Color is one of the most powerful tools to set your brand apart from the competition and create a lasting impression in the minds of consumers. In fact, color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent. While there are some important rules to consider, the trick is to keep it simple.
Here are the top five factors we consider when selecting colors for your brand:
1. Competitor Colors
Knowing what your competitors are up to—in the local, regional, or national markets—is critical. Competitor assessments are a foundational part of Meld’s Discovery process, so by the time we get to brand development, we already have a sense of where you should position your brand. When reviewing competitor brands, we’re considering how they look, what they say, and who they’re targeting. Color is one of the most important aspects of a brand’s look and feel. It’s important to distinguish yourself from your competitors with a unique identity that won’t confuse you with, or mistake you for, another player in the market.
Take a look at color in the crowded field of cell phone service providers. Verizon is red, AT&T is blue, Sprint is yellow, and T-Mobile is magenta. These colors don’t hold any special significance in the industry, but they do define the company’s territory. If you’re a competitor entering that market, good luck convincing customers that a red or blue graphic represents your brand, not Verizon or AT&T.
As an exercise, use a color wheel and place your key competitors’ logos as close as you can to where their primary brand color falls on the wheel. Now look at the colors you’re considering for your brand—avoid the clusters and look for the gaps. When Urban Acres Real Estate first came to Meld as just an idea, a competitor assessment showed many local real estate agencies with very traditional-looking red and blue brands. This led Urban Acres to their now-iconic orange identity and to their launch campaign, “Orange is the new SOLD.”
2. Color Associations
There are also industries where a strong association between your product or service and a specific color makes avoiding your competitors’ colors a bad idea. Many colors have widely accepted meanings and significance, which can vary from culture to culture and include anything from dated gender stereotypes to indicators of what type of milk you’re picking up from the store. These associations affect how we perceive color—whether we’re aware of it or not—and your brand color is most effective when consumers see it as a “fit” for the brand.
If this is a situation you’re facing, the specific hues you’re using, the way you apply color, and other choices in your overall visual style can distinguish you from your competitors. When Meld sat down with Kalona Organics to build the Kalona SuperNatural brand, meeting customer expectations in the dairy aisle required firm rules for brand color, but other decisions in the packaging design—from the shape of the bottle to the unexpectedly bold way in which those standard colors were applied—set the product apart from the competition.
3. Color Application
Once you’ve settled on a color range, choosing the exact hue can get technical. It might not be something you’ve noticed before, but there can be a huge discrepancy between how something looks on a screen, in print, on the side of a bus, or on a t-shirt.The biggest factor to consider is the difference in color spaces: the model used to produce color on screens (RGB) is different from color models used in printing (CMYK and Pantone) because they are completely different contexts (a blank screen is black until you add light and color; a blank piece of paper is white until you add pigment). To make matters even more confusing, colors will look different from screen to screen and page to page, as factors like monitor calibration and paper finish also play a role in the appearance of your brand’s color.
In general, for each color in your brand, you should know the color values for CMYK, RGB, and Pantone. Identifying the closest analogous color in each of these color spaces sooner rather than later in the process can help you avoid getting your heart set on a color that only works in one context. There’s nothing worse than falling for a neon hue that looks great on screen, but is impossible to accurately render in print. Beyond the context of where you’re applying color, you also need to consider what colors you’re likely applying it with. It’s important to not only look at your primary brand color but your entire brand palette, and to examine how the colors work with and against each other. Visual vibrations (the interference of afterimages with what you’re currently looking at) are a guaranteed problem if you’re using bright, contrasting colors, but they can occur in seemingly unlikely combinations as well.
4. Legibility and Accessibility
This should be a no-brainer, but make sure your logo is comfortably legible in your brand color, regardless of its size, from a billboard to the return address on a printed envelope. This will likely depend equally on both your brand color and the contrast of the font in your wordmark and line weight of your logo. If you’re considering a pale tint like light yellow or gray, realize that that may limit you to working only with dark backgrounds—otherwise, you might be facing a low contrast issue.An easy-to-overlook but surprisingly large population to keep in mind when considering legibility is those with color blindness or “color vision deficiency.” For every 100 visitors to your website, as many as eight people could have some form of color blindness. Since different kinds of color blindness affect people in different ways, it’s difficult to determine which colors are “safe” to use in your brand. In general, try to limit your color palette (the fewer colors you’re using, the less chance of visual confusion), avoid low-contrast color pairings, and never rely on color alone to convey your message.
One final but important detail: as in fashion, trends in graphic design come and go. Some hang around for what feels like ages, while others are gone in the flash, leaving anyone who invested in these styles wearing last summer’s man bun. This rule obviously applies to many aspects of your brand, but can be easily forgotten when it comes to color!
Don’t get me wrong—it is smart to be aware of and informed by design trends, but it’s not wise to go all-in on an emerging trend for a brand identity you’ll hopefully be sporting for the next decade. We want your brand to feel fresh and relevant, but it’s also important to keep longevity in mind. The best brands don’t feel of the time, they feel timeless, and strong design that’s rooted in brand strategy can withstand that test.
Interested in learning more about other strategic considerations for your new logo or brand? Let’s talk.