Spice Up Your Branding with Secondary Color Palettes

Have your eyeballs gone numb from staring at the same brand colors over and over again? Your periwinkle/lemon combo could be objectively da bomb, but by now you’re so exposed to it, it’s become too much of a good thing. What if we told you that you could maintain your brand look and feel while expanding your color horizons? It’s all possible with secondary color palettes!

What are secondary color palettes?

A secondary color palette lets you take the brand-y feels that you’ve already established and show people another side of yourself.

Your main branding—including colors and fonts—informs the overall look and feel of your brand. A secondary color palette should seek to emulate that same feel.

Because you’re a brand ninja, you’ve probably already narrowed down the two or three main colors that are the foundation for your brand. This is a super important exercise since color is one of the main things that sticks in people’s minds and it carries certain emotional connotations, so it informs how people should feel about your company. (Purple for passionate, blue for trustworthy, green for healthy, etc.)

Creating a secondary color palette (or palettes) for a holiday, season, or marketing campaign is a great way to add more dimension to your brand. However, it should still feel like you.

It might help to think of your brand as a guy named Jerry. You’ve known Jerry all summer and he likes to wear baseball caps and flip flops. Are you going to freak out if autumn rolls around and he suddenly decides to wear a scarf? Probably not. You’d be like, “What a seasonally appropriate outfit, Jerry.”

If, however, he showed up to your next lunch date in a smoking jacket and fuzzy bunny slippers, you’d probably be like, “This is kind of weird. Are you feeling okay?”

All this is to say, your secondary color palette should feel like the scarf (a natural extension of who you are) and not the smoking jacket/fuzzy bunny combo that’s gonna make people question everything they thought they knew about you.

To get this effect, try to pick colors that are in the same tonal range as your brand colors. For example, if you have colors that are bright and lively, try to pick colors that bring the same amount of energy. If your colors are more serious and muted, choose colors that have that same feel.

Assembling your new color palette

Now for the fun part! Since a lot of picking colors is about evoking feelings, first ask yourself what you want to accomplish with this new palette. Do you want a fresh look to advertise an upcoming spring sale? Or do you want your consumers to get all the cozy, nostalgic feels of late fall?

We like the idea of seasonal color palettes since they’re an easy way for your brand to do something fresh and different that speaks to a particular time of year. You can also update every year or so, so you’re free to create with whatever color and design trends are happening at the moment. You can also use them when you’re doing a one-off marketing campaign and you want all the assets for the campaign to feel cohesive.

It might help to make a little word cloud of the feelings that you’re trying to evoke and then compare those words to common color associations. Another way to go is to find an image that has the same feels you’re going for and pick colors out of that image, like we did with the seasonal images above.

If you know that there’s one color you absolutely want, but you’re not sure about the others, consider using a color wheel to find other complimentary colors.

When to use a secondary color palette

Using an alternate color palette is a good way to keep your brand looking fresh. For example, if your Facebook profile picture is normally your logo in your regularly branded colors, swapping in a version of your logo that’s in seasonal colors could make people who usually scroll right by you stop to take a second look. It not only indicates that you might have some new and interesting stuff for them to see, but it lets them know that someone is minding the shop.

Even if you’re curating images for a social media campaign, picking a few colors to inform the look and feel of the images you choose will help make the campaign more recognizable and visually pleasing.

We tried it out by pairing colors from the seasonal color palettes above with our fictional brand, Hello Juice.

This spring palette maintains Hello Juice’s playful vibe by using the same fonts and capitalization conventions. The colors are in the same tonal range as the originals, so the whole look still feels cohesive.

This social image for summer leans heavily on the pink we’ve chosen for the brand. However, another social image in the same campaign could favor the yellow or blue colors and still feel like it belongs in the same campaign.

The deep fall colors in this seasonal palette have a more sultry feel than we’ve seen in some of the other campaigns, but because they’re in the same tonal range they still feel on brand.

Keeping the logo a basic white across all campaigns with an alternate color palette is another good way to ensure your branding stays consistent.

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Tanya Friedland

Tanya is a copywriter at PicMonkey, a company that has greatly improved her life by allowing her to Zombify her friends and Santa-ify her enemies. A native Seattleite, she dreams of one day being a contestant on The Price Is Right.