Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unexpected places. Long before getting involved in the cannabis space, Jennifer Whetzel says she discovered “the power of a brand that forms emotional connections with its customers,” by working at her family’s Polish sausage business.
Whetzel’s experience at the “regionally famous” company set the stage for a career in marketing and branding, including her most recent venture as founding partner of Ladyjane Branding, a Maine-based business that helps clients design their brand’s character, identity, style and strategy. She brings more than 20 years of business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing to the cannabis space, a journey that includes retail operations and merchandising at 7-Eleven, handing public relations on a military base in Japan, launching a dozen new animal health supplements and spending a number of years with advertising agencies, as well as a bachelor’s degree in food marketing and a master’s degree in management strategy.
As she spent more time in the cannabis community, Whetzel realized she could “lend her expertise to busy cannabis entrepreneurs who were much too busy to focus on learning how to create a strong, memorable brand,” she says.
Marijuana Venture: What is your impression of how cannabis companies are creating products/brands for women and minorities?
Jennifer Whetzel: I think there are a number of companies doing a great job creating products and brands for many different audiences. I’m not sure that “most” cannabis companies necessarily should create products/brands for women and minorities, unless it fits their brand strategy. That said, I do believe there is a lot of space in the market and a lot of opportunities for companies to claim niche markets and underserved consumer segments.
There’s room in the cannabis industry for lots of different types of brands, and each should bring their own perspective, stories and education to the market. That’s part of the reason why we use “archetypes” for branding, to help brands focus their efforts on a specific market — and to help brands form those emotional connections with their consumers.
Archetypes are characters that embody essential elements of a universal human experience. They are used in storytelling (think of the Hero, the Outlaw and the Lover), personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, psychotherapy and even tarot cards.
Using archetypes in branding gives customers a shortcut to that deep connection, because through these archetypes they will recognize and understand important things about the brand and whether it’s a good fit for them. For example, MyBudVase or Crafty Joints gear their archetype toward Socialites, those who enjoy the social aspects of cannabis. Bad Mommy Edibles and Mommy Jane use the Best Friend archetype, a company you can trust and rely on for fun and relaxation. These companies use branding very well to signal to receptive customers that they would be a good fit.
MV: What are some of the biggest mistakes cannabis companies are making with their branding?
JW: For most business people dealing with new markets, the biggest mistakes are moving forward with marketing and advertising without a purposeful and thoughtful brand strategy. It’s a true waste of money at a time when some businesses can’t afford to waste a dime. Using Ladyjane Branding’s strategy prior to developing a logo or placing the first ad allows companies to take an important deep breath, think about where they are and where they want to be and who their customers are, then move forward from there.
In doing this, a company sets itself apart from the field and builds a consistent brand (and customer base) that will help them grow and succeed. Through it all, the brand needs to avoid placing features and benefits ahead of building an emotional connection with its customers.
Most of all, build trust and advertise the truth. We see way too many brands breaking all sorts of health claim laws, none of which is helpful to the industry. We want to be an industry that truly helps people, not snake-oil salesmen.
MV: What are some other cannabis companies that you feel are doing things right when it comes to branding?
JW: It’s pretty obvious to me when a company has a clear brand strategy. It’s also clear when they don’t. Right now, there’s not a lot of in-between, so the companies that make the effort to develop a consistent brand and target a particular customer base are the ones that stand out.
Branding is how you build an emotional connection with consumers. We consider branding to be a prerequisite to marketing and advertising. It makes the dollars you spend on marketing and advertising work more efficiently.
Examples of some brands I think are doing it right are Junk by Leif Goods (@eatmorejunk). For me, that’s a great example of Eternal Child brand.
Healer.com is a compassionate Healer brand.
And Foria Wellness has the Sensualist brand archetype down. When you offer a 2-for-1 Valentine’s Day deal on organic, CBD aphrodisiac massage oil, you’re a Sensualist brand.
MV: Are you exclusively targeting cannabis companies?
JW: My journey with cannabis began when I found help, comfort, advice and hugs from the people I met in the industry while dealing with immune disorders and recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many of my new friends were busy entrepreneurs, doing what they do best while struggling to handle all of the other stuff you need when starting