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The strategy of color in brand identity.

Consider a red can of cola; blue striped capital letters, a black apple, and yellow arches –what brands come to mind? In each instance, color enables us to instantly recognize brands and draw emotional associations with them.

Effective and comprehensive brand strategy must consider the critical importance of color. Color is far more than a simple aesthetic consideration in the tool kit of components that make up brand identity and experience. Color is the very first perception customers will have with your brand, and along with perception comes a whole host of emotional associations.

For a growing enterprise, the color of your brand is an essential character in your brand’s story. When choosing a color to represent your brand, you must think far beyond personal, subjective preferences.

Color and the brain.

Visual perception is the primary sense humans have for exploring and making sense of their environment. Colors trigger a diverse set of responses within the cerebral cortex of the brain and throughout the central nervous system. The proper perception of color has been one of the key drivers of human evolution. If color is that important to human evolution, just think how important it is to building the value of your brand.

Once we humans identify a color, we instantly have a chemical reaction in our brain that produces an emotional response.

This response triggers a multitude of thoughts, memories and associations to people, places and events. Color affects us in profound ways. Our brains are designed to respond to color. This all happens instantly under our conscious awareness.

We all know color is nothing more than the reflection of certain light waves picked up by your optic nerve, transmitted through nerves to your brain.  Color doesn’t really exist; it’s only a reflection. Within our conscious minds, we have all been predisposed and indoctrinated to give meanings and feelings to particular colors within the context of what the culture at large values. These cultural associations to specific colors need to be a big driver of your strategic and creative decisions when forming the foundation of your brand’s identity in the marketplace.

Within the spectrum of visible light, there is a physiological effect. Colors with long wavelengths (red for example) illicit a faster recognition response in the brain. While colors with shorter wavelengths (blue) are more soothing and can actually lower pulse, respiration and blood pressure. It’s no accident that an insurance brand like Progressive would have blue as the primary color it its visual identity system.

The same is true for other colors in the spectrum. Yellow is a middle wavelength color detected by the eye. Consequently yellow, because it is the brightest, commands attention more easily. This is why yellow is used in road signs, the Yellow Pages and on Catepillar construction equipment. Yellow is about attention, even caution, while red powerfully represents sex and seduction.

Colors convey a mood and defined emotional state.

Colors affect us in many different ways but all colors create a specific frame of mind for people–it’s called a mood. Having people be in the most receptive mood is essential for their engagement with your brand. Color sets the mood of brand expression, and more importantly, creates mental associations to the meaning of your brand within the context of the world it lives in.

John Deere owns green which means tractor. IBM has a royal blue, which represents stability and reliability. Fed Ex chose two clashing colors (orange and purple) which represents something important has dependably been delivered to you worthy of your attention–and your signature.

Color and Visual Identity.

Color is foundational to the visual identity of your brand in all its expressions and executions–logos, packaging, products, environments and all forms of marketing communications. UPS built their whole brand story around the proposition “what can brown do for you?” Apple transformed how we think of desktop computers through the creative use of color. It’s amazing when you look back at the profound impact this simple little innovation had in building the foundation of what Apple has become today.

Selecting the right color for your brand.

To convey a simple idea of meaning and differentiation requires you select a color that properly fits your strategic positioning. Selecting a color (and color scheme) for your brand must represent the audience emotional associations and desires, and the value proposition or promise your brand brings to those desires.

Selecting the appropriate color to represent and differentiate your brand must be based on several criteria. Here are three of the most important:

The Target Audience Who are those people, what do they care about, what mood do they need to be in to engage with your brand? Different consumers are affected by color in different ways and cultural trends are always in transition. What color best anchors the meaning of your value to your audience and distinguishes your brand from the competition in the category?

The Brand Archetype If you have determined the appropriate archetype for your brand, what color best represents the attributes of the archetype? For example, if your brand archetype is the Explorer, you probably will consider colors that represent the outdoors or anything that is associated with the persona of that archetype. Red probably would not be a wise choice.

The Culture Color means different things to people in different parts of the world, in different cultures. In the US, white represents purity, while in some regions of Asia it is the color of morning. Color perceptions and meanings change with race, age, social class, gender and religion. The demographics and psychographics that are most dominate in the culture will be an important consideration in selecting the color that represents your brand in markets the brand serves.

The Bottom Line

Selecting colors to represent your brand should never an exercise in trendiness, or coolness, driven by the whims of your ad agency creative director or the personal taste of the CEO’s spouse. Properly chosen colors define your brand’s value, strengthen and support your brand positioning, enable greater awareness and customer recall, and distinguish your brand among its alternatives. Picking the right color should never be underestimated.


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