When you think of Home Depot, what comes to mind? 

Power tools, yes, but what about color? That vibrant orange immediately comes to mind.

What about McDonald’s? You can’t have a burger and fries without the iconic red and yellow color combination. 

Color is a key element in brand recognition. It’s the first thing people notice and arguably the most impactful. Not only is it something that people automatically recognize, but it carries strong associations with psychology, memory, and meaning. 

That’s why choosing a color palette for a brand carries so much weight. It becomes your signature. It accentuates your message without saying a word. It builds familiarity and brand loyalty. Eventually, it becomes iconic, like Target red or IKEA yellow and blue.

And, if you’re just getting started in choosing your brand color palette, here are six of our go-to tips to pick a palette that elevates your brand and starts your journey towards finding your trademark colors.

  1. Tap Into Color Associations 

When you’re choosing a color palette, consider the subtle meanings of color and how those are tied to broader cultural or mood associations. Think about how a traffic sign has trained us to see green as go, yellow as caution, and red as stop. We may think of blue as calm or orange as energetic. Tapping into these associations will have an immediate impact when people look at your branding. They’ll make assumptions about what you do and the overall vibe of your business.

In practice, this means if you’re working on the brand color palette for a spa, you probably want to avoid red and orange, and, instead, lean into blue or green.

  1. Use Color to Differentiate From Competitors

Depending on your industry, you can use your color palette to set yourself apart from the competitors. If you’re in banking, you know everyone is blue or green. But, when Suntrust and BB&T merged to form Truist, they decided to think outside of the traditional banking box. They chose purple and immediately differentiated themselves from others in the market. The dark purple feels established and trustworthy, but it stands out. It feels more approachable than a more classic banking palette.

Similarly, T-mobile put their stake in the cellular ground when they chose magenta as their brand color. You may not be able to recall their logo off the top of your head, but you know that pink. It’s fun and diverse, and it also adds a youthful energy that aligns with their affordable brand.

  1. Develop a Strong But Flexible Palette

Your color palette isn’t just for a logo or website. Today, you’re designing for everything from print to web to digital to social. There’s typeface colors, web colors, and even social imagery colors. Everything has to be consistent to align with your brand, and that means developing a strong palette that you don’t veer from. But it also has to be flexible, with a range of colors that work across applications and complement the main brand color palette.

  1. Choose a Cohesive Family of Colors 

To focus on flexibility, you may need more than one color. You could go with a bold, but limited, color palette of three to four colors, or you could pick a robust palette with up to ten colors. Regardless of the exact number, the colors should fall within the same family of complementary, contrasting, and monochromatic colors. The result is a cohesive color palette that feels on brand across use cases.

  1. Pick Colors That Can Grow With You

Even if your logo, typeface, icons, or taglines evolve, as long as your color palette stays the same, your brand will still be recognizable. Think about the Washington Commanders. Through their rebrand, and even during their time as the Washington Football Team, the burgundy and gold remained the same. Those are the colors fans and rivals associated with the team, and those colors were a critical part of the team’s history. By leaving the colors the same, the team’s brand has continuity, even in the face of a major rebrand.

  1. Skip Color to Transcend Associations

Just like Madonna doesn’t need a last name, not all brands need color palettes. Think about Nike or Apple. Their logo probably takes up precious space in your head, yet there’s not a color associated with them beyond white or black. That’s because these brands have transcended color. The Nike swoosh could be bright blue, lime green, or hot pink. You’re always just going to see Nike. The Apple apple doesn’t need to be in clean gray and white to be recognizable. These brands are so ingrained in our culture that the logo itself doesn’t need a palette.

We can all aspire to a place where you’re beyond color but, until you reach that level of recognition, your color palette is your calling card. It’s what people notice even before they see your logo or read your name. When it comes to selecting your brand’s color palette, strategy matters.