Branding standards?

I work for a small organization where I’m the only person that designs the communication materials. We do have a guideline for our branding standards that we hired an external design company to do for us. We tend to follow that. However, now I am designing the annual report (which I do every year) and I want to do something different. I want to use colours that are not part of our branding, in addition to our own colours, because I always feel limited in my design when I have to use the same colours.

What is the best practice about this? Are there articles online I can read? I would think at the end of the day, it would be our decision whether I can use different colours? (I don’t think the higher-ups would be against this).

Ignoring the brand color because you want to do something different defeats the purpose of having the brand colors.

However, I do sympathize with the problem. I have mixed feelings about brand colors too. As you mentioned, they sometimes get in the way and dictate solutions to problems that might be better done, on a case-by-case basis, differently. For example, if the brand colors are red and yellow but you’re designing a seasonal brochure focused on the winter, red and yellow might not be the ideal colors to convey a wintery feeling.

The best compromise between rigid brand colors and no brand colors, in my opinion, is something in between. For example, one or two main colors that are always used and a set of secondary matching colors that can be used with the main colors in whatever way is needed to provide needed flexibility.

It depends some on the company, but I can think of a few instances such as Coca Cola Red or T-Mobile Pink where following their colors is crucial because those brands are so tied into those colors.

Brands evolve and grow, but to me sticking with your colors helps build brand awareness. Your company might shift some where secondary colors change, but usually primary brand colors stay pretty rigid. Target Red, Walmart Blue and Yellow, McDonalds Yellow, Subway Green and Yellow, etc.

For example my company’s primary color is a shade of red. It was dominantly used for 10 years or so, just recently we have introduced a blue which helps bring some freshness, but our red is still primary. I occasionally hear other employees in meetings voicing concerns that our red is so dominant in everything we do, but we remind them that in our industry, none of our competitors use red. It is a huge differentiator visually. Internally people may grumble and get “bored” with it, but it is about building that recognition, IMO.

For me it depends.

I’ve worked on massive brands and I used their secondary colours in some parts and the first thing their marketing department says is:
“wHeRe DiD tHoSe CoLoUrS cOmE fRoM???”

They’re in your brand guidelines.
‘aRe tHeY???’

You have to remember they are Brand ----GUIDELINES—
Not Brand Must Be Like This

Yes, your corporate identity is important - but it’s great to show another side of your brand.

Explore the different colours with the brand colours and enjoy yourself.

If they don’t like it - or the big brand company stamps their feet - just sigh and go back to mundane colours.

It’s an Annual Report - not a nationwide branding exercise.
Most places I know only print about 50 (as that is a legal requirement) and the rest sit on the back end of a server in an impossible link to find on the website.

Rest assured - your fight for these colours will not go unheard - but they will probably go unseen.

Planned branding is a complicated issue that doesn’t lend itself to a one-size-fits-all approach for every organization or business. Color is a single aspect of a complex subject.

In the competitive soft drink business, Coca-Cola uses a specific color of red that instantly identifies its trucks, cartons, bottles, and cans as Coca-Cola. The sub-brand colors vary, but for regular Coca-Cola, red works great.

However, for a book publisher, such as Random House or Putnam, making all their books the same color would be foolish. They’re selling a variety of individual books, not a single ubiquitous soft drink.

Even in the soft drink business, building a recognizable brand using various colors would be entirely possible. Vibrant tropical colors for tropical, fruit-flavored drinks, for example.

I used to work a little with an outdoor publishing company called Falcon Books. Their dozens of similar guidebooks were all yellow and black, which formed an instantly recognizable brand that identified Falcon Books on crowded bookstore shelves. What wouldn’t work at all for Random House worked well for Falcon.

My point is that every business or organization is unique — even companies with superficial similarities. Branding that works for one likely won’t work for the next.

I’ve noticed a trend in the crowdsourcing logo design world. Some of these logo designers are beginning to bill themselves as brand designers. They create logos, assign specific colors to those logos and assume those colors can be carried over as the basis of a broader brand.

Of course, it’s not that simple since no analysis of the company’s business has taken place. It’s impossible to assign appropriate brand colors without that deep-dive analysis of its market presence, objectives, competitors, history, target audiences, products, resources, challenges, etc. For that matter, depending on the situation, the best branding solution might not involve any fixed brand colors at all.