There are hundreds of product and retail brands in cannabis at any given moment, and no one brand has the history to acquire unwavering loyalty, making even the best of business concepts difficult to distinguish. In a turbulent market where competition is heating up, brand building can be a critical differentiator. Startups in the cannabis industry are generally reluctant to invest in branding up front due to its cost and to founders being unaware of how important brand is to their success.

Simply put, a company without a strong brand is like a human without a sense of self. Customer loyalty is derived from the quality of your product and service. However it is your brand that gets them interested in your business in the first place.

In this article, we offer tips on how to create a cannabis brand that can stand out in a sea of green by defining the company’s identity and communicating why anyone should care about your products and services.

 

Why branding matters

Branding reigns supreme and it’s a widely held belief among industry experts that those cannabis businesses that brand the best will win the game.

Imaging

When you see someone walking down the street, do they always have a logo on their shirt that draws your attention? No. Only some have eye catching imagery and that’s the power of brand. Cannabis brands are no different. Your brand’s image precedes your product, which is why spending time and money building your image is so important.

Messaging

Messaging is also a critical part of branding, since messages provide customers with something to relate to. If you’re successful at messaging, your brand will leave a lasting impression on consumers. Can you recall the slogan “Just do it”?  It’s the three-word slogan known by consumers around the world, even when the Nike logo isn’t present.

Messaging is common sense to the largest and most successful companies, and your business should know it too, in order to succeed in cannabis.

 

Making your brand stand out

Everyone in the cannabis industry is looking for ways to stand out in the crowd. The business name, product description, user experience and quality of service are just the tip of the iceberg. Having a solid brand is a step in the right direction, but if you want to be found in this rapidly expanding market you have to get creative and think outside the box. Putting your product in a mylar bag and applying a sticker with a logo designed in Canva or on Microsoft Word is no longer sufficient. The mere act of putting a sign on a storefront that says “cannabis store,” also will not suffice.

Give customers something to desire

To differentiate yourself from the pack, you have to convince the consumer that your business is worthy of their patronage. Customers will only be willing to take a chance on a business if it seems like something they might like because it looks cool, sounds good, or stands for something they care about.

Stand for something

Creating an effective brand starts by identifying your brand’s values and who your target audience is. If you focus on these two things before anything else, you’ll be able to create a strong brand that resonates with your customers.

Tell your story

A brand doesn’t have to be overly complicated or elaborate, but it should have a very specific message that can resonate with the target audience you want to attract. In branding, the most important aspect is the story you want to tell.

 

Development Tools

Here are some questions to help your branding team while developing your brand’s identity, provided by lean-labs:

  • Who is Your Ideal Customer?
  • Do You Solve any Pain Points?
  • What Kind of Personality Do You Have?
  • Who is Your Competition?
  • How Do You Make Your Clients Feel?
  • How are You Different?
  • Why Do Your Clients Trust You?
  • What’s Your Story?

 

Developing a cohesive look

How many brands have you seen in the cannabis space that look alike? In our opinion, look-alike branding is a huge issue. Your cannabis business can’t take on a look that looks like everyone else in the industry if you want to be noticed. It needs to stand out and represent your unique company culture, while also conveying professionalism and reliability.

Standing out means that consumers can identify your brand whenever they see it.  This requires them being able to commit your brand to memory.  Memory requires repetition which mean that the way you present your brand has to be consistent.  Consistent colors, fonts, imaging, messaging, and styling.

These brand identifiers will consistently resonate with a type of consumer and consistently draw them to your brand.  When you establish consistency, consumers know that they can depend o your brand to provide them with what they are looking for, every single time.  This creates recognizability, which creates trust, which establishes loyalty. Loyalty is priceless.

 

Branding mistakes to avoid

Let’s look at some of the most common branding mistakes cannabis startups make.

Sticking to traditional marketing like print ads is a terrible idea for a cannabis brand. As the stigma around cannabis starts to fade, many retailers and consumers will see the benefits of this plant. Now is the time to use unconventional marketing like television ads, social media, digital ads and online networking.

Copying everyone else

Take a look.  Most cannabis brands, products, technologies, and retailers alike, use the colors green, black, and white. Also, most of these brands use some version of a cannabis leaf.  The result?  It’s difficult to tell one brand from another because they all look much too similar.  Be creative and venture in to what the color wheel has to offer.

Inconsistency

Many brands will launch their advertising or social media strategies without a clear plan.  Then, one of two things happen. Either they continually change the type of imagery and messaging the use, confusing the consumer, or they stop posting for long periods of time or only have ads running periodically.  The consumer needs to consistently see and hear from your brand to build a relationship with the company and product.

Overcluttered Ads

Keep the ad simple and avoid using too much text.  Many cannabis companies try to fit an abundance of information in their ads, forgetting that the people who see ads are usually on the move and need to be able to decipher the key information as quickly as possible.

Disregarding Regulations

As this industry remains controversial, responsible branding and marketing is of the utmost importance. Most states have stringent requirements on imagery and wording associated with your particular brand, the advertising mediums used, as well as specific disclosures and advisories required on all products, packaging, and marketing materials. Make a memorable impression on state evaluators by submitting a professionally designed branding and marketing strategy that meets all regulatory standards.

Stretching your brand too far

Define your target customer.  Many cannabis brands, if asked who their target customer is will tell you “people who smoke weed.”  Yes, your customer will like cannabis.  Get more detailed and creative.  What else do your consumers like?  What do they care about?  WHO are the besides being people who like cannabis?  If you try to relate to everyone, you will relate to no one at all.

 

Ways to reach consumers

Once you have an established brand you have to reach the people that will dig what you have to offer.

Ads

There are the usual ways such as established active social media profiles and advertisements on billboards (if allowed), websites, magazines, etc. Ads are a sure fire way to reach your consumer since you have an established location of exposure, and often have a report about the demographics you’re reaching via those ads.

PR

Additionally, you can utilize public relations strategies such as podcasts, print interviews, quotes in relevant articles (HARO can be useful for this if you don’t have a PR firm), and speaking engagements such at established and up and coming industry conferences.  The great thing about recorded PR such as podcasts and speaking engagement sis that you can repurpose the content for posting on social media, Youtube, Vimeo and your website.

Activations

Marketing activation are commonly overlooked but can be really effective b a localized level.  Having opportunities for your consumers to interact with your company can leave a meaningful impact. Activations can be done at industry parties, on trade show and expo floors, and in-store.  Hiring a company that’s especially skilled at developing marketing activations is highly advisable to ensure you create something truly memorable.

 

Conclusion

It can be easy to get caught up in the product development side since you of course want to present something quality. But, don’t forget about your branding. Without great branding to attract consumers to your product and to motivate them to stick with your product, the quality of the product will never see the light of day.  Developing a strong brand message and image is what will set your business apart from the rest. While product quality is important, remember that if you want to be successful in the cannabis industry, you must place brand development at the top of (or near the top) the list of business development priorities.

If you have any questions, or want to further discuss how to develop a cannabis company that people will love, feel free to reach out to us for advice at Contact

Juliana Whitney