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! Here's the scoop.

What are secondary color palettes?

There's a reason secondary color palettes are, well, secondary — but it's not because they're second best. When it comes to building an effective brand, secondary color palettes serve a few purposes.

1. Supportive

Let's differentiate primary vs. secondary color palettes. Secondary color palettes win the gold at being silver. In other words, they're designed to support the dominant, primary color palette. In this context, primary means predominant, while secondary means supportive.

For example, you'll recognize McDonald's classic logo with the primary color palette of red and yellow shades. However, they expanded their secondary color palette in 2016 to include teal, green, and purple lettering on their to-go bags.

Whether you're just starting out or you're ready to boost your brand, secondary color schemes let you take the brand-y feels that you’ve already established and show people another side of yourself.

2. Sophisticated

Brands, while simple, also hold depth. Effective marketing demonstrates flexibility without straying too far from home base. If Mickey D's swapped their world-renowned yellow arches for hot pink, there's no saying how the world would react. We could bet, however, that it wouldn't be good.

With that in mind, you never want to take risks that will deter the masses. So, choosing functional and flexible secondary color palettes happens easily upon establishing your primary color palettes. Once you do that, you can blend, accent, and innovate new brand feels with a primo secondary color scheme that everyone will love.

To travel down the rabbit hole of monochromatic, complementary, analogous, triadic, and tetradic colors, we've got you. Read more here: Create a brand color palette.

3. Intuitive

Ultimately, resonant secondary color palettes should land with every audience in an intuitive way. What does this mean? You want consumers to feel that your new and improved branding makes sense. Like poetry, people should be able to feel between the lines even if they can't explain why it works. Marketing is equal parts calculated as it is artistic — so it's critical to honor both parts.

Don't know where to start? Two words: color theory. Know that how you feel about your secondary color scheme will directly translate to your audience. If you're unsure, they'll be unsure. If you're confident, they will be too. Understanding the psychology of color will inform your intuitive decisions.

As a starting point, 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, choose colors that bring the same amount of energy. If your colors are more serious and muted, choose colors that have that same feel.

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. Having too many colors is something to avoid, as it can be distracting and take away focus from your brand message.

Locating your two-three distinct brand colors is a super important exercise since color is one of the main things that sticks in people’s minds. Because colors carry certain emotional connotations, they inform how people should feel about your company. (Purple for passionate, blue for trustworthy, green for healthy, etc.) Once you find your foundation, you have the freedom to explore all of the shades and color combos you desire within those predominant colors.

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. Whatever the season — or reason — for your marketing, 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.

Assembling your new secondary color palette

Now for the fun part! (Just kidding, we've been having fun this whole time.) Since picking colors evokes 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 complementary 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.

Remember, secondary color schemes and palettes are exactly that — schemes and palettes. So, don't limit yourself by adding just one extra boring color. Explore different hues, combos, and hex codes to spice up your marketing life. Trust your gut and you won't go wrong. Onward!

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This article was written by PicMonkey Staff, a multicellular organism of hive-minded sub-parts who just wanna get you the ideas and information you crave, so you can make powerful images that level up your business.