According to Marijuana Business Daily, there were between 20,000 and 28,000 cannabis businesses in 2017. That’s a lot of competition, but there’s still plenty of opportunities for startups and small cannabusinesses to stake their claim in the industry. How do you get a bigger slice of the pie? Branding.
Building a successful, well-known, and well-liked cannabis brand is possible, and it doesn’t even require significant investments or resources, but it will take some effort (and creativity) to get consumers’ attention —and even more work to keep their attention in a market that’s increasingly saturated. In order to be successful, cannabusiness owners need to recognize that branding is about more than a logo and a tagline; it’s the full consumer experience.
Whether you’re a young cannabis company just starting out or you’re looking to build a brand around an established business, these tips will help you organize your strategy of building, growing and maintaining a brand in the cannabis industry.
Define Your Identity
What does your brand stand for? What is it synonymous with? These are important questions to answer if you intend to have a successful brand. Businesses with identities outside of their products—businesses that have clear personalities, passions, and interests—are more relatable and memorable because they feel more real. Sure, cannabis consumers are looking for quality products at a reasonable price, but the brands that ultimately succeed with consumers, the brands that live in their hearts and minds, the brands with loyalists and evangelists, are the brands that stand for more than just the products they sell or the services they provide.
Developing a brand identity is a critical first step, since it will dictate most of your brand-building efforts, including packaging (does your color scheme and font convey your personality?), communications (do you have a consistent, recognizable voice?), and social activities (are you sharing content in line with the identity you want to project?). Some of the key considerations when developing your brand’s identity include:
- Vision – What is the vision for your brand? A well-crafted vision statement will align stakeholders in your business toward the same objectives, ensure consistent messaging, and provide a framework for your branding and decision-making processes. Entrepreneur discusses the process of creating a mission/vision statement for your cannabusiness here.
- Personality – If your brand was a person, what characteristics would it have? Is your brand confident and sassy? Ritzy and professional? Whatever personality you want to convey, make sure it’s consistent and that it comes across in imagery, communications, etc.
- Audience – Who is your target audience? Or, said another way, who are the people most likely to connect with your brand on a deeper level? Knowing your target audience, and what they want is vital to creating a cannabis brand people will love. The Cannabis Consumers Coalition’s 2017 Report on Cannabis Consumer Demographics and Consumption Habits is a great place to start if you need help defining your target audience.
- Value Proposition – What makes your business unique in the cannabis industry? What do you offer consumers that your competitors can’t? Having a compelling value proposition and conveying it in your branding efforts is imperative to developing a successful cannabis brand.
The most successful cannabis brands are the ones that exist in the real world. For new and unknown cannabusinesses, this means getting in front of consumers in more than just the dispensary shelves. Sponsoring an event, even an event unrelated to cannabis, is one way to grow brand recognition. Participating in events centered around the interests and passions of your consumers will show that you care about the same things as they do. Music festivals, yoga retreats, mindfulness seminars, and cultural conventions will also attract the same types of people who are likely to be your next customers.
If you can’t find any events to be a part of, create your own. You don’t have to throw an all-out extravaganza; just think about what customers enjoy doing. This is a great option if you’re trying to build up a small brand, since you can focus on your local market before moving on to nationwide prominence. For example, you could host a cannabis Q&A with medical professionals, legal experts, local politicians and others who can share insights and field questions related to marijuana. Or you might offer free monthly yoga classes in the park.
There’s no shortage of opportunities for you to get your name out and make your brand synonymous with the things cannabis users care about.
Social media has been a difficult avenue for cannabis brands to navigate. Because of the substance’s Schedule I designation, many social media platforms prohibit paid cannabis advertisements and limit the type of content businesses can share with users. Marketing opportunities will likely improve in the future as the industry continues to grow and laws change, but in the meantime your business will need to find other ways to connect with consumers. Here are some tips:
- Create a Culture of Content – Focus on the lifestyle and the experience, not the product. In an interview with Marketplace, Drake Sutton-Shearer, CEO of PRØHBTD Media, explains why brands should focus on content rather than cannabis: “After looking at 36,000 hours of viewing time last year […] we found that people really are discovering cannabis through culture, not really through the cannabis lifestyle. They want to discover brands through music and entertainment — things like that.”
- Use (Hash)tags – If you want to grow your brand, you’re going to need to find a way of attracting users who may otherwise never think to look for you on their own. Hashtags are a great way to make your content visible and discoverable to the widest audience possible. Think about all the tangential subjects and themes cannabis users are interested in and post content with hashtags your target audience might be using (#growersnetwork, #yoga, #music, #creativity, etc.).
- Engage Your Audience – Most importantly, when users engage with you on social media, engage with them! Talk directly to your customers with comments, direct messages, likes and shares to build rapport and make them feel like they are engaging with a person, not a brand.
As if there weren’t enough social media platforms already, there are also a number of cannabis social networks that can help you connect more easily and directly with users who are actively engaged in the cannabis community. These users can be very influential in growing your brand’s “mind share” among cannabis users. Not sure where to start? Here are a few social cannabis networks worth checking out:
- Duby – Billing itself as the “#1 cannabis social network in the world,” Duby is instantly recognizable to fans and users of Instagram, sharing many of the same features as the popular photo-sharing platform (hashtags, stories, private messaging, etc.).
- Growers Network – An online community that “was built for the growers and owners of commercial grow operations that can no longer source knowledge from online growing forums.”
- Grasscity Forum – Launched in 2000, the Grasscity forum now how close to 20 million posts and more than 500,000 members. With threads on everything from “toking tools” and cannabis strains to marijuana legislation and cultivation, there are ample opportunities to engage consumers who might soon become your customers.
- Social High – The app bills itself as a platform where users can “review strains, discuss medicinal breakthroughs, share your personal experiences, discover events in your area and connect with fellow bud connoisseurs.”
Sidebar: Marijuana Advertising Regulations
Advertising is an important component of building a brand, but state and federal marijuana advertising regulations can make it difficult to reach consumers through traditional means. To make sure you comply with advertising regulations where your products and/or services are available, here is a rundown of nationwide cannabis advertising laws by state.
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Want to get in touch with Joshua Leimkuehler? He can be reached via the following methods:
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About the Author
Joshua is a freelance writer from Phoenix, AZ. He is passionate about helping brands grow their audience with compelling and engaging content.