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Three Strategic Ways to Approach Your Cannabis Brand for Better Business Results

As the cannabis industry continues to grow and new players enter the marketplace every day, it’s critical for companies to take an active role in shaping and maintaining their brand. This holds true for growers, processors, dispensary-retail operations or manufacturers and marketers of medical or recreational products.

But often, companies struggle to articulate clearly what their brand is and how to keep it relevant to their target audiences and customers. Compounding the issue, the term “brand” is used interchangeably to describe many aspects of things that are – and often are not– relevant to brand.

Celebrity brands vs. everyone else

When you think about cannabis brands, obvious examples are the ones associated with celebrities. Products marketed by Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Mike Tyson all have brand equity via borrowed interest from the celebrity’s fame and public persona. This gives their products a marketing head start.

But most companies don’t benefit from a celebrity affiliation, so properly shaping an underlying brand platform is even more important. For example, a grower or processor might want to establish their brand as standing for consistent quality and ethical business practices. A dispensary might want their brand to stand for deep product knowledge and friendly service. A recreational cannabis product might want a brand that appeals to a very specific demographic—say, the over 60 crowd. You get the idea. Every product and every company type IS a brand. Understanding how to intentionally shape a brand is what’s important.

Here are three key strategic guidelines for thinking about your brand:

Brand is perception, shaped by experience.Start by thinking of your brand from the outside, in. Your brand is the experience that a customer has had with every touchpoint of your company and product, which creates the perceptions that shape the idea of your brand in their minds. Taking this “external” and holistic approach to your brand helps you to see your brand through the eyes of your customers.

Where can you make an impact on the interactions that they have with you, such as advertising, marketing, social media, press coverage, word of mouth, and even point-of-purchase? Consider every possible way that current and potential customers encounter your brand and actively work to enhance those experiences. Thinking through the entirety of possibilities can be overwhelming, but taking the time to map out customer journeys allows you to think about how to best prioritize where you can make the most impact on your brands.

Brand is promise and delivery. I remind all of my clients that there are two sides to their brands. The first is the “promise”: what you say you are in your communications to the market, the reasons you give for choosing you over the competition. The second is the “delivery”: how you, as a company, are set up to deliver on the promises that you make. The delivery is often where brands get broken. Many companies neglect to align their operations around the promise of their brand. They claim to be about one thing, but are actually providing the kind of experience that indicates something completely different.

One way to help prevent this is to educate your employees about your brand’s promises, making sure they understand the expectations that you are setting externally, and how that should inform their day-to-day work. Doing so will also help to make every single employee feel like they have a role to play in delivering the brand promise.

Brand is, ideally, meaningful competitive differentiation.Brands don’t exist in a vacuum. Your customers and consumers of your products have choices, and they have means to make informed choices based on research. You need to give prospective customers compelling reasons to choose your company or your products over competitive offerings. An optimally positioned brand sits at the confluence of:

  • How you are different from your competition…
  • …in a way that’s meaningful to your customers…
  • …that you can believably deliver on

Each of these three parts hold equal weight. If you don’t do something better than the competition, then you become a commodity, and only win when priced the lowest. If you are differentiated from the competition, but that differentiation is not important or relevant to your customers, then it’s not a compelling reason to choose you. And if you claim to offer something that you don’t appear to be able to do, you end up breaking the trust of your target audiences. But if you hit all three of these targets (differentiation, relevancy, genuineness), you have a compelling story to tell that can drive a strong preference for your brand and our offerings.

Once you’ve though through these strategic brand aspects, they can inform the more tactical parts of your brands, such as:

Identity: This encompasses your name, logo, tagline, color palette and anything else that identifies you in the marketplace. Often, these tactical aspects are referred to as “the brand,” but while important, these are not strategic pieces that comprise a brand. They are instead the visual manifestations of the brand’s ideas. Brand identity is powerful, though, as it can help convey what the brand stands for quickly and impactfully.

Personality: Brand personality is the relatable human emotions that can be ascribed to your brand and its market presence. This can run the spectrums of fun or serious, smart or goofy, sophisticated or accessible, and many more. A brand’s personality should be developed to complement its promise and competitive differentiation.

Idea: Think of your brand idea as the distilled essence of the strategic considerations covered earlier in this piece. If there was a word or short phrase that you would want your current and prospective customers to think of when they thought of your brand, what would you want it to be? The answer to this question can serve as your brand idea, and it can become the rallying point for your employees to help them keep the brand, its promise and its delivery, top of mind in their day-to-day work.

Consistency: Brand consistency is crucial to telling your story effectively. If brand is perception, as noted above, then having a clear and consistent story that you are putting in front of your current and future customers is key to shaping that perception. Creating a set of brand standards that helps guide how your brand is put into the marketplace can help ensure the consistency of your brand’s messaging.

A strong brand is the key to success

The key to success in a commoditized market like the cannabis industry is a strong brand. Starting with the strategic aspects of brand is the smart approach for creating and deploying a brand that will stand out in an appealing way to potential customers and partners. Don’t get too focused on the tactical aspects until you have a good handle on how you will shape the customer experience with your brand, deliver on your promises and identify the meaningful competitive differentiation that sets you up for long-term success.

 

 

Mark ShevitzMark Shevitz

Mark Shevitz

Mark Shevitz is Executive Vice President, Brand Strategy, at CBD Marketing, a 40-person, full-service agency in Chicago, where he leads branding initiatives for companies across industry sectors.  Mark has worked with companies as diverse as Sears and Allstate to Aflac, Pfizer, Blue Diamond and dozens more—many now aligning with cannabis interests. Mark speaks and writes nationally on brand marketing topics. Contact Mark at [email protected]

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