A business’s logo has the potential to encapsulate messages the company hopes to convey. While there are many components of a logo (i.e. shape, size, space, etc.), color has an interesting impact on the consumer response. The logo color is an essential element that influences graphic design. The perception of color is subjective to the viewer and has individualized associations that incite intrinsic emotions. Yet, trends have emerged from psychology and marketing that demonstrate how color is a subtle way to communicate the brand message through visual perception.
Color reinforces the identity of the brand through its association with the brand’s logo. Using neuroscientific and psychological tools, the optimal logo color can communicate a brand story and influence consumer expectations and behavior. Research reveals the dynamic ability of logo color by reviewing the impact of color associations on physiological, cognitive and behavioral responses.
Logos are used to identify a brand via symbols or text. The overall experience of the brand should be represented within the logo. Specifically, the theme color is the most predominately used color in the brand design. This element shapes consumer perception while trickling into other areas of company management to make lasting impressions. Retail stores, smartphone applications, and website designs are all intentionally consistent with the theme color chosen. Netflix, for example, has a red theme color. The dramatic red color on the black background of the Netflix logo works to induce a cinematic feel. The red theme is intermingled within the platform design which parallels Netflix’s red logo.
Colors consist of hues, lightness, and saturation that influence human behavior (Su, Cui, & Walsh, 2019). The theory of associative learning suggests that connections among brand elements are reinforced by repeated co-occurrences in marketing and advertising. For example, a company with eco-friendly colors in its logo, such as green and blue, may be viewed as more ethical than a company whose logo has less eco-friendly colors. This inference has been found to hold true even when companies are not outwardly ethical (Sundar & Kellaris, 2017). For instance, the oil company BP takes advantage of this color association through its environmentally friendly, green logo (Hynes, 2009).
Figure 1. An example of two logos. The left logo is a low (red) eco-friendly color and the right logo is a high (green) eco-friendly color.
When brands adopt a logo color, they are importing into their brand image cultural and commercial associations with that color. If the company experiences a disconnect between the brand expectation and color associations, the result can lead to negative implications. For example, eco-friendly colors can have unanticipated associations, such as inflated price perception. The positive and negative inferences associated with the color should be explored in detail before adopting a new color scheme.
A memorable logo provides differentiation versus competitors. Color helps consumers remember an image, making a stronger impression when compared with black and white pictures. Bright colors elicit positive emotions, whereas dark colors provoke the opposite response. These associations carry over into logo research, which has found that bright colors are preferred by consumers over dark colors. Color preference also affects logo recall and recognition through its ability to attract visual attention.
Gaining consumer trust is crucial for long-term brand loyalty and brand equity. Research comparing red and blue logo colors has drawn interesting findings, suggesting that blue promotes relaxation, tranquility, and trustworthiness. In contrast, red is associated in many people’s minds with danger, which may lead to an unconscious avoidance reaction. Physiological responses can be produced by colors as well. For example, studies have shown that exposure to red increases arousal. More generally, measures of skin conductance, heart rate variability and facial electromyography can shed light on physiological responses to logo colors. These biometrics can be applied individually or in combination to help differentiate changes in visual stimuli that significantly vary consumer responses.
Companies should consider how logo colors are perceived by a brand’s target audience. What demographic is the company trying to reach? The way a logo color is interpreted by a consumer is heavily dependent on the cultural traditions within which that consumer has been socialized. Nationalities and cultures often associate different meanings with the same color (Huang, Lin, & Chiang, 2008). White, for example, is worn in China to symbolize sorrow at a funeral, while in America, it is associated with wedding dresses, joy, and purity. Companies need to be aware of how color associations within their target demographic contribute to brand-name memory and reinforce unconscious associations and evaluations.
The use of psychological tests and psychophysiological tools in market research enables an approach that integrates traditional and biometric measures to identify ways in which different colors may trigger different aspects of consumers’ needs and perceptions. Factors such as brand image, consumer goals, and emotional reactions to brand-color combinations are all relevant to how colors should be selected. If a company has a product with toxic chemicals, for instance, a color that elicits an association with peacefulness is not ideal. Using the color red can help provoke a sense of urgency and caution. Color cues can facilitate the company’s communication strategy; however, the best color to use is always the one that best reinforces the type of message the brand wants to convey.
Psychological tests with emotional batteries and scales can examine the emotional responses of consumers to logo colors, ensuring congruency between theme colors and brand persona, also called “Brand Harmony.” Measuring response time reactions to visuals, colors, shapes, sounds and/or concepts during an implicit association test can help companies understand their consumers at a deeper level. The consumer’s emotional reaction to the logo indicates product perception and association strength. Company loyalists develop a connection to visual identity, such as the iconic Tiffany and Co. blue. The sophistication of the brand transfers to the color and can be applied to congruent products in the same market (i.e. an unknown perfume brand) to elicit a similar response. Brand judgment is strengthened by using color as a primer for its personality when product category, color priming and brand messaging are aligned. The semantic meaning behind a logo color is a part of the brand’s connection to the consumer. Psychological tests can provide information to help companies ensure harmony between brand perceptions and actual experiences.
Visual retention is a key factor connecting logo elements such as shapes, words, and patterns to the recognition of a brand and its associations. Eye-tracking is often deployed in research to gain a quantitative understanding of these connections in consumers’ gaze patterns. Because the logo provides a visual representation of the brand, it is crucial that the logo’s visual elements, including its color, catch the attention of the consumer and keep the consumer engaged. Eye-tracking reveals where visual attention is focused, identifying whether and to what extent a logo is achieving these goals. Observable attributes of logos help consumers infer information about the brand, especially when there is no prior knowledge of the product. Consumers are also more likely to remember colors appropriate for the overall image (such as a yellow lemon as opposed to a blue lemon). By creating a familiar, color-context combination within the logo, there is an opportunity to communicate a message that will be better retained by the consumer.
Color is an important contributing factor in consumers’ evaluations of brand logos as visually appropriate, attractive and effective. Selecting an appropriate logo color is a major part of the brand definition since the logo is a key vehicle in expressing visual communication. Influential logos also provide consistency and continuity of a company, thus giving meaningful contributions to the company’s identity. Advanced tools, such as neuroscientific measures and psychological tools, can be employed to help make more informed business decisions about this cornerstone for a brand.
About the author:
Kathryn Ambroze is a Behavioral Research Scientist for the Research and Innovation team at HCD. Her role with HCD involves continuously improving applied neuroscience designs, testing environments, and tactical strategy work to streamline the research process. HCD is a marketing and consumer sciences company that provides expert recommendations by employing traditional and applied consumer neuroscience to optimize the design of products, experiences and communications.
This was originally published in Insights Magazine, NMSBA members have access to the full archive of this quarterly magazine on neuromarketing. Interested in joining? Check the options