Have you ever wondered why logos of some of the biggest companies are of a certain color or color scheme? Have you ever thought of what these colors signify?

It is interesting to note that there is a whole theory based on how colors can be used to create a certain perception in the minds of the target audience called the ‘Color Theory’. Based on this color theory, marketers come up with a color scheme that would best suit the ‘personality’ of the brand.

Color Theory & How You Can Apply It for Branding

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In this article, we will explore 1) the basic color theory, 2) what is color harmony, 3) what meaning do colors have and how they influence people? as well as 4) practical uses of color theory in marketing.

Here are some shocking statistics that will prove exactly how helpful the color theory is when it comes to the decision-making process when buying new products.

  • Sometimes the color is the prime reason why a customer feels compelled to buy a product or go for a certain brand over others.
  • 93% percent of buyers go for products that have a visually attractive appearance as compared to products that are effective but lag behind in visual appearance.
  • More than 83% customers claim that they opt for certain products and brands only because of the color.

The facts and figures mentioned above tells us exactly how color influences our purchasing behavior. For instance, you may feel calm and tranquility when you look at a sign board that is majorly blue in color. But you may feel slightly alarmed when you see an advertisement on a billboard that is painted red.

Simply put, color is a cue that makes a brand stand out which is why the tenets of the color theory are strictly followed by all marketers. Color is what gets your target audience to see your brand the way you want them to see it and do what you want them to do. Your brand may have everything it needs to taste success in the market but if the color choice is poor, then your product or brand is somewhat destined to become a market failure.


Now that you know that colors play a significant role in consumer behavior, we will talk about the color theory in great detail in this article to help you understand how you can use the power of colors to make your new brand a major success.

Understanding how colors work and how optimal color combinations can be created is just not for the artists. Basically, the entire color theory is built on the three basic groups of colors – primary, secondary, and tertiary. The color groups can be used to create different color schemes like analogous, complementary and nature.

For instance, you may notice the red and yellow color used in the McDonald’s logo that promotes cheeriness and urgency since these two colors are known to attract children. On the other hand, if you take a look at the Starbucks logo, you would notice that it is probably the only brand that uses green as its primary color for promoting peace, tranquility and most importantly, brings about a sense of relaxation.

RBG color wheel

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Primary Colors

As the name suggests, primary colors are the three main colors that are mixed with each other to create different colors are labeled as secondary colors. In the color wheel, the three primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. For example, mixing blue and yellow will give you green, red and blue will result in purple and, red and yellow will create a new color – orange. The reason why these three colors are termed ‘primary’ is that the pigments cannot be made from combining any two colors.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors refer to those colors that are created by mixing the three primary colors – red, yellow, and blue. For example, the secondary colors are orange, purple, and green on the color wheel.

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are those colors that are created using one primary and one secondary color. The hue created is usually a two-word name, for instance, blue-green, red-purple, yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange, etc.

Pure Colors

Highly saturated colors that are not lightened or darkened using additional colors like white and black or any third color are called pure colors. Pure colors are bright, intense, and untainted. They are usually used in making toys for children, summer clothes, and daycare décor.


Harmony can best be defined as the perfect arrangement of different components. Color harmony refers to the perfect combination of colors that is pleasing to the eye – it is neither too intense nor too mild, it is just the right shade. It is critical to choose colors in a way that they strike a balance otherwise they may become too chaotic or too boring.

The Formula of Color Harmony

There are usually two worst-case scenarios when the color harmony is not followed to the letter. At one end is a visual experience so boring that it goes completely unnoticed because the human brain tends to ignore under-stimulating information. On the other hand, visual experience may be so chaotic that it may be perceived as chaotic and alarming.

Over-stimulating information too is ignored because the human brain does not register anything that it cannot understand. Color harmony is what promotes a sense of order and stimulates visual interest. Simply put, extreme unity is under-stimulating and extreme complexity is over-stimulating while harmony is a dynamic equilibrium that balances it all.

Color Scheme Based On Analogous Colors

The analogous color scheme is created by using colors that are directly adjacent to each other in position on the color wheel. One color usually dominates the scheme while the others enrich the scheme and make it look more attractive. The analogous color scheme has striking similarities with the monochromatic color scheme, but this one offers more nuances.

Color Scheme Based On Complimentary Colors

This type of color scheme is created using two colors that are positioned opposite to each other on the color wheel. The complementary color scheme looks best when you have a warm color placed against a cool color thus creating a high contrast. For instance, red vs. green-blue is the ideal example of a color scheme based on complementary colors.

Color Scheme Based On Nature

Color schemes based on nature are quite different from the ones based on analogous and complementary colors because it focuses more on what appeals to the eyes rather than its position on the color wheel or the technical formula used. For instance, red, yellow, and green can be used to create a naturally harmonious design.


Each color that we see on the color wheel has its significance. Colors have their symbolism. Below are the meanings of each color present on the color wheel and how it influences people.

Color Spectrum

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Red: Red is an intense color that usually signifies urgency that is good for clearance sales. It is also known to promote appetite which is why it is used as a primary color by some of the biggest fast food chains in the world. But that is not all; red is also the color of passion and excitement and thus, it stimulates the heart rate and blood pressure.

Green: Green is often believed to power, nature, health, and tranquility. It is used largely to promote environmental issues or to help the customers feel relaxed. The human brain perceives green to be a harmonizing color that increases productivity in terms of decisiveness.

