What color comes to mind when I say Coca-Cola? How about McDonald’s? Brands like these have used brand color psychology to create powerful associations in the minds of their customers.
Brand color psychology is about more than just associating a brand with its signature color, though. It’s about the feelings and emotions these colors inspire in us.
Coca-Cola’s signature red means its product is forever linked to feelings of positivity, fun, and energy. And it’s hard to think about McDonald’s golden arches without also thinking about happiness, optimism, and, yes, French fries.
In what follows, we’ll unpack the implications of color psychology in branding, why these implications are so important, and how to pick a color for your own brand.
- What Is Brand Color Psychology?
- Why Is Color Psychology in Branding Important?
- Tips for Picking Your Brand Colors
- Color Psychology Chart
- The Psychology of Colors in Branding
- The Takeaway
What is Brand Color Psychology?
Brand color psychology is the study of how color impacts the way we perceive a brand. Colors have a powerful effect on our emotions. And these emotions play a major role in how we behave as consumers.
Why Is Color Psychology in Branding Important?
An understanding of color psychology in branding gives you one more tool in the underlying goal of branding: shaping the perceptions that drive consumer behavior.
While the effect that colors have on our emotions differs from person to person based on gender, cultural context, personal experience, and neurological variances, there are some general guidelines that have been borne out by countless color psychology studies.
You might have heard that the color red can evoke feelings of either romance or danger. Or that blue can call to mind emotions like serenity or coldness.
But what about orange? Or grey? And what of the more subtle emotions like harmony or hope? Which colors are most associated with those?
Since color is among the most fundamental visual stimuli in the human sequence of cognition, these questions are important. Brand color psychology has the answers.
Tips for Picking Your Brand Colors
As you review the various colors and their psychological associations in section below, you may be thinking, “which one is right for my brand?”
There will always be an element of subjectivity to picking the right color for your brand, but understanding brand color psychology will help you choose a color that evokes the emotions you wish to convey.
In conjunction with an understanding of the psychology of color, there are four factors you should keep in mind when picking your brand colors:
1. Choose a Color that is Authentic to Your Brand
Above all, it’s important to choose a color that feels appropriate to your industry and authentic to your products or services.
This is more important in certain industries than in others, but there’s no easier way to turn off potential customers than to pick a color that feels wildly inappropriate for what you do.
2. Choose a Color That Embodies Your Brand Personality
Your brand personality—how you would describe your brand if it was a person—is the part of your brand that audiences identify with on a human level.
Because it evokes human emotions, color is one of the most immediate ways to express brand personality. Choosing a color that embodies your brand personality is critical to building a consistent and cohesive brand experience.
3. Choose a Color That Appeals to Your Audience
Understanding your target audience is Branding 101. This is especially true when picking the right color for your brand.
Consider your typical buyer persona. What color is going to resonate with them most? Whether it is masculine vs. feminine, energetic vs. understated, or passionate vs. practical, your target audience’s defining traits should align with those of your brand color.
4. Choose a Color That Differentiates Your Brand
Another important criterion for choosing your brand color is differentiation. While it is isn’t imperative to choose a color that none of your competitors are using, it can go a long way toward setting your brand apart from the pack.
A competitive brand audit is the best way to do a survey of the colors your top competitors are using so you can identify opportunities for differentiation.
Color Psychology Chart
From the natural world to the artifice of technology, our lives are painted in a kaleidoscope of colors, each with the ability to affect our psyche in predictable ways.
The psychology of color is a powerful tool in design and branding alike. The Color Psychology Chart is a quick glimpse at 12 of the most commonly used colors along with emotive guidelines for each.
Remember, none of these emotional responses are objectively fixed to any given color. When it comes to the psychology of color, culture and context matter.
The Psychology of Colors in Branding
As you’ve seen, there’s no shortage of benefits to understanding the psychology of colors when it comes to branding. You need look no further than the world’s top brands to see examples of how powerful color psychology can me.
So, what are the psychological associations of the most commonly used colors in branding and marketing? What follows is a list of the 12 most commonly used colors, along with the brand color psychology guidelines for each.
Remember, none of these emotional responses are objectively fixed to any given color. When it comes to the psychology of colors in branding, context and culture matter. And because one color can represent two wildly divergent feelings, the specific way in which a brand utilizes color can literally mean the difference between sickness and health (green).
With a solid understanding of your brand positioning and brand personality, choosing the right color for your brand can be a rational, informed decision.
