We recently wrote an article about Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year, and all of the associations that go along with it. Today we thought we’d dive a little deeper into the subject of color psychology and discuss what your brand colors might be communicating to your customers, both intentionally and unintentionally.
Because color is a language that conveys a lot of meaning, even if we aren’t aware of it, brands that don’t pay attention to the psychology of color can end up sending mixed signals with their brand collateral.
Consider the color green. It has become synonymous with health, nature, and all things environmental. If an eco-conscious company chose not to use green in their logo and marketing collateral, they would be missing out on the instant emotional recognition that the color carries in that space.
Let’s imagine they opted for purple and gold instead. It’s likely consumers would find the choice confusing. Both of these colors have associations with royalty and wealth, which aren’t associations that would make much sense for a company that crunches heavily on the granola.
So what do your color choices say about you when you’re not around? We did a little eavesdropping, and here’s what we learned.
It May Not Mean What You Think It Means
It’s worth noting that the language of color is smeary and imperfect. Colors can mean different things to different people. Associations can shift over time as circumstances change. Green may now represent healthy living in tune with nature, but those of us that can remember Mr. Yuck symbols remember that at one time, it was more closely tied to poisons.
Certain groups may view colors very differently from others based on their unique experiences. Color associations can vary wildly from culture to culture. In North America, red is often associated with passion, desire, and hunger, which is why many restaurants choose the color for their walls. However, in South Africa, the color is associated with mourning and sadness, representing the harsh struggles the country faced historically.
As a result, when you’re looking to define what your brand colors are saying about you, it’s important to note who they’re speaking to. They’re likely saying one thing to one group of people, and something very different to another.
For our purposes here, we’ll be discussing North American color associations. If this isn’t your target market, you ought to consider researching color associations in the cultures and locations where you do business.
So What Do Those Little Blabbermouths Say?
We should stress that this isn’t really about colors saying the wrong thing about you. Every color has both negative and positive connotations. When your color choices aren’t well-aligned, it may not hurt you.
However, when you get the alignment just right, the emotional resonance that can occur can dramatically improve the perception of your brand. So this is more about improving your marketing efforts, not avoiding a negative situation. It is possible to weigh your brand down with poor color choices, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
Red is a warm color associated with excitement, passion, love, and energy. It’s thought to stimulate the appetite both for food, sex, and other drives. It’s a raw color that has correlations with aggression, violence, and anger, though these aren’t commonly associated with businesses.
For companies, it suggests that you’re passionate about what you do. Red connotes strength, and it can let people know that you’re driven to succeed. Red is good for companies whose products or services are associated with excitement, adrenaline, and unbridled joy.
Orange is a warm color as well, but its associations are more subdued. Companies that choose orange as their dominant color can enjoy connections to optimism, adventure, and a lack of inhibitions. Orange is a fun color that correlates well with creativity, sociability, and family.
Interestingly, studies have found that, for an unexplained reason, people increasingly dislike orange as they get older. If senior citizens are your primary market, orange might be a poor choice as their hackles will go up the moment they see your logo.
If your company operates in the educational space, or if you provide services for children, yellow may help to amplify your messaging. It’s a playful color associated with growth, mental clarity, logic, and happiness. It tends to brighten people’s moods, due in large part to its associations with the sun.
However, with yellow, you can have too much of a good thing. Large swaths of the color can be hard to look at and can cause feelings of agitation and restlessness. Restrain your yellow and pair it with another complementary color.
Green is found everywhere in nature, and so its associations with health, vitality, and eco-consciousness were unavoidable. Green is a cool color, so it tends to have a relaxing effect. It puts people at ease and communicates self-assuredness, kindness, and compassion.
“Green” companies can take advantage of these traits to sell their environmental bona fides. The fact that the color is now a catch-all term for these businesses says it all.
Blue is the coolest, most comforting of the major color categories. Not surprisingly, it’s the world’s favorite color. Blue is calming and inviting. It communicates solidity and trustworthiness. Businesses that live by their reputations often choose blue as their dominant marketing color because of its associations with reliability, integrity, and maturity.
Because of these associations, blue can also come off as stodgy, boring, and antiquated if misused. Brands targeting younger markets should choose more active colors.
In the days before modern, chemical pigments, purple was a very difficult, expensive color to create. As a result, it became associated with royalty and wealth, associations that it still enjoys today.
Purple tends to be viewed as a more exotic color, with connections to mystery, extravagance, and fantasy. It’s one of the more difficult colors for businesses to use, precisely because people often don’t know what to make of it. But luxury brands and other companies looking to make a bold, evocative statement can get a boost from purple.
Color Won’t Shut Up, So Choose the Ones Saying the Right Things
Musicians know tone and timbre. Chefs know how to maximize flavor. We, designers, know how to orchestrate the visible spectrum’s constant chatter into a potent harmony that sings the praises of your company.
Let us put that knowledge to work for you. Give us a call so that we can discuss what your colors are currently saying about you and what, if any, changes are in order to help amplify the best parts of your brand.