How to Choose A Brand Color Palette That Fits Your Brand Story to a T

Poulomi Basu
11 min readAug 28, 2018

So you’re setting up your own small business, thinking about names, logos, brand color palettes, etc. Ooh, exciting times!

I was in that stage less than 2 years ago, and I was so ready in my head to get everything done! But to be honest, in terms of color, I messed up a bit, initially.

Aah…my failure story. Keep reading below to see where I went wrong, and how I fixed it.

We all know that we remember a lot of big brands by color. Think McDonalds, Starbucks, Standard Chartered, Vodafone.

In fact, a study by Kissmetrics shows that color increases brand recognition by 80%.

But how do you go about choosing that color, and more specifically, a palette (a range of colors) that defines your brand, and matches your personality perfectly? Of course you want to choose colors that you really like. And colors you think are core to your personality, that you could look at all the time, that feel second nature to you. But here’s the thing.

Your brand color palette has to match your authentic brand story and work for your business.

So here are 4 steps you can take to set your brand palette.

Step 1. Choose your primary brand color.

The first thing you have to do is select the color that will represent the brand everywhere, in every way.

90% of big brands have only 1–2 colors that they use consistently. So don’t confuse people with too many colors, try to stick to a single one if possible.

That color will be the dominant color of your brand.

You can refer to the 5 points below, the little tips to keep in mind, to pick the perfect primary brand color.

#1. Define your unique brand story, and find a color that fits.

What’s the message of your brand? What are its values? Its uniqueness? Because the more you can stand out in a cluttered industry, with your uniqueness, the more powerful your brand will be. Let’s see a few examples below.

Financial services

A lot of banks choose blue and red. These are power colors. Sometimes they also go for green as that is the color of money. See this image from Designmantic.

See what I mean?

But then you have some banks completely breaking through the clutter, defined by their values. For example, the way Maybank set their values, made an acronym of TIGER.

T — Teamwork
I — Integrity
G — Growth
E — Excellency & Efficiency
R — Relationship Building

A tiger also inspires strength and confidence. And accordingly, this is how their brand color palette looks:

Makeup

This sector goes towards a lot of colorful images, with black, bold logos, encouraging women to experiment with makeup.

And then you have a brand like Benefit, which goes completely pink, cheeky, fun, and pop-artish. They describe their brand philosophy as ‘grabbing life by the giggles’. Immediate differentiation.

So their colors, and whole look and feel, follow their brand story.

So you just need to know what the rest is doing, what YOU want to do, what your brand story is, and what color you think would go best with it. So their colors, and whole look and feel, follow their brand story.

#2. Think about the feeling you want to invoke in your customers

There are tons of studies on the psychology of color. On the effects of it on people. Without going into details, let’s just say that on an average, each color represents an emotion, a state of mind. So before you fixate on ONE color, try to understand the meaning of each. Prezi explains the moods of some key colors:

So once you know the general meanings, choose a color direction with a feeling that you want your audience to connect to your brand. You can always choose different shades and hues of colors (for e.g. if you choose green, you can decide later whether it should be a lime green or an olive green or a moss green).

#3. Think about your true brand personality

If your brand was a person, what would its personality be like?

Playful/ serious?

Calm/ energetic?

Corporate/ informal?

Everyday/ luxury?

See below an infographic from The Logo Company that shows what kind of an emotion/ vibe, different colors reflect.

Depending on what your brand message is, what you stand for, a personality would follow accordingly. For example, if you’re selling insurance, you would have a serious, neutral personality. However, if you are a young entrepreneur who wants to break the clutter and do things unconventionally, you may want to have a much more fun and energetic brand personality. And then you need to have fun, exciting colors.

#4. Don’t pi** off your customer

At this point, you also have to think about where your audience is based. Because the same color can have different meanings in different cultures. For example, the color red, which represents prosperity, love, in Asian cultures like India and China, stands for death in Nigeria!

Uh oh!

Relax, don’t sweat it. Once you’ve chosen your primary brand color, and you know the culture/ country/ ethnicity you want to reach with your business, just do a quick check to see that the color doesn’t mean anything bad for them.

#5. Double-check your research

Your color should resonate with the audience you want to connect to. And this is where I didn’t do my research as thoroughly as I should have.

See, I love the color purple. It looks high-value, strong, powerful, dynamic, and yet warm. It is dynamic, and suits my brand story and personality. And as I feel powerful from within and want my customers to feel the same, I went with that as a dominant color.

I didn’t have the budget for a proper research, and didn’t do it extensively, even online. When I showed the color with my website to a few people, both men and women said they liked it. My target was the expat population in Singapore, and they all gave good feedback.

So I went for it! This is how it looked like.

At some point I realized that most of my customers were women, especially those who found me through my website. But I didn’t give it too much significance. After I repeatedly asked my husband later for his feedback, I dug deeper, and realized that he didn’t really connect to the color. I also talked to a lady client later, who said she loved it, but she hadn’t shown it to her boss because he would definitely not connect to it.

See the research below from Kissmetrics.

Hmmmpfff…men don’t like purple at all! When I actually went and pestered my men friends again for feedback, they admitted that they thought the design was nice, but they wouldn’t spend too much time on the website. Too much of a color they don’t connect with. And they didn’t want to say anything much initially because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. And each man thought it was just him who wasn’t really connecting, so better to stay quiet.

