Building your brand colours

As part of developing a comprehensive business plan, not many potential business owners consider the details of their branding. They may think about the logo, sketch out an idea of their website, perhaps even think about their tone of voice etc. and while these are important, not many people consider how colours will play a role in constituting their branding and how this will affect the business from day one. Why? Because building your brand colours is integral to every aspect of building your business — they play a subconscious role in the interaction between potential customers, investors, and partners and your business.

The psychology of colours and your business

Why is Facebook blue, Snapchat yellow, YouTube red, Spotify green and Google a mix of all four?

Youtube keeps its red to a minimum (despite naming its premium subscription service YouTube Red), yet red is generally considered to have negative connotations for achievement tasks. In other words, stop signs are red… red light signals are red, red means stop. Red means do not pursue this avenue any further. Surely Youtube would avoid red like the plague?

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YouTube generally avoids using red for actions in your experience of their brand, but utilises red in other ways, such as highlighting your position in a video, where you are on their navigation bar and a few other minimal inclusions of the colour (such as the subscribe button). Red is also associated with passion, excitement and emotional vibrancy. Using it sparingly, without other colours, is a powerful branding tool and way to guide users of their brand towards particular aspects of the YouTube experience. You might think making a subscribe button red would have the opposite effect, but can you imagine green in the YouTube app? Or blue? The ‘psychology’ of colours is important, but can be utilised beyond traditional understandings of their effect on the mind to emphasise brand and make their use seem ‘inevitable’.

What are these psychological associations with colour?

While we already know about red (and that assumptions about its psychological effect can be manipulated to a brand’s cause) there are traditional associations made about almost every other colour:

Blue: is often used in financial institutions as it is believed to promote a sense of trust, calm, and security — the very things we want to see in our banks. Of course, exceptions to this rule actually benefit from this psychological undercurrent (think of CommBank’s use of yellow or ING’s use of orange, both of which are synonymous with their brand).

Facebook app

Yellow: brands may choose to use yellow as their signature brand colour due to its association with freshness, life, the spring months, flowers in bloom, vitality, health etc. For this reason, a bank or a telecommunications provider may not really have anything to do with health and vitality like a gym may have, but they can benefit from the psychological associations with yellow nevertheless.

Red: as mentioned with YouTube, red is interesting as it can have both negative and positive associations. Stop signs and indicators that you have done something wrong (i.e. the red squiggly line under a spelling mistake on your computer) are often red, but then McDonalds, Coca Cola, and Dominos include red in their branding (imagine a blue Coca Cola? You would mistake it for Pepsi wouldn’t you?). Red is believed to promote appetite — perhaps because it reaches a primal aspect of our brains that associates red with meat ready for the fire. Macabre, yes, but powerful for a brand that wants to sell you food.

A coca cola can

Green: like yellow, green is associated with health and new life/new opportunitiets, but also carries with it an associated with nature, which is why it is so prominently used by environmental organizations. Don’t let this restrict you, however. If your business has nothing to do with the environment, this may be the very reason why green may work as your main brand colour.

Black: commonly associated with elegance, wealth, and style, black is one of the most common colours adopted by the world’s most successful start ups. Uber have a fantastic website dedicated specifically to their branding and use of black and white, which is worth seeing to get an understanding of how black can be utilised in a modern digital company to suggest both wealth (Uber Black) and innovation. While black may be associated with elegance and innovation, the visual effect of it (black vs. white) makes your branding stand out more than any other colour, as black makes use of white more than any other colour, getting the best from both colours.

What colours will you choose for your business?

Whatever you chooose, remember one thing: continuity can overcome any psychological associations people have with colours. If you are a financial management company, you would be expected to use a safe colour such as blue. But what if you choose pink as your main colour? That could actually be a huge benefit for your branding, as long as you use pink in the right way (not overbearingly but as a differentiator) and continuously, ensuring your company becomes associated with pink and that nobody could possibly imagine your brand in any other colour. This is  the power of branding in manipulating colours to its own advantage.

Should you use multiple colours?

Google use red, green, yellow and blue and have done so since starting out. We couldn’t imagine them with any other colours, while those four colours have aided their graphic design, freeing them to experiment with different logos for different products (i.e. Google Chrome).

You ideally want to have a single colour as your main brand colour, while using one or two other complimentary colours for specific roles (i.e. certain buttons that lead a customer through your website to where they need to go).

Black is a great colour to use as your base colour while leaving you with plenty of freedom to use other colours as accents to your brand, this is because (as mentioned above) black inadvertently adopts white as its counterpart, meaning you have three colours to play with if you add one more to the mix. 

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