The legal cannabis marketplace is exploding, with entrepreneurs establishing a wide variety of companies. Like most new businesses, cannabis startups may be challenged by branding.
Branding is not necessarily intuitive, and there are complexities, which is why some of the top agencies charge six-figure sums to get it right. But few startups can — or want to — spend $100,000 to perfect their brands. No problem — here’s a look at what you need to know to get started on your own.
What is a Brand?
Your brand is not your company name or your logo. Those are merely representations of your brand. A brand is equal parts what people can sense (see, touch, hear) and what they can feel (emotion). Your brand is a message conveyed to a person — a customer, a prospective investor or a potential employee. It’s the lasting impression you leave with people that makes them remember your company’s name and look for its logo.
Branding agencies ask a lot of funny questions when they start shaping a brand — questions like, “If your company was a person, what kind of car would it drive?” But the personification of your company is important. It’s useful to think of your company as having a personality and to build a brand that interacts with the market using that personality. Brands have attributes with which people can identify — attributes like trustworthy, knowledgeable, quality, ambitious and friendly.
To start crafting your brand, it’s a worthwhile exercise to give it relatable human character traits and decide how you want people to perceive and interact with it. Who are the various people who will interact with your company and its products or services, and what characteristics are important to them? A consumer looks to brands that are trustworthy and friendly and provide quality products. A manufacturer wants a vendor that’s knowledgeable. You get the idea.
Names and Logos
If there’s one place where the cannabis industry struggles in branding, it’s with names often built from a long list of clichéd terms. You already know them, but here’s a (partial) list of overused words you should consider avoiding in your brand: 420, bloom, blossom, blunt, bud, canna, cannabis, chronic, flower, green, grow, herb, high, joint, kind, leaf, legal, marijuana, Mary, MJ, root, smoke, weed — or any derivatives of these.
Similarly, the use of cannabis leaves and green crosses are likewise overused images in visual branding, and most certainly, so is the color green. Because so much of the visual branding in cannabis is green, virtually any other colors stand out.
It’s important that your company and product brand names are unique. Most companies start operating in one of a handful of legal state markets. You may have a name that is completely unique in the state of Washington, but is it unique in all the other states? You want your brand to be trademarkable and building your name around one of these overused words will make it some combination of challenging, expensive and impossible to register.
The best names are made up, and not just by smashing another word into a cannabis-related one. A completely made-up word is best. If you can reserve a .com website address for it, chances are you’re on the right track. You can also check what trademarks already exist by searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database.
Keep in mind, English language words are rarely trademarkable, which means there could be many companies using the exact same name in different states, and there’s little to nothing you can do about it. If you’re planning to expand your market and you’re the second “Canna Consultants” to enter a state, you’ll be the one changing your brand name.
A 360-degree approach
Finally, understand that your brand is intrinsic to everything your company has and does. Your employees are part of your brand. If they are professional, well trained and courteous, your brand will be well regarded; if they are rude and incapable of answering customer questions, your brand will be diminished.
It takes a lot more time and money to repair a broken brand than it does to protect your reputation from the outset. Here are a few things to consider:
– Product names: Are yours intuitive? For instance, do you know what kind of product an SU510-A4 might be? (It’s a vape cartridge.)
– Brand-name appeal: Is your branding for cannabis power users, or does it appeal more broadly to people who are social users, first timers or older medical patients?
– Customer service: Perhaps the most important and most overlooked part of your brand is the direct interaction between your company and your customers. Perfect this part of your brand!
– Consistency: Standardize the language used to describe your company and its products, the color palette used across marketing materials, the naming convention of your product offering, etc.
– Accessibility: Make it easy for your company to get discovered and have a well-built website with well-written copy and easy, intuitive navigation.
That’s all it takes. Nail these tips and you’re well on your way to building a quality cannabis brand.
John Sidline is a principal of The Cannabis Story Lab, a public relations and brand reputation agency. The award-winning Story Lab team helps businesses from around the world get noticed, build their brand and succeed in the chaotic cannabis market. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.