Color Psychology for Brands: How to Pick Colors That Cultivate Connection

Oct 29, 2023 | design, marketing, personality

Colors have the power to affect the way your business is perceived. You can create connection with your right audience by leveraging the power of color psychology and seasonal color theory, and selecting colors that enhance your desired brand perception.

Choosing a color palette for your brand can be one of the most challenging parts of the branding process. Especially when there seems to be so much inspiration around every digital corner.

Luckily, there’s a way to make it easier (and more fun!)

What I’ve found helpful (for both my clients and myself) is to understand the reasoning behind a color selection. Rather than just picking something because it looks good, when you’re able to select a color for a specific reason and purpose, it tends to increase the longevity of the entire palette.

Just like every other visual element in the branding process, when you create something with rhyme and reason—not only will your visual brand look (and feel) good, but it will also align with the big picture; the entire brand experience.

So how do you make your brand color decisions with intentionality? By first understanding the meaning behind the colors and how they play into the overall brand strategy and identity.

Enter: Color psychology and seasonal brand theory.

This post walks through how they each contribute to selecting colors for your brand that accurately reflects the type of experience you’re wanting to create and desired brand perception you want your audience to have.

A quick history of color psychology and seasonal color theory

A German philosopher named Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) realized there was a connection between colors, and the seed of color psychology was planted.

Then, in the early 1900s, a painter and professor named Johannes Itten created four different color palettes that corresponded with the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) in order to make it easier to teach his students how to use color while painting.

Shortly thereafter, a woman named Suzanne Caygill (1911–1924) combined Itten’s ‘seasonal theory’ with Goethe’s ‘color psychology’ and created her own theory that asserted humans carry information about their personality and style in their natural coloration.

Fast forward to the 1980s and psychologist Carole Jackson wrote the book Color Me Beautiful in which she simplified Caygill’s seasonal system, reducing it to one personality per color season.

Jackson’s seasonal personality theory was used to mainly help people shop for appropriate clothes, accessories, and makeup by helping readers determine if they were a warm or cool type and a light or dark type.

From there, to the best of my knowledge, it was Fiona Humberstone who brought this idea of season color theory to the branding space. Her two books, How to Style Your Brand and Brand Brilliance, were my go-to resources and are books that I still reference when working with clients.

What is color psychology in branding?

Color psychology is the idea that each specific color is linked to a certain emotion or behavior. It reveals that color can play a role in moods, perceptions and decisions.

This is idea is then leveraged for branding because colors can be used to evoke certain feelings towards a brand.

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Why is color important in branding?

Your brand is the perception of your business – how people think, feel and act. What we as business owners can often forget is that we can make intentional decisions about our brand that influences those thoughts, feelings and actions.

Graphic showing brand strategy to color selection to desired perception with icons.

One of those intentional decisions is our use of color. We know (through color psychology) that a brand’s use of color has the power to evoke certain feelings, emotions and behaviors.

And in today’s digital-heavy business landscape, color is present in every digital collateral piece created. Whether you’re sharing a graphic on social media or writing an email, your brand colors will play a part in the design. Which brings us back to the beginning – when you select your colors with intention, they can support the desired perception that you’re trying to create for your brand.

What do colors mean in branding?

Before we dig into meaning, it’s worth mentioning that color psychology isn’t a 100% hit-it-outta-the-park-every-time strategy. You can’t just say, “I want to people to think of my brand as luxurious so I’m going to choose purple and call it good.”

First, your brand colors are one element of your entire brand experience. Yes, they have the power to influence and support your desired perception. But they don’t have the power to overcome shitty business practices. Meaning, if you choose yellow as your main color because you want to be perceived as joyful but then talk to your customers like a curmudgeon, your brand colors will not negate the fact that you’re acting like a jerk.

Second, color meaning doesn’t necessarily take into consideration nuances like gender, culture, personal lived experience and neurological variation. So, here’s one more point for the ‘know your ideal client persona’ argument because you can use your best judgement about how your right audience will likely perceive the color.

graphic of colors and their meaning for color psychology in branding blog post.

Red color

Positive characteristics: Energy, strength, power

Negative characteristics: Dangerour, angry, definant

Yellow color

Positive characteristics: Energy, cheerfulness, loyalty

Negative characteristics: Cautious, cowardice, fearful

Pink color

Positive characteristics: Gentle, calming, tender

Negative characteristics: Impulsive, eccentric, flippant

Purple color

Positive characteristics: Royalty, luxury, wisdom

Negative characteristics: Decadant, inferior, moody

Blue color

Positive characteristics: Authentic, compassionate, enthusiastic

Negative characteristics: Uncaring, cold, unfriendly

Green color

Positive characteristics: Growth, harmony, freshness

Negative characteristics: Envious, stagnant, bored

Orange color

Positive characteristics: Joy, encouragement, happiness

Negative characteristics: Immature, ignorant, sluggish

White color

Positive characteristics: Light, innocence, purity

Negative characteristics: Sterile, cold, isolated

Black color

Positive characteristics: Authority, elegance, mystery

Negative characteristics: Heavy, evil, mournful

What is seasonal brand theory?

Every brand identifies with a particular season and that season has unique characteristics. From the words on a website to the photography styling to the color palette, each season has a set of attributes that embody and evoke emotions based on color psychology and seasonal color theory.

What does each season mean in branding?

Before we dig into meaning, the nuances and considerations I mentioned in the color psychology section also apply here.

Seasons aren’t the be-all-end-all. They’re more like guidelines to help point you in the right direction.

graphic of seasonal brand theory colors for each season, for color psychology in branding blog post

Spring brand

A fun, energetic and friendly personality. They embrace who they are, explore their creativity and lean into whatever is inspiring them. They light up a room, don’t position themselves above anyone else and revel in bringing people together.

  • Colors are bright, bold and full of warmth

Summer brand

A well organized, elegant and efficient personality. They do their best work with order and structure, and they have a strong sense of responsibility

  • Colors are cool, muted and elegant

Fall brand

An authentic personality full of integrity. They revel in knowledge, education and learning. They love to do things differently and challenge established norms.

  • Colors are warm, moody and saturated

Winter brand

A driven, decisive and focused personality. They are all about getting things done with a minimal amount of commotion.

  • Colors are cool, saturated and clear

A few tips for picking your right brand colors

I understand how overwhelming it can feel when choosing colors for your brand. I often hear something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t want to choose wrong.”

Yes, we’ve just walked through all the different colors and seasons and what they can mean for your brand. So I get it – you don’t want to pick a color that doesn’t convey the meaning you’re after.

Choose colors that will likely appeal to your ideal client persona

Because the whole point of branding is to attract your right target audience, its important to consider your ideal client when selecting colors. You can do some market research and ask for their feedback or use your best judgement.

Choose colors that align and enhance your brand’s desired personality

Color is one of the most immediate ways to express your brand’s personality so make sure you choose colors that enhance your brand’s prominent characteristics.

Choose colors that differentiate you from others in your industry/space

Your brand colors are a great opportunity to set your brand apart from others in your industry. Do some research and see what others are doing, and then try to incorporate one or two colors that aren’t commonly used by other brands.

Choose colors that are appropriate for your work

You know your industry and your work, and there are some spaces where industry context is more important than others. Either way, it’s worth noting and being mindful of.

Choose colors that feel right, even if they break the ‘rules’

Color psychology and seasonal brand theory are guidelines. They’re support tools that are meant to help you make a decision or point you in the right direction. They aren’t strict rules that have to be abided by, no matter what. At the end of the day, your visual brand should get you excited to get visible.

With that, happy branding 🙂

Want to dig in even more? Read these next!

Read this to understand how you an create a remarkable brand personality using seasonal brand theory and color psychology.

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Follow this easy-to-implement brand strategy template to create a brand foundation that’s grounded in connection and meaning.

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