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Why colour psychology is essential to brand identity design

Brand Identity designWhen it comes to creating a successful brand, choosing the right colour really can mean the difference between make or break. If we think about some of the world’s most famous and enduring brands – Coco-Cola, Cadbury’s, Easy-Jet or Apple all spring to mind – they’re identifiable from their choice of colour alone without the need for a logo, images or words of any kind.

Of course, becoming synonymous with a particular colour or shade (e.g. Cadbury’s use of Pantone 2685C) doesn’t happen overnight. In all of the above examples, colour has been used consistently and effectively across all elements of the brand for many years, embedding itself in the public consciousness.

First impressions last

Effective use of colour is important, whether a customer is coming into contact with your brand for the first time or the fiftieth time. In fact, get it wrong and the first contact could be the only contact.

At Grafixbiz, we always start branding design by identifying your target audience. Once we know who you’re trying to appeal to, it’s easier to create the colour palette that will hopefully inform your brand for years to come.

According to a 2006 study into the ‘Impact of colour on marketing’, up to 90% of people make up their mind about a brand or product within 90 seconds of the initial interaction based on their reaction to the colour. Knowing that nine out of ten customers are influenced by your colour choices is a major incentive to incorporate colour psychology into your brand design.

Colours have been shown to:

  • Differentiate a brand from its competitors
  • Influence moods and feelings, both positively and negatively
  • Increase or decrease appetite
  • Calm people down
  • Reduce the perception of waiting times

The colours you choose make a statement about identity and personality before you’ve used a single word to market your products.

How do you decide what colours to use when creating a new brand?

It’s a topic we’ve tackled on this blog in the past – Colour Me Successful included a helpful infographic about how people respond to and perceive different colours, and the industries within which they’re popular.

Broadly speaking, colours are either warm – red, orange and yellow all sit on this half of the colour wheel – or cool (think blues and greens). They can be used alone or you might decide to use contrasting or complementary colours, shades or hues.

Knowing your customer will help you decide.

Functional or sensory?

In her research, Dimensions of Brand Personality, psychologist and Stanford professor, Jennifer Aater, identified that there are five core dimensions of a brand’s personality: Sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication or ruggedness. Each brand tends to be dominated by one characteristic. In turn, certain colours are associated with these different core personality traits – for example, brown may be associated with ruggedness, red with excitement, or blue with competence. It can make sense to choose a brand colour that aligns with the personality trait you want to emphasise.

A different research study found that people make a gut decision about whether a product is functional, i.e. it serves a purpose or fulfils a need, or sensory, i.e. conveying status, social approval or certain attitudes.

The research showed that people expect functional products to be branded with functional colours, e.g. blue for corporate products or quality, green for good taste, or black for exclusivity and expense, whereas they associate sensory products with sensory colours, such as red for excitement or love, yellow for competence or happiness, purple for power or authority, black with grief or sophistication, and white with sincerity or purity.

It is OK to break the rules though.

Rather than slavishly adhering to specific colour stereotypes, researchers have found that one of the most important considerations when choosing brand colours is how those colours fit with the personality of your brand. If people feel the colours are appropriate to the personality you’re trying to communicate, they’ll respond positively. If they feel the colours are inappropriate or jarring within the context of your products, then they won’t buy from you.
Instead of thinking, “Our brand is about being sincere and environmentally-friendly, therefore we must use green”, think about the feelings, moods and associations you want to conjure up. Another colour may reflect your brand’s personality better than green, or you might choose to use a contrasting accent colour.

Gender influences colour perception

Various studies have shown that colour perceptions and preferences tend to differ for men and women, and that cultural perceptions play a strong role in dictating how we respond to colour. For example, in today’s Western society, blue and green are perceived as colours for boys, whereas many toys for girls use pink and purple packaging. This is in direct contrast to the 19th century into the early 20th century when pink was seen as a masculine colour and girls were commonly dressed in blue.

When choosing your brand colours, it is essential to think about the cultural norms of your potential customers as well as their age, gender, likes and dislikes.

In his research into colour associations, Joe Hallock found that 42% of people express a preference for blue but, when asked to describe it, associated blue with sadness and depression. They used words such as cold, subduing, sober, gloom, fearfulness. However, when talking about blue as depicting something other than happiness or sadness, they said it is a calming and relaxing colour.

When split by gender, blue is still the most popular colour, preferred by 57% of men and 35% of women. Green is liked by 14% of men and women, whereas women have a strong preference for purple (23%) – a colour that hardly registers as a favourite with men.

In fact, 22% of the men participating in Joe Hallock’s research said that they dislike purple as a colour, even though 20.4% of them associated it with courage and bravery. It could be that purple has become more intrinsically linked to courage and bravery since the creation of the Purple Heart military decoration in 1917. It could also be that purple tends to be used more by female-centric brands, thereby causing men to feel disconnected from the colour.

Some researchers have hypothesised that we are drawn towards blue and green because they are colours associated with certain food and shelter-rich habitats. In other words, that we are programmed towards a preference for certain colours before we’re even born.
Joe Hallock’s research also found that men prefer bright colours and shades of their favourite colours (i.e. with black added), whereas women prefer softer colours and tints of their favourites (i.e. with white added).

If you want your brand to appeal to a specific gender, these are all points to consider.

Age influences colour perceptions too

Joe Hallock’s research also found that our colour preferences change with age. Children tend to like yellow, orange and red (colours that appear on a longer wavelength), whereas adults prefer colours on a shorter wavelength, such as blue, green and purple.

As well as changes to how our brains and eyes see colour, researchers surmise that our colour preferences change with our understanding of the world. For example, we may like red less as we get older because it’s a colour associated with anger or danger. We may prefer blue because it’s seen as a calming colour associated with competence and reliability.

What is in a name?

Colour psychology would also suggest that we are influenced by the names given to specific colours. For example, we’re more likely to respond positively to a product described as ‘mocha’ than the same product described as ‘brown’, or prefer a description of ‘sky blue’ to ‘light blue’.

In various research studies, people have been shown the same paint colour with different names – one generic and one atypical – and clearly expressed a preference for the atypically-named colour. The same has been found for jellybeans – people would buy jellybeans called Razzmatazz over the same jellybeans labelled Lemon yellow. In one study, people even rated towels softer and more pleasant to use when they had a fancy name.

Fashions change

Fashions come and go and can very much influence how we respond to colour. Currently, orange (30%), brown (23%) and yellow (13%) all rank low in popularity. However, orange has very positive associations with people describing it as fun, bright, luminous, glowing, warm, jovial, lively and energetic. Research would suggest that orange has simply fallen out of favour for the time being, whereas it was very much in vogue during the 1960s and 70s. The success of brands such as Orange and Easy Jet might suggest that the colour orange will have its day again.

Responses to colour are subjective

Ultimately, despite attempts to categorise colours and make a definitive statement about a colour’s meaning, we all perceive colour differently. Not only are we influenced by our gender, culture and age (as shown above) but also our past experiences, religion, environment, race, nationality and even our body temperature!

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