Color is one of the most overlooked parts of the branding process. This is likely due to the fact that color’s effect on us is often subconscious and thus hard to describe. Yet, research has shown that color affects 62-90% of people’s first impressions of brands and products. A study by Loyola in Maryland found that color can increase brand recognition by up to 80%.
Perhaps the most powerful brand color is Coca-Cola red. A study found that in season 1 of American Idol, the use of Coke red throughout the broadcast (most concentrated in the “red room” where contestants were interviewed before and after performances) actually reduced participants recall of the other major sponsors!
Let’s see how much color factors into your own brand recognition. Can you name these brands based on colors alone?
The Emotion of Color
So, how did you do on the pop quiz? It probably helped that they were broken down by industry. And that is a key point.
There are lots of articles and charts out there telling you which emotions fit with which colors. Red is a passionate, quick response color—which is why it is used by almost every fast-food chain. It is often paired with yellow—another quick response color. Green is a natural color giving feelings of calm and growth. Blue is the color of steadfastness and trustworthiness.
There are certainly common associations with colors, but this is an often forced oversimplification. For example:
- Cabs are not yellow because it is an impulse color. They are yellow because it was determined to be the easiest color to see from a distance.
- Facebook is not blue because they want you to trust them with your data. It is blue because founder Mark Zuckerberg is red-green color blind and blue is the color he can see the best.
- Starbucks is not green because they want you to come in and relax. They rebranded to green in 1987 because it was the primary color of the University of San Francisco—the alma mater of the founders.
This is not to say that color doesn’t affect our emotions—it sure does. Instead, what research has found is that it is more important that the color choice make sense for the market in general and the company in particular.
Throughout the series, we have talked about how branding is meant to reflect the personality of the organization and appeal to the tastes of the target market. We dug into this most in Part 3 on fonts.
In a great article from Entrepreneur, the writer references Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker’s work on brand personalities. She has determined that there are 5 primary personalities, which then can break down into various sub personalities. The big 5 are:
As we covered in Part 2 of the series, clarity and focus are key. So, while more than one of the traits may be appealing—we probably all want our churches to have at least the first three—you should focus on one primary personality.
When you have the primary personality selected, brainstorm what colors come to mind. Brainstorm what companies/brands fit that personality profile and see what colors they are using. The goal up to this point is to have a feeling for what direction you would want to go.
Finding the Open Space
You may also be able to find interesting areas to brainstorm by looking at what colors aren’t being used by others like you. Obviously, the research linked to so far shows that it still needs to make sense with the personality of your ministry, but don’t assume that every great combination is already in use in your community.
An interesting example is Evernote. As one of their designers explains, they had settled on the elephant as a mascot. The original plan was to go with some combination of red and/or blue, but there was another organization already using a red, white, and blue elephant (the Republican Party!). As they looked closer, they realized that virtually 90% of tech companies used red or blue, so there was room to branch out and be unique. They settled on a muted green that went well with the gray elephant, and it’s now an iconic combination.
In the church world, you also see tons of red and blue. However, orange is a color gaining in popularity. Especially when bright and rich, orange gives a sense of energy. And think about the places you might see the church’s color “in the wild”:
- Yard sign against green grass – orange is going to pop
- Bumper sticker or magnet on a car – there are very few orange cars, so it will definitely stick out
- Balloons, Billboards, anything against the blue sky – orange is the opposite side of the color wheel from blue, meaning it will provide the most pop
So, orange in and of itself can be an effective color, and when you are the only church in your community using orange, it sticks out even more.
Basic Color Theory
Qualities of Color
There are three basic qualities to color: hue, saturation, and value. Hue refers to a point on the color spectrum—think ROYGBIV. Saturation refers to the richness of the colors. When you play with that slider on Instagram, you can go from washed out to blown out intensities. The value refers to where it lies on a spectrum from light to dark. Each of these factors contributes to the effect the color has on us.
Factors in Color Matching
There are different rules for color matching. Here are three of the most basic:
Analogous colors are beside each other on the color wheel (like red, orange, and yellow). These types of combinations can really emphasize color “temperature” as red/orange/yellow are “warm” and green/blue/purple are “cool.”
Monochromatic colors are different shades of the same color. They are usually the same or very close in hue, while the saturation and value are adjusted to create contrast. This kind of color scheme is popular and relatively easy to work with.
Complementary colors are directly across from one another on the color wheel. This strong contrast of hue creates a type of “pop” that other color combinations don’t. This is why you see lots of complementary colors in sports: orange and blue, purple and yellow. The traditional Christmas colors of red and green are complementary, which is why Starbucks’ red cups look so great. Because this pop can sometimes be stressful on the eye, you will want to play with saturations and values to make a contrast that looks great without seeming to “vibrate” on the page or screen.
Check out this page for more on basic color theory and combinations.
