As the cannabis market expands worldwide with new strains, upstart cannabis manufacturers, and many established entities, the need for cannabis companies to differentiate themselves is immediate. The key word is branding, and it’s a lot more complicated than searing a cow.
What is Branding?
Brand management is crucial for the cannabis space. Evan Berglund is the senior partner at San Francisco’s The Gonzberg Agency. He feels brand management is crucial in the cannabis industry.
According to Berglund, “Branding is just as important for cannabis as it always has been for other Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), like cigarettes and soda. In other words, branding is ultimately critical for the product being picked off the shelf.”
Brandon Dorsky, CEO of healthy edibles manufacturer Fruit Slabs, said brand identity should be treated as an intellectual asset. “Start protecting it [from the beginning] and maximizing its value,” he advised.
The Link Between a Mission Statement and Branding
Guy Rocourt, president and CEO of Papa & Barkley, believes a cannabis company’s mission statement is an imperative foundation of its branding strategy. “It is everything,” Rocourt noted. “It should tell the patient everything.”
When Rocourt and his co-workers sought to create their company’s mission statement, they contracted an executive coach. They then adopted a system based on the best-selling book Traction, by Dino Wickman.
A company’s mission statement should be succinct and “capture everything you’re about,” said Rocourt. Dorsky agrees. “A mission statement can help in guiding a company’s branding goals, methodologies, and messaging,” he said.
In a world of “cookie cutter mission statements,” don’t rush the process, says Sara Gullickson, founder and CEO of The Cannabis Business Advisors. She has been recognized by Benzinga as one of the Top 20 Women to Dominate the International Cannabis Space.
“In my experience, it’s best to take the time and effort on the mission statement so you’re correctly communicating with investors, the public, and the community you hope to be a part of about who you are and what you’re about,” Gullickson said.
Best Branding Advice
In no uncertain terms, Gullickson explained her strong support for researching, discussing, and testing different options before settling on a mission statement. “It’s your backbone about what differentiates your brand from others,” she said.
Dorsky, a cannabis and IP attorney in addition to his role with Fruit Slabs, urges cannabis entities “to identify their brand before bringing the product to market and begin protecting your brand as soon as possible.”
Gullickson’s best branding advice is that people involved in the cannabis world “must be okay doing something innovative and different.”
She urges marijuana entities to invest the extra time and resources required to create a brand, whether that means hiring someone in-house or another professional. “Invest in your brand to help it properly stand out,” Gullickson added.
Earning Earned Media Coverage
Although earned media is free, it does have its costs. For Dorsky, it means participating in the local cannabis economy and marketplace. He also suggested meeting with people involved in the cannabis community, ala “boots on the ground.”
His other methods for receiving earned media coverage include:
• Engaging in national and global cannabis conversations
• Speaking with cannabis lobbyists
• Attending cannabis-related events
Investing time and effort, as a member of the local cannabis community, to develop and build professional relationships which eventually lead to opportunities for earned media coverage.
“In the cannabis world, you have to cultivate flower but also cultivate relationships with the voices that speak for and speak to the cannabis industry at large,” Dorsky said. Rocourt noted he never misses a chance to share Papa & Barkley’s message of pride in developing “all-natural, clean, plant-made cannabis.”
Cannabis entrepreneurs should understand that marketing takes time to succeed. “We are only now reaping the benefits of our marketing change to “efforts [which date back to 2015],” Rocourt said. “It’s not enough to put THC on a label, and expect sales.”
Gullickson says the novelty of cannabis attracts media attention. However, her two decades working in media have taught her that brands with a compelling story about why they’re different are likely more successful than those which don’t.
Avoid Branding Mistakes, Like an “Old School, High Ass Approach”
Gullickson laments branding strategies for cannabis that rely on an “old school, high ass approach to pot. That won’t earn your brand respect.” She also is not a fan of packaging or imagery that “sluts the industry out.”
Instead, she urges people in the cannabis industry to showcase it in a dignified manner. “Consistently demonstrate respect for your brand, too,” she said. “Always consider how what you’re doing impacts the cannabis community and its overall reputation.”
Speaking like the attorney he is, Dorsky said the biggest mistake to avoid in any business transaction, not just in branding, is people failing to “document, document, document. Don’t forget to put it in writing.”
Dorsky explained, “Any brand identity created by a third party should be accompanied by a written, enforceable agreement signed by all parties with authority to do so.”
Another mistake to avoid is expecting overnight success in the cannabis industry. “Brand authenticity and credibility take years to build,” said Dorsky. “However, it can be destroyed overnight, so it is important for a brand to be committed to embodying its mission, not only in its products but in its culture, too.”
This article first appeared in Volume 4 Issue 3 of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read the full issue here.