The Psychology of the Color Red
Arguably the most stirring of colors, red’s effects on the psyche are not subtle. It’s therefore important that it be used carefully for branding purposes. Red has been shown to reduce analytical thinking—it speeds up and intensifies our reactions. There’s a reason why clearance sale prices are put on red tags.
Studies have shown that athletes up against opponents wearing red are more likely to lose, and students tend to perform worse on tests if exposed to red beforehand. Red, after all, is the color of stop signs, grammatical mistakes, and negative finances.
Red has the longest wavelength of all the colors, and so appears to be nearer than it actually is. It is the color of passion and romance. Red tends to increase the appetite and is used in a range of colorful terms centered on excitement: red-hot, red-handed, paint the town red, seeing red. Inside the U.S. red is associated with conservatism. Outside the country, it’s long been the banner color for communism and socialism.
Other psychological associations linked to red include:
The Psychology of the Color Orange
At the crossroads of red and yellow sits orange. Orange is stimulatory, conjuring feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and warmth. It is a fun, energetic hue found in the branding of many sports teams.
Not unlike red or yellow, orange is used to draw attention—in traffic cones and advertising collateral. Research shows that consumers tend to associate orange with value, a fact that brands like Home Depot have capitalized on.
On the physical end of the spectrum orange evokes comfort like food, warmth, and shelter. It is the color of sunset, citrus, and pumpkins, forever linked to fall and Halloween for American customers. This is especially the case when it is paired with black, which lends it a tone of cartoonish dread and frivolity.
Orange’s color psychology associations include:
The Psychology of the Color Yellow
Yellow seems to have the smallest fan club of all the colors, but those who do like it are passionate about their preference. It is widely considered a cheerful hue, but too much yellow can also trigger feelings of anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety. This is because it’s the most difficult color to take in. It’s enough to make babies cry in some studies.
Yellow has been shown to increase metabolism, and can lift self-esteem when utilized correctly. Because it has a relatively long wavelength, it is the most visible color; it’s stimulating and attention-grabbing. Traffic signs, advertisements, legal pads, and certain warning labels take advantage of this fact.
Other feelings evoked by yellow include:
The Psychology of the Color Green
The color green is the easiest on our eyes because it requires no adjustment when it hits the retina. It is therefore calming, restful, and pleasing. Performers waiting to go on stage or television wait in “green rooms” to relax. Green can actually improve vision, and is used in night vision because our eyes can discern the most shades of it.
Sitting comfortably in the middle of the spectrum, green is the color of balance. It represents nature, fertility, and even sexuality. The myth of the green M&M is an enduring one. A green world is a safe world, one that is lush, full of water, and life-giving. For this reason it’s a reassuring color often used in healthcare. Like all colors, though, green has its negative side. It is at once the symbol of health and sickness, luck and jealousy.
The list of green’s brand color psychology associations includes:
The Psychology of the Color Turquoise
Turquoise is a transformational color, embodying its spectral position between the contemplative security of blue and the organic ease of green. It suggests clarity of thought and communication. It is an inspiring color, associated with recharging the spirit, replenishing energy levels, and provoking positive thought.
Turquoise is at once introspective and outwardly expressive, suggesting creativity and self-expression. In the marketplace, turquoise is often found in brands centered on communication, including education, media, and computer technology. It is an ideal color for cleaning products as it evokes cleanliness and purity without being too sterile.
As a color of transformation, turquoise can suggest indecision and a lack of grounded deliberation when used in the wrong context.
Other psychological traits associated with turquoise are:
The Psychology of the Color Blue
Where red is the color of the body, blue evokes the mind. Serene and calming, it is the color of clarity and communication. According to brand color psychology studies, blue is the most common favorite color among the world’s population and is particularly preferred by men. It is, of course, everywhere in our daily lives. It’s the color of the sky, the oceans, and the lakes.
This global preference and environmental omnipresence make blue non-threatening, conservative, and traditional. Brands are not taking any risks when they call on a shade of blue for their identity. It is seen as a sign of stability and reliability, and it’s been shown that workers are more productive in blue rooms. Financial brands like those in private equity often use blue to convey trustworthiness and security.
Blue, of course, is also the color of sadness and coldness. It is among the least appetizing of colors as it is an indicator of spoilage and poison. Weight loss plans suggest you eat food off a blue plate as you’re liable to eat less of it.
Across the spectrum, blue’s emotional attributions include:
The Psychology of the Color Purple
At the intersection of red and blue, purple is an intriguing balance of masculine and feminine traits—at once warm and cool, yet neither. This melding of blue’s calmness and red’s stimulation can be unnerving unless the dominance of one or the other is clear. Blueish purple, then, is patently cool, while reddish purple is patently warm.
Purple is the color of royalty and bravery, and connotes wealth, luxury, and sophistication. It is among the rarest colors in nature and as such can come across as either special or artificial.
Purple sits in the shortest wavelength and is the last to be visible. For this reason, it is associated with time, space, and the cosmos. It’s imbued with spirituality, contemplation, and mediation, suggesting creativity and imagination.
Purple’s brand color psychology associations include the following:
The Psychology of the Color Magenta
Not quite red and not quite purple, Magenta is very much its own hue with a slew of distinct and psychological implications. Magenta is a color of emotional balance and physical harmony. It’s sophisticated yet pragmatic, evocative of logic and perspicacity.
Magenta is redolent of compassion, support, and kindness, and is associated with feelings of self-respect and contentment. It’s a color of transformation, suggesting the sloughing off of old ideas and the embrace of new ones.
Magenta retains a certain level of boldness from red and can thusly appear either outrageous and shocking or innovative and imaginative, depending on the context. It is well suited to creative, nonconformist endeavors.
The brand color psychology implications of magenta include the following:
The Psychology of the Color Brown
Brown is made up of constituent hues red and yellow, with a large percentage of black. For this reason, it is imbued with much of the same seriousness as black, but with a warmer, softer tone.
Brown is sturdy and reliable, the color of earth and abundant in nature. It has the dependability and authenticity of wood or leather and is more often among the preferred colors of men than women. It has quietly supportive overtones but can also be sad and wistful. At heart a practical and utilitarian color, brown can be sophisticated if used correctly.
Brown’s brand color psychology attributes include:
- Lack of sophistication
The Psychology of the Color Black
Black is the total absorption of all color. This fact alone has profound psychological implications. Black is a symbol of power. It is a barrier color: it absorbs energy and enshrouds the personality. It is essentially the absence of light, which gives it its ominous overtones.
There is no nuance to black, at least not conceptually. With its diametric partner in crime, white, black stands for sophistication, weight, and seriousness. Black is timeless and effortlessly stylish. Think the little black dress or a certain iconic black turtleneck.
Black is the color of sophistication, but also of mourning. Worn by both priests and villains, it can imply submission (to God) or nefariousness and evil.
Black’s brand color psychology associations of include:
The Psychology of the Color Gray
Pure gray is the one color that’s been shown to have no dominant psychological characteristic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not powerfully suggestive. Gray is modern and sophisticated, a hue that has worked well for technology and luxury brands. Its inherent subtlety can be both a strength and a weakness.
Skillful use of gray evokes power and sophistication; it is a crisp slate on which bold concepts thrive. Gray is the color of ominous but powerful weather—a cloak over the existence of color rather than the absence of it. It has a profound effect on the colors around it, working both to balance tones and establish negative space in lieu of white.
The brand color psychology attributes of gray comprise:
- Lack of confidence
- Lack of energy
The Psychology of the Color White
Where black is the absorption of all light and the embodiment of all color, white is the reflection and absence. For this reason, it has long been a symbol of purity and innocence. In healthcare settings, white implies cleanliness and sterility. Outside of the hospital, it is an irrevocable indicator of the fairer seasons—rare is the fashion faux pas more egregious than wearing white after Labor Day.
White’s association with marriage and wedding dresses is deeply entrenched. It is also modern, leveraged by brands like Apple to denote a chic, sleek style. It is the most minimal of all the colors, imbuing a heightened perception of space.
White is the color of blank slates, symbolizing freshness and new, untarnished beginnings. The sterility that is positive for white in the healthcare sphere can count against it elsewhere. Used haphazardly, white can bring to mind coldness, emptiness, and isolation.
The brand color psychology implications of white include:
Your brand’s visual identity strongly influences how the world perceives your company. And color is one of the most essential components of visual identity.
Choosing a color that is authentic to your brand, embodies your brand personality, appeals to your audience, and differentiates your company from the competition is one of the best ways to create a powerful and meaningful visual identity.
Understanding the psychology of colors in branding is the first step in picking the best candidate on the color wheel. So, which color is right for your brand?