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How do you build a successful cannabis brand in an industry of complex regulation?

The cannabis industry is booming. It’s changing rapidly, both as a burgeoning category and by individual market. The industry’s forecasted market size of $66.3 billion by the end of 2025 is attracting significant attention and investment.

Whether your business is already in the industry or you’re planning on entering it, the excitement and expanding opportunities make it easy to overlook some very real challenges. Between pioneering a new industry, navigating the intense and constantly changing regulatory landscape and standing out in a field of equivalent products, the path to success is anything but clear—or assured.

One certainty is that brand plays a critical role in achieving business success. The challenge is this: How do you build a strong brand and business in an emerging industry that is regulated, fragmented and at risk of commoditization?

Here are four key fundamentals to building a strong brand that can break through the clutter to create and sustain relevance in the cannabis category.

First and absolutely foremost, you must build a strong brand narrative. Simply put, you need to determine what your brand stands for and then share that story. Advertising in the cannabis category is widely controlled, so you can’t rely on it to communicate who you are and what you stand for. Although this restriction removes the easiest way to get your message across, it’s still critical to let your audience know how your brand is different from competitors and how it’s relevant to your customers.

If you tell a clear and compelling story, in sync with your true north, customers will rally behind your brand and bonds of loyalty will form. In turn, these customers will help tell your story for you. It’s also critical to take advantage of influencer opportunities such as budtenders.

Second, take advantage of the real estate that you do have. In a highly regulated space, consider every brand touchpoint along your customers’ journey and ensure that each of those moments are tooled to help build your brand. This requires focus throughout every step in the journey, identifying and mitigating pain points and, equally as important, identifying those moments where you can have the greatest impact on developing a deep relationship between your customers and your brand. If you’re in a market where you’re able to brand your packaging design, then develop a distinct visual design system that stands out on the shelves. But it’s about much, much more than packaging, which leads us to the next fundamental.

Third, aim to create meaningful brand experiences. A brand is never as simple as picking a name, designing a logo, building a website and thinking you’re done. Your brand is the sum total of every action it takes, every communication shared, every experience created. And successful brands engage customers in a way that invites them to take an active role in your brand, thus leaving a lasting impression. Driven by insights gained through the development of your customer journey, how your brand goes to market, how it sounds and speaks, what it looks like, how it lives digitally, what memorable experience it creates at retail, how it drives discourse online or in person—all these opportunities drive meaningful brand experiences that reinforce your brand’s unique positioning.

Developing your brand does indeed take effort, strategic thinking and budget. But that’s only the beginning. How you express your brand to the world on a continuing basis is no less important. Your customers can be your biggest brand ambassadors, so by bringing them into your brand story through vital and meaningful experiences, they will champion your brand. And that commitment goes hand in hand with preference—why your customers choose your brand over competitors.

Fourth, if you truly want to be a leader in the cannabis industry, consider the value of being an industry thought leader. Emerging markets need experts, beacons, ambassadors and spokespersons—leaders with insights, experience and vision to share. Thought leaders expand the conversations and their broader contribution to the industry inevitably haloes back to their own brands, creating a deeper loyalty. Brands that are viewed as experts in the category will attract curious customers and help them navigate a nebulous landscape. This level of engagement builds customer trust and loyalty in the cannabis market, where it is sorely needed.

These four brand fundamentals are universal across industries. But for cannabis brands, they can be vital in achieving business success due to heavy regulation in a new industry. By adopting them, you will build a brand that stands out from competitors, captures the interest, respect and loyalty of customers and experts alike, and positions itself for continued success in a growing and energetic market.




Christopher LehmannChristopher Lehmann

Christopher Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is managing director for the San Francisco office of Landor. He has been with Landor for 22 years, most of which were in design leadership roles in the San Francisco office. He was both executive creative director and general manager for Landor Chicago from 2011 to 2015.

Chris has a broad range of branding and design experience across many consumer and corporate industries. His clients have included Barclays, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Byline Bank, Devon Energy, Hilton Worldwide, Kraft, NCAA, Pernod Ricard, and The Trust for Public Land.

In addition to a graphic design education at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco (where he later taught for five years), Chris graduated from CSU Sacramento with a BA in English. He is a sought-after industry commentator, and his work has been published in Communication Arts, Graphis, and Print.

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