Blue: Usually believed to be a preferable color for men, blue is often associated with reliability, tranquility, and peace. It also provides one a strong sense of security as well as stimulates productivity and curbs appetite. Most commonly, blue is used as a primary color by brands that want to build a relationship with customers based on trust.

Purple: Always considered a sign of royalty, purple is often linked to respect and wisdom. It promotes a strong sense of creativity and stimulates problem-solving. Therefore, you will see the color purple being used by anti aging products most of the times.

Orange and Yellow: Both these bright, peppy colors are linked to optimism. However, yellow can make babies often weep while orange somehow promotes a feeling of caution. For impulsive buyers and window shoppers, orange and yellow often trigger a sense of anxiety that draws them in.

White: White is chiefly used to exude the aura of safety, purity, and cleanliness. White is used to show an absence of neutrality or color. On the other hand, white also promotes creativity since it is often perceived as a clean slate by the human brain.

Black: Black is often considered the color that signifies intelligence but it can overwhelm the brain if it is viewed too often. Black is linked to attributes such as power, strength, stability, and authority.

Grey: Grey brings about feelings of practicality, solidarity, and old age. However, grey should be used with caution because it can also be perceived as the color that signifies depression and nothingness.


Marketers must use the color theory with caution. The color scheme chose should be such that uses contrasting colors to avoid unnecessary eye strain. It is important to understand that the vibrancy of colors is what dictates the emotional response users have to the design of a product or website.

For instance, brands that use intense colors are often picked in order to make the users feel more energetic. However, if you have to pick a website that is information intensive, it is best to pick a color scheme consisting of dark colors to make the information processing easier.

Now let us move on to branding. Color perception and branding go hand in hand. You will find many experts who will try their best to do research on how a color brings about specific feelings in a user, but that is not the case often. Colors cannot be universally translated into specific feelings because they are too dependent on personal experiences.

Color Psychology and Common Misconceptions

Color psychology is a widely discussed topic in the field of marketing, but somehow there is not enough statistical data to back up the facts. The reason why we cannot find hard facts about color psychology is that everyone’s preference for colors is based on some factors.

Elements such as cultural differences, personal preferences, experiences, upbringing, and context usually make every individual and their perception about colors unique. Therefore, there is no way experts can predict the effectiveness of using specific colors to bring about hyper-specific emotions in customers.

But do not give up on the color theory just yet for it can effectively be used for broader messaging patterns that are often linked to color perception. Colors do play a fairly significant role in influencing the purchase decisions of users.

Using The Color Theory In Branding

According to a marketing study titled ‘The Impact of Color in Marketing’, it is suggested that people usually make snap judgments when it comes to buying products based on color only. On the other hand, another famously studied research called ‘The Interactive Effects of Colors’ shows that the entire relationship between a color and the brand is dependent solely on one factor – the appropriateness of the color being used for a particular brand.

Simply put, a color should fit the brand in order to have an influence on the mind of the customers. Additional studies like ‘Color Research and Application’ tell us how the color theory is of paramount importance when it comes to marketing. With the help of the color theory, new brands can come up with specific logos to outshine the competition using special differentiation techniques.

For example, your competitor’s logo is blue, and you can use purple to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Define Your Brand Personality

Jennifer Aaker, a renowned Stanford professor and psychologist came up with a study on the color perception called ‘Dimensions of Brand Personality’ in which she found the five core elements that play a major role in determining the personality of the brand. Sometimes brands may have more than one trait but such brands are always dominated by one major trait. For example, high street fashion apparel may personify sophistication while camping gear may personify ruggedness.

Additional research on this particular topic found that there is indeed a link between the use of colors and the customers’ perceptions about brand personality. There are certain colors that can be broadly linked to certain traits like brown with ruggedness, red with excitement and purple with sophistication.

However, all academic studies were done on color perception and branding point towards the fact that it is important for a color you choose to suit the personality of your brand rather than opting for stereotypical color combinations. If you think green signifies calmness, you may see it being using in Timberland’s GREEN standard that raises awareness on different environmental issues, but you may also see it being used majorly on financial websites like mint.com. This is because broad statements can lead to inaccuracies.

Color Preferences by Gender and Age

Joe Hallock’s study called ‘Color Assignments’ shows clear preferences in certain colors across males and females. Interesting to note is that there are certain factors that play a major role in color preferences by gender like color perceptions and the environment. This is one of the reasons why pink is usually preferred for girls while blue is considered a color for boys. Some other studies show that men tend to go for bolder colors while women like softer shades.

Color Coordination + Conversions

Finding a color combination that increases conversion rates in websites has been a topic of discussion for long, and it has been confirmed that there is no fixed color that can increase conversion rates. The Isolation Effect is a psychological principle that suggests something that stands out like a sore thumb has higher chances of being remembered.

For websites, studies like ‘Aesthetic Response to Color Combinations’ and ‘Consumer Preferences for Color Combinations’ suggest that color patterns sporting similar hues and shades with a highly contrasting accent color are highly preferred.

Now that you have gained insights into the different uses of the Color Theory and how it is used by marketing experts, you too, can use the power of colors to make your brand stand out from the rest of the crowd by choosing a unique color that matches the personality of your brand. The color wheel and different color schemes discussed in the article will help you come up with one that will attract your target audience and make the logo of your brand unmistakable.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons | Wars and Wikimedia Commons | DanPMK under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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