Colors elicit emotional reactions when we see them. While the things we feel when we see particular colors may not be universal, there’s no question that selecting the right colors for your brand is an essential part of marketing. There’s a reason that many financial institutions use blue as the primary color in their logos, and environmental companies often choose green. We associate color and meaning.
When you’re determining the best way to brand your company, color has to be part of the equation. Even if you haven’t paid much attention to color as a component of branding before now, if you take a minute to think about it you might be surprised at how important it is. The bright primary colors used by Toys R Us would be completely inappropriate for a bank. That’s obvious – but the psychology of color goes much deeper than that.
Myths and Misconceptions about Color Psychology
You might have read something about color psychology and thought of it as a fairly simple concept. One popular trope says that fast food restaurants use red in their logos because red stimulates hunger. That might be true for some people, but it’s a mistake not to dig more deeply into the topic. It’s not possible to reduce color psychology to a series of generic statements.
The Risks of Oversimplification
The problem with being overly reductive when it comes to color psychology is that you run the risk of missing important nuances and cultural differences. A color that means one thing in one culture may mean something completely different in another.
The colors associated with mourning are a good example. In Western culture, black is often the traditional color worn to funerals. However, there are many cultures that associate other colors with mourning. For example, in India and much of the Eastern Hemisphere, white is the color of mourning. In Thailand, mourners wear purple, and in Korea, they wear blue. Yellow might be viewed as a cheerful color in the West, but for people in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Mexico it is the opposite.
You can see the dangers of adhering too closely to one simplistic interpretation of a color’s meaning. It is important to consider emotion, cultural significance, and symbolism, among other things, when choosing colors to associate with your brand.
How Cultural Variations and Personal Experiences Shape Reactions to Color
The example of mourning colors is only one factor that may reflect how your target audience feels when they see a particular color. Obviously, there is no way to interpret or predict every personal experience that may influence a reaction to a color, so the best option is to consider the most likely reactions and work from there.
A company that intended to run marketing campaigns in multiple countries would need to do research to determine which colors to use to create an effective logo and brand. For example, pink is often considered to be a feminine color, while blue is more masculine. That’s a simple example, but it illustrates some of the difficulties associated with colors and marketing. Pink might be the perfect color for your logo, but if your target audience is men then cultural stigmas may rule it out – unless you can find a way to use it that allows you to connect with your audience in spite of the color’s feminine associations.
Color and Branding
The colors you choose communicate instantly with the people who see your logo. If you don’t put any thought into colors you run the risk of people making assumptions about your company and products that aren’t true. For example, imagine that you saw a cleaning company logo like this one:
You might assume that because this logo features green as one of its predominant colors, the company in question uses natural cleaning products. If that’s not the case, you might be confused or even disappointed.
Color and Brand Personality
One aspect of color choice that many companies overlook is the way colors affect your brand personality. A brand’s personality dictates how customers or clients perceive a company – and while it is never possible for a company to completely control that perception, they can certainly make choices that help steer it in a particular direction.
Let’s look at another sample logo as a way of illustrating the point. This is a logo that we designed for a painting and construction company:
The use of bright colors here is appropriate for several reasons. This company specializes in painting services, and colors are an effective way to convey that. The colors chosen are bright and cheerful, and that sends a message too.
To understand what we mean, it may help to imagine those same colors being used in the logo of an accountancy firm. What is perfectly appropriate in one setting may be jarring and even off-putting in another.
Your Target Audience and Color
The next key consideration is what your target audience expects to see. If you are marketing your services mostly to big corporations, then the colors you choose will likely be conservative and not flashy. On the other hand, a company marketing to younger individuals or in a creative industry might very well feature bright colors to grab attention and convey a sense of playfulness.
When you choose colors to associate with your brand, you should always keep your target audience in mind. For international companies, this aspect of branding may be a particularly big challenge. As mentioned earlier, color significance can and does change based on culture.
Colors in Logos
When you’re in the market for a new logo, color decisions loom large. In general, picking one or two colors that work together is preferable to choosing many colors. However, people in entertainment, design, or other creative industries may want to use a more varied palate to convey what they do.
Common Color Choices and What They Mean
While it is dangerous to be overly simplistic when considering the psychology of colors, it can be helpful to consider some of the most common color associations so you can keep them in mind when choosing a palette for your logo.
(a) In most Western cultures, red is used to convey a sense of excitement or even bravado. It is often considered the color of both romantic love and passion. It can signify heat, fire, or spice. In some situations it may also be a warning of impending danger.
(b) Green can have multiple meanings. On the one hand, it is often associated with nature and natural products. It may also be associated with new beginnings since it is symbolic of spring. Dark green may be used to represent money or finance, and yellow green or pea green may be used to communicate jealousy.
(c) Blue is commonly associated with cleanliness and purity, and is a popular choice for corporate logos. It is widely considered to be a conservative color and may convey trustworthiness and stability. In some cultures, it is a symbol of mourning and may also represent ethereal things. It can be a calming color too.
(d) Yellow may be associated with sunlight, radiance, and good cheer. It is sometimes perceived as a childish color, although gold shades are an indication of exclusivity or wealth. It can be related to charm and confidence, but is also sometimes used as a symbol of caution (as in road signs or yellow traffic lights).
(e) Orange has the warmth and excitement of red but is less aggressive. It may be linked to ambition and also to creativity. Orange is sometimes used a symbol of autumn. It is the color least likely to be named as a favorite color in surveys, which means that it should be used sparingly.
(f) Black has a wide variety of associations. Some people might think of it as symbolizing night or even evil, while others associate it with elegance and authority. In many countries it is the color of mourning.
This is not a complete list, but it should give you an idea of how widely varied color associations can be.
Tips for Choosing the Right Colors for Your Logo
When you’re choosing colors for your logo, you should think about the associations that people are most likely to make and use that information in your decision. Here are some tips to help you do that:
(a) Begin by thinking about your industry and what colors best convey what you do. While there are no hard and fast rules about this aspect of color choice, it is certainly true that green is widely used by agricultural companies and blue is widely used by financial institutions. Looking at other logos in your industry may help you spot patterns.
(b) Next, consider cultural associations with the colors that are most commonly used in your industry. For example, purple is a creative color and also may be associated with luxury. For that reason, it might be a great choice for an auction house that specializes in fine art, and a poor choice for a bookkeeping firm.
(c) If you’ll be using your logo in more than one country, do a bit of research to find out if the colors you are considering have meanings that might be detrimental or contrary to your branding message.
(d) Consider what shades of color to use. A bright cerulean blue could work for a preschool but would be less advantageous for a cleaning company, which might choose a light, natural blue instead.
(e) Finally, make sure that the colors you choose look good together and complement one another. Often, using contrasting colors can help your logo stand out and attract attention.
A good logo designer will be able to work with you to choose colors that are exactly right for your brand.
The colors you choose for your logo can have a significant impact on how well you are able to convey your branding message and connect with your customers. Instead of simply picking colors you like, take a step back and consider all the implications of your choices. The time you spend considering colors will pay off in the long run.