When you think of Netflix, what colors do you see? How about Nike? Or Progressive? Once you’ve branded yourself with certain colors, consumers will begin closely associating those colors with your brand. For better or for worse, those colors begin to represent you, and it can be a long and hard road to change them.

Because of this, choosing your brand colors is important. It’s not just choosing your favorite color and running with it. Color psychology shows us that different colors represent different emotions on almost a universal level. For example, think about a blue and white fast food company. Nothing comes to mind, right? In fact, the thought makes us recoil slightly. That’s because blue represents serenity, loyalty, and confidence, and white represents purity and simplicity — none of which we normally associate with fast food.

On the other hand, Progressive (the insurance company) uses blue and white for their branding, which supports their effort to represent themselves as a simple, loyal, and confidence-inspiring solution. In a similar way, Facebook uses white to represent simplicity and blue to represent loyalty and friendship.

Colors are important. We get it. In fact, most companies put a lot of thought into their colors. Sometimes, too much thought. When this happens, a company begins to view the brand colors as the backbone and main differentiators of the brand. This is a mistake.

Good branding is bigger than your colors

Though it might be tempting, you can’t simply slap blue letters on a white background can call it “on brand.”

Branding goes far beyond company colors. Color is only one part of a brand’s visual identity, and the visual identity is only one part of the branding. Maintaining consistency with company colors is important. However, colors don’t stand alone. You also have to maintain consistency with:

  • Typefaces
  • Voice and tone
  • Logo
  • Brand accents (such as illustrations, patterns, and iconography)
  • Photography

Together with color, these six elements all form your brand’s visual and verbal identity and represent your brand. Using your brand blue and saying something is on brand is like describing a person only by their hair color. There’s a lot of people with brown hair in the world. But everyone has something about them that makes them truly unique. Often, this is a combination of traits.

For example, when you think of Nike, you see the bold font, the angled checkmark logo, and the conversational tagline, Just do it.

You don’t see a swirling cursive font, a curving, floral shape, and the tagline, It is important to keep striving. (Please, no.)

Often, colors play a supporting role in the brand identity. When you think about Geico, for example, you envision a small gecko and (often) hilarious commercials. Geico didn’t focus on color, but rather humor and a memorable mascot.

So, what’s the key to staying on brand?

To stay on brand, you need consistency, balance, and creativity (and, of course, a well-used brand guide). It’s a tough trio to maintain, because often a certain element of your brand will receive more focus. No matter what color, people always recognize the Nike swoosh and Apple’s, well, apple. Just like how people see a gecko and think Geico.

If that happens, embrace it. But make sure not to forget that your brand is more than its defining feature. It’s critical to focus on the following three elements:

1. Brand consistency

Consistency makes or breaks your branding. Create a brand guide that lists your equity, visual identity, and verbal identity, and stick with it. Your brand’s visual identity needs to work together with the verbal identity in order to represent your brand.

2. Brand balance

The phrase “united we rise, divided we fall,” actually has an adept application to branding. Your brand colors cannot stand alone. In fact, sticking too closely to the company colors can negatively affect your brand. As with most facets of life, branding needs a balance between consistency and adaptability. Set brand boundaries (your brand guide), but keep some flexibility in your back pocket.

3. Brand creativity

Your designers will thank you for holding onto some flexibility. There’s only so many ways you can advertise with the same shade of blue. It’s helpful to find some good support colors to help create more creative freedom. On the flip side, staying simple with your colors creates recognizability.

Think of Starbucks green. It’s a rich color that’s often combined with white. These are simple colors, but startlingly recognizable. However, Starbucks doesn’t plant their flag on the green mountain and hold the fort. Depending on the time of the year (such as Christmas), they introduce a new color into the mix (such as red). Of course, even on the red cup, their logo stays consistently green and white. Consistency, meet adaptability.

Why balance matters in your branding

In life, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the details and forget about the big picture. In branding, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in your colors and forget all the other powerful tools at your disposal.

Optimally, your visual identity needs to be a paper copy right next to your laptop or the first bookmark on your browser. Your verbal identity should be underlined and highlighted with notes scribbled in the margins. Your brand equity should be constantly examined for changes and fluctuations.

Your brand isn’t a static concept, it’s a living idea that changes and fluctuates, even as you work toward consistency. Use your colors to reflect this.

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