How to Use Color to Give Your Brand Personality and Purpose

Color is the “secret sauce” of your brand, and if you wield its power wisely it can help people connect with and recognize your brand much more easily.

Illustration of a woman with red hair holding a large eyedropper tool and pointing to a large spinning wheel of colors, like a color wheel.

Color is one of the most recognizable parts of your brand identity. Did you know that we associate specific colors with specific things and that color can even make us feel certain emotions and make decisions subconsciously? Color is the “secret sauce” of your brand, and if you wield its power wisely it can help people connect with your brand much more easily.

In fact, 95% of us make decisions about brands subconsciously, not rationally.* So color really does matter when it comes to your brand!

Let me say it right now – while color is an important part of your brand, it is not the ONLY thing to express brand personality all on its own. There are millions of colors in the spectrum, and in no way do these thumbnails and guidelines define all decisions for every brand. One hue alone certainly does not capture all of the unique aspects of your brand. In many cases, brand personality is achieved by mixing colors together to form a palette, or complementing a more subtle color palette with strong typography and photography. 

Another great thing about color is that it communicates your values, which you can use to your advantage in a variety of settings, even when getting dressed for interviews or important meetings. When used correctly, these colors will help you connect with people, build a strong brand image, and leave a memorable impression. 

When most people see colors, they simplify them into larger categories like “red,” “green,” or “blue,” but there are many subtleties to color theory. For today, we’re going to keep things simple and focus only on basic colors  and selecting the color family that should form the base for your palette. 

In branding, we assess every new brand through the lens of 12 archetypes. Each archetype is like a person, in that it expresses a unique personality and is driven by a core motivation. These archetypes are so well known in fact, that we have an intuitive connection to each of them. When used within branding, these archetypes can be extremely powerful, and each personality brings particular strengths and weaknesses to the table. Even though you may not want to believe your brand falls into a single category, branding archetypes aren’t considered a limitation, as there are still infinite ways of expressing yourself. Your archetype simply points you in a clear direction.

Below is a color wheel which will help you identify your brand archetype, as well as an associated primary color. There’s an intuitive connection that we have with each of these archetypes, which makes them really powerful to use in branding. Each personality has strengths and weaknesses. Just like with people, no brand is solely defined by a single personality. Yet, designing according to your brand archetype will help you stay consistent with the predominant message of your brand and build trust with your audience.

Color wheel showing 12 brand archetype personalities with a recommended color associated with each personality type. The center of the wheel is split into four core motivations, Connection, Structure, Freedom, and Justice.

Take a minute and think about a few keywords you would use to describe your organization. For example, I would describe HeartSpark as approachable, optimistic, and creative. Looking at the wheel, that most closely places me in the “Creator” category, which fits with our keywords, as well as what we do. That means our primary hue should be yellow. 

If you’re having trouble identifying your ideal archetype, there are four categories for each of the quadrants of the wheel that may help: structure, freedom, connection, and status. Each of these core sections represents a different motivation for that quadrant of the wheel. Think about the core driver of your business to help identify which quadrant best represents your brand.

Does your nonprofit:

  • Provide immediate relief?
    • Citizen create a sense of belonging
    • Jokers share enjoyment and escape
    • Companions provide an emotional or physical safe place
  • Develop people’s minds and skills?
    • Creators inspire through innovation
    • Rulers prevent chaos by creating systems
    • Caregivers serve others
  • Empower communities?
    • Innocents seek safety and harmony
    • Sages builds systems and shares knowledge
    • Explorers search for freedom
  • Fight for justice?
    • Rebels fight for liberation and freedom
    • Magicians fight for internal transformation
    • Champions fight on behalf of others through mastery
 

It’s worth noting that your nonprofit may identify with one or more of these personality types and that’s okay! Just like people are not just one-dimensional, so your brand can be more versatile and interesting by embracing its’ true motivation. 

Although you may personally be a certain archetype, that same personality may not fit your brand, so you need to approach this exercise by looking objectively at your business.

Once you understand your brand personality, it’s that much easier to connect with your audience and use color to your advantage — in logo design, your website, presentation choices, and beyond!

 

For more tips on effective nonprofit branding and design, explore these articles: