What do the colours you choose in your branding say about your company, and are you sending the right message?

Selecting a colour palette is one of the most significant choices a business can make while developing their brand aesthetic. A few months ago, Instagram showed the world why it’s important to make the right decision on a new logo design and colour scheme as it can have widespread impact on a company’s public image. MasterCard also recently revealed a new logo for the first time in 20 years and whilst not a vast change, the logo was modernised; balanced with a careful use of three flat colours next to each other to retain familiarity. Deciding on the right logo colours can be challenging, but the colour choice can have a huge impact on how a business is perceived.

According to Business of Colour research of 13,000 logos, blue is the most popular colour choice overall (53%), not hugely surprising given it is the most popular colour in the world across every culture. Pink and brown were the least popular (2% respectively) but that’s not to say if a logo colour isn't popular you shouldn't use it. UPS has built a shipping empire on brown’s associations with serious reliability.

This is where the power of colour psychology comes into its own. Colour psychology tells us how colours impact on our emotions and behaviours. As an example, yellow is cheerful (like the sun) or green is calming (like laying on the grass in the summer months). But do these rules really translate into logo colour meanings?

Researchers Lauren Labrecque and George Milne found that some brands do and some don’t. Yellow will make your brand look youthful and approachable but a green logo doesn’t automatically mean customers will think your brand is peaceful. Breaking down this colour structure into what the colours translate to can be a challenge for brands and businesses, especially since the wrong shade of red could be the difference between hitting your target audience and missing them.

Painting by numbers

No one else knows your business, its strengths, weakness, goals and what it means to you better than you do. So before selecting a colour scheme for your logo you need to think about the following:

Brand personality: What virtues do you want to show off? Speed, innovative spirit, efficiency, passion, spontaneity?

Your tone: This sets out your brand voice and sets the tone for how consumers will perceive you. For example, research has shown that blue hues emphasize competence, whereas reds will make your brand appear bold and energetic.

As an example, a company that gives in-home care for senior citizens will have a completely different colour palette to one that makes car parts. So which logo colours mean what?

RedThis is the global sign for excitement, passion and anger. If your brand is loud, playful, youthful or modern then think red. If it is more mature, classic or serious then red might not be for you.

OrangeA very refreshing and playful colour. Orange is a colour that stands out from the crowd and, even though it is often used less than red, it still is a heavy hitter.

YellowApproachable, sunny and friendly. Yellow brings cheer and happiness. This colour will make your brand show an affordable, youthful energy.

GreenThis is a very versatile colour due to the fact it isn’t linked to many personal traits but it still has strong cultural associations. Businesses in finance and gardening should consider green.

BlueThe king of colours as it appears in over half of all logos. It symbolises trust and maturity and will make sure you’re taken seriously.

PurpleThis is the part of the rainbow where luxury enters. Brands with purple appear simultaneously cutting-edge and wise. Femininity is also linked to the colour as well.

PinkIt may come across as feminine but it is a lot more versatile than that. Ranging from pastel rose to neon magenta, pick pink for a modern, young, luxurious look.

BrownPotentially the most underutilised colour. Brown appears rugged, masculine and serious. These are all great characteristics to challenge your rivals with.

BlackBlack is the new black, full stop. If you want slick, modern and luxury then choose black. Want to be seen as economical and affordable? Stay away from this colour.

WhiteWhite is both young and economical, but it can work for almost any brand. As a neutral colour, consider white as a secondary accent.

GreyNot quite black but not quite white. Grey is in the middle of mature, classic and serious. Going for a darker tone adds mystery, but if you go lighter you will be seen as more accessible.

Pick and mix

Of course, you don’t just have to pick one colour from the options above. As an example, if you want to emphasise choice to your customer you might use multiple colours to show off your stock diversity just like eBay. Similarly, choosing two or three colours can show off what makes you unique. The Wimbledon logo for example has served as a mark of its identity as the oldest and most renowned international professional tennis championship. Its prominent colour combination of purple and green play to its prestigious heritage, whilst also representing the hallowed lawn it's played on. White is also used to draw attention to the crossed rackets in competition and the championship caption instantly highlighting what it is about.

This colour combination is perfect for the brand and shows that you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with colour choices to see what works and what doesn’t.

Lost in translation

When it comes to international brands, understanding what different colours mean in different cultures is very important. This means that when selecting your logo’s colours you must think about how it will be received in other cultures. A common example of how colours translate differently in different cultures is how white is perceived. In Western cultures white is a symbol of purity but in Eastern cultures it means death. Thinking about these cultural differences is a must for brands wishing to expand overseas.

Standing out from the crowd

Getting recognised in the crowd is a challenge for all brand logos. If you want your brand to stand out it is a good idea to choose a colour palette that is significantly different from your competition. Ford Motor Company, as an example, produced its well-known blue oval almost a century ago, and it is still a strong brand identifier as well as an image of the company’s reliability. By contrast, Land Rover, uses a forest green palette to highlight the company’s off-road feel.

Choosing the right colour or colours for your brand is a difficult but vital decision. From matching your brand’s tone and personality to understanding your audience, making the right colour choice can have huge ramifications on business success. So take the time to invest in the decision and why not even test colours on your employees, families and friends? It’s a good way to see their reactions first hand and can help you shape your brand colours prior to your launch.

By Laura McLeod, senior digital marketing manager, 99designs