Colors matter in the marketing world. There are brands that are initially associated by color. For instance, Target is synonymous with red and Home Depot is associated with orange. Selecting brand colors for marketing purposes sound simple, but it actually requires a lot of thought.
Colors aren’t just visually appealing, they actually spark emotions in consumers. So, selecting a brand color scheme is more difficult than picking a favorite color, marketers, and designers have to consider a company’s purpose, products, and the emotion it wants to convey.
Consumers pay attention to colors too. Eighty-five percent of consumers say color is the primary influencer during a purchase decision.
This guide will explore color psychology in marketing and provide useful tips to select the ideal colors.
What is color psychology?
Color psychology explores how colors impact human behavior. While it might seem subconscious, color impacts buying decisions. The color of a swimsuit might convince a CTA in an email can do the same.
How does the psychology of color apply to marketing?
Color evokes emotion. It ignites a spark in a consumer, and that’s something marketers look to leverage. Everything from the color of a logo, product, packaging – you name it – elicits a response from buyers. Marketers who pay special attention to colors and how it impacts people can develop a brand color scheme that’s aligned with a company, its values, and its products.
Reasons why color combinations are important
Why are colors so important? In marketing, colors have meaning, can evoke emotion, and become associated with a particular brand. Here’s why it’s so important to choose the best color for your company branding:
When you think of Home Depot, what color springs to mind? Orange, right? Colors become synonymous with a brand. Marketers want a chosen color associated with the company for easy brand recognition.
Colors influence a person’s mood. A bright yellow tends to make a person feel happy, red induces feelings of excitement, and grey gives people a calm feeling. What mood do you want your logo or brand to convey?
Each shade on the color wheel can impact how a consumer perceives your brand. Does the consumer see your brand as exciting? Boring? Sad? Consumers judge a brand by its colors. That judgment shapes their opinion of the company and its products.
By setting brand colors, marketers agree to a set color palette. These colors will be used for years, or maybe even for the life of a company, to provide a consistent brand look. Repetition in marketing is important as it helps sear a brand into the mind of consumers.
The colors selected will steer many marketing decisions. Everything from the company logo and website design to product packaging and stationery will revolve around the colors selected. They’ll work their way into many decision-making conversations, which makes them quite important.
List of color meanings
For marketers trying to understand how different colors impact consumers, it’s important to know what each color represents and the emotions that it can produce. Here’s a look at a list of colors and their meanings:
Red creates a sense of excitement, passion, energy, and action.
Most marketing experts advise using red sparingly because it’s such a bold color. Marketers tend to use it as an accent color in branding or to highlight important aspects of an email, like the call-to-action button.
While many brands add a splash of red to their brand or marketing materials, there are other brands that use it as a predominant brand color. Coca-Cola, YouTube, and Target, for example, all use the color red.
Orange represents creativity, adventure, and enthusiasm.
It’s a cheery, optimistic color that’s associated with sunsets. It’s not as bold or commanding as red, but it’s still used in moderation.
When it comes to branding, orange can be used as a secondary color to draw attention to a specific piece of information. A website might have an orange box or bar on it, for example, that encourages consumers to subscribe to a newsletter or RSVP for an event.
Several big names like Home Depot and Nickelodeon use orange as the main color choice, hoping to capitalize on the friendly and confident emotions that it evokes.
Yellow represents optimism, clarity, and warmth.
Like orange, it’s associated with sunshine and summer.
As with most colors mentioned, yellow is usually sparingly, for most brands. Typically, it’s used to generate a positive feeling, so marketers might use it to highlight a new product or add a dash of it to a site’s web design.
Big brands like Ikea, McDonald’s, Subway, and Best Buy all use yellow to reach their target audience.
Green represents peace, money, and nature, and can sometimes conjure connotations of envy.
Interested in adding this common color to a company’s brand identity? It makes sense for some companies, like those that are involved with nature, like a lawn care service or a natural food company. A business that offers peaceful customer service like a spa or salon might decide to use green in its marketing strategy.
Brands like John Deere, which obviously has a nature connection, and Holiday Inn, which promotes a peaceful stay in its many hotels, use green in their branding.
The color blue represents harmony, peace, loyalty, and trustworthiness.
It’s a warm color that’s often associated with the sea and sky. The color plays on negative emotions too, representing depression or coldness.
Blue is a predominant color in marketing, with many brands using it as a primary color in logos and brand color schemes.
There are many big brands that use blue to bring their brand personality to life. Think Walmart, Lowe’s, and JPMorgan, all of which likely use the color to represent dependability and trustworthiness.
Purple is synonymous with royalty. It represents power, influence, wisdom, and notability, but it can also represent frustration and arrogance.
For those interested in adding it to their list of color preferences, it can be used as a main color or accent. Marketers might decide to add a splash of purple to a logo, for example, or go all-in with the royal color and use it as the dominant brand color.
Purple is the right color for some brands, like Hallmark or Barbie, while other brands choose to use it as a secondary color.
Pink symbolizes playfulness and femininity.
Often used to target women, pink isn’t a common color that brands use. However, it does make sense for some like Victoria’s Secret.
Brands that aren’t catering to women probably won’t use this color at all.
White represents cleanliness, innocence, purity, and truth.
More brands are embracing white in their branding and their online presence. Websites, for example, are using more white space. Images shared on social media are following the trend as well.
There are a handful of brands that use white in their color palette, one of the most notable is probably Adidas.
Black represents power and sophistication.
Black is a strong color that’s easy to read and is commonly used in marketing. For some, it’s an accent color that outlines the letter of a brand name. For others, it’s more prevalent.
