August 4, 2015 Karen Bouton

Hues are huge: the powerful role of color in branding

Here’s a quick branding pop quiz. In the list below, which companies come to mind when I mention only their industry and their prominent brand colors?

  • Orange home improvement store
  • Brown shipping company
  • Red cola
  • Pink cell phone service provider
  • Green coffee shop

I don’t even have to post the answers upside down at the bottom of the page – you already know them. That’s how powerful colors can be in developing and maintaining a recognizable brand.

In Nextwave’s experience with Fortune 500 companies (first as internal brand managers and now as a creative agency), color is always a hot topic in design meetings. If applied intelligently, color can be an incredibly influential aspect of any company’s branding and marketing efforts. It can be used to evoke sensations and emotions, differentiate products from competitors, and even target specific audience segments.

In our little quiz, I didn’t even mention the most valuable brand in the world (according to Forbes) –Apple. At first, you might not associate Apple with a particular color, but think harder. When the first iPod was introduced, Apple shook up the personal technology universe when it dared to make its devices white instead of the ubiquitous black. Remember the iconic ads with dancing silhouettes accented by white headphones? White still plays a major role in Apple’s brand, from its logo, to its charging cords, to the clean look of its product packaging. It seems to represent purity, unity, and simplicity.

As with Apple, colors connect with people on an emotional – almost subconscious – level. But it’s not as simple as recalling fourth grade art class, where we all learned that “warm” colors are exciting and “cool” colors are soothing. In reality, our reactions to certain colors depend on a lifetime of personal experiences. That’s why color is only part of the branding equation. The rest is about context.

For instance, how is the color used in relation to competitors? T-Mobile has used hot pink to differentiate itself from AT&T (blue) and Verizon (red). Lowe’s blue is the clear alternative to Home Depot orange.

Summing up, there’s a lot more to branding than picking your favorite color. Experienced designers and brand managers know how to use color to the company’s advantage. They know how to create complementary color palettes that communicate a targeted message. They know how to work within strict parameters to protect the brand identity, and how to design fresh treatments of long-established icons.

When our Nokia client inked a major partnership with T-Mobile, for example, we knew it was the right time to bend the rules. At a celebratory company event, we made the stage – and the familiar blue Nokia logo – awash in T-Mobile pink. Yet another example of a how a simple change of color can send a clear and powerful message.



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