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The significance of colour in branding

  • by Peter Davis
  • 13th May 2019
    • Brand Creation, Creative

How does colour impact how we think or feel?

Apparently, our eyes can distinguish up to ten million colour variations – which is lucky, as these days our screens bombard us with an incredible spectrum of high-definition colours. This desire to replicate every hue, tint, tone and shade precisely is, however, a modern phenomenon.

In the Middle Ages, painters weren’t concerned about portraying colours accurately. Pigments were costly back in Medieval times, and expensive colours, such as ultramarine, vermillion and gold weren’t used for colour accuracy – they were used to reflect the wealth and status of a painting’s owner. What I find fascinating is that back then, just like today, it was the significance of a colour that was much more important.

Take the colour blue. In Medieval times ultramarine came from lapis lazuli, a gemstone that could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan. Back then, the blue paint cost as much, by weight, as gold. As a result, Baroque painters like Giovanni Battista Salvi depicted the Virgin Mary in a bright ultramarine robe, choosing the colour for its high price rather than any religious symbolism.

Blue has been one of the most popular go-to colours for centuries – be it by Salvi over 300 years ago or by SAP today – the connotations of a colour carries a deeper significance than many of us realise.

How does colour affect how we feel about a brand? What’s the science behind this?

Some brands are instantly recognisable by a colour. If I say Coca-Cola, EasyJet or Linkedin, you’ll immediately visualise their brand colours.

The science behind colour processing is very powerful. There’s been lots research on the relationship between colour and branding, and some of the results are rather surprising – there’s so much more to colour than a colour wheel. Apparently, up to 90% of snap judgments about products are based upon the colour of their logo or packaging alone.

From a marketing perspective, to really understand how we can use colour to its full effect, it’s worth understanding the psychology underpinning different colours and how they affect us on an emotional level. Artist and neuroscientist Bevil Conway has spent many years studying the power of colour, and he believes that “knowing that humans might also be hardwired for certain hues could be a gateway into understanding the neural properties of emotion.”

Before people decipher what a logo says, they’ll register its colour and immediately make a subconscious emotional judgement. Blue, for example, stimulates feelings of reliability, trust and authority. So it’s no surprise that brands like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have chosen it as their primary brand colour.

On an emotional level, it seems that colours help us assess a brand’s personality, and what we feel about them. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that colour can significantly contribute to the overall performance of a business – but colours definitely influence decision-making.

How should B2B brands be thinking about colour?

Every brand has a number of ‘codes’ that make up their visual identity, be it their logo, graphics, or a set of icons they use. But a brand’s colour palette is the number-one visual ingredient that people will remember the most.

Research has revealed that a signature colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%. And even without seeing the logo, most people could recognise a Starbucks drink by its characteristic green straw.

The key for a B2B brand is to establish a brand colour and stick with it. They then need to apply that colour code religiously, across every touchpoint, from their production uniforms and truck livery to their website and advertising.

Which B2B brands use colour particularly well?

One of our clients, DHL, uses strong colour coding at the heart of their branding. They introduced vivid crimson and tangerine yellow into their identity around 15 years ago, and they’re now synonymous with that colour combination.

“Red and yellow will never go out of fashion” was a DHL campaign that ran last year. It highlighted their brand-leader status as the global logistics partner for the fashion and retail sector. Part of the campaign activity included customers uploading shots of themselves wearing red and yellow.

At Uppb2b we have just produced a campaign for CHEP, another of our clients, that uses their brand blue to great effect. Blue safety signs are a common sight in retail and manufacturing businesses. They convey messages that indicate an important action.

The creative concept we devised for CHEP’s Food-Grade Inbound Pallet campaign leverages the significance and association of ‘safety blue’ – as it’s known – to link it to the hygienic and food-safe properties of the product.

This is a prime example of how brands can use colour in marketing to help generate a subconscious emotional judgement.

So how can B2B brands use colour to influence behaviours or buying decisions?

Whether it’s a core element of a brand’s identity or a lower-level campaign activity, there’s a big, and largely untapped, opportunity for B2B brands to use colour as an influential business tool.

Choosing your colour palette should always be part of the overall branding process and tie directly into what your B2B brand stands for. You still hear, all too often, that a client has chosen specific colours due to a personal preference or for arbitrary reasons.

Obviously, it’s important to recognise that tapping into colour-coding psychology should only come into play to match a brand’s personality or product message. And be aware of the business markets you’re operating in, as different colours have different meanings and associations depending upon nationality and culture.

Did you know, for example, that the colour green stands for independence in Mexico. But in China, a green hat on a man is a no-no because it signals that his wife has committed adultery!