Part 3: Creating a Color Strategy for Brand Management

When we awaken, we are first struck by colour.  We share the same intuitive response to colour, so it is no surprise that colour has a global impact. Equally important, colours evoke strong emotional responses which are layered with cultural connotations and personal memories. 

Why focus on colour?

Colours are one of the most important assets that brands strive to own in the minds of consumers. Our competitors use colours to differentiate themselves from us, and also to convey different emotions. In an era when buying and buyer behavior are rapidly changing, understanding this aspect of visual communication is becoming increasingly important. 

Colors evoke emotions, and emotional engagement is key to brand engagement. A brand management tool of some geometric form is familiar to almost everyone in marketing, such as onions, houses, temples, keys, and hives. What we’ve experienced in helping different teams is that the emotions and mood-state the brand is aiming at on its brand management shape are not aligned with the emotions the brand’s colour evokes.

There are three considerations here:

  1. What emotions is your brand’s colour evoking?

  2. What does this mean for your consumer or user?

  3. How can this be better aligned with your brand’s identity?

Colours and emotions

In some ways, we associate colours with emotions intuitively. Whenever we’re angry, our faces turn red; if we’re feeling sick, our faces turn yellow; if we’re feeling faint, our faces turn white; and if we’re very cold, our faces turn blue.

The psychologist Carl Jung suggested that colors are different ways in which we perceive and express ourselves. Colours and feelings were essentially equal in our minds.

colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious.”

Carl Jung

We take colours for granted because they are everywhere. Colours affect our feelings, even if we don’t consciously realize it.

What is the role of colours in how we feel and express ourselves?

The language we use to describe colours is emotional. Tonally, they are classified either as ‘bright and cheery’ or as ‘dark and depressing’.  Synaesthesia is a term for when you experience one of your senses through another. There is also evidence of synesthesia  in the cross-over between music and drawings.  Since other arts evoke emotions, it’s not surprising there is a correlation with colour and different senses in our minds.

Colours can convey emotions without using words. A colour like black, for instance, is associated with power, quality, mystery, evil, masculinity and death.  As with all colours, it is associated with both positive and negative emotions; the dark emotions are linked to death and the unknown.  In The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Stern(1759-67) the author communicates Tristram’s feelings about the death of his friend, Yorick, as a pure black block of print, to express this universal emotion of loss. This non-verbal use of the colour black is more impactful than words.

Colours as emotional metaphors

Colors are classified in an intuitive way based on emotional associations:

Warm and cool colours and emotions

Language blends colours and emotions with figurative expressions like metaphors and idioms. Metaphors are the cognitive tools through which we understand ourselves and the world (Lakoff and Turner 1989: xi).

In western cultures, there are some common associations:

In addition to this, colours are used in a wide variety of other figurative expressions, such as showing your true colours, being colour blind, telling an off-colour joke, being blue-blooded, setting a red-line, cutting the red-tape, or taking a red-eye flight.

Our understanding of emotions and the way we communicate them is influenced by colour. Furthermore, we have expectations of emotional meaning that should be aligned with a brand’s values and behaviors based on its colors.

Psychology of colour: positive and negative meaning

In addition, it is also important to remember that there are negative connotations associated with every Furthermore, it is important to remember that every positive emotion associated with a colour has negative connotations as well. This is where we need to recognize that colors are not just positive.

Emotional colour wheel

Can colours change emotional behaviour?

Depending on the context in which a colour is used, each colour has a different emotional meaning.  The emotional meaning of colors can differ depending on the context, segment, or category. 

Think about the color red, for example. From school examinations, most of us associate red with failing; blood is a symbol of danger or pain; and stop signs create a sense of caution. Red is associated with many of the strongest emotions, such as love, passion, and anger.

Emotions have a habit of getting in the way of how we think.

Stockmarkets and emotion

A study of investment behaviour revealed that the color red exerted a strong influence on investors’ rationalisation of their investments.

‘First, we find that when investors are displayed potential losses in red, risk taking is reduced. Second, when investors are shown past negative stock price paths in red, expectations about future stock returns are reduced. Consistent with red causing avoidance behavior,” red color reduces investors’ propensity to invest in stocks’.

Red, however, evokes opposing emotions in a sporting context: energy and aggression. Wearing red has been shown to improve physical performance. Our psychological responses to colours can change when we change the context.

In other words, a brand needs to take into account what it is offering and what emotions it is evoking through colour.

“When we receive the script for a new film, we carefully analyse each sequence and scene to ascertain what dominant mood or emotion is to be expressed. When this is decided, we plan to use the appropriate color or set of colors which will suggest that mood, thus actually fitting the color to the scene and augmenting its dramatic value”

Natalie Kalmus, 1935

As a conclusion, here are some questions to consider about how your brand uses colour

  1. What do your consumers/customers think is your primary colour?

  2. What do they think this colour means?  How does it make them feel?

  3. Are you consistent in the colour palette your brand uses?

  4. Is this consistent across all touchpoints of the brand experience? Everywhere, not just your logo

  5. Are the emotions that are associated with the colour consistent with your brand identity?

  6. Does the context of your brand change what emotions the colours evoke?

Creating a Color Strategy for Brand Management

Introduction: Creating a Color Strategy for Brand Management

Part 1: Understanding the cultural meaning of colour

Part 2: 7 Great Insights You Can Learn From How Color Affects Our Five Senses.

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