Most brands will use black in some capacity, even if it’s just as text on their website or emails.
Nike, Apple, and The New York Times, all use black in their brand logos.
Grey represents neutrality and balance.
Grey, like black, is often used in some form on marketing materials. It’s a fairly common color, though many brands do adjust the shade or tint of the color to their liking.
Popular grey logos include Nintendo and Wikipedia.
Things to consider when selecting a brand color scheme
To make sure marketers weigh the importance of color, here are a few other things to keep in mind:
Weigh the difference between warm, cool, and neutral colors
Marketers will likely research individual colors to see how a certain color affects a consumer, but understanding the difference between warm, cool, and neutral colors is a good place to start.
Warm colors, which are red, orange, and yellow, are generally energizing and positive. Cool colors, which are green, blue, and purple, are more subtle colors and encourage consumers to feel calm, relaxed, and committed.
Neutral colors, like white, black, and brown, are often sleek, modern, and professional colors to use.
Consider the colors used by big brands
Picking brand colors can be a challenge, so it might provide some direction to look at what colors big brands use. Here’s the breakdown of colors that are used in big brands:
- Blue: 33%
- Red: 29%
- Black, grey, silver: 28%
- Yellow, gold: 13%
The list doesn’t include colors like pink, brown, white because there are so few brands that use these colors.
Colors have different meanings in different cultures
In this guide, color associations are listed for the U.S., but it’s important to know that different countries and cultures interpret colors differently. In China, for example, red is the color of prosperity, but in South Africa, red represents grief or mourning.
Make sure your color theory is based on the correct location and culture.
Less is more
While brands will likely have an entire color palette to choose from, most marketing efforts will boil down to two or three colors. Marketers shouldn’t feel as though they need dozens of colors or different shades of specific colors. Don’t overthink it. Less is more.
Steps to choosing the right brand colors
Consider the brand mission, values, and story
Start by reviewing the company’s history. Review its mission, values, and story. It might seem elementary, but marketers should ask simple questions like:
- How did the company start?
- What’s the company’s purpose?
- Who is our ideal customer?
- How is the company different or memorable?
Jot down the answers to these questions as a starting point.
Put together a company/product collage
Next, put together a collage. While it might sound like an unnecessary craft project, it’s actually a great visual exercise. Put pictures of products on the board, pictures that represent the company, and even abstract images that you want people to think of when they think of the company brand.
Review color psychology
With notes written down about the company, start researching the impact of color. Which color is a good match for the brand, company, or product? This sounds simple, but it will take some time. The use of color is wildly important to marketing, so it’s wise to conduct research, gather feedback, and put a fair amount of thought into the colors that will represent a company.
Pick a primary color and a secondary color
As you review your collage and color options, you need to select a primary color and a secondary color, or a complementary color.
Use a tool to create a color palette
With a primary color and a secondary color selected, marketers can turn to a tool like Colr.com or Paletton to get a complete color palette. Simply enter the two colors you want to work with and the platform will provide a full array of colors that go with them. You can adjust the palette, tweak certain shades, and save different variations, all within these simple online tools.
Tips to include the perfect colors in a brand logo
Ready to create a company logo? There are some rules to follow, which include:
Don’t use more than three colors
Too many colors make a logo look messy or unprofessional. Most advise using two or three colors. Usually, the colors are used in a 60/30/10 split.
Pick fonts carefully
Marketers have spent quite a bit of time selecting the right colors for the brand, but a font is also needed. Most brands have one, maybe two, fonts. Take some time to look through fonts and pick one that aligns with your brand’s identity and complements the emotions evoked by the colors.
Of course, a font should be clean and readable. The last thing a company owner wants is to create a logo that can’t be read by consumers.
Embrace white space
Designers don’t need to fill an entire canvas with color. White space should be used to keep the logo fresh, clean, and uncluttered.
Consider the use of shapes
Designers can introduce shapes to a logo to add depth, dimension, and curb appeal. In most cases, a logo includes a company name, which can be set apart by putting the text in a box or a circle, for example.
Think about where the logo will go
Will the logo be on t-shirts, uniforms, or shoes? Maybe the logo will be on a hard-surfaced product or stitched into something soft like bedsheets. Think about where the logo will go. Ideally, you’ll print the logo on various items to see how it looks. By doing so, you might realize that the logo doesn’t look good on apparel, for example, and may need to be tweaked.
Add visual images
If a company is named, “Computer Repair by Karen” the logo might have an image of a computer. There might be an image or an icon added to a logo that can instantly tell customers what the company does. Designers can collect a few different images to start with and see which one works best.
Don’t overthink it
Sometimes, company owners or designers get so wrapped up in the logo, that they overthink it. A logo should be a visual representation of your company. It should be readable, appealing, and align with the brand. It’s not a one-of-a-kind Picasso painting, it’s a logo, so keep it in context.
Make gradual changes over time
In time, the brand will likely grow and expand to different consumers. As it does, a logo might need to change. However, the growth of a company doesn’t necessarily mean a logo is scratched and a fresh one designed. Most companies make small updates to their logo to refresh it.
Create a few different versions
It’s not uncommon for companies to have about four different logo variations to accommodate different use cases. There’s a primary logo, which is obviously the most-used logo, and a horizontal logo, which displays text in one horizontal line as opposed to stacking it.
Companies usually have a submark, which is a simplified version of the logo. It might contain the initials of the company and a small icon. The fourth version is a favicon, which is the smallest logo that sits in the browser tab next to the company URL.
Every company should consider the psychological effects of color. With the information and tips provided in this guide, companies should be able to streamline the color selection process.