I was teaching a class last week and someone asked about the importance of color in your branding. Choosing appropriate colors for your logo and all of your materials is extremely important! Color is the first impression you give to your potential clients. 

You might not have thought about the influence of color, but the colors you use in your branding identity start communicating all about you before you can open your mouth and say hello. 

We have instant reactions to color subconsciously. Have you ever stopped to think about why fast-food chains’ logos are mostly red and yellow? It’s more than ketchup and mustard, although, there may be something to that. The colors are crisp and clean, they are not tie-dyed, water-colored hues. They are in your face to grab your attention. When used together, red and yellow communicate excitement, quick-paced, immediate satisfaction.

Relax and Stay Awhile

On the contrary, fine dining establishments use colors that suggest you should stay a while. Open another bottle of wine, enjoy dessert, and an after-dinner drink. They use deeper tones of red, maybe dark forest green. Classic black and white seems to be a favorite for steakhouses. Add some metallic treatments to class it up. The booths are comfortable, the lighting is dim and cozy. 

It is said that blue is the most unappetizing color. When you think about it, we have very few blue foods. Even blueberries aren’t exactly blue like an M&M. In food, blue is a novelty color (Jello, Slurpees, candy). When you see blue for restaurants, it’s often representing something cold like Foster’s Freeze or other ice cream establishments. Or it’s used as an accent color, often times to insinuate All-American patriotism with red, white, and blue, or blue and white at Greek restaurants.

In the corporate world, however, blue is everywhere. In addition to it inferring cold, it stands for loyalty, truth, stability, calmness. It is neither volatile nor alarming. It’s widely used by large corporations, financial institutions, and consultancies of every size. If you use a light blue, moving toward powder or sky, know that it becomes very hard to read. This color, like that of a grid on graph paper, or lines on notebook paper, is known in the printing industry as “no-photo blue” because it does not photocopy. If you use a light blue in type, then treat it like yellow and outline it.

Red is used to attract attention, like a stop sign or a siren, but also used to communicate passion and high energy. Beyond fast food restaurants, red takes the spotlight for Coca-Cola, Coors, Netflix, Macys, and YouTube. All of these brands are fun and entertaining. It’s also the color choice for brands you can rely on when things go bad––Red Cross, Band-Aid, and McAfee.

Yellow, the last of the primary colors, inspires optimism and a sunny disposition. When not opposite red to sell meal deals, yellow is mostly used as an accent with black. Industrious like a bee, yellow with black is used by Hertz, Post-It, Bic, Yellow Cab. Taken a step further, it’s used in construction, tools, and road signs: CAT, DeWalt, Karcher, Landa power washers, caution, railroad crossing. Great as an accent, you need to be careful with yellow. Never use yellow type without outlining it or putting it on a colored background. It is hard to read, especially for older people. 

A Word About Secondary Colors

Green adds a level of freshness, sustainability, growth, nature and natural. Have you noticed that adding a touch of green to yellow takes Subway sandwiches slightly out of the realm of fast food? When you think about it, that’s accurate. There’s no drive-thru at Subway and no sandwich is pre-made, it’s all fresh and you can watch them make it. Green is the prominent color for John Deere farm equipment, Land Rover, Whole Foods, Tropicana, 7-Up, Sprite, and Starbucks. If you want to convey clean energy, green is your color. I’ll let you ruminate over Starbucks’ color choice. 

Orange pops up in many different industries. As you read this you will see that the throughline of brands using orange is accurate. Youth, freedom, enthusiasm, energetic, and creative are some of the terms that describe orange. The brands are Nickelodeon, Home Depot, Harley Davidson, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dunn Edwards, and of course the smile-arrow of Amazon.  

Purple is not often found in corporate logos, but it is often associated with royalty, imagination, spirituality. Crown Royal underscores the royal with a purple bag, embroidered with gold thread as part of its packaging. Other purple brands include Cadbury, Curves, Hallmark, SyFy, and Yahoo. Mostly, I think people are reminded of Prince when they see purple. 

More Colors to Choose, Including Black and White

There are many other hues like pink, turquoise, grey, and brown. I am not going to touch on them all, but I will point out the strength of using black and white. Black represents elegance, sophistication (black tie), power and protection. It’s the steakhouse, but also Corner Bakery. We use black to add a layer of power by really punctuating the coordinating color. 

Include white in your branding to add a dash of cleanliness, innocence, and openness. It’s my belief that In-N-Out’s use of white (uniforms and the tile walls) instills that sense of freshness that is missing from McDonald’s.

More Than Just Your Favorite Color

It’s great to choose colors you love for your business, but what are they saying about you? Are they telegraphing your true story or undermining what you want to accomplish? 

Color Makes a Statement

Sometimes colors are used in a way we are not expecting. This is because you can use color to either make you fit in with a group of companies that already has a large stake of the market share or choose very different colors to make yourself standout. The color gives a first impression, then it’s up to you to follow that with the goods that echo your initial statement. For example, in a world of blue-logoed tech firms, a green logo needs to deliver some new twist or truly be the natural (obvious) answer to the problem. If the new company is just like the others, the color green feels off-brand. Starbucks, for instance, stands out with the green and artwork that has nothing to do with coffee.

It screams, “We are different!!” and Starbucks follows that up consistently, even creating a whole separate nomenclature to order their coffee. Where else does Tall mean Small? 

There’s much more to the psychology of color and I find it all fascinating. If you’d like to discuss your branding, contact me to set-up a quick call. 

For ideas to quickly zhuzh your brand, read more here

Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and small businesses. She is the author of  Laws of Promotion. The 50-page promotional guide for small businesses and local nonprofits iavailable now on Amazon. Reach out with your questions about marketing and PR to be addressed here.

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