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How To Pick a Brand Palette

Palette color examples for branding

When choosing colors for your brand, consider your target market, the message you want to communicate, and the strategic tone you want to establish. Pick colors that genuinely represent your brand's personality and the overall vibe you want your target market to get.

My favorite part of brand design is choosing palettes. There's something about picking colors that is oddly satisfying.

Color design is actually one of my strengths, but it took a long time to develop. In the beginning, picking colors felt overwhelming and I would spend an infinite number of hours spiraling down the rabbit hole of combinations and color concepts. How does one choose 3-5 colors when there are virtually billions of colors to pick from in the universe?! As a young designer, I found myself choosing the same combinations over and over without regard to the strategic thinking behind color. After all, choosing palettes based on my favorites was easy. The problem was, all my logos (and client projects) looked the same. There was no distinguishing factor for any of them. I wasn't utilizing the true power of color to communicate.

Brand personality friendly and approachable palette

Brand personality accessible and friendly colors

Color palette examples for a friendly, approachable brand

When choosing colors for your brand, consider your target market, the message you want to communicate, and the strategic tone you want to establish. Pick colors that genuinely represent your brand's personality and the overall vibe you want your target market to get. Don't fall into the trap of choosing colors that you like, or worse, choosing the same colors as a competitor. Brand colors should never be developed from personal preferences. Like all the other aspects of your brand, your palette should be strategic.

Here are four things to consider when developing your brand colors.

Brand personality

Knowing your key personality traits is the first step to building your brand palette. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your business casual/friendly or corporate/professional?

  • Is your business spontaneous/energetic or reserved/careful?

  • Is your business modern/high-tech or classic/traditional?

  • Is your business accessible to everyone or upscale/exclusive?

  • Is your business fun/easy-going or serious/concise?

Once you know your business's key personality traits, you can begin to build your color palette. A business that is casual and friendly might use bright and happy colors like yellow, orange, or green. If your business is corporate and professional, you might want to consider using colors like blue, gray, or white. A spontaneous and energetic company might consider colors with a high vibe like purple, pink, or red. Colors like black, silver, and blue can often be used successfully if your business is modern and high-tech.

Your competition

Consider what colors your competition is using. You don't want to choose something too similar, but it can be helpful to see what's already out there in your industry. Companies that are currently in saturated categories with lots of competition may find that using color is a good way to differentiate their brand. Just be careful not to alienate your target market when using color as a differentiator.

Brand colors for companies that are energetic and motion oriented

Brand colors for companies that are fun and humorous

Color palette examples for a fun, energetic brand

Your target audience

Who are you trying to reach with your brand? What colors do they respond to? If you're not sure, consider conducting some market research or surveying your target audience to get their feedback. But don't fall into the trap of only using market feedback to determine a strategic palette. Be thoughtful here and consider the personality of the brand as a whole as well. What colors are a genuine reflection of your values and overall brand tone and what is the demographic of your audience? A younger audience might respond to a color palette that is more energetic while an older audience may resonate with calmer or more subdued colors. Consider the primary attribute of your audience. Are they tech professionals, teachers, or moms? Each of these groups will respond differently to different colors. No matter what demographic you are trying to reach be sure your colors truly reflect your brand personality.

Elements of Value

The Elements of Value was developed by Bain and Company and is a tool I often use with clients during brand exploration workshops. This tool is based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and is used to determine what customers care about most (and are willing to invest money or time in) when choosing a product or service. We can also use elements of value to inspire a color palette. If a product or service is satisfying an upper-level value like self-actualization, affiliation, or belonging we can choose colors that promote a positive, more vibrant palette. More muted or calming colors can be used with products or services that meet the emotional needs of customers such as offerings that provide wellness or therapeutic value or help to reduce anxiety. Offerings that meet basic and functional needs of the customer might inspire a more basic and familiar palette.

Brand palette example for an upscale conservative brand

Brand identity colors for a professional, trusting brand

Color palette examples for a professional, upscale brand

Test your brand colors

It's important to test your brand palette to make sure the colors work well together. A good way to test the palette is to create 2-color combinations of all the colors. The goal is to create a palette where all the colors can be used interchangeably without eye fatigue or unreadability. This may require adjustments or eliminating colors altogether. Consider all the applications a palette has to work in, such as print and web. Determine which colors are the primary brand colors. Which will have the largest weight when designing collateral? Which colors are secondary? Which are only to be used sparingly or as accents? These considerations will help you build a successful palette.

Palette example for a company who's brand personality is techy and forward-thinking

Color examples for a brand identity that is edgy and high-tech

Color palette examples for a modern, hi-tech brand

With all these considerations in mind, you still might be feeling a little overwhelmed with choosing the perfect colors. A cheaper alternative to redesigning your logo is to consult with a designer for a brand color update to your existing logo. Many designers are able to provide palette-only suggestions that can save you money. While it's a better investment to implement a full rebrand it may not be in the budget for some businesses. A color refresh may be all you need.

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Need a brand refresh or color consultation? Reach out. I can help.


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