The psychology of colour is one of the most interesting and contested aspects of brand identity development.
What is the importance of colour? In a study titled “Impact of colour on marketing,” researchers found that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products can be based on colour alone. Regarding the role that colour plays in branding, results from another study show that the relationship between brands and colour hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the colour being used for the particular brand (does the colour “fit” what is being sold?).
A study titled “Exciting red and competent blue” also confirms that purchasing intent is greatly affected by colours due to their effect on how a brand is perceived; colours influence how customers view the
“personality” of the brand in question. Who, for example, would want to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle if they didn’t get the feeling that Harleys were rugged and cool?
Additional studies have revealed our brains prefer immediately recognisable brands, which makes colour an important element when creating a brand identity. One journal article even suggests it’s important for new brands to pick colours that ensure differentiation from entrenched competitors — personally, I think we’re getting into minutiae without additional contexts, such as how and why you’re positioning against a direct competitor, and how you’re using colour to achieve that goal.
When it comes to picking the “right” colour, research has found that predicting consumer reaction to colour appropriateness is far more important than the individual colour itself. If Harley owners buy the product in order to feel rugged, colours that work best will play to that emotion.
Psychologist and Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker has conducted studies on this very topic, and her paper titled “Dimensions of Brand Personality” points out five core dimensions that play a role in a brand’s personality.
Brands can sometimes cross between two dimensions, but they are mostly dominated by one. While certain colours do broadly align with specific traits (e.g., brown with ruggedness, purple with sophistication, and red with excitement), nearly every academic study on colours and branding will tell you that it’s far more important for colours to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical colour associations.