Standing Out From the Sea of Blue: Color in Healthcare Brand Design

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August 26, 2017

Design is a powerful tool for connecting with your audience and is often the first visual cue that communicates what your brand is about. Thoughtful and innovative design raises brand visibility, connects people to the brands and products they love, and acts as the basis for an emotional connection. Design in marketing is so powerful because it speaks to customers often without words, and a successful design will call forth a predetermined conclusion (e.g. that the brand is trustworthy) and reinforce key brand messages.

Color is one of the most powerful ways to connect with an audience and should be a top priority in marketing and brand design. Depending on the product, research has shown up to 90% of snap judgments are made based solely on color. The first opportunity for a company to communicate their brand message visually is to capture the customers' attention with color. While it isn't the only tool a designer has to communicate with the audience, it may be the most powerful. The power of color is in its ability to create an emotional connection between a customer and a brand.

Take a look at the graphic below. These companies have, through brand development, selected their logo and brand colors to convey specific ideas about their brand personality. For example, can you identify the traits that Coca-Cola, YouTube, Nintendo and Lego brands have in common? Youth, excitement, playfulness and energy are all traits that have been associated with these brands, they are also associated with the common visual theme in their logo designs; the color red.

Different colors in branding and marketing elicit different emotional responses. Besides the traits described above, the color red can also elicit passion, vigor, and even anger while a color like green brings to mind thoughts of growth and balance. The use of colors can mean different things to different people, but knowing what effects color has on the majority can be the difference between an effective marketing campaign and one that doesn't resonate with its intended audience.

Most companies in the healthcare arena would agree that they want their audience to associate their brand with a few common emotional attributes that include; trust, dependability, safety, knowledge and cleanliness. This leads a majority of healthcare companies to use blue in their logo design based on the widely accepted color theory—an art and science unto itself—and psychology.

It should come as no surprise that the leading color used in healthcare marketing and branding is blue. With associations to trust, dependability, vitality and strength, all healthcare companies can make the argument that blue is a perfect color to represent their values, but there are a few crucial considerations to make before deciding blue is "your color."

Color theory is not an exact science and while there is merit to assigning emotional responses to certain colors, there are other contextual considerations to be made. There are many nuances to using color in healthcare design, and some things to take into account are cultural differences and the use of specific color combinations. A good graphic designer will have their finger on the pulse of your geographic region and current trends as they relate to the application of color in design.

Speaking the language of color

Using more than one color has an effect on the overall feel of a design and can change audience perceptions. A combination like blue and green creates a peaceful and organic feeling, but switch green for orange and the effect is fresh and energizing, a vastly different perception. By understanding your brand's complex personality, you can select multiple colors to communicate the desired emotional effect to the audience. Many recognizable healthcare companies share similar themes; the color blue being dominate in many of those. Some standout companies use unique color combinations including blue or break the mold by omitting the hue entirely, while still conveying their message.

It's not just about getting noticed

It may be tempting to embrace colors outside of the industry's limited palette in an effort to stand out from the crowd, but companies must also consider the customer's expectation and experience before venturing out of their audience's' comfort zone. If you are familiar with the concept of "Most Advanced Yet Acceptable" (MAYA), you'll know that customers are curious about new things but tolerance for anything too unfamiliar is generally low, so marketers must be aware of that threshold. It is especially important in direct-to-consumer efforts to make sure your audience feels comfortable with your brand and product and the strategic use of color can go a long way in achieving trust and familiarity.

Color is an invaluable tool but rather than relying on brand colors to align with broad color associations, or arbitrarily choosing a color that contrasts with your competition, it is always more effective to consider a color in context with your brand's personality. With this in mind, it is imperative that you approach your design and color strategy with a fully developed brand strategy. This is the kind of foundational work that is necessary to determine the most effective design strategy for your brand, even for something as basic as your color palette. After all, a brand is not a logo, product, or corporate identity. A brand is a gut feeling, because people are emotional, instinctive beings.

Worried that you're not ready to tackle color in your design? Learn more about the steps you need to take to establish your brand and create an irreplaceable company here.

Which Blue Are You?

While it may be tempting to embrace colors outside of the industry's limited palette in an effort to stand out from the crowd, remember that different isn't always better. Blue is a versatile color and you may find out through branding exercises that it is the right color choice for your company. Use this quiz to help you find a variation; teal, sky, royal, navy or indigo, that represents your brand's unique personality and helps communicate your mission and values.

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