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April 1, 2021

5 Tips for Choosing Your Brand’s Color Palette


For 32% of business professionals — and 92% of shoppers — visual branding is the most persuasive marketing element. That’s because building brand awareness with a strategic logo, website, and other visual elements helps customers identify, remember, and seek out your company.

When you add a strategic color palette into the mix, you’ll help even more prospects remember and recognize your brand. Research shows that color is the biggest motivator for 85% of customers when they’re choosing a brand or product. So when you pick the right colors to brand your business with, you’ll help your target audience form a favorable (and emotional) connection with your brand.

Check out our five tips for choosing a strategic brand color palette: 

1. Learn about color psychology.

Most people make decisions based on their emotions, then back up those decisions with facts. That’s because our emotions can be pretty powerful — and certain colors tend to evoke similar feelings in many of us. Whatever sentiment you’re going for with your brand (playful or serious, energetic or calm, etc.), the right colors can help your customers feel that emotion and form a connection with your brand. 

The research behind this phenomenon is color psychology, which focuses on color’s effect on human emotion, motivation, and decision-making. While it’s controversial — because our color-related associations can depend on our preferences, cultural backgrounds, and experiences — this area of research can still help us make strategic decisions about visual branding and, specifically, color palettes.

The following colors can represent several ways we’d like our customers to perceive our brands:

  • Red: exciting, bold, fast-paced
  • Orange: joyful, energetic, confident
  • Yellow: happy, fast-paced, energetic
  • Green: natural, peaceful, eco-friendly
  • Blue: secure, serious, trustworthy
  • Purple: creative, prestigious, artistic
  • Pink: feminine, youthful, romantic
  • Black: serious, elegant, strong
  • White: clean, modern, exciting

But before choosing your brand color palette, you need to decide what your organization is all about.

Try asking yourself these questions to determine what sentiments you want your brand to express — and how you’d like your prospects to feel:

  • Brand goals: Do you want customers to be healthier, earn more money, feel happier, etc.?
  • Target audience needs: How will feeling smarter, healthier, happier, or more secure help your customers?
  • Personality traits: Is your brand fun? Trustworthy? Inspirational? All three?

2. Pick three to five colors.

Once you’ve determined your brand’s goals, target audience needs, and personality traits, you’ll want to keep your brand color palette simple. Sticking to three to five colors will allow you to express your brand with multiple colors without overwhelming customers when they look at your logo or website. 

Your palette should have a base color, one to three accent color(s), and a neutral color.

Base

Your base color should reflect your brand’s main personality trait(s) while appealing to your target audience. You’ll choose other palette colors based on how they match your base. 

For example, Treefrog’s base color, turquoise, is a creative and fun twist on blue, a color that typically signifies wisdom and trustworthiness. This shows that you can rely on us for thoughtful marketing research and execution, but we’ll have fun while doing it!

Accent(s)

This is the color (or colors) that you’ll use the most after your base color. Besides matching your base, your accent color(s) must also appeal to your best customers while expressing your brand’s personality. 

Treefrog’s accent colors are green (balance in design), orange (joy and energy), and red (inspiring readers like you to take action!).

Neutral 

Your neutral color will probably be a background color like white, off-white, gray, or beige. You can use black as a neutral, as long as you’re careful to make sure it doesn’t dominate your color palette.

Treefrog’s neutral color is gray, which combines versatile black with modern white. This signifies that we’re able to stay flexible within the modern marketing field — an ever-changing industry.

3. Don’t forget the color wheel!

Having trouble picking a color scheme for your base, accent(s), and neutral? Don’t worry; you might find inspiration from the color wheel. (That’s right, it wasn’t just for art class!)

The traditional color wheel has 12 main colors: red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-purple, purple, and red-purple. And there are several color schemes you can choose from:

Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary 

There are three primary, three secondary, and six tertiary colors. If you choose a tertiary color scheme, we still recommend sticking to three to five colors so you don’t overwhelm your customers.

  • Primary colors cannot be mixed from other colors. These are red, yellow, and blue.
  • Each secondary color is a combination of two primary colors. These are orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and purple (blue + red).
  • Each tertiary color is a mix of a secondary color and a primary color. These are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

Monochromatic 

If you’re focusing on one personality trait for your brand (for example, energy), a monochromatic color scheme will emphasize the sentiment well. This is an excellent palette option for minimalist brands, as long as you differentiate the colors enough.

You can create a monochromatic color palette with a shade, tone, and tint of one base color. If you’d like to express that your brand is energetic, an orange monochromatic scheme — dark orange, orange, and light orange — might be a great design choice.

Analogous

An analogous color scheme consists of colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel. This versatile palette often works quite well because adjacent colors tend to have similar emotional connotations.

To balance an analogous color scheme, choose one dominant (base) color and the rest as accents. For example, if you’re positioning your brand as nature-inspired and trustworthy, you could pick green as your base, with analogous blue-green and blue for accent colors.

Complementary

Complementary colors are “opposites,” directly across from each other on the color wheel. These are great colors for dynamic, stimulating visuals, which is partly why you often see complementary colors in sports teams.

Because this high-impact color combo provides a high contrast, the two colors will appear brighter and more prominent together. Just make sure you don’t overwhelm customers with, say, a shockingly bold orange and an equally shocking blue. Instead, a light blue and light orange may better complement each other if you’d like to express both calm and joy with your branding colors.

Triadic 

A triad is a stable branding color scheme that draws from three different (evenly spaced) sections of the color wheel. You’ll have a vibrant, high-contrast palette, but less so than with a complementary color combo — making a triadic color scheme more versatile.

Triads can be tricky, since all three colors must express your brand’s personality traits. For example, if you’d like a primary triad for your brand color palette (yellow, blue, and red), make sure your company is conveying all of the typical traits of those colors (like energy, trustworthiness, and calling people to action).

4. Choose your color variations.

Let’s say you’ve picked navy as a branding color. Navy comes in several variations, so you’ll need to select your hues, shades, tints, tones, and color codes for the color.

Hues, Shades, Tints, & Tones

A hue is a variation of a primary color, while shades, tints, and tones are variations of the hue. Knowing all of these for your branding color palette will help you create, print, and publish consistent visual elements.

  • Hue: This is a variation of the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue). Hues are measured by their angle around a neutral point on a color wheel.
  • Shade: You can get a shade of any pure color by adding black.
  • Tint: You’ll get a tint of any pure color by adding white.
  • Tone (Saturation): Get a tone of any pure color by adding gray.

If you’ve decided on pure (classic) navy, your hue, shade, tint, and tone would look like this:

  • Hue Angle: 240 degrees
  • Shade of: Pure blue (#0000ff) blended with black (#000001)
  • Tint of: N/A (because it’s a dark shade of blue. An example of a blue tint would be robin’s egg blue, as it blends white with blue.)
  • Tone (Saturation): 100%

Color Codes

There are several brand color codes (for print and digital) that you’ll want to have in an easily accessible place, so you can refer to them when necessary and apply them to your marketing materials. These codes are:

  • CMYK: Cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). You’ll use this four-digit code for branded print pieces.
  • Pantone: Designers and business leaders all around the world use this color matching system. The printing code consists of a variety of digits and letters.
  • RGB: Red, green, and blue (with a numerical value per color). You’ll use this code for digital formats, such as web and email.
  • HEX: Hexadecimal numeral system. This is another digital code, with a pound sign followed by three or six digits and/or letters.

Let’s stick with the previous example of navy as your branding color. Here’s what the codes would look like when you’re ready to print or digitally publish a branded piece with navy:

  • CMYK: 100, 100, 0, 50
  • Pantone: PANTONE 19-3832 TCX
  • RGB: rgb(0, 0, 50)
  • HEX: #000080

5. Create brand guidelines.

Now that you’ve done your research and chosen your color palette, it’s time to create brand guidelines for your organization. Brand guidelines are rules for how your brand should look, sound, and appear across all platforms. They’ll help you stay consistent with your visual elements — which is essential for increasing customers’ awareness of your brand every time they see your logo, website, ads, and other marketing materials. 

Here’s everything your brand guidelines should include:

  • Your palette’s print/fabric colors: CMYK and Pantone codes.
  • Your palette’s digital colors: RGB and HEX codes.
  • Brand overview: Your organization’s history, mission statement, and core values.
  • Tone of voice: Messages you want to communicate to your customers.
  • Logo treatment: How and where your logo should appear (in print and digital).
  • Typography: The font you’ll use for emails, print, and web.
  • Image styles: Appropriate types of photos or graphics for print and digital.
  • Design styles: Guidelines for office stationery, like business cards and letterheads.

With a strategic brand color palette, you can: 

  • Express your brand through design elements.
  • Increase public awareness of your brand.
  • Evoke certain emotions from your audience.
  • Inspire your customers to take action!

As long as you remember the basics of color psychology, the color wheel, and color variations, you’ll be able to create an effective visual brand. 

This is a ton of information, and it’s normal to feel unsure where to start when it comes to visual branding. So if you need help with choosing a color palette that’s simple and effective — or creating brand guidelines for your company — a marketing agency can assist you.

color palette

Our proven marketing protocol helps companies make more money, free up time, and plan an effective strategy.

Treefrog Marketing is an agency in Lafayette, Indiana focused on small business. We specialize in strategic marketing and advertising, graphic design, web design, social media, SEO, and more. For more information, please visit our website. You can also connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Leverage Kelly’s marketing experience, insights, and leadership to grow your business.

As the founder and chief marketing strategist at Treefrog Marketing, a co-host of the Priority Pursuit Podcast, a StoryBrand Certified Guide, and fractional chief marketing officer, Kelly Rice has spent more than two decades helping small businesses take their companies to the next level by providing trustworthy leadership and building effective marketing strategies and systems.

She has dedicated her career to helping small businesses succeed because she knows, firsthand, how hard they work to make their communities a better place. 

Still, many people undervalue the strength and ingenuity of small businesses, but not Kelly. She believes they deserve to have a marketing partner and strategy that works as hard as they do.

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