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When it comes to branding… Life is like a box of crayons.

Do you remember getting your first box of crayons in grade school? Not just any crayon brand, it had to be Crayola. For me, it was the highlight of my school year. Crayola had already come out with the box of 64 crayons by the time I started kindergarten, but I was only permitted the starter box of 8. I don’t recall if that was Mom’s rule or the school’s, but I had to work my way up to that coveted box of 64. You know, the one with the built-in sharpener. It felt like some sort of rite of passage, where you had to earn the right to have more than eight colors at your disposal.

I could hardly wait to open the box and see the perfectly shaped crayons all lined up by hue. I would take great care in holding them so they wouldn’t break and delighted to review the names of the colors. (The art of creative color naming came long before OPI and Essie coined clever names for their nail polish colors).

Crayola revolutionized the spectrum of colors and what we called them. The color blue was no longer just blue – we now had cerulean, aquamarine, cobalt, etc. When Crayola celebrated 100 years, 4 new colors were introduced: inch worm, mango tango, wild blue yonder, and jazzberry jam. These colors replaced blizzard blue, magic mint, mulberry, and teal blue.

To think our early years were restricted to only eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black. Color continues to influence and affect what we buy, how we feel, and how we react. There are a lot of discussions and studies on color that confirm what we all know – color matters!

In my marketing and branding profession, color is not only important – it is essential. I am often asked, “Does the color of my logo affect how people will think about my business?” My consistent response is yes and no. Yes, the color you use will oftentimes solicit an initial reaction based on their association with colors connected to other recognizable brands.

For example, brown is associated with UPS, red with Coca-Cola, and green with Starbucks. This goes one step further in how people classify individual colors. The color purple is perceived as creative, imaginative, wise. Blue is trustworthy, dependable, strong. A good-sense check is to ask the question, “Does the color “fit” what is being sold?” No matter what you may read or hear, when it comes to color one thing is for certain, there are no absolutes.

Image credit: The Logo Company

The “no” part of my response is based on the fact that color is too dependent on personal experiences to be universally tied to any one specific feeling. My advice is to be aware of the feelings often associated with colors but in the end, select color(s) to support the personality you want your business to portray. I would further advise you to take note of what color(s) your competition is using. Stay clear of falling into the “me too” or “look alike” traps.

A good example I can share is of one of my clients who is in the mortgage lending industry. One of their largest competitors uses red, black, and gray for their brand colors. A few years ago during a brand identity refresh my client (boldly and proudly I might add) selected the color orange. Bright, bold, you can’t miss it – orange. They did a couple of things right in choosing orange. Despite being a much smaller company, they are making a bold statement by choosing such a vibrant color. They aren’t blending into the landscape, but rather are standing out. The other thing working for them is (if you look at the color emotion guide above) that the feelings associated with orange are: friendly, cheerful, and confident. Choosing orange as their brand color reinforced their value proposition and brand positioning in a highly visible, effective way.

The digital age has presented a whole new set of challenges and considerations when it comes to color. First off, when it comes to using color online you are restricted to using an RGB color system that constructs all the color from a combination of Red, Green, and Blue colors. The reason this matters is that offline, when you print your [brand] colors, that method uses either CMYK or Pantone colors. In short, the color you see online rarely achieves the level of vibrancy and richness you see in a printed piece.

While we are on the topic of color systems, it is well worth mentioning that Pantone selects and promotes a color of the year every January. This represents a symbolic color selection; a color snapshot of what they see taking place in our culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude. For the first time in 2016, Pantone introduced two shades, Rose Quartz and Serenity, as colors of the year. The winning color is a much-anticipated event as it drives fashion, paint, home décor, cosmetics, and fashion trends for the year.

How color is used in web design can even determine how successful your conversion rate optimization (CRO) is. There are several factors in achieving CRO. In fact, here are seven tips.

When selecting colors for websites there are essentially three structures to consider.
  1. Base colors – typically a brand color scheme. Base colors help break up the background by using colors that are neither boring nor flashy.
  2. Background colors – most widely used colors. A white background can be used to give the viewer whitespace. Other colors, images, and textures can be used as well as layering. Whichever background you select, be mindful of visual fatigue. Here are some options to help you decide.
  3. Accent colors – this color is used the least and is best used for things you want to bring attention to like a call-to-action (CTA) or button. Solid contrasting or vibrant colors are most widely used for this purpose.

Color is everywhere and when it isn’t, it becomes very obvious. The psychology of color is directly linked to how we may react in any given instance. Color also is symbolic, particularly in many cultures. Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to travel internationally. I enjoyed learning and experiencing different cultures, cuisines, and architecture. On a trip to Brussels, Belgium, I was amazed at how gray, almost monochromatic the buildings and city looked. I also noticed that those that lived and worked there didn’t seem to mind or notice. This resonated with me because of the research I had done on how color affects people and how much cultural differences can play a part in it. While I found the people to be delightful and the food delicious, I found myself craving the need to see more color. As I walked the streets it felt almost surreal, like I was in an old black and white movie.

I would imagine that there must be a portion of the people that live there that do notice and are affected by the absence of color in their cityscape. My business colleague who lives there was so excited to take me to see the Grand Palace and show me where they construct a live flower carpet every other year in August. It was difficult for me to visualize what he was describing as I looked around the gray buildings that lined the square. Later that evening, I looked up images of the flower carpet online and could then fully appreciate the grandeur, magnificence, and color of this carpet made up of 600,000 flowers! So this is how Brussels, too, can have color as part of their landscape.

Flower Carpet, Brussels, Belgium

In contrast, on a trip to Stockholm, Sweden, I immediately took notice of the brilliantly vibrant colors used on the buildings. It lifted my mood, made me smile, and want to capture as many pictures as possible to share with my friends and family back home. All due to – color.

Brussels, Belgium
Stockholm, Sweden
Bottom line:

Color is necessary and essential when it comes to branding or marketing. It can make you stand out or blend in. Only you can decide which one. And to think it all started with that first box of eight Crayola crayons – my how far we have come. So rise up, fellow marketers and branders, and show your colors!

Share in the comments below examples of how you have used color effectively as part of your marketing or branding strategy to influence or persuade!

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Michelle Mariola is founder & director of ISH-Productions, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.

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