The colour you choose for your brand says something about your identity. It conveys a message to your potential customers before they know anything else about you. Between 62% and 90% of a person’s initial judgment of a product is based on colour alone.

Apple chose white, representing minimalism and simplicity in design. Cadbury’s purple packaging conveys luxury and indulgence. Colour makes an immediate connection.

How do you choose the right colour for your brand? And is there a wrong colour?

Do colours have meaning?

We associate colour with moods and emotions. We “see red,” become “green with envy,” “get the blues,” and can be “tickled pink.”

Colours convey meaning. Red is energetic. Yellow is happy. White is pure and peaceful.

Except I call bullshit. The meaning of colour depends on your cultural reference.

For Māori, red represents the Earth Mother, Papatuanuku, and the colour of the earth from which humans were made. In China, it symbolizes luck, happiness, vitality and is said to ward off evil.

In France, yellow signifies weakness and betrayal, because way back in the 10th century if you betrayed your country your door was painted yellow. In Japan, yellow is associated with wealth and bravery because yellow chrysanthemums were worn by warriors in the War of Dynasties to show their allegiance to the Japanese emperor.

In some Asian countries, white means bad luck and death, worn for funerals, while in the West we adorn our brides in white.

There may be something to the psychological effects of colour, but the truth is there isn’t enough research to draw factual conclusions. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Mere color can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.”

So, if colours don’t have a universal meaning, what do you base your brand colours on?

On being radically different.

Traditional branding colours

A study in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science reported:

  • 43% of Fortune 500 companies have blue logos.
  • Blue is used by over 75% of credit card companies.

You could take this to mean that blue logos are really successful. Or you could go the unconventional route and decide to do something far away from blue.

The same study reported that 0% of apparel logos are red. I know what colour I’d be leaning toward.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” – Dr Seuss

If you want to get noticed, you’ve got to be radically different. Question the norms. Defy expectations. Go the opposite way.

Here are a few examples of companies that successfully chose the radically different route when it came to colour:

Virgin Airlines

Around the world, blue is the colour of airlines. British Airways, Delta, Jet Blue. (Now I know Air NZ logo is not blue, it’s black. Go the All Blacks!) Blue is the colour of calm and safety, feelings the airlines want to be associated with. But when Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Airlines, did he go along with the crowd? Hardly. He chose red. Red signifies fire, passion, excitement. He chose to be radically different.

SuperTrash

Picture a garbage truck. What colour is it? Beige, grey, maybe a bit of green? Trying not to be noticed too much, to reflect their eco-service perhaps. NZ rubbish company SuperTrash chose hot pink. Their trucks, high-viz fluoro gear, and pre-paid rubbish bags are all very bright and very pink.

Oatly

Most vegan products choose colours that represent their earth-friendly, plant-based approach. Oatly went the opposite direction with their oat milk, choosing the black and white of a dairy cow – exactly the image their competitors try to avoid. Their tagline “like milk but for humans” further differentiates their brand.

Don’t play by the rules. Choose colours that you love, that represent you, and most importantly, stand out.

Choosing Your Brand’s Colours

Here are the things to consider when choosing your brand’s colours.

  • Consider your voice. Are you casual or formal, conservative or bold?
  • Check out the competition. If you see a ‘sea of sameness,’ what can you do to stand out?
  • Be consistent. Once you choose your colours, use them everywhere to develop a strong association with your brand.

Colour is just one component of differentiating your brand. To learn about my proven 7-step differentiation system, download my free eBook “Radically Different” and start your differentiation journey today.

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