Seattle Kraken: 4 Branding Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Written by Linsey Reimer

I'm the owner of Bright Creative, where I help entrepreneurs and small businesses create strategic and scroll-stopping brand identities and websites. I'm also a massive book nerd, cat lover, super slow knitter, and wannabe beekeeper.

July 25, 2020

This past week, the NHL released the logo and brand for their newest expansion team, the Seattle Kraken. This identity is a giant win! I’ve been a Vancouver Canucks fan since birth but this identity could sway me. Aside from having a really excellent mark (and submarks), the brand was created and rolled out in such a smart way.

© Seattle Kraken

I typically work with entrepreneurs and small businesses so it’s fair to be wondering why I’m talking about the branding for a giant corporation. Here’s the thing; aside from being just straight up beautiful, the Seattle Kraken brand does so many things right, all of which are totally accessible for entrepreneurs to do with their own brands or rebrands.

Let’s break it down.

Know your audience

The Kraken’s ownership and design team have made it really clear they listened to the fans. According to the Kraken website, the brand team had feedback from 32,000 fans, and listened via social media and fan forums for two years before finalizing the name, Kraken. They also repeatedly heard that fans felt the team colours should be blue or green.

Why does this matter?

Most entrepreneurs know the value of knowing what your audience is looking for, talking about, or struggling with before building an offer or creating marketing content. However, many miss the boat when it comes to their brand, especially when it comes to a logo or a name.

Business owners tend to be emotional and possessive about logos and names; the feeling that this is the identity they will have til the end of time presents a powerful reason to focus more on what they like, rather than what the audience will like. But your brand doesn’t actually belong to you, it belongs to your audience and becomes what they say it is about. Having a name and an identity that reflects their values is very important to attracting the right people to your sphere.

In the case of Seattle Kraken, asking hockey fans for their thoughts served a dual purpose of discovering what is important to them AND keeping the team front and centre in their minds while building excitement towards the launch.

How do you do this yourself?

If you want to get audience feedback on a direction, you need to ask the right people. Do not post a bunch of logos and ask a Facebook group what they think. At best, that’s a weak way to say, “Look at my business!”. At worst, you will get a ton of the wrong feedback from people who will never buy.

Instead, ask a close group of former clients who you can trust to give you honest feedback. Even better, ask higher level questions like, “What are three words you’d use to describe working with me?” and build out your brand around a common set of words.

If you don’t have clients yet, try listening on social to people who you would like to have as clients. What do they talk about? What do they celebrate? What do they complain about? All of these are clues that will move you towards building a brand that resonates.

Be Strategic

Even though the Kraken went out of their way to engage fans, they had to have a formula for decision-making when sifting through the data. The design team decided on three key design pillars; the identity had to be authentic, noble, and mysterious.

Why does this matter?

Describing a feeling for a brand gives a team a common language. It helps to define words like “authentic” further, as that word is well-trodden and means different things to different people. In the case of Seattle Kraken, I would interpret “authentic” to mean, “feels understandable/connected to Seattle the city.” However, it could also mean, “feels like a hockey team”, which is why additional information is important.

How do you do this yourself?

When you interview clients, or listen to your perfect people on social, take note of the words they use. Keep a list and see which words you hear repeatedly.

Next, you need to decide which of these words resonate for you. As much as the brand belongs to your audience, you need to run it and stay consistent, so knowing what matters to you as well as your audience is crucial.

Choose three to five words that describe your brand and then describe what those words mean in the context of your brand. Sharing this information with your designer gives both of you a common language and should help get you to the finish line faster.

Be the Same but Different

The design team heard loud and clear from the fans that the colours should be blue or green. Know who else uses blue or green? Pretty much everyone! In the NHL alone more than half the teams in the league use blue and/or green in their jerseys.

Although the colours are arguably “the same as the competition”, it’s pretty clear that adhering to the commitment to listen to the fans would require using one of or both of these colours. Even though the colours are broadly “the same” as other teams, they fit into the expectation of the average hockey fan. When you’re relying on a group to purchase merchandise, proudly buy game tickets, and call themselves a fan, you need to provide a visual product that’s not so far out of their expectations as to be rejected.

At the same time, the Kraken need to stand out on the ice and be easily identified next to their competition. To that end, the design team went to great lengths in the specific shades of blue they chose. The addition of the red also helps the team stand apart. After the colours were chosen, they made sure to give them names that reflect the ocean and deepen the brand. This way stakeholders have a common language and it reinforces that “Deep Sea Navy” and “Ice Blue” are specific and measurable shades.

Why does this matter?

When you’re appealing to a specific audience, you want to give them something that they can recognize as theirs and be proud to join. Although we all want to create something new and unique, it’s important that the risk tolerance of the audience is considered. It’s possible to be so different in your visual approach, that your audience can’t easily recognize you as someone they want to join.

At the same time, you don’t want to look the same as your competitors, so you need to find a way to set yourself apart within the expected boundaries.

How do you do this yourself?

“Same but different” levels are subtle. Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of trends. A couple years ago you couldn’t open a new tab on your browser without tripping over something rose gold.

Instead, choose a broad palette of colours and then work down to shades that are different. Maybe there is an unexpected accent colour that can be added to shift the identity to something unique to you.

Lastly, focusing entirely on colour is an over-simplification. The addition of pattern, texture, photography and illustration also help separate a brand from its competitors, and definitely need to be considered.

Call in Your People With a Story

It’s one thing to create a brand, it’s another thing to launch one. The roll out of the Kraken identity was masterful. Not only did the team unveil the name, the logo, and the jersey, the tactical pieces that fans were waiting for, they also went out of their way to tell the story behind the brand.

The official website contains a brand video, a story of how the name was chosen (making it clear that they listened to the fans, elevating hometown pride), and a breakdown of the logo, describing the key parts. By doing so, they ensured that all the fans who have been waiting for the unveil were able to become team insiders. By building their own mythology, the Kraken gives the fans stories to share with each other, insider knowledge reserved for true fans, and creates a sense of belonging that is crucial for retention.

Why does this matter?

In 2009, the group behind Significant Objects launched an experiment around the value of story. They paired thrift store items with fiction writers who created a story about the object and posted both on eBay. It was clear to potential buyers that the stories were fiction. The results were $128.74 of thrift store junk sold for $3,612.51.

Stories add incredible value. They help bring people inside your brand, and allow them to connect. Stories give people a reason to care and make it more difficult for them to walk away. If you want to build brand evangelists, stories are the way to do it.

How do you do this for yourself?

There are a number of stories you can tell when it comes to launching your brand. One of them is your origin story – how did you get started? If you are rebranding, you can talk about why you’re choosing to rebrand, how you are approaching it, and why it is important. These stories can be told over blog posts, videos, social media, or a formal case study (or all of the above), depending on how your audience likes to consume content.

You can also tell behind the scenes stories in the build up to your brand launch. Post sneak peaks of your new design work, or hints at the names you’re considering. Once you launch, you can tell the story behind your name or your logo to help your audience feel like they know secrets and are part of your insider club.

Lastly, whichever stories you tell, focus them on your audience, rather than on yourself. Talk about what you’ve learned from your audience that you incorporated into your brand. Talk about elements where both you and your people are proud to have a connection, and celebrate the places where your audience had a big impact on your decision-making.

You don’t need an NHL-sized budget to build a long-lasting brand. You need to be smart and strategic. If you’d like some help building out your own brand, give me a shout. I’d love to see if I can help.

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