Reading List: Nine Books to Live Your Full Potential

Using Color in Brand Identity Design

Positioning a company with color in brand identity design


Many of you have done some homework about color theory on your own at some point. If that’s the case, some of these examples may sound a bit familiar to. Regardless if this applies to you or not – be sure to stick through till the end to see a deeper analysis of what it all means.

The effects of color on human behavior and psychology has become somewhat of a cliche. It’s easy to do a quick Google search on the topic and think 

Many brands use colors that pull straight from color theory – this is illustrated by the examples above. But for designers, photographers, videographers, and creative-types of all kinds, the thought process behind which color schemes to implement is much more diverse and contextual than simply referencing a color theory chart on Google. It has to be. If every brand out there only used colors that seemed the most relevent to their industry, they would remove much of the benefit that creative services provide. Every low-price food company would drench their brand in red, and every company providing ways to talk or interact with others would be drowning in blue. The result? No differentiation.

Part of the job of a creative professional is to implement color strategically. Done right, the color scheme of a brand identity can set it apart from its competitors on its own merits. Good news for brand owners! Just by thinking about details like how to implement color strategically can do a lot of the marketing leg work. Distinct brand identities and creative assets = greater differentiation = less money and time needed to get noticed over competitors.

The key lies in relative color theory. Color should be used to communicate a brand’s positioning in the market. Positioning means creating a category in a customer’s mind of what problem or value that brand brings to them. By design, humans are hardwired to compare things. In order to know if a brand is worth spending money with, that brand needs to clearly communicate what problem or value they provide to the person while showing why they’re more worth spending money with than their competitors. (Hence the tired cliche of startups claiming to be the “Uber of Industry X”.)

Thus, applying color theory relative to a brand’s particular market makes communicating its positioning that much easier. For example, take Walmart and Target. Both of them are discount retailers, yet each carry very different connotations with Walmart positioned as the low-cost option and Target as the affordable-upscale option. 

Following color theory at surface level, you would think that Walmart’s impulse-buy pricing strategy would call for red, while Target’s middle-class family customers would call for a dark blue.

This highlights the reason behind not taking color theory at face value. Walmart adopted low-cost positioning early on in its existence. To counteract being perceived as a second-hand discount store, it needed to balance out its identity through a blue color palette highlighting familial values. For Target to avoid being perceived as “too upscale to shop at every week,” it balanced its brand identity out by adding red to communicate low prices.

Properly done, brand identities and creative assets and communicate the value proposition of a brand without resorting to obvious psychological tricks (i.e., red = impulse buys and food). Instead, color can be used to differentiate a brand from its competitors while becoming far more memorable in the minds of its customers.

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