Research tells us that 62–90% of our snap judgments about people, products and brands are based on color. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, color translates very viscerally to information. That information is the DNA of a brand.
Nowhere is the importance of color more obvious than in our U.S. political parties. After all, they are brands themselves.
Generations of voters have attached meaning to these two brands. But is this really so? Is it possible that the branding of our society’s most important brands has been left to chance?
As the Washington Post states, “NBC kept using red-for-Democrats, blue-for-Republicans until at least 1984. By 1988, no network footage that we found used that combination, instead opting for the now-familiar Republican red, Democrat blue.” According to the New York Times senior graphic design editor Archie Tse, the discussion never happened and the color red was assigned because Republican starts with “R.”
During the Al Gore versus George W. Bush campaign of 2000, one of the longest and most controversial elections in recent history, the debate had shifted almost entirely from newspapers to cable TV, and colors played a much stronger role. It is during this time that the now familiar scheme of red for Republicans and blue for Democrats started to be used widely.
The reason for the shift is probably due to the fact that both parties did not think it was important to develop their brand assets correctly and instead let cable TV anchors dictate what should be used and how.
Professor George M. Bodman of Yale University sees the volatility of party colors in U.S. politics as “an accident of media history” and “evidence of the randomness and instability of political color codes.” They have swapped the fundamental “political associations of red and blue that exist almost everywhere else in the world.”
This does not make for strong, durable branding, and both parties are suffering from it in ways that we, as entrepreneurs, can learn from.
Red versus blue: Why does branding affect perception?
Red is the color of action and intense emotions. Among other things, it symbolizes passion, anger, courage and triumph. A room painted red increases the heartbeat of the people in it.
Red is also the color of revolution. The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions all harnessed red’s power as a call to action for radical change. Because of the strong opposition in U.S. politics to Communism during the Cold War, red has not been used for American political parties in the same way. Now, since red is the Republican color, it represents conservative rather than liberal values.
Blue is often regarded as the opposite of red. It is calm, more introverted and sometimes seen as the feminine counterpart to red. Blue has a sedative physiological effect on behavior, slowing down one’s heartbeat as well as vegetative functions. It is the color of trust and protection, symbolized by countless religious and secular icons, including the Virgin Mary and the Turkish evil eye.
In politics outside of the U.S., blue is used for conservatism. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is blue and so are the center-right or right-wing parties in Germany, Austria, Belgium and France, to name a few. This is because of the color blue’s status as trustworthy, strong, reliable and traditional, at least as implied by the core values of the U.S. Republican party.
Our country’s two major political parties neglected the importance of branding from the beginning, and we live with the unintended consequences to this day.
Why Brand Longevity Matters
Brands that are purposefully developed and positioned from square one have a key advantage: durability. These brands’ identity is strong enough to outlast their product cycle. They can change, innovate, pivot and re-imagine what they do over and over again. Consumers, attracted by a secure and cohesive brand, will follow them all the way.
What This Means For Your Brand
It’s incumbent on all new companies to take their early branding decisions seriously.
When I start working with a new client, the process of designing a durable brand always begins with an analysis. We analyze their company in order to identify their core values and understand exactly what their brand is so we can design the best possible space for it. To do this, my client and I go through a long series of questions to establish their brand identity.
Here are the main questions you need to ask yourself to position your brand:
1. What is your company’s mission, and what work will you be doing long into the future?
First of all, we need to understand where the company is headed in the long term — a vision rooted in the company’s DNA, unlikely to change drastically over time. When a vision is clearly defined, every employee and potentially every customer will share the same message. For example, the BBC’s mission is “To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.”
2. Who are your customers? How should your brand look and feel in their eyes?
The second question regards the company’s target market: who they are and what they like, dislike and value. Only a full understanding of the company’s clients can lead to the right design choices.
3. What’s the story behind your company?
Lastly, understanding and communicating your company’s story is a crucial part of establishing your brand. A brand should be constantly developing, but the story behind it remains the same. What sparked the idea for your brand? How can you incorporate this into your values, products, interiors and logo?
Well-planned brands can change their business model faster than their competitors and constantly redefine themselves without losing sight of their mission and their customers.
As we learned from the unexpected history of political branding, when something as important (yet as simple) as color is left to chance, it is a missed opportunity to influence the way people understand your brand for years to come.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.
Sergio Mannino Studio is a Design Agency based in New York
We can advise you on how to launch a relevant consumer brand from scratch, or help you grow into your pop-up, second, twentieth or hundredth retail location.
We believe that every brand needs a holistic approach in order to succeed. Every channel needs to work together in order to communicate the brand values: website, physical spaces, social media, events etc. Our agency will help you navigate through them seamlessly.