Should cannabis entrepreneurs invest in branding?

A solid marketing strategy is key to staying ahead of the competition

In 1892, Mark Twain’s novel “The American Claimant” immortalized the line, “There’s gold in them thar hills!” According to historians, the saying grew out of an 1849 speech made by Dr. Matthew Fleming Stephenson, a geologist who urged locals thinking of heading to California during the 1849 gold rush to remain in Dahlonega, Georgia, the site of the first American gold rush. Today, it’s the perfect phrase to describe the rush of new businesses and investors clamoring to enter the cannabis market.

As cannabis and its derivatives have gained more acceptance, the market has virtually exploded with new cannabis products and retail outlets. As new competitors rush to market, branding and marketing have become increasingly critical components for savvy cannabis entrepreneurs trying to launch and differentiate their products or services. A solid marketing program and strategy is key to ensuring your business stays ahead of the game.

 

Why Marketing is a Canny Investment

The cost of entry into the rapidly growing cannabis marketplace is already astonishingly high, but neglecting branding and marketing is a surefire way to tank your investment. In an increasingly crowded marketplace that could be summed up as wildly generic — a plant is a plant — simply having a great product is not enough. Branding and innovation are critical elements to achieving success and sustainability.

Early product branding in the cannabis sector was, well, largely amateurish and centered around “stoner culture” that unintentionally reinforced some of the stereotypes and stigmas associated with cannabis use.

However, well-executed branding of cannabis businesses, products and related services helps set offerings apart from heavy competition. Brand identity includes naming, logo marks, taglines, key messaging and brand standards. Next comes collaterals, packaging, website design, app development, marketing plans and a wide range of other items necessary for building a robust brand that can break through the clutter and noise.

 

Branded Versus Unbranded

According to a 2018 report by BDS Analytics, brands are surging ahead in the marketplace. Colorado is the most mature adult-use cannabis market in the United States, so it offers some unique insights for younger, developing markets. Consider this: In 2014, flower captured a whopping 63% of all Colorado cannabis sales, while other products languished. By 2018, the story had shifted considerably. Flower dropped to just 43% of the market, while products like concentrates, edibles and topicals made big gains. Today, the top five edibles and concentrate brands in Colorado, Oregon and Arizona account for more than 40% of each state’s cannabis sales and continue to rise.

Celebrities were some of the first to leap into the branded cannabis field by partnering with cannabis companies to develop their own signature brands, including Leafs by Snoop, Willie’s Reserve, Chong’s Choice and Marley Natural. Obviously, these are all natural brand extensions of the personalities behind them.

There are also many women-centric products that cater to specific women’s health conditions and lifestyles, such as Whoopi Goldberg’s Whoopi & Maya and Melissa Etheridge’s Etheridge Farms. Even Gwyneth Paltrow of Goop infamy is getting into the biz with her recent strategic partnership with MedMen. The name recognition and celebrity association give these brands an automatic head start.

The marketing lesson is that audiences are far from generic. When developing and marketing your cannabis products, you must know your target audiences and demographics and their individual characteristics inside and out.

Your customers and prospects are not all one age, gender, race or ethnicity any more than people are, so don’t treat them that way. What motivates a young man or woman to choose a particular brand will often be much different than the factors that appeal to an older man or woman. Trying for broad appeal is a fool’s game that will land your brand in generic territory.

So where does that leave companies without the means for celebrity endorsements? With the right marketing, individual brands have the potential to achieve explosive growth. While there are many factors that contribute to growth in sales, engaging a solid team of marketing and public relations professionals that are familiar with the ins and outs of cannabis is one of the smartest investments an entrepreneur can — and should — make.

 

Alexis Krisay is the president of marketing at Serendipit Consulting. With 15 years of experience in the fast-paced, ever-changing field of marketing, she has developed her innate talent and passion for all things marketing. Known for her out-of-the-box thinking, she has helped dozens of clients in the residential and commercial real estate, cannabis, spa and wellness, lifestyle and health and fitness industries effectively identify market opportunities and pair them with strategic and impactful, results-driven marketing solutions.

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