Part 4: Creating a Color Strategy for Brand Management Summary

Brands have long understood the importance of colour in defining their identity. Colour is one of the most powerful non-verbal communication tools available. We’ve outlined five important considerations that should be taken into account when developing a color strategy for your brand .

‘Colour is not an easy matter.’

Umberto Eco, 1985

Colour and design

What is the significance of colour? Satyendra Singh in an academic study, claims that people make up their minds within 90 seconds after their first interaction, whether it’s with people or products. About 62‐90 percent of the evaluations were based solely on the color.  Additionally, a recent study has shown that colourful visuals are associated with increased attention due to the release of the brain chemical norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a brain and body neurotransmitter that mobilizes a person’s body to act.  It goes without saying that the colours you use for your brand (and around your brand) have the power of literally capturing and keeping your consumer’s attention.

There is no doubt that most brands are expanding their visual presence across digital platforms. Across different touch-points of the brand experience, teams will have a wider range of skill sets. With many people experiencing changes right now, it is a good time to take a closer look at how colour impacts your brand. It is becoming increasingly important to have a colour strategy for your brand as the need for content and communication increases.

Undoubtedly, the marketing advantage of colour has moved on since Henry Ford said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it’s black,”.  Today, car colour choice influences the perceived personality of a car and is a key influence on the purchase decision in buying a new car.

Model T Ford

Semiotically, colours are essential for brand meaning: enabling differentiation, navigation, understanding and engagement.

As Michel Pastoureau notes,

“colours foremost are conventions, tags, social codes. Their primary function is to distinguish, to classify, to associate, to oppose, to hierarchise”

Colour semiotics provides several considerations for any brand or product:

  1. Memory colours.  We expect certain products to be a certain colour, eg. bananas to be yellow and oranges to be orange.  When we acquire an awareness of the typical colour of an object through experience, this is called a memory colour . Subsequently, these associations form conventions which can either be reinforced or challenged.

  1. Category colours.  Products and services can also have a default category or segment colour, e.g., Banks are often blue (which is an authority and leadership symbolic colour); whereas dairy products are often white (symbolic of purity and cleanliness). 

  1. Brand Colours.  Importantly, when used primarily to differentiate and position brands: 

a. This can be for brand identity positioning, where one brand is coloured in opposition to another, Coke’s red vs Pepsi’s blue.

b. Also, differentiation of offers within a Masterbrand, such as flavours or specific functional benefits. 

c. Brands also use colours for non-verbal communication of their identities and meaning.


Category colours and conventions

The category rules are established by collective action of brands, usually by a dominant brand. Consumers often navigate and shop on autopilot.  In our research, the most consistent examples of consumer frustration is when a brand decides not to follow category-conventions of colour and flavours.  The most frequent examples are usually the chip or crisps aisle where one colour disrupter provides an unexpected flavour. 

semiotics of salt & vinegar snacks

Having said that, a colour strategy has let brands like Garnier Fructis and Vanish Napisan have successfully disrupted their respective categories by employing the use of a colour that goes against the grain.  A vibrant green or pink packaging column breaks up the shelf of products and makes the brand stand out.

Brands can also establish meaningful colour-oppositions such as the blue Advil vs the red gel capsules of Nurofen pain relief tablets.  When the water brands took off, the Welsh mineral water brand Tŷ Nant in its iconic blue bottle could position itself against the bigger brands in their collective green glass of San Pellegrino and Perrier. 

What do your colors say about your brand?

When understanding your brand’s color, you need to consider the following factors:

  1. Brands tend to have a dominant colour, supported by secondary and tertiary colours.  In research, most recall the dominant colour, unaided. 

  1. Colours have many different connotations.  There is a difference between the meaning of a colour in general and that of a brand’s color.  The colour of a brand is affected by its category, purpose, competitors, and salience.  When we do semiotic brand audits, we consider these factors separately and then understand how they work in combination.

  1. Keeping in mind that every color has both positive and negative connotations will help you frame your brand’s meaning in a positive light.  Are there any other communication elements that evokes the shadow of the brand’s colour in how they are used?

Semiotic Colour meaning - positive and negative

  1. Since colours are non-verbal communicators, it’s also critical to understand how the meaning of the brand’s colour can change, based on the context in which they appear. For example, when a black brand is presented on a yellow background, it evokes associations of danger, caution, and poison. Conversely, if a red brand is presented on an orange or yellow background, it triggers associations of warmth and heat.

colours in design

Brand colour strategy summary

  1. Do you understand what your brand colour. Why is it that colour? What are your secondary and tertiary colours?

  2. What does your brand colour mean? Positively and negatively. What emotions does it evoke and in what contexts?

  3. How does your brand colour meaningfully differentiate you from your competitors?

  4. Is your brand colour in alignment with the category?  How and Why, or Why not?

  5. Have you audited your use of colour at touch-points and look for opportunities for consistency and constancy? How does this relate to your competitors?

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.

Part 3: Branding and Design: Why Colour’s Emotional Impact is Growing in Popularity

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