Elements of a Successful Brand 7: Color

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A brand is a complex organism. This is part seven in a series of articles in which we examine a successful brand's component parts.

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Few, if any, other aspects of branding pack the visceral power of color. When chosen and implemented effectively, color can differentiate, motivate, and elevate a business. If you really think about color's role in the marketplace, you will see its potential. To demonstrate what I mean, take a quick quiz:

  • In the world of computers, who is blue?
  • Who “owns” yellow in the construction equipment industry?
  • What ubiquitous business is tied to brown?
  • When you think of rental cars, who is yellow? Who is red? Who is green?
  • If you see someone on the sidewalk carrying a light blue box, what do you think of?

You'll find the answers at the end of this article, but many readers won't have to look. In people's minds, these colors are so closely associated with their brands that they've become as iconic as their logos. It's not unreasonable to believe that under the right circumstances a flash of naked color would be enough to bring a brand to mind. That's powerful stuff.

Of course, it takes a lot of exposure over many, many years for a national brand to become broadly associated with a color. But that shouldn't stop smaller businesses in limited markets from taking advantage of color's impact. These businesses can enjoy similar benefits without sinking millions into advertising. Let'sbegin by discussing some of the way's color can help any firm.

Color Differentiates You

Spend a few minutes visiting the websites of your competition. Pay particular attention to the colors in their logo, as these usually are the dominant colors in the firm's brand identities. Does your current color (or colors) stand out from your competition? If not, think long and hard about making a change.

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Color Identifies You

As we've described above, color can become so closely associated with your business—even in limited markets. In certain contexts, just seeing your corporate color can activate recall of your brand. According to a University of Loyola, Maryland study, color can enhance brand recognition by up to 80 percent.

Color is Visceral

People react to color instinctively. Color can cut through visual clutter and commands attention—so long as the color is differentiated.

Psychology of Colors

Color choices can affect people's moods and attitudes. Studies have shown that every color has emotional implications, and many businesses use color to influence people's buying behavior. Retail product companies, for instance, may test dozens of different package colors in stores before selecting the one that elicits the best response from consumers. To further complicate the picture, different cultures react to the colors in different ways—which may require color testing in each major market.

In the world of professional service branding, however, color choice is less a psychological issue than a strategic one. Because most services are not reflexive purchases, the psychology of color plays a diminished role in the professional service buyer's decision-making. You would be far better served choosing a color that strongly differentiates your firm from the competition than spinning your color wheels trying to select a color with optimal emotional and symbolic characteristics. That is not to say that specific hues are irrelevant; but their psychological importance is subordinate to color's role as a differentiator.

Color plays an enormous role in brand recognition. But to have an appreciable impact, colors must be chosen for the right reasons and with eyes open to the marketplace. This means removing your own biases from the process (see sidebar) and making choices that will provide sufficient differentiation for your business.


Quiz answers:1. IBM 2. Caterpiller 3. UPS 4. Hertz, Avis, Enterprise 5. Tiffany

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Branding Away the Blues

If you are like most people, you have a favorite color. Color preference is highly personal and deeply rooted. As a result, nobody should rely on personal preference alone to dictate corporate colors.

Statistically, more people like blue than any other color. Not surprisingly, blue is also the most commonly used color in business. Of course, in a sea of blue logos just about any other color is going to stand out. Savvy brand marketers understand this and search for corporate colors that contrast with the competition. Its another (and particularly important) tool marketers can use to draw attention away from competing brands.

Check out our free Rebranding Kit to learn more ways to build and strengthen your brand.

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