When it comes to designing and executing a visual brand identity, color matters. Here’s why.

Humans are visual creatures. In fact, 90% of the information transmitted to the human brain is visual. And within the brain, images are processed 60,000 times faster than text. 

This means that the first interaction a person has with a brand is likely going to be associated with visual information. As such, creating a strong visual brand identity is a critical part of building a brand.

Color is one of the most integral elements to consider during the process of visual branding, given the strong cognitive and emotional reactions that humans experience when processing different colors. 

Color psychology (the research area that considers how color influences human decision-making and behavior) cannot provide universal answers on how each person will perceive every color — especially given that factors including cultural context, gender, personal experience, and neurological differences all affect color perception. However, with the help of psychological research we can gain a number of key insights about how certain colors are perceived — knowledge that can and should be leveraged in the creation of a powerful visual brand.

Dreaming in Color: Why Color Matters in Branding

A brand’s color scheme is often intrinsically connected to its identity. It’s hard to think of Coca-Cola without thinking of the color red or of Apple without thinking of white. This is because the human brain responds to color in powerful ways. 

Research reveals that people judge a product subconsciously within 90 seconds of viewing it and that most people make that judgement based solely on color. Additional studies indicate that, depending on the product, up to 90% of snap judgments that people make may be based on color alone, with some of that decision being based on whether the color seems to fit appropriately with the product. 

This data suggests that color is not only critically important to how audiences are likely to perceive and interact with a brand, but also that creating a color palate for a brand requires a nuanced, scrutinous approach. Achieving an end goal of higher engagement with a brand demands much more than selecting a color scheme based upon what might “catch the eye.” 

Most importantly, color is a powerful tool that, when deployed effectively, engages target audiences by communicating a brand’s core identity and message. 

Image source: Canva

Most popular logo colors by industry

Factors to Consider When Integrating Color Into a Brand Identity

Considering the role of color in one’s visual brand requires weighing a number of key factors that comprise a brand identity.

1. Philosophy and Mission

When developing a brand color scheme, the main question a brand should be asking itself is: what do we stand for? Homing in on a high-level vision or philosophy is a critical first step in developing a visual identity. Once a brand has decided what they hope its target audience will take away from an interaction with it, it can begin considering how to convey that message.

2. Messaging

Once a brand has nailed down its essential mission and philosophy — the “who we are” of brand identity, it can approach it core message and how to convey this message to target audiences.

Messaging is about pinpointing the desired impact of an interaction with a brand. What should an audience member think or feel when they engage with the brand? Is the brand meant to be perceived as approachable and warm? Clever and sharp? Straightforward and authoritative?

3. Logo

After a brand has ironed out its core message, it can consider representation, including the centerpiece of its visual identity — the logo.

One of the first considerations is whether to have a symbol logo (an iconographic logo that will make the brand recognizable, like Starbucks) or a wordmark logo (a logo in which the name is the focus, like Facebook). 

Another consideration is style. Opting to stick with contemporary logo trends likely means you will need to redesign your logo every five years to keep up with the continuously changing trends. If, instead, a brand prefers a timeless look, it may have to deal with a logo that is less on-trend but requires less frequent tweaking. 

Finally, while color will almost certainly come into play, shapes are perhaps more essential here since a logo needs to be able to function without color. A logo should be designed with enough consideration so that when it is printed in black and white or appears on a black-and-white display, it is still impactful.

4. Typeface

A visual brand identity is almost always interwoven with a brand’s verbal identity — meaning the presentation of verbal messaging matters, too. 

From the logo to web copy and ad design, marketers must consider how typeface can be leveraged to effectively deliver a brand’s core message. Typeface can help to achieve the desired audience impact (again, whether the brand is perceived as “approachable and warm” or “clever and sharp”), so it’s important to consider factors like sizing, and style (such as serif or sans serif) of typeface selected to be used in different applications throughout the brand. 

Finally, color can inform typeface. Though brands often opt for basic neutral colors in their typefaces, even a black or gray typeface can serve to reinforce the tone of the message or complement the colors of the logo, creating a more holistic and authentic brand identity.

5. Imagery and Other Visual Elements

Whether a brand chooses to use stock imagery, original photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, unique graphics, or custom data visualizations, every visual component should be serving the larger purpose of achieving a synchronized brand identity that conveys the core message. 

Brands can tailor these visual elements to align them with the brand identity through a variety of methods, including filters or superimposed text or shapes, or integrating a brand’s primary or secondary colors. 

Tapping Into the Psychology of Color

From establishing a high-level vision to designing a logo and selecting strong typefaces, color can serve as a key element in achieving the ultimate goal of communicating who a brand is and what it stands for to target audiences.

As such, it’s critical to consider how color may influence mood and psychological perceptions of an object or brand. 

Image source: Canva

common color associations color psychology

Skeptical? There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that human’s perceptions of color inform their beliefs and behaviors. Researchers recently found that “using the color green on a product’s package can enhance consumers’ perceptions of the brand’s environmental impact. Ironically, this positive effect of green can also lead to consumers’ misperceptions of the brand’s environmental impact if green is used for brands that are not environmentally superior.” Another study confirms that dark colors are correlated with increased “indulgent consumption” — that is to say, when presented with a salad or a slice of chocolate cake, the brain is more likely to link self-control to the lighter, greener colors of the salad and low self-control to the dark color of the cake. 

Iconic brand identities often become iconic thanks to their color schemes — and because the brands behind them understand what message they’re sending. 

Color and Brand Identity Superstars

There are a lot of great examples of brands that use color effectively as part of their brand. A few of the most iconic include the following: 

  • Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola is one of the world’s biggest brands and its classic cherry red color drives its visual identity. Campaign slogans like “Share a Coke” and “Taste the feeling” highlight the feelings of warmth and love that the color red already bring about. 
  • McDonald’s: McDonald’s is known for its iconic golden arches and its otherwise yellow and red branding. These colors are associated with excitement — red has even been correlated with elevated heart rates. The colors are also bold and, while they don’t stand out too strongly from their competitors, they do stand out effectively in areas like food courts and highways, where McDonald’s locations are often found. 
  • Whole Foods Market: Whole Foods’ green branding evokes nature and health — a market of which the upscale grocer has claimed a significant stake. 

Driving Engagement With a Superior Brand Identity

No matter a brand’s mission or business model, tapping into the psychology of color positions a brand to execute a visual identity with increased accuracy. With the help of a carefully-selected color palate, a brand ensures it has the desired effect on its target audiences. 

Since  a strong visual brand identity is the first touchpoint in an engagement, a brand that succeeds in communicating meaningfully with its target audiences is poised to drive better results.