build a website, or roll out marketing campaigns. Do it right the first time, and you won’t be flummoxed later by the question: Why aren’t my customers calling?

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Sarah Williams

Founder & director of 816 New York and passionate about all things strategy and unity.

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