How Important Is Your Brand Colour?

By Chris Wadsworth

Published in The Source issue 29

Colour can be used to create visual consistency across your marketing and communications collateral. If applied well, it can instantly distinguish your business and products from competitors’ and strengthen the presence of your brand. It can be particularly effective if you take ownership of a colour, or colour combination, within your market.

The power of colour in branding is well known within the design industry. Colour is registered by the brain before any image or typographic form has been recognised, and can increase brand recognition by up to 80 percent (Source: University of Loyola, Maryland study).

In the 1970s legendary designer Saul Bass proposed that BP (British Petroleum) plant trees around their petrol stations to increase recognition of their green brand, an idea that may have added benefits in today’s environmentally aware society.

Taking ownership of colour

Over time a consistent use of colour on branded material or packaging may allow a business to claim rights to that colour as an integral part of its brand. Establishing a strong connection between colour and brand can allow companies to take ‘passing off’ action against a competitor who introduces similar colours that cause confusion between the two businesses.

In recent years we’ve seen attempts to trademark colours, particularly by businesses that create products. A great example is Cadbury’s applications worldwide to register their purple. Although it hasn’t always been successful, it demonstrates the importance some businesses put on their brand colour.

Choosing a colour for your brand

When Pepsi changed their packaging from red to blue in 1998 to distinguish their brand from their main competitor, it was considered a big risk. These days I doubt many people can remember that Pepsi’s packaging used to be predominantly red.

If you want to maximise the impact of colour for your brand it’s important to select a colour, or combination of colours, that is unique in your field of business. When choosing a colour it may not be necessary to move too far away from your competitors to differentiate yourself. For example, if dark blue is a dominant colour in your industry, then selecting a vibrant cyan may be enough to distinguish you from the crowd without moving to a different part of the colour spectrum.

Remember that colour choice conveys a message about a product or business. For businesses that operate overseas, it is worthwhile considering the symbolic meanings different cultures attribute to colour as these can vary from country to country and affect consumer perception of your brand.

When selecting colours for product packaging, consumers’ emotional response to colour needs to be considered carefully. For people engaging a professional service, colour plays less of an emotional role. Therefore, for businesses in the service sector, colour choice can be more of a strategic decision than a psychological one, and more focus can be given to the benefits of differentiation.

A good designer can guide you through the process of colour selection and advise you of any practical considerations related to specific colours. Knowing that the use of special colours can increase the cost of printing or that some colours, like orange, can be difficult to reproduce consistently across a variety of paper stock can be valuable points to know.

Whether creating new branding or reviewing existing branding, the role colour plays is a key consideration. As colour choice can be subjective, it is important to take a rational approach and then ensure a consistent application of colour across corporate communications or product ranges. 

Posted 5 August 2016

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