Branding professional Russell Turner explores the impact of colour and provides tips for choosing a scheme for your clinic
Colour is one of the most important tools when it comes to developing your brand. It can illustrate personality, character, warmth, charm, tone and hidden depths that can unify your message visually. It can be present in photography, illustration, decoration, livery and signage, as well as printed and digital collateral. Understanding the powerful role colour can play in creating meaningful relationships with your audience is key in recognising how this non-verbal asset must be unlocked.
Wherever there is light, there is colour. On illumination, colour is everywhere, but our perception of colour and what colour means is unique to each and every one of us. Colour is non-verbal in that we do not need to hear or read anything in order to gain a level of understanding from it. Colour can connect us to first-hand, taught and imagined moments, and can trigger emotional connections with those experiences, all without verbal communication.
Neuroscientist Dr David Eagleman has studied in-depth the relationship of colours to taste, sound, music and other neural input. This is called synesthesia and is something that many of us experience to some degree or another.1,2
What’s more, when we do communicate verbally, many expressions call on colour to add weight to what we intend to say. For example, our emotions can become highlighted through phrases such as to be ‘green with envy’ or angrily ‘seeing red’, with sadness being described as ‘having the blues’. We may also refer to ‘colourful language’ when perhaps we hear profanity or words which may offend.
Such associations, however, do not mean that everything we see bearing these colours have these traits. For example, I am yet to see ‘roll out the red carpet’ represent anger, which is an emotion often associated with red. So, capturing a mood with colour is an abstract idea and is based more upon an individual’s interaction with colour and the ability to accept idiosyncrasies of language as a guidance, not fact.
This means that colour can say a huge amount, yet it depends on other variables such as the environment and context in which it is experienced, as well as linguistics and culture.1,2
Organisations have recognised the increasing value and importance in having a unique identity with colour as well as its use in words and pictures. When colour is used thoughtfully, brands can create clarity and understanding for the customer.
When looking at colours for your brand, you should choose those that truly reflect who you are, what you do, how you do it, as well as where and when you do it. You should be able to fully identify why you have chosen a particular colour and what it means to you and your patients, rather than just choosing a colour such as rose gold because its popular. We are looking for meaning. To achieve this, you need to consider your brand and audience.
For your brand, consider:
• Your value proposition: are you unique, creative, traditional, classical?
• Your brand personality: are you friendly, professional, aloof, knowledgeable, gregarious?
• Your tone of voice: are you bold, impactful, reserved, precise?
• Your brand values: what do you uphold in all that you do?
You should also think about your audience to build a customer profile. Consider who they are, their gender, their age, what they do, what their likes and dislikes are, what their spending habits are, whether they have children, are married, where they work, and anything else about them that might be of interest.
Once you have a thorough understanding of this information you can start to look at the key emotional triggers that you want your brand, and the visual representation of the brand, to communicate.
Imagine the first time your potential customers see your brand – either in clinic, on your website, in a photograph or even meet you or your team – and consider what emotions you want them to feel.
While it is possible for an individual to experience more than one emotion at any one time, it is not always possible for those emotions to be experienced with the same level of intensity, which can be described as having mixed feelings.3 We, however, want to eliminate doubt. I suggest choosing five key emotional triggers you want your ideal patient to feel and choose five colours that may align with these feelings.
For example, if one key emotional trigger that you want to elicit is the feeling of being safe, perhaps you will choose an aqua colour which often represents this (see Figure 1). Allow your colours to be in alignment with you, what you think and also what you believe your audience would think. Consider colours that move you toward your goal in helpful ways and discard those that are not helpful in doing this.
There are widely perceived meanings of colour and, like many trends, they evolve over time. Fads should be recognised and regarded with caution, otherwise you could end up with a brand that dates very quickly and could be expensive to redo. One such example is the desire a few years back to fill clinics with copper/rose gold. It has proven to be looked upon now as something that has been over-done.
To help choose your colours, you can do the ‘colour wheel exercise’. It is important to remember that each colour you choose can have a different tone; a deep hard red can be tinted to a softer, warm red and a dark purple warmed to an aubergine and further still to a violet.2
The colour wheel exercise
A colour wheel is a graphic that identifies 12 basic colours and their widely perceived meanings (Figure 1). The reason for this exercise is to find examples of colour in action. It allows us to see how those colours and words deliver the key emotional responses that we are looking for. It can help to give inspiration and to also look at other feelings that may arise, which can replace those that we originally considered as valuable or important. Interior designers, as well as artists, will evaluate colours in much the same way – often with mood boards that include textiles and materials to be used in the creative process.
To take part in the colour wheel exercise yourself, you will need 12 sheets of white A4 paper or card, glue, scissors, selection of magazines, various old materials/clothes, and a marker pen.
The aim is to choose words, images and swatches of colour from the magazines and material and create 12 coloured A4 sheets (matching the colour wheel). Each sheet will only contain words and colours relating to one specific colour palette. Fill each sheet and use the marker pen to write additional words that the colours evoke on top of the colours.
These sheets can then be arranged in a circle or in different orders to experiment what colours go with others, which colours add contrast, or which feel uncomfortable to you. There are methods that can be used such as choosing monochromatic, complementary, triad, compound colours, analogues, squares; ultimately you will begin to see what works. You can then refine this with paint chips from your DIY store. Designers will use a similar universal colour swatch called Pantone.
Using these colours, revisit the ones that you align with key emotional triggers; you will then find that you are on the way to truly defining your brand colour. With our colour theory we focus on positive rather than negative – the reason for this is predominantly because everyone will have a reason to dislike a colour. Our aim is to find reasons to choose a colour – not why to avoid a colour.
One challenge for any brand owner is to try and disconnect personal feelings regarding colour and to look at the colour that is right for your brand and your brand’s objectives. Within any brand colour palette, it is easy to find a way to include your favourite colour without it being your main brand identity colour. Photos, illustrations, uniforms, lighting, decoration, furniture – the possibilities are endless but remain objective.
Remember too many colours at once can be overwhelming and may appear messy; this doesn’t mean reducing the number of colours in your palette, but it is advised not to use them all at once. Try to use a dominant colour and one secondary colour. Within one colour there may be several different tones of the same colour, so multiple colours may not be necessary.
Knowing what colour to use in what situations comes back to what you want to achieve. For example, if you need colour to stand out, use colours with high contrast. Black on yellow for example. If you are trying to communicate calm in a message and your brand colours are more often associated with speed and energy, consider softer secondary colours that complement the primary palette. You might want to gain opinions from friends, colleagues and those whose views you value to help.
Colour can have a direct and lasting effect on individuals, so it is important to have a good understanding of your target patient and the tone and mood that you want to communicate to them. This will give your message strength and clarity, while demonstrating that you understand your patients and what they wish to achieve. It will build lasting connections and lead to meaningful relationships.
Apply this to all of the tangible elements of your business as part of your corporate identity strategy and you will have the foundation of powerful non-verbal visual
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