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The Psychology of Color

Apr 5, 2021

When you think about iconic brands, such as Coca-Cola or Best Buy, what is it about their look that makes a mark on your brain? Is it their unique font or bold logo? Or is it the color of their brands that never leave your mind? We see brand colors everywhere we go, and although they all feature a variation of the colors we can all recognize, the colors are unique to each individual brand. From the restaurants we choose to dine at, or the products we pick up off the shelves, to the clothes we wear—color plays an important role in marketing and in our minds.  

It’s hard to believe every color chosen by a brand is intentional and part of a bigger strategy to get our attention. All color choices, down to the color of a brand font, have more than just a visual or aesthetic appeal— colors can trigger specific connotations and psychological associations within consumers. Understanding how colors affect mood is crucial in comprehending the nuanced impact they have on consumer perceptions. Keep reading to learn about the psychology of color and the impact it can make with your brand.

Why It’s Important

An effective color palette is one that evokes a series of feelings or emotions. After experiencing your brand colors for the first time, your audience begins to form connections and associations to the world around them. Color surrounds us on a daily basis, and has been historically known to provide an association with certain meanings and emotions.

A popular example used by marketers is McDonald’s use of red and yellow to excite their hungry customers. As explored in a study by Penn State University, the color red makes people feel “comforted” and “loved,” the way you would feel after eating a good meal. Whereas the color yellow evokes an “exciting” feeling that has been seen to improve an individual’s metabolism, making them hungry faster. Color has also contributed to the iconography of the McDonald’s brand—their bright yellow golden arch is immediately recognizable around the world.

A color wheel with each color called out and adjectives associated with each

Evoking Emotions From a Color Palette

To explore the emotional appeals of color even further, take a look at the color wheel above. As you can see, one color may have several meanings, while conflicting with other colors simultaneously. For example, purple can represent royalty and power while also evoking modesty. Color associations can also change when combined with one another, which is important to consider throughout the design process. Take the color red for example. When paired with black, the colors can evoke passion and mystery. Meanwhile, red combined with blue can evoke confidence, spirit, and success. Choosing just one color for your brand is impossible, so the emotions colors evoke when paired together should be considered while building or redesigning your brand.

Once you have identified the colors that represent your brand, you should also explore finding the right shades and color variations. A deeper blue is akin to security and trust as exemplified by our client, Legacy Protection Lawyers, while a teal color may evoke a beachy feeling of calm as seen with our branding for 82° West Distilling. Shades can also represent temporal meanings, in which an item relates to time as distinguished from space. Introducing a light purple, for example, can evoke the color of nostalgia, where a bright blue is associated with themes of the future.

Another detail to consider when designing your brand, is whether your look should incorporate warm or cool toned colors. Are you a non-profit that provides a sense of community to your audience? Try using warmer colors to evoke a sense of protection and reassurance. In contrast, a software company that provides cutting-edge technology may implement cool tones that are usually associated with growth and innovation.

Choosing the right color usually boils down to determining what you want your audience to feel when they think of your brand. Our client Hyde Park Event Design wanted to incorporate a subdued color palette that would evoke a feeling of sophistication, as a luxury event management company. Whereas, a colorful, bright palette can support a brand’s message of positivity, excitement, and cheerfulness, as our client Drink Katy’s wanted to convey with their products.

Finding Complementary Colors to Build a Palette

The one or two main colors you choose to represent your brand serve as the foremost associations consumers make when they interact with your company. Once a primary color or two are determined, the next step is to identify complementary colors to build the rest of your brand palette. These secondary or tertiary colors can help further shape the visual identity. A bold red can be softened by a light gray to add balance and avoid a brand from feeling too stark. The amount of each color is important to think about as well—Is the purpose of a certain color or shade to boldly grab attention or to simply accentuate or complement other elements?

When building a color palette, work with your creative agency to make sure that incorporating additional colors doesn’t hinder or change the message you originally set out to deliver. You might think, the more colors and messages associated with the brand, the more emotion that it will evoke from the audience, right? Technically yes, however, you might end up overwhelming the audience with a variety of different color meanings. The key is to stick to one key color palette that compliments your brand identity and establishes a positive association amongst your audience. If you're unsure where to start to build your own color palette, consider finding the right marketing agency, like Pyper, Inc., who can help ensure cohesion and impact in developing your brand's message.

Making the Right Choice

Before setting out to find your color palette, you need to know exactly what your brand can offer consumers. It begins with answering core branding questions such as, What are my core values? Or how do I want to be viewed by my target audience?

Choosing your brand’s colors is just one piece of your marketing strategy—and a very important one, to say the least. Working with brand experts to build your brand is the beginning of a strategic approach to get your consumers on your side. Ready to start designing? We’re here to help!