Ok well. I had to do something about it, otherwise was potentially losing customers.

So I compromised. I changed my website to add a lot of white, added more blue and reduced the pink, also reduced the intensity of the colors, and added complementary colors, including a soft grey. This is how it looks like now.

So it still has purple, but it is played down, and if you browse the site, you will see I use an occasional teal for highlights (so an analogous color scheme).

And now my website visitors are 60:40, for women and men.

Step 2. Create your brand color palette.

A color palette is basically a selection of 2 or 3 colors that you can use everywhere for your brand. Your color pallete should consist of:

  • 1 dominant color
  • 1 accent color (a secondary color for emphasizing or highlighting certain aspects of your marketing
  • 1 standard color for your texts (black/ shade of grey)

What kind of colors can serve as your accent color?

It depends on the color scheme that you think works for you. There are primarily 3 types:

  • Monochromatic color scheme
  • Analogous color scheme
  • Complementary color scheme

Monochromatic color scheme: Different shades of the same dominant color. See the image below.

Source: Google

A brand that has a monochromatic color scheme:

Facebook: Shades of blue

Analogous color scheme: A color scheme with your dominant color + colors right BESIDE your dominant color on the color wheel. See the image below from Homedit.

A brand that has an analogous color scheme:

McDonalds: Red and orange/ yellow

Complementary color scheme: A color scheme with your dominant color + a color right OPPOSITE your dominant color on the color wheel. See the image below from The Paper Mill Store.

A brand that has a complementary color scheme:

Firefox: Blue and orange/ yellow

You can also choose one analogous and one complementary color, but remember, keep it simple.

Think of any big brand. They usually have ONE big color. So don’t go overboard with lots of colors, stick to one or maximum 2.

Going to have a website and need colors for your online branding?

My key tips for this would be:

  • Keep a lot of white space in your website. You can check out this article from The Website Builder Expert to see which color you can put in which section of the website.
  • Choose an accent color that is a good Call To Action color as well. A blog from OptinMonster explains the colors that work best as a CTA.

So, you’ve read all of that, but not sure still which colors feel right for you? How do you know visually, which colors you could go with? There is a very nice and fun tool for that, called Coloors.co which lets you choose all kinds of color schemes.

Easiest way to experiment? Just click generate or explore, till you get close to your primary color. See this video for how it works.

Are you good now? Feeling good about all the colors you’ve chosen?

Then we go to the next step, which as you know, I didn’t do very well, but you should.

Step 3. Get HONEST feedback

I learnt an important lesson with my initial mistake. See, your cheerleaders want the best for you, like my guy friends did. They don’t always tell you what they dislike, because they think it applies only to them. And they didn’t want to say anything much initially because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. And each man thought it was just him who wasn’t really connecting, so better to stay quiet.

So definitely, try to do research as much as possible and ensure that the color you choose is not a put-off for your audience. Urge your super supportive fans, especially among people who can be a sort of representation of your target group, to give you constructive feedback, to say it like it is, that you’re a big girl/ boy, and can handle it.

Sometimes you may not be able to reach the exact target in your close circle. Like if you’re doing a product for an age group which you don’t have close interactions with. Pass it around. Ask your connections to ask people they know.

If they all REALLY like your choice of the color palette, and it matches your brand story, you’re all set!

Step 4. Brainstorm with your graphic designer

I assume you have a graphic designer who is creating your logo? Do a brain dump of all the above on him/ her. Share your preferences of dominant colors and palettes, brief them on what you want the brand to be, and let them figure out how to bring the brand and the logo design alive with the colors you’ve chosen!

Doing the design yourself? No sweat. Just play around with the colors you’ve chosen so far, and see how best it works with your logo.

A fantastic tool to experiment with here is Canva. They have a cool Brand Kit that you can experiment with.

You can create multiple color palettes to experiment and play around with, before finally deciding the best fit for you.

And it’s not just colors. You can also add fonts, your logo, and all other brand material to keep in one place.

And if later you need to create business cards, social media posts, infographics, posters, brochures, proposals, presentations, Youtube thumbnails, it will be a breeze to get it done.

First of all, they have loads of templates, so if you like any of them, you just drag your brand kit material onto it, and voila, you’re done! I barely create anything from scratch nowadays.

Or you can custom edit it any way you want, add stickers, shapes, animation, pretty much anything you need to create graphics yourself.

If you can’t always outsource your brand and marketing material to a designer, Canva is a must-have tool. I don’t know what I would do without it.

The most important thing?

The most important thing is, have fun while doing this process! This is one of the most creative and exciting parts of your business journey.

Once you set the colors, and people know about your brand, they tend to remember it by color. So while you can keep tweaking your colors a bit as you go, don’t change it drastically from the original color palette you had set.

Try not to change the dominant color at all.

Good luck!

P.S. This story was first published on the Ignite Marketing blog.

Would love to hear your comments and don’t hesitate to reach out to connect with me through my website, LinkedIn, or Twitter for more tips and information on simple ways to execute your branding and marketing for your small business.

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Poulomi Basu

Vibrant brand & marketing strategist, helping people turn their idea or passion into a business. I help you to be #PowerfullyYOU.