The Importance of Color Palettes in Branding — and How to Choose Them

Red heart, green leaf, yellow sun, and blue water droplet on a dark background

Pantone 1837. All it takes is a single glance at the robin’s-egg blue to connect it to one brand, and one brand only: Tiffany & Co. Its famous ring boxes and delicate shopping bags don’t even need the Tiffany logo — you know it when you see it. The luxurious Tiffany Blue is so iconic, it’s even trademarked, unable to be used or replicated by any other brand. 

Tiffany Blue tends to conjure specific feelings, too. There’s a rush of excitement, joy, and awe when you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a little blue box. That kind of color recognition and emotional connection is what brands aspire to. It’s what helps them rise above the rest and establish themselves as de-facto products or services in their respective industries.

Colors can also represent different eras in your brand’s history. Take our work with Whistle, for example. We deepened its signature green to a hue that felt more sophisticated, which signified Whistle’s shift from a pet tech startup to a pet tech innovator. Sometimes, colors can act as auxiliary characters, letting what’s important shine through. The Big Human-incubated app Subdial provides first responder alternatives for non-emergency situations. To put the focus on finding help, we chose a muted color palette that wouldn’t confuse or distract.

Read on to find out why color is important for every brand, what each color represents, and how to pick a color palette that fits your brand’s personality.

Why does color matter?

Sure, color is pleasing to the eye, but it holds a deeper psychological power. It can influence feelings, emotions, and perceptions, and there’s evidence to back that claim up. According to a study by the University of Loyola, color can increase brand recognition by 80%. Another study found that most of us form an opinion about a product within 90 seconds of looking at it — and about 90% of that opinion is affected by color. Sometimes, the reason people choose one product over another is based solely on the color it comes in.

As the first thing people tend to notice, color is an opportunity for brands to convey who they are and affect how they’re perceived. A thoughtfully curated color palette adds to the overall visual experience, but it can also evoke specific moods, establish emotional connections, or even inspire people to take action.

What do different colors mean?

Consciously or subconsciously, we all associate color with different meanings, with each having the potential to affect our moods. But it’s important to keep in mind that color meanings can vary across cultures. Red is seen as a lucky color in East Asia, but it symbolizes death and mourning in parts of Africa. While these cultural nuances should always be considered when choosing your brand colors, here are what colors generally mean in the West and the effects they can have on your audience.

  • Red: Vivid and alluring, red is the color of love, passion, and sometimes danger and aggression. It’s a fierce color that commands attention, and it can even have a stimulating effect on a person’s mood or energy.

  • Orange: Though not as overpowering as red, orange represents vibrancy and vitality. It’s a color that’s friendly and enticing, which commonly associates it with creativity. But its earthier tones, like the ones seen in autumn, can signify change or renewal. 

  • Yellow: Yellow is typically a happy color, one that fills us with energy and elation. On the flipside, since it’s such a bold color, too much yellow can also be overstimulating and cause eyestrain.

  • Green: When we see green, our minds are automatically drawn to two dissimilar things: nature and wealth. But both have meanings connected to abundance. Green can also represent an entire spectrum of emotions depending on the hue — from balance and harmony to envy and disgust.

  • Blue: Blue is usually a calming color that also exudes trustworthiness and reliability, which is why it’s frequently used in banking and mental health apps. However, darker blues can feel distant and aloof.

  • Purple: Exotic and mysterious, purple is a color that’s rarely found in nature. Even its origins feel manmade. To produce the color purple in the ancient world, dyemakers had to manually extract the hue from snail shells. This made the color incredibly expensive and only the wealthy could afford it, which is why it’s often tied to royalty and luxury.

How to Pick Your Brand Colors

Putting together your brand palette is more than just picking pretty colors. There are a handful of color theories the Big Human design team uses to help our clients find the brand palette that’s right for them, but some preliminary research is required to make sure your color palette aligns with your brand.

Take a look at your competition

If you want to differentiate yourself from similar products or services, you first need to check out other players in the game. Conducting a competitive analysis helps brands understand the biggest contenders in their industry and how they can effectively stand out in a crowded landscape.

Pull insights from your brand personality

A brand without a solid personality will have a hard time outfoxing the competition, let alone making it to the finish line. A brand personality shapes the way your audience sees your product, service, or mission. Giving your company a distinct voice with real life characteristics (Is your brand fun and quirky? Or is it thoughtful and earnest?) will guide you in finding the right colors to match those characteristics.

Technically speaking, there are an infinite number of colors and color combinations that can be put together for every brand. Your color palette should be flexible and extend to every touchpoint across your brand — from the logo to iconography.

To help you streamline the process, here’s the general framework Big Human uses when putting together color palettes for our clients.

Primary color palette

The primary or main color palette serves as your brand’s foundation. It’s the first series of colors consumers will see across your products, services, communications, and messaging. Its consistent usage will set the tone for all visual cues for your brand.

Secondary color palette

There’s more creative flexibility in a secondary color palette. It’s designed to complement the primary color palette, acting as added interest to all visual elements. These colors can be used in illustrations, iconography, typography, and even photos and images.

Neutral color palette

Sometimes a color palette needs balance. This is where you can introduce warmer tones to offset cooler ones and vice versa. The neutral color palette is made to break up long blocks of content or establish a visual hierarchy.

Utility color palette

The utility color palette isn’t a main part of your brand’s colors. Rather, they help signify basic functions or errors in your product. For example, you may not have chosen green as one of your main colors, but it can indicate users performed an action successfully within your product or service.

With so many factors to consider, it can be a little daunting to piece together a strong color palette that matches your brand’s identity. If you need an expert’s input, send us a message.

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