How disruptor brands can leverage the psychology of colour

Choosing your brand's colours can make a significant impact on how your customer perceives you. Patrick Llewellyn explains.

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From the bright orange headphones you wear every day, to the highlighters you use to annotate everything, orange has always been your favourite colour. So when it’s time to design your new business logo, the colour seems like a no-brainer. But before making it official, it’s important to think about the psychology associated with this energetic hue, and if it matches the tone and personality of your brand.

Research shows up to 90% of people base their first impressions of a product on colour alone. While the psychological effects of colour are complex and often context-specific both culturally and personally, colour theory is all about understanding this relationship and how it influences human emotions and psychology.

Whether you’re an insurgent brand trying to make your mark or an established player looking to capture a new market, colour theory is an indispensable tool in your arsenal that can help you refine your brand positioning and spur consumer adoption.

Industry colours in broad strokes

At 99designs by Vista, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs draw on colour psychology to create logos that align with their brand’s mission and personality. While it’s an arguably inexact science, there are trends and patterns that offer useful insights when starting a new business – whether you want to stand out, or fit in.

Blues, greens and blacks

Let’s start with the colour blue, used so often in technology and finance. Darker blues project reliability and integrity, which is ideal for highly regulated industries like banking. Meanwhile, light blue tones conjure images of open skies and calm waters, which accounts for its popularity in areas like healthcare, where trust and tranquillity are both valued attributes. .

Then there are green logos, which tend to flourish among eco-conscious brands with connotations of nature, growth, and renewal. Agricultural companies often get on the bandwagon too, seeking to leverage earthy, natural colours associated with farming.

Elsewhere, many luxury brands gravitate toward black, which exudes modernity, elegance, and exclusivity – think Chanel, Dior or Gucci. Effective in a variety of styles, from minimalist wordmarks to more elaborate maximalism, black’s a classic for a reason.

Simply red

Red is all about excitement — think how you felt when you first tried Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most recognisable brands. From Target in the US to Tesco in the UK, retailers look to harness red’s impulsive power to get consumers through the door and keep them grabbing things off the shelves. But before using it, you’ll want to factor in what the colour means in different cultural contexts, especially if selling internationally. For example, red signifies luck in China but can also represent danger in the West, so it won’t be appropriate across every industry.

Think pink

Finally, let’s not forget pink, which often evokes feelings of playfulness, creativity, and femininity. Although used less frequently than other colours, pink has seen a recent uptick in brands using it to cultivate a lively, modern aesthetic. In fact, over the past year, there’s been a 46% increase in the number of small businesses creating pink logos through VistaPrint’s design services, reflecting a growing trend towards standing out.

As such, while the traditional use of colour psychology is an effective visual branding tool, colour theory also offers a myriad of opportunities to leverage the unexpected in equally powerful ways.

3 sectors where disruptor brands are making a splash with colour

Brands entering today’s crowded market often face a similar problem: they need to stand out. That’s why some startups and entrepreneurs looking to disrupt established sectors don’t always stick to colour conventions. Instead, they go bold by deliberately defying chromatic norms.

1. Finance

Fintech is brimming with startups aiming to disrupt the conventional banking sector. Industry rebel Monzo rejects traditional financial brand aesthetics, leaning into communicating values of friendly accessibility, optimism and warmth. Departing from muted blue and green competitors, Monzo embraces a lively coral orange at the core of its colour palette, complemented with accents of neon yellow, deep navy and soft white. Orange is often associated with change, so it’s perfect for unconventional brands shaking things up in established spheres. Its playful, energetic logo is also approachable, perfect for targeting digitally-natives frustrated by a calcified banking sector.

Monzo brand colour palette

Fellow industry troublemaker Up is another example of a fintech embracing a radically different aesthetic to most banks. Up Bank’s vibrant orange brand colour, coupled with its stylised, illustrated logo design aligns with its goal of empowering millennials and Gen Z financially.

Up branding

Both brands’ secondary use of pink reinforces their youthful energy and rebellious nature, but no discussion of the disruptive use of colour in finance is complete without mentioning Klarna. Bursting onto the scene with its 2019 rebrand from “blue and boring to pink and exciting”, Klarna’s pastel pink aesthetic and playful marketing has paved the way for disruptors in the space looking to appeal and resonate with a new generation.

2. Insurance

Another highly regulated industry, which is often perceived to be confusing and a little opaque, insurance isn’t where you’d necessarily expect to see particularly creative branding.

However, insurance startups Feather and Marshmallow are great examples of how newcomers can disrupt preconceived expectations through the creative adoption of unconventional brand colours to connect with their customers.

Feather, a German insurance startup, opted for soft lilac purple instead of the blues favoured by incumbents. Typically, light purples creates a sense of calm and relaxation, so are often used by brands seeking to create a soothing environment, for example spas or salons, but Feather leverages this same calming emotional response to inspire customer confidence and simplicity.

Feather Insurance

Conversely, UK auto insurer Marshmallow rejects standard insurance brand aesthetics in a different way, opting for a strikingly bright colour palette and quirky illustrated characters. Marshmallow provides affordable, friendly coverage to customers who typically find it difficult to get insured (new migrants moving to the UK for the first time) and sees difference as an opportunity, openly valuing difference. So it’s no surprise the brand has embraced a welcoming, human-centric style and optimistic, upbeat colour palette that seeks to evoke a different kind of emotion in its prospective customers.

Marshmallow branding

3. B2B Tech

When it comes to legacy B2B tech, branding in the space is not exactly known for pushing the boundaries! But new players are switching it up, directly addressing customer pain points, and striking out from the very safe shades of blue that have dominated the space for years.

Ecommerce disruptors Bolt and Shippit both buck branding tradition by embracing bold, vibrant hues rarely seen in the sector. Bolt, a checkout technology provider, recently overhauled its identity from conventional blue to a neon extravaganza that demands attention. Similarly, logistics startup Shippit rebranded from muted tones to a vibrant purple, the brightness and acidity of the colour palette chosen intentionally to both modernise the brand, and stand out from competitors, while reflecting the business’s innovative services within a notoriously complex, and often fragmented, space.

Credit Koto / Bolt

Shippit branding ahead of global expansion

With Gen Z and millennial consumers flocking to digital shopping channels, it’s perhaps no surprise that we’re starting to see B2B players in the space embrace the more lively and innovative branding that appeals to these consumer demographics. Afterall, when everyone’s focus is on attracting a different kind of customer, vendors who are doing something new and different with their visual brand will stand out in a good way for ecommerce brands looking for partners.

A final word on that shade of orange

So there you have it: there may be conventional ways of leveraging the psychology of colour, but there are many different ways to harness its power effectively. If you’re a new business or a disruptor, taking a risk to stand out might just pay off in the long run. Startups and entrepreneurs who are willing to defy industry norms and challenge the status quo can reap long-term rewards for their boldness and originality.

That orange you know and love might be the perfect choice, but before taking the leap, think hard about your consumers, the sector you’re in, and what message you want to convey about your brand. Because you never know — maybe pink would do the trick.

Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of 99designs by Vista

Patrick Llewellyn is CEO of 99designs by Vista, the global creative platform that makes it easy for small businesses to work with professional freelance designers around the world. 99designs has paid out more than US$400m to its creative community to date, working across brand and logo design, packaging, web design and more.

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