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Brand Development

Brand Identity and Colour

By Alan McNairn | Jan 23 2022

Colour, like religion or politics, is a subject that inevitably leads to debate. There is not a person on this earth who doesn’t have an opinion on colour. Just eavesdrop at a rack of paint sample cards.

“Eggshell white is just too boring.”
“Ocean blue, that has possibilities, but it makes me feel cold.”
“You always go for something like pastel African violet. You should get out of that rut. Be bold and go for something completely different?”

Part of the reason people don’t agree on colour is the very fact that there are some 10 million different colours that the human eye can distinguish. That’s a lot to choose from. It’s a wonder that anyone can make a decision at all! 

Because colour is such a powerful driver of emotion it is a critical factor in establishing a corporate brand identity. Certain colours act strongly to attract the eye and others do not. But getting a consumer to look at a specific product in a store or in advertising — making a product stand out — is only a small part of what a company branding seeks to accomplish.

Colour, as part of brand identity, works with a product or service to intimately connect with the emotions of the consumer. It informs and confirms those feelings that prospective consumers can expect when they make a purchase. Thus businesses when they select a colour as part of their brand identity design take a lot of things into consideration. Among them are:
  • The target market for a brand
  • The emotions a brand intends to evoke
  • What various colours stand for among the target market
It is well known that different colours have different symbolic meanings. These meanings very often depend on culture. For some, red is a sign of stopping or serves as a warning and in other cultures, it suggests happiness and good fortune. Orange evokes patriotic pride in some countries and in others it is a negative symbol or even a symbol of bitterness. Various shades of the same colour have different effects on people. Sky blue might be calming while the darker navy blue might evoke emotions connected with the fear of the unknown. White for some symbolizes purity and cleanliness but for others, it gives rise to negative feelings of emptiness.

Colour is unconsciously interpreted differently by different groups of people. Specialists in creating a logo design, corporate identity, creative packaging or professional website design work like personal trainers. The first question a fitness expert asks a client is what is the goal? After the goal is established a fitness programme is devised that will lead to reaching this objective. The motive for reaching the objective is emotion — I want to feel better, have more self-confidence or be more attractive. A successful brand identity has the same effect on consumers and this is primarily determined by the choice of colour to represent or symbolize the emotions among individuals in the target market. 

It all sounds fairly simple but experience tells us otherwise. There are many brands that have failed in the marketplace for the simple reason that the colour chosen in representing them has failed to raise the appropriate emotions among consumers. There are many instances where famous brands have tinkered with colour and lost market share. Similarly, there are examples of brand sales expanding when even very small changes in the colour of packaging design have been made. The selection of colour in brand identity – red, green, blue and yellow and the infinite number of tints of these – is the domain of experts.

For us as consumers, a brand identity designer is an artist. We don’t need to bother ourselves with how they achieve a particular effect or how they reach their goal but rather, as customers, we just react. Most often our response to a work of art is unconscious. We know what we feel, but why we feel this way in front of a painting is a mystery. The same goes for the branding of products or services. The colour chosen to represent them works as the colour in a painting. A painting of a domestic interior in a tint of bright red puts us off. Now if it is in a shade of brown we feel a sense of coziness and of warmth. 
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