8 ways the use of colour in branding is evolving

Our use of colour is changing, argues Brendán Murphy

From the street to the supermarket shelf, the use of colour has been a visceral differentiator among brands and logo design. Companies across all industries have built moats of colour to define and defend their brand identity.

While the use of colour in branding is nothing new, the shift to the digital world has brands using colour in more nuanced, strategic and multi-faceted ways to better connect with consumers and give themselves a distinct and authentic brand personality.

Brands today are using colour in more nuanced, strategic and multi-faceted ways

But what role should colour play in today's brand environment? Here are eight ideas to keep in mind...

01. Align colour with character

Aligning brand colour with brand character gives a strong and concrete foundation from which to begin building equity and affinity. From its early origins, Apple took on the big blues of HP and IBM by forging its own path.

Apple has forged a unique approach to colour in its marketing and packaging

And while over the years it has used and defined colour trends through product design and advertising, today Apple takes a minimalist approach to "brand" colour, giving it incredible flexibility to dip in and out of colour trends, to operate across many different industries and always, it seems, to be culturally relevant and of the moment.

Apple, with its highly nuanced appreciation for materials, leverages sleek glass and cool aluminum product design and store fascia, and gives its products the freedom to live in and frame its audience's world of colour.

Don't confuse logo colour and brand colour. Tiffany blue is one of the world's most recognised brand colours. But its logo is an understated and refined serif type expression of the Tiffany name in black.

Tiffany's understands the ritual associated with its packaging

Similarly, the store exterior is not painted robin's egg blue. Tiffany understands the ritual associated with its uniquely coloured box and that when it comes to any brand element, less is often more.

The New Yorker masthead is black. But it sits comfortably in a world of colour brought to life through words, pictures and my favourite, cartoons.

03. Colour for the consumer

Put aside personal preferences and explore what you want your customers to feel. Many colour decisions are based on the hidden or overt bias of a management team (favourite sports team), or research panel.

Colour is a complex and emotional decision that is best explored with ethnography and through a range of experiences, not behind the looking glass of a 12x12 windowless room.

04. Colouring what matters

Don't confuse a company for a packaged good. People expect their can of Coke to be red and Cadbury's bar to be purple. Colour in this instance becomes a wayfinding device on the store shelf.

Consumers expect Cadbury to be purple

But today's companies are not so easily packaged, and the ingredients on the inside— namely, their people, ideas, products and services—are constantly innovating and changing.

IBM's kaleidoscope colour approach helps it look and feel more innovative and creative, more like a 'Human Era' B2C company talking to me and less like a corporate B2B company talking at me.

Next page: four more ways colour is evolving