Part of creating a brand identity package is selecting the perfect hero colour or colours that represent the brand and communicate something non-verbal (and sometimes subconscious) to a customer. At VA we have always been a fairly black-and-white brand, in vision and values. Our job is to work hard behind the scenes to make your brand shine – by keeping our brand visually minimal it doesn’t interfere with our clients’. We’ve always had a hero colour; at inception in 2009, it was gold (what’s more premium than black and gold!) which evolved in 2019 to become a very specific neon coral colour; Rocket Red. Inspired by the paper stock Astrobrights Rocket Red, our hero colour is unique, modern, a little bit techy and a little bit arty. It works well on paper, online and when projected onto a giant VA sign. Until now. We are in the process of an internal print project that relies on the Rocket Red paper stock and we’ve just found out it’s been discontinued in Australia. Astrobrights paper shines no more. So, what do we do? This colour has been the hero of our brand for 5 years. Do we try to match it with a less neon, less bright coral colour? Revisit gold? Or pivot completely and start afresh for VA 2023.
Amidst in-depth office discussions about what colour best represents us, we started evaluating what makes a good brand colour in general. Here are our thoughts:
Colour Psychology and Human Behavior
For a hero brand colour, it’s good practice to start with colour psychology and how different colours affect human behaviour and emotions. Primary colours such as red or blue already have strong connections. Red can signify danger but also passion and excitement. For many people red, in relation to brands, will conjure the most well-known soft drink brand in the world, or perhaps an airline with its flight attendants clad in bright red. Blue is known to provoke calmness and instil trust. It’s often used in the healthcare industry for doctors, dentists and private health funds. How would you feel if you stepped into a hospital and the overarching colour was red? Scarlet signs pointing to the wards, nurses in crimson scrubs and posters in the bathroom with a large red headline telling you to PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS. The place would feel like one big danger zone; not the energy most people want in a hospital. Of the top 100 brands in the world, 62% of them feature blue or red (33% and 29% respectively) so there’s something to be said about going with a simple primary colour…but it might not be right for you.
After looking into basic psychology it’s worth asking yourself if you actually like the colour being proposed. Colour preferences are subjective and there’s no point picking orange for its friendliness, for example, if you feel personally repelled by it. You will need to work with that colour over and over again and the distaste will only grow. On the flip side, picking a colour just because it’s your favourite isn’t a great business strategy if you want to appeal to a large audience.
Personal Preferences and Industry Trends
Certain industries often have a colour that represents them. It’s up to you if you want to go with the majority so you fit in or pick something unique so you stand out. Sticking to familiar colours can help to build trust because customers expect certain things a certain way. For example, if your business has ties to the environment or your primary brand value is to be eco-friendly, looking at green for your brand colour is a good start because the general public understands that green is connected to nature. If you pick something more unexpected, say purple for an environmental charity, it can make your brand more memorable in the long run but you might need to do more work, in the beginning, to establish what you stand for.
Color Combinations and Legibility
When looking at colours to avoid there are a couple of rules. As mentioned previously, looking at what your industry does can be helpful. Looking at trends might be valid but a good brand is designed for longevity so picking the Pantone Colour of The Year just because it seems right, right now, probably isn’t sensible in the long run. Think about colour combinations, is there enough contrast between the colours when used together to make them legible? If your brand colour is Sunshine Yellow, what happens to your yellow logo on a white background? What about if colours are limited and your logo has to appear in black and/or white – is it readable? When we present initial brand concepts, we nearly always start with the identity in black and white. A great logo should be able to communicate everything you want it to, even when monotone.
Choosing a Brand Color
So, how do you pick a colour to represent everything your brand is about? Firstly consider your core brand values and see how they align with basic colour psychology. Think about if you are a modern, fresh brand or more traditional. Look within your industry and see what others do – then try to align or stand out. Consider your customers and the emotions you want them to associate with your brand/business.
The last thing to mention with colours is the discrepancies you’ll find between screens, between digital vs print and everything in between. Picking a Pantone colour is still a solid start to getting brand colour consistency – if you’re willing to spend extra printing spot colours – but even Pantone struggles in a digital space which is often the first way a customer experiences your brand these days. At VA we’ve ordered some paper samples and got the colour books out so keep an eye out over the next few weeks. Maybe we’ll cling to our beloved Rocket Red or maybe we’ll make some changes – either way, we’re working hard to ensure our brand continues to reflect our values and vision.