A common color misconception is that every season there is one “it” color or set of colors that, as a brand, it’s imperative to have in order to be profitable, relevant, and on-trend. And that, as a consumer, you must buy to be cool, worthy, and cutting-edge.
This is not true.
First, for individuals, buy the colors that you like. They are the right colors for you. Always. Surround yourself with colors that make you feel good. Define good however you choose - euphoric, comforted, nostalgic, electric, calm, safe, luxurious, playful… Color is a vehicle for personal expression. Give yourself the freedom to explore. Use color differently on different days, in different environments, for different moods or keep it all the same. Do what is true for you.
Now, for brands. Color is a visual language. It dominates consumers’ immediate response to a product. It is a tool that elicits and communicates emotion, that broadcasts a message. A brand’s color must be compelling and distinctive. It can not be redundant or repetitive. It can not be a passive iteration of what is already being said. It must speak confidently. It must consistently and emphatically reflect the brand’s personality and priorities. Color’s power is in its ability to capture and amplify a particular point of view. A brand’s success and reputation depend on that POV being singularly unique and meaningful to its targeted audience.
So, if you are responsible for determining color for a brand, how do you do this?
Start with your brand’s purpose. Why does it exist? What does it do better? Why does it matter? What does it value? Define its identity. Humanize it. Think about the customers it serves. Who are they? What do they prioritize? How are they changing and how will they likely continue to change? What attracts them to your brand? Where and how does your brand intersect with them? What are your shared goals, principles, and ways of living? How clearly you define and understand your brand and your consumers directly determines the strength of the foundation you build your color POV on.
Next, gather inspiration. Continuously. Don’t wait until it’s three weeks before you need to finalize next season’s color palette. Do. This. All. The. Time. Embody your brand and your consumers and follow their curiosity. Inspiration can be found everywhere – read, move, watch, listen, learn, wonder, repeat. Recognize patterns and shifting perspectives. Bookmark, catalog, and filter for your brand’s demographics, the season, and product categories.
If you subscribe to trend service providers, such as WGSN, Promostyl, Pantone, or Fashion Snoops, a note – these are valuable resources with a wealth of insights, knowledge, and forecasts. Use them. However, remember, 1. Your competitors likely use the same services, and 2. These are directive, not prescriptive. Meaning – the information you get from them is a study guide, not an answer key. You are still responsible for writing your own answer to the seasonal color strategy essay test. Your consumers will grade it.
Combine your brand and consumer knowledge and seasonal inspiration with your brand’s history and business needs. Consider what has resonated in the past, what has fallen flat, if the factors affecting both are still relevant, and what will always be steady in your brand’s DNA. Build a strategic color framework that thoughtfully accommodates your brand’s business requirements – manufacturing constraints, budget, operating logistics, risk comfort, and bandwidth.
Now, add the color.
Follow the guidelines I outline here. Each individual color needs to have a vital role and be an integral part of the overall seasonal narrative. Together, all of your palette colors need to generate an inviting energy specifically tailored to your audience, that harnesses the connective space your brand shares with its consumers. Create a color story that is rich and coherent. Make it epic, make it sing, make it yours.
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Creative Intelligence is relatively new, and I’d love to grow its reach. I’d be grateful if you helped by sharing this.
So great! I'm not a big consumer of things, but now that Apple is offering iPhones in colors, finding the right case color combination has been a visual adventure. I like the idea of finding 'good' for me.