Adapted from "True Colors: Using Color to Build Your Brand," a previous MarketingProfs article (August 2004) by William Arruda.
As a marketer, you are likely aware of the psychological impact of color. Color is one tool in our branding toolbox to help express brand attributes and create emotional connections with constituencies. But color is not just for large corporations or products on the grocery-store shelf; it's an important aspect of your personal brand as well.
We all have opinions about color. We select colors for our clothes and the walls of our house. But this article is not about choosing colors to highlight your skin tone or create a certain aesthetic in your home. It's about choosing colors reflective of your unique promise of value that you can use consistently in your career-marketing tools.
To get in the right mindset for selecting a color (or colors) for your brand, let's look at how companies use color.
When you hear "Big Blue," what company comes to mind? IBM, of course.
IBM maximizes its unique relationship with the color blue. It's the primary color on the corporate website and is used in all presentations, on marketing materials, on signage, and in the names of many of its products and programs: Blue Gene, Deep Blue, and Extreme Blue—just to name a few. Although blue is the most common logo color for American corporations, it's probably more often associated with IBM than with any other brand.
Like IBM, some organizations are so consistent and steadfast in their use of color that they practically own that color in our minds. Think Home Depot, National Breast Cancer Foundation, UPS, and Target. And some companies actually do own their colors. Premier jeweler Tiffany & Co., for example, has registered its trademark robin's-egg blue as a brand asset: It's Pantone Matching System (PMS) 1837 (for the year Tiffany was founded).
Although IBM is associated with the most common corporate color, UPS chose one of the least-used colors—brown—to help it stand out from the pack. The brown uniforms and vans and the tagline "What can brown do for you?" are important and effective elements of the company's brand-communications strategy.
Color supports differentiation
The ability to identify a company by its brand color is amazing. When you're standing at the rental-car bus stop at an airport, waiting for a shuttle van to pick you up, you know whether you're looking for a yellow (Hertz), red (Avis), or green (National) van. It's more difficult to identify Budget (orange and blue) and Alamo (yellow and blue) vans. Multiple colors seem to be harder to own. But that's not something that worried Google or eBay. Both companies have four-color logos, and it's their multicolored logos that set them apart from their competitors.
When Apple changed its name from Apple Computer to just Apple to reflect its varied product offerings, it replaced its multicolor rainbow logo with one color—silver.
Color can have a double effect
Some organizations and products have color in their names: Orange (the European telecommunications company), JetBlue, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the Yellow Pages, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They all benefit doubly from the emotion-creating power of color.
And the music industry seems to have a strong desire to connect sound with color: the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aqua, Pink, Green Day, Deep Purple, Simply Red, and the Indigo Girls are just a few of the more-colorful recording artists.
Although blue is the most popular corporate color in the United States, red seems to win out in the case of company names that include color. Red Herring, the American Red Cross, Red Envelope, and Red Hat Software are just a few of the companies that have chosen to associate themselves with the color that often connotes warmth, excitement, and aggressiveness.
Color supports a renaissance
Mars, one of the world's largest food companies, certainly knows the value of color. The company revitalized its M&M brand, which was at the end of its product life cycle, by holding a contest to find the next M&M color.
It turned out to be blue, and Mars launched an extremely successful ad campaign that depicted the other M&Ms, who were jealous of the new blue M&M, holding their breath so that they, too, would turn blue. (Check out the advertisement that introduced the blue M&M to the world.)
Color identifies your personal brand
As marketers, you know color is important to your company—and it's just as important for personal branding. Color can be used to express your personal-brand attributes, evoke emotion, and build that all-important connection with the people who surround your brand.
According to Sue Brettell of id Creative Solutions, a London-based design firm, "Color is a key decision in the design process and my first priority when I'm working on a personal-brand identity. The designer's job is to guide the client towards a mix of colors that project their personality while being attractive to their target audience."
Your website—like your business cards, stationery, thank-you notes, resume, etc.—is just one of many career-marketing tools on which you should use color appropriately and consistently. Of course, when you are representing your company, you have to use the company's brand-identity system, but it is becoming more and more essential for career-minded professionals to have their own brand identities for personal communications and career marketing.
Do you know what color or color palette best represents your personal brand? Find out with this brief, fun video.
Color is powerful. It's an important personal-branding tool, so use it wisely and consistently to support your personal-branding activities. To make the most of your color, follow the five rules listed below.
Ensure the color you choose is...
1. Accurate. Become knowledgeable about what different colors mean. Choose a color that expresses your brand attributes, and avoid choosing a color just because it is your favorite.
2. Relevant. Ensure it's relevant and compelling to your target audience (the people who are making decisions about you). Test your color choice with your target audience before committing.
3. Culturally correct. Make sure it works in all parts of the world where you plan to work or do business. If one of your brand attributes is "international," be sure your color doesn't offend people in various cultures. (Learn whether one of your brand attributes is international.)
4. Applied consistently. Always use the same shade and hue. Know the PMS, RGB (red, green, blue) and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, key) formulas for the specific shade you choose. Your designer will be able to help, and Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign have built-in conversions.
5. Repetitive. Feature your personal-brand color on all your personal-brand marketing tools (website, business cards, marketing materials, resume, thank-you notes, etc.).