How to Choose Colors for Your Brand: All You Need to Know to Get Started
“The point is to know how to use the colors, the choice of which is, when all’s said and done, a matter of habit.”
Oh no. Brand colors. Yet another thing to worry about.
All you wanted was a simple color palette to help you achieve a consistent look, but when you got into researching the use of color in branding, the whole thing turned out too intimidating.
The default answer to all your questions is “it depends,” and you have a hard time making sense of all the talks about color theory, color psychology, schemes, hues, shades, and tints.
What if, instead of all the theory, someone just told you what to do?
Sounds good? Then you’re in the right place. Because believe me, you don’t need a degree in design to make your brand colors work.
This is the first part of my new series about brand colors. I’ve created it with online teachers and coaches — and their specific problems, questions, and needs — in mind.
My hope is that it will help you select the right colors for your brand, and, even more importantly, inspire you to use colors to create your own magic in the online world.Where do you start when choosing the right color for your brand? Check out this stress-free non-designer-friendly guide for online teachers and coaches.Click To Tweet
Your favorite color versus your brand color
When choosing the right color for your personal brand, it’s tempting to just go for your favorite color. And it’s not a bad starting point. I mean, the color will represent you, and besides, you will look at it all the time, so you should like it.
I believe that you need to feel great about the way your brand looks because only then you can market your work with freedom and confidence. That’s why I do what I do.
However, personal preferences and gut feelings shouldn’t be the only criteria when making important design decisions, like what your brand colors will be.
When kids pick colors for their drawings, they go for the colors they like most. But when artists select colors, they have specific goals in mind: To evoke feelings and convey meanings.
This wasn’t a coincidence:
The Beach and the Falaise d’Amont (1885) by Claude Monet
Like artists, brand designers don’t select colors randomly; they set goals and then pick colors that help them achieve what they want. They consider:
- Brand personality,
- color psychology,
- the target audience and cultural context,
- the brand’s industry and niche,
- functional criteria,
- aesthetic criteria,
- and, yes, personal preferences of the brand owner(s).
Let’s see what that means for you.
Colors evoke emotions
I think we all know that it’s true. Colors work on us on a deeper level than we’re consciously aware of, in a similar way music does.
No one can stay untouched when looking at Monet’s paintings.
Woman with a Parasol, Madame Monet and Her Son (1875) by Claude Monet
Giving thought to the emotions you evoke by the use of color gives you a high return on investment. Did you know that 62 – 90% of our initial evaluation of a product is based on color itself? This evaluation happens within the first 90 seconds, and once it’s made, we resist changing our mind (source).
Of course, the statistics deals with commodities, not service-based, human-to-human businesses, but the bottom line is: Everyone feels colors, even people who aren’t aware of color psychology. That’s why the use of color in branding (or art) isn’t just about “liking” a color or not.
“I haven’t yet managed to capture the colour of this landscape; there are moments when I’m appalled at the colours I’m having to use, I’m afraid what I’m doing is just dreadful and yet I really am understating it; the light is simply terrifying.”
First, you need to define your brand personality and decide on the emotions you want to evoke. Because the impact of music on our emotions is easier to grasp than the impact of colors, we will use music to help us.
Questions for you:
If your brand was a song, what would it be? Don’t think about your favorite song, but about how you want people to feel when they interact with your brand.
What’s the song’s “personality”? What emotions does it evoke? Make a short list of personality traits and feelings.
If you listen to the song while brainstorming, your mind may even start suggesting the colors that match the emotions, since in our brains, music and colors are connected (check out this fascinating article).
To come up with the colors that are in line with your brand’s personality and the emotions you are after, you can also use a color psychology cheat sheet (like this one by Canva — too bad you can only search by color, not by emotions — you have to guess).
Make a list of colors that might work. Remember, you aren’t looking for the perfect color(s) yet, you’re just exploring the options.
Colors have meanings
Many brand DIY-ers also choose brand colors based on the topic their brand deals with. If they teach a language, for example, they would use the national colors or flag colors of the particular country.
Again, it’s not a bad idea to start with. Colors have meanings, and you want to align their meanings with what your brand is all about.
However, you may soon run into the following issues:
- Your chosen color or colors may not arouse the right emotions and associations. Flag/national colors and their combinations symbolize values, ideas, and history of the particular country, so you’re referring to colors that already refer to something else.
A better idea is to think about your brand’s values and personality, first. After you have a few colors in mind, research their meaning in the cultural context of your audience.
- Your chosen color or colors may not work in the context you need to use them as an online business owner, namely your branding, website, and social media.
Incorporating the colors into your logo is not so hard. But what about your website and social media? Where and how exactly will you use the colors? And how will you decide on the rest of the color palette, since you will need more than three colors?
A better idea is to select one color that works and then use it to craft different palettes for different purposes. We’ll talk about this in the next parts of this series.
- Every other person in your industry had the same idea, so it has become an industry cliché. If you do the same as everyone else, you won’t stand out.
And besides, flag/national colors aren’t specific to one country or language. Let’s say you teach French, so your colors are blue, white, and red. Now, this is a pretty popular combination of flag colors (see the whole list here on Wikipedia) — so it’s a pretty popular combination of colors in the language teaching industry, too. A similar example can be found in any industry.
“Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.”
Make a list of your “competitors” — a few people in the same industry or niche that your ideal client is likely to follow. Have a look at their websites and social media feeds and write down the colors that prevail.
Can you spot a trend in your industry? Take a note of it so you can avoid it. Your colors need to be different than everyone else’s.
Don’t worry about “not making sense.” As long as your brand colors are aligned with your brand’s personality and the emotions you’re trying to evoke, you are making more sense than people who settle for the default, surface-level associations.
Take a few minutes to do the two exercises so you have a list of colors that might work and a list of colors and color combinations to avoid. That’s a great starting point.
Next time, we’ll add another piece to the puzzle as we’ll narrow your list down to your primary brand color — a color that you won’t just like, but that will make you stand out, will be in line with your brand’s personality, and will work in the context of an online business.
In the meantime, please share your color questions, struggles, or anything you’d like to discuss in the comments below.
Monet’s paintings provided by rawpixel (← referral link ❤)
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