brand color is in eye of the beholder

Color and Branding: Marketing Your Segment of the Rainbow

In our last blog on color we talked about the significance of color choices in marketing, emphasizing four important factors, all of which affect color and branding:

• People determine how they feel about something within 90 seconds
• 62% to 90% of our (quick) assessments are based on color alone
• Color can increase brand recognition up to 80%
• Color affects our moods and actions

Color is a complex topic. It turns out, our perceptions of color – and the moods and actions it elicits – vary greatly from one person to another due to lots of factors. Those include: gender, culture, geography, and educational background.

Cultural background, to choose just one factor, can affect the association we have with a color. For instance, in cultures that associate red with romance seeing the color red can trigger a lot of associations, such as Valentines Day, roses, etc. By extension, seeing someone dressed in red awakens these associations in a process called spreading activation.

Hues Color Your Brand Relationship with Customers

Ask people what brand is and they might answer, my logo, or my product packaging, or the way my website looks and the tone of my copy. These are all partially right answers; they just aren’t completely right. In the long run, a brand is the entire relationship a company has with its target market. That relationship is formed by every interaction between the company and its customers. This includes products and services, obviously, but also the way a company answers the phone, treats you when you walk in the door, and makes good (or doesn’t make good) on mistakes.

A company brand, like every relationship, has two parts – a promise to do or be something, and the delivery of the promise. A company makes its brand promise with every communication it puts out into the world. If there is a congruence between what the company promises and what it delivers then customers trust it and come back for more. If not, customers tend to go elsewhere.

One of the most powerful ways a company communicates its brand promise is nonverbal – the color(s) it uses in its logo, website and printed promotions. This promise is usually the first thing a prospective customer sees. Given our human tendency to make quick choices based largely on color the colors we choose for logos, website and printed pieces become extremely important.

Choosing the Right Brand Color Isn’t a Simple Formula

Since brand color is a promise to be kept what matters most is the agreement between the colors that a company uses to represent itself, the nature and personality of the company, and the expectations of its customers. In short, it’s the entire context in which the color is used and not some isolated meaning of the color. For instance, red can be the color of love, but not on a stop sign. Green can be the color of calm, but not when it’s a green stack of hundred dollar bills – that tends to excite folks.

Although marketers have been using color in innovative ways for decades, color psychology research is still young. In 2010 Lauren I. Labrecque & George R. Milne published an important article called “Exciting red and competent blue: The importance of color in marketing.” In the study, they find a lot of emotional associations with colors, as shown below. However, while these general associations may be of limited use, there are three reasons why they are in no way absolute meanings for these colors.

The three reasons to take this chart with a few grains of salt are:

  • The study was done in the U.S. and so has geographic and cultural limitations
  • The chart doesn’t differentiate by color brightness and saturation, which are important*
  • The chart doesn’t take appropriateness and context into account

(*Rose Rider, 2009)

Colors Support the Brand Personality You Want to Convey

Imagine a company that makes rugged outdoor sports equipment and has a lavender logo. There are a lot of companies that make great use of the color lavender, but in this case the pairing doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit the context and, although lavender may well be attractive to the company’s customers in another context, it probably won’t work in this one. It’s the wrong association and the wrong promise. After all, the company is trying to say to its potential customers, “Trust us, we know rugged outdoorsmanship, so we’re the ones to come to for all your rugged outdoors needs!”

So although you can use generalized color meanings (as in the chart above) as a starting point, what’s most important is to choose brand colors that convey your true personality to the world within the context and expectations of your target audience. That sounds complex, but it’s really not. You know what you like and what represents you (and your company). And there is a relatively simple and time-tested way of discovering what your customers like best.

Testing: Blue, Red, Green – Digital Printing Excels at A/B Testing

One thing you can do is ask your customers, “Which of these logo (package, ad, website, etc.) colors do you like?” Or you can do A/B (or A/B/C…) split testing of different colors, compare responses and pick the one that performs the best. This is easily done with websites and other online ads where changing colors (as well as design elements and copy) is simple and inexpensive.

With offset printing A/B testing is expensive and cumbersome, but with digital printing doing A/B tests of materials that are to be mailed or handed out is now just as easy as web testing. That’s because digital printing has minimal setup time and works with variable data, meaning that every image off of a digital press can be different from the one before. So if you want to see whether the orange or green (or blue or purple…) icon on your direct mail postcard works better to convert prospects it’s easily accomplished.

Need Help with Your Digital Printing Projects? Call Us!

We’re digital printing experts serving the Portland, Oregon area and the U.S. For more information, check out our website at: Or better yet, give us a call at: 503-233-2477. We’ll be happy to answer all your questions and help you with tips and information on getting your printing projects done – including A/B tests – in the most economical and timely manner possible.

Rhino Digital