What do brand colours say about your business?

Businessman sitting at desk with paintbrush and hands covered in colourful paint

Here’s an interesting question for you: what are the four most popular colours used by the top 100 best selling brands? It’s quite likely that, with so much to think about in terms of getting your brand out there, sharpening up your messaging, and building a bullet proof advertising strategy, that you haven’t considered a question like this.

According to research compiled by Column Five Media, 33% of the top 100 global brands use blue, 29% use red, 28% use black or greyscale, and 13% use yellow or gold. And the vast majority, 95%, only use one or two colours. Of course that is not to say that brands should only use these four colours, that would be absurdly reductive. But it’s worth considering that the colours you choose for your brand communicate important information about your products or services.

This is an appropriate time to introduce a caveat warning: colour is a very subjective thing. Different people interpret colours in different ways and, as always, context is king.

A quick web search will bring up endless lists describing what various colours say about your brand, logo, or even personality. Needless to say, you won’t necessarily agree with the various connotations put forward, but it will give you a handy orientation on the subject.

Let’s take a look at what the top four colours listed above might communicate to audiences.

Blue: stability, security, reliability

Red: energy, intensity, boldness, power

Black: formality, mystery, seriousness, seductiveness

Yellow: joy, sunshine, illumination (think Yell.com)

Colours seem to open up a mainline to our emotions, and using different hues will evoke different feelings or atmospheres.

Colours can be broken down in to two essential categories; warm and cold. Warm colours are associated with energy and boldness, cold colours create a sense of calm and security.

British gas brand colours

British Gas predominantly use blue in their branding. Not only does the colour resonate with the blue flicker of a gas flame or pilot light, the colours tell us that this is a company that will deliver energy security, and will always be there when you need them. At the same time, the use of green suggests a commitment to energy efficiency and environmental values. These brand values are made explicit in their messaging and are reinforced subconsciously in their colour scheme.

Mcdonalds brand colours

MacDonald’s famously use red and yellow: colours that evoke bold energy, fun and excitement. Interestingly, following campaigns for healthier foods in their stores, the brand took to using green for their outlets; a colour that evokes nature, healthy eating, and environmental responsibility.

Cadbury brand colours

A company like Cadburys use purple; a colour associated with luxuriousness, creativity and even nostalgia. Black is a colour that can have many contrasting connotations; from sophistication (Sony), to seduction (Playboy).

Google brand colours

In contrast, Google makes use of a multi-colour brand design, suggesting informality, openness and playfulness whilst also separating the search behemoth out from the 95% of competitors who use no more than two colours. This tells us that taking a creative approach to colour use is more important that simply following the herd.

Choosing the right colours for your brand

Before making decisions about what colours to use for your brand, or for a rebranding exercise, familiarise yourself with the colours used by successful brands in your niche and beyond, and think about why they have chosen the colours they have.

Then think about what message you want your colour scheme to communicate about your brand. Are you a fun loving, friendly organisation? A serious, sophisticated brand? Are you offering your audience security and peace of mind, or fun and entertainment? Joyful leisure activities, or serious commercial services?

A home security firm using Google-style multicolour primary colours may not be appropriate, nor a funeral directors using shocking pink. But then again, maybe your company puts a different spin to the others in your niche; choosing an unconventional colour scheme may flag up that your brand is special, or has a different ethos than the competition, and this may be to your advantage.

The point is, the more clearly you understand what message your brand aims to convey and what identity you want to present, and the more familiar you are with what colours convey what meanings, the greater the chances that you will pick brand colours that communicate your vision effectively to your audience.