Building Your Color Palette
Like the Coca-Cola red, you will first want to decide on the core color of your brand. Plenty of brands have multiple colors that carry equal weight, but if you have one primary color, it can help with quicker and easier recognition across multiple channels, from a distance, or at a passing glance.
This brings up the challenge of reproducing color in different settings. The more your base color strays from common colors, the more difficult and/or expensive it may be to recreate. T-shirts only come in so many colors, and the inks your local screen printer has are likely limited as well. Same goes for balloons at the party store and the colors of vinyl for banners or signs. When you start to gather a couple colors you really like, check out things like the Gildan color chart or the samples at your local print shop. This should not be a huge limiting factor, as you will be able to use any color you want online and on printed items like brochures and fliers. However, it is something to keep in mind.
Once you have your iconic color, you can pair it with white and/or black like Coke does and call it a day. However, even Coke has secondary supporting colors. Here is where you will need to decide what principle(s) of color matching you want to shoot for. Do you want to go analogous or monochromatic to stay within one area? Do you want to explore complementary colors to get some pop like your favorite sports team? Perhaps you want to do a little of each.
My Color Palette
As an example, below is the color palette I use:
The middle color is what I consider to be my primary color. It is a shade of blue that is rich without being too bright. I will admit that it isn’t terribly unique, but I like it, and hey, a random blue worked for Zuckerberg! I added to it the two ends of the spectrum, but I didn’t go fully white or black. I chose an off-white that wouldn’t be so bright as a background for my website, and I chose a dark gray because it feels a little like a darker blue rather than a full black (fun fact, Uber’s primary color is a really dark blue that is meant to remind you of the metallic finish on a fancy black car). I then chose a light blue to create a monochromatic scheme. Finally, I needed an accent color specifically for my website to draw your eye and catch attention. So, I turned to various shades of oranges as they are complimentary to the blues. The one I settled on can be seen when you hover over links and on objects like the share button at the end of the article.
Communicating the Colors
There are a couple different ways that colors information is displayed. You want to have all of this information for each of your colors so that they can be accurately reproduced.
RGB stands for red, green, and blue. These three colors are the primary colors of light, and thus it is the values you would use while designing for a computer or television screen. The RGB value for a color is a string of 3 numbers, which communicate a value for red, a value for green, and a value for blue. Those numbers can be anything between 0 and 255 for each one. So, for example, the United Methodist Church’s primary color is a red with RGB values of 228, 0, 43.
CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. These are the four primary colors for printing with ink, and so you would use them while designing something that is going to be professionally printed. Like RGB, it is a string of numbers, but it has 4 values. They run between 0 and 100. So, the UMC red is 0, 93, 79, 0 in CMYK values.
The Hex color code uses the 16 hexadecimal values (0-9 and A-F) to communicate color information in a shorter space. This is how color information is coded for the web. It is most commonly a 6 character string of numbers and/or letters after a “#” symbol. The Hex code for UMC red is #E4002B.
Pantone, Inc., is a company that created its proprietary Pantone Matching System (PMS). This allows for very precise matching of colors across platforms, ensuring that, for example, Coke red is always Coke red. In fact, some companies have even trademarked their colors so that no one else can use their particular shade. This is unlikely to be a value that you will need and/or use on a regular basis. There are ways to convert your CMYK, RGB, or Hex color into its Pantone shade, but I won’t explain that here. The Pantone color for UMC red is 185 C.
Consistency is Key
I will reiterate what I have said in almost every part of the series so far: consistency is key. Brand recognition and familiarity can only come with repetition. So, use your colors. If you can use them in your building, even if it’s only an accent wall, do it. Use them on fliers, post cards, social media images, your website, your bulletin, your newsletter, t-shirts, banners, yard signs… Printing in color can be expensive sometimes, so think through where color can make the biggest impact and invest there. The goal, like with the Coke red, is for someone to see your church’s color and know that it’s your work.
The Adobe Color Wheel allows you to play around with combinations by dragging different spokes around the circle. You can input a primary color and then ask it to find matching colors based on the various color matching rules. In addition, you can click on the camera icon in the upper right, upload a photo, and it will create a color palette from the photo. This is especially helpful if you take a screen shot of a website or logo you really like and want to see the colors.
Adobe also has a library of user submitted color palettes for exploration and inspiration.
Coolers is a site that allows you to play with color palettes. You can lock in some colors and click to have it pull up new colors it thinks would go well with the ones locked in.
Color is a site that allows you to find colors by dragging your mouse around the page. Moving up and down, left and right, as well as scrolling up and down will all change facets of the color.
Flat UI Colors offers a limited number of colors, but they are popular right now in web and app design.
Creative Bloq posted this article with 28 different tools for helping pick and analyze colors.
Pinterest is also a great place for inspiration. Search “branding board” for examples.
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