4 Ways to Use Color to Your Brand's Advantage

Some of the most fun branding work we do for clients is building and defining color palettes. This process is one part art, one part science and a dash of intuition. As brand managers, nothing delights us more than seeing clients reap the rewards that consistent branding bring and nothing is a stronger component in building consistency than color. Colors have a way to communicate feelings without saying a word and can tell a brand story instantly. When it comes to color strategy, here are a quick few "rules" to keep in mind.

1. Define Your Palette

If you're going it alone and not working with a graphic designer or brand manager, you'll want to spend some time defining your color palette. It's not enough to say that your color is "blue". There's a big difference between cobalt, indigo, cerulean, lapis and teal - all of which are shades of blue. Defining your palette means picking ~which~ of those shades is yours.

When defining your brand's colors, you'll want to notate the following color codes that help translate your colors precisely across mediums.

  • Pantone

  • CMYK

  • RGB

  • Hex

Having this info will ensure that the blue seen on your website matches the blue printed on your business cards.

2. Keep It Concise

It's easy to go crazy and think that MORE IS BETTER when it comes to your color palette. In reality, you'll want to keep your color palette restrained to no more than 3-5 colors. There should be one color that is your primary color and the rest should only play supporting roles. Reserve the secondary colors for headlines, callouts, and buttons. In our sample palette above, notice how even though there are five colors that two of them are just variations (two blue tones, two yellow tones). In this example, the dark blue may be the primary color with the lighter blue and yellow tones being used sparingly. We also recommend including at least one neutral color in your palette, such as the beige color in our sample palette. Keeping it simple will help your brand look and feel more professional and refined.

3. Inform & Distribute

Once you've gone through all the hard work of defining and refining your color palette, you'll want to keep everyone that works on branded collateral for you in on the details. This includes any web designers, graphic designers, printers, ad agents or even employees that are allowed to make in-house graphics and documents. We include a color specs sheet in all of our brand identity guides to help keep everyone on the same page. You may also find it helpful to make a note of these colors in a document that everyone has access to. (Of course, if you're struggling to keep things consistent we'd recommend utilizing an agency such as ours to facilitate all design and production. This is one of the most important little tasks we handle for clients behind the scenes!)

4. Play!

We already told you to keep a limited palette of well-refined colors but every now and again you need to be RULE BREAKER! This one is really only for well-established brands or companies that have been using a consistent color palette in their branding for at least 1-2 years. IF this is you, try incorporating a fun pop of color as an accent in a special promotion or ad. This will make your brand look fresh and new while still not deviating from your established brand. In the case of our sample palette, imagine a bright fuschia or sultry magenta as an accent! Done with restraint for a short-term promo or social media campaign, you'll find that playing a bit within your established palette is a lot of fun!

If the idea of sorting out shades of yellow has you feeling a little blue, it may be time to bring in the pros! Working with a designer on a simple brand mood board exercise or even developing a complete brand identity guide will go a long way in helping you use color to your full advantage.

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