By Nandhini Mehra, VP of Brand

On March 25th*, Indians around the world will celebrate Holi, a joyous occasion that marks the end of winter, the arrival of spring, and the triumph of good over evil. Holi revelers make music and dance and eat, but most famously, they daub each other with bright colors in what must be one of the most visually spectacular holidays in the world. Indeed, this Hindu holiday is often referred to as the “Festival of Colors.” Red, for example, may symbolize love and passion. Yellow suggests knowledge, prosperity, and happiness. Green represents the new beginnings associated with spring. As Holi celebrants know, color has meaning.

Consciously or unconsciously, all of us make decisions every day based on our relationship with color. We form associations and attach meanings to specific tints and shades; color can evoke visceral, emotive responses. If you manage a brand, you wrestle with the meaning and importance of color because you know that color is essential to your brand identity.

But how, exactly, is it essential? And much more importantly, how do you choose the right palette? It may seem like an impossible task given the wide range of possible emotional responses to color and the equally wide spectrum of a color’s cultural nuances. And here’s the reality: there is no single correct formula or approach, but you can make better choices by understanding color psychology and its effect on branding – and by having a clearly articulated vision for the brand you’re building.

Start With Emotion & Color Psychology

Whether you’re building a new brand or refreshing an existing one, you start by thinking about the emotional response you want to elicit and build the brand palette around that. Are you aiming for a sense of playfulness and fun? Or luxurious and sophisticated? Perhaps boldness and dynamism are central to your vision. A carefully crafted color palette will be a key component of your brand identity, and the colors you choose must support that.

Color psychology is a great place to start. This evolving discipline is based on the reality we can all acknowledge: that, as research has shown, personal experiences, upbringing, and preferences for colors can subconsciously affect the human brain, triggering neurochemical reactions as well as emotional responses. But that’s just one half of the equation. Color psychology also delves into the cultural meanings of colors. To cite just one example, green is associated in the West with nature, luck, and prosperity, while in some Asian cultures, green represents exorcism and infidelity. Being cognizant of these well-established cultural nuances can help you avoid ill-considered choices.

Color psychology won’t give you the precise answer, but it can help you understand and refine your choices.

Understand Trendiness but Focus on the Long-term

Color psychology focuses on how colors work and what they mean based on actual physiological responses and cultural norms. But color also has an element of timeliness: What is cool and on-trend today?

Last year, Pantone’s “Color of the Year” was “Viva Magenta 18-1750,” a shade that “vibrates with vim and vigor” and “revels in pure joy, encouraging experimentation and self-expression without restraint,” according to the global authority on color. This year, the Color of the Year is PANTONE 13-1023 Peach Fuzz. Pantone asserts that Peach Fuzz “captures our desire to nurture ourselves and others. It’s a velvety gentle peach tone whose all-embracing spirit enriches mind, body, and soul.” 

I am quite confident that Pantone is as good as anyone at distilling the current cultural zeitgeist into a single hue, and no doubt they have reams of research and tons of smart people to back their findings up. But I have my doubts about whether this is particularly useful to the brand manager. Remember that trends are fleeting – as even a casual look at the last several “colors of the year” will attest – and focusing on what’s popular today can mean you’ll be heading toward a swift rebrand tomorrow.

As Rebecca Kowalewicz, Vice President of Digital at Clearbridge Branding Agency, said, “Color is not just revolutionary; it’s evolutionary – a kaleidoscope of cultural connotations constantly turning in an ever-changing zeitgeist of perception and trends.”

Understand Your Brand First

I hope it’s clear that I value the insights of color psychology and it’s always at least a little useful to know what’s hot in the world of colors – but I believe neither will fully solve the challenge of developing a new brand palette (or a rebrand). 

Here’s what to do instead. Start by articulating, well and thoroughly, the intent and persona of your brand and, as mentioned above, the emotional resonance you want to convey. Evaluate companies in your competitive space and decide how you want to differentiate your brand. Then choose three colors – a primary base, a secondary accent, and a tertiary neutral tone – that (a) reflect all your inputs and (b) can be applied to the full spectrum of communications opportunities you face. The goal is not to be trendy but to use a palette that makes sense for your audience, your strategy, and your brand.

Getting the palette right is a big challenge, but perhaps an even bigger one is to apply that palette, consistently and thoughtfully, fully: on your website, in all advertising and marketing efforts, on social media, and in packaging and signage. The goal, of course, is to develop a cohesive visual language – a strong, memorable, and resonant visual identity – which in turn improves your brand recognition and deepens engagement, sometimes dramatically. 

Another important consideration for brand palette decisions is accessibility. About 300 million people around the world – about 8% of men and 0.5% of women – have a color vision deficiency. Developing an accessible palette shows that your brand is conscious and inclusive. One aspect of this is ensuring your palette has enough contrast between background and foreground colors. In today’s day and age, this is a very straightforward accommodation to make with several online tools that help ensure compliance.

Color Should Set You Apart

We all believe that color is important in shaping a consumer’s view of a brand, and research backs this idea up. Indeed, according to a Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo study, “84.7 percent of the total respondents think that color accounts for more than half among the various factors important for choosing products.”  But finding the right color is never going to be easy because colors are packed with meaning and nuance and our response to color is complex, determined by a hard-to-fathom mixture of subconscious preferences, emotional connections, and cultural experiences. By all means, study color psychology and evaluate what’s going on in the world of color. But at the end of the day, work very hard to understand your brand’s persona and mission so that your color palette is based on something unique to your enterprise. Then turn that small set of carefully chosen hues into a unifying, meaningful, and central part of every component of your presence.

Do this well, and your color palette becomes an integral piece of your brand and its potential for success.

*This date varies every year, depending on the Hindu calendar.

To continue this color conversation or to chat about all things branding, feel free to reach out. If your brand is looking for enhancement, BORN would be happy to walk you through our creative approach.