The value of colour psychology in brand building

I often find myself having to persuade people, especially in B2B, of the value that great design can add to a brand. It is a personal goal of mine to demonstrate to those that see design as a commodity that we do have a serious role to play. It’s not just expensive colouring in—design is a very important component in building brand engagement—a delicate mix of science and art. And it can make a major difference to the bottom line!

Creating emotional attachment

One of the key factors in gaining brand loyalty and emotional attachment is colour—getting colours right and using colour psychology to a brand’s advantage. Creating emotional attachment works on two levels, the immediate emotional level—for example a customer may see an ad and feel instantly that they are attracted to what they are seeing, perhaps without being able to explain why. Rationally, emotional attachment is created by intentionally creating an attraction to the brand by using the right balance of colours.

A brand ad or any other marketing material will use a range of colours. One of the most fundamental parts of the process is creating the colour palette, making sure it complements the brands logo, getting it right and using this across all brand materials and ensuring consistency to build trust and create a connection with the brand. Seeing continuity across a brand, whether B2B or B2C, makes customers feel that they are talking to a brand that cares about the detail and is therefore worth listening to.

Appealing to the subconscious

The key is in learning how to create the attachment and ensuring it is implemented throughout the brand. For example, we recently ran a photo shoot for a brand website that we are developing. We will then make very subtle changes to the images, tweaking eye colour or backgrounds for instance to complement the brand palette.

Is it right to appeal to the subconscious? Yes indeed. It’s not just from a marketing perspective that we do this—it is happening everywhere. If we see an image of a footballer in a red shirt against a background of fresh, green grass the chances are most people will say they like the photo, but not really able to say why—it appeals to our subconscious. All our senses are heavily influenced by our subconscious.

If there was no such thing as colour psychology we’d see a lot of black and white, on brands on supermarket shelves, on advertising billboards, we wouldn’t need anything else—functional, perhaps even practical but wouldn’t that be dull and boring!

What colour works best?

It depends entirely on what it’s for. The psychology of colours is a very complex subject, full of science, but laced with cultural, personal, experimental and instinctive subjectivity.

For every positive attribute a colour has—yellow represents optimism, enthusiasm, creativity, but also negatives—it’s also associated with nervousness, cowardice, jaundice. Green is ‘fresh’ but also associated with poison. How colour is used will influence whether a message is seen as positive or negative.

But there are rules:

1. Opposites attract. It is no great surprise that Heinz Baked Beans packaging is a shade of blue that is almost opposite to the orange of the beans on the colour wheel. Colour combinations can be very influential and the reasons are varied. It’s part of our culture now that we associate purple and brown with a certain brand of confectionery. Purple is associated with wealth, silk is associated with wealth. I’m sure we have heard about the silky smooth taste of Cadburys. The colour is so important to Cadburys as a brand too as we know—having now patented its own Pantone!

2. Shades of colours can be grouped together. In very simplistic terms the four seasons have different hues taken from the spectrum of colour. The colours associated with spring are much fresher than the warmer tones associated with autumn, for example. Both include for example, yellow, but the shades are quite different. Mixing colours from each group can cause a dissonance that is hard for many to express, but relatively easy to spot—“I know it’s not quite right, but not sure why!” An example in our technically advanced world is the ability to buy flowers out of their natural season. A daffodil in spring looks right. In autumn the tone of yellow is out of kilter with the season and so looks wrong but people do still buy them.

3. There are associations with nature that continue into business.

Blue is a calming colour—thank goodness, given, when the weather allows it, the sky is full of it! It is therefore a colour used by organisations that may wish to promote a sense of calm and care.

Brands become associated with colours and it can be very difficult to change—a rebrand cannot be done by halves. Starbucks is associated with the colour green, not a colour associated with coffee—and yet any other colour now would seem strange. It is only when a brand is making a major strategic change in its direction, its approach and style that a complete colour change can work. The RAC’s change a few years ago from Blue to Orange is a good case study for this. Quite interesting though that there is still a symmetry to the change they made, as the colours are almost exactly opposite one another on the colour wheel!

Continuity and consistency creates brand integrity that will ultimately create brand loyalty—which today is increasingly difficult to gain. So, a little more focus on design now can see brands gaining in the long term.

About the Author

Simon Wright studied Graphic Design at London College of Printing. Having set up a design studio in Saudi Arabia and agency roles in London, he became Managing Director of Greenwich Design in 1994.

His expertise spans a wide range of disciplines across various design and marketing channels.

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