WRITTEN BY: KADE O’CONNOR
COLOR is CONTEXT
Many articles on color theory for marketing and branding offer over-simplified advice like ‘use red to make your customers hungry’. Unfortunately, color is far too subjective an experience to universally convey any specific concept. What meaning a color can imbue is dependent on language, culture, and contemporary trends… in short, the context a color is within informs much more than the color itself.
To illustrate this point, we can look to fashion history. Prior to WWI, young American children were typically dressed neutrally in white dresses, regardless of gender. It was practical- easy to bleach, and could be reused for the next baby. Pastels began being introduced mid-19th century, and in the following decades a variety of “rules” came in-and-out of popularity.
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said in June, 1918. Many leading department stores made the same recommendation of pink for boys for years to come, or would make suggestions based on eye or hair color. It wasn’t until about the 1940s that the market settled on the color binary we know today.
Thus, the seemingly inherent femininity of pink and masculinity of blue was entirely up to department stores’ arbitrary interpretation of consumer preferences. Today, more varied and neutral clothing options for young children are regrowing in popularity, a response to the conformity many parents may have grown up with. So, don’t limit yourself to “rules” in your color choices- they’re not set in stone!
BRAND with PERSONALITY
Therefore, in determining a color palette for your brand, instead of looking for which color will get your customers to “do something”, concentrate on developing a brand identity, and then choosing colors appropriate for communicating that personality.
In Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker’s study, Dimensions of Brand Personality, she found five core concepts that play into a brand’s personality: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication, and Ruggedness. What archetype does your brand embody? Color can be used to inform the feeling, image, and mood of your brand, which in turn will persuade your audience. Forest green could be used to convey ruggedness when paired with outdoorsy elements, but can also be sophisticated for a high finance company with the right typeface.
Choosing your color scheme should happen alongside developing your logo and selecting typefaces. Which colors you pair with one another can say a lot about your brand’s personality. A Harmonious palette, comprising of muted tones or monochromatic shades, can feel sincere and calm, and thus suitable for health services, for example. A Dynamic scheme with bright, vibrant colors and high contrast creates a lot of energy. High-energy environments with children, sports, or shopping often utilize vibrant colors. However, a coffee shop could easily go either direction; is it a buy-a-large-espresso-on-your-way-to-work pit stop or a chill-on-your-laptop-at-8-pm café?
CONTRAST with COMPETITION
Competitors often have similar personalities yet need to differentiate themselves from the pack. There is a balancing act to perform to appear relevant and trendy like everyone else, but stand out all the same. Avoiding color clichés can be one way to look unique- if all your competitors have very red logos, it might be a good idea to go another direction. This is where having a distinct brand personality is quite useful. Even though your business may be in competition with a very similar business in the same vicinity, you can still find your niche and shine. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel; just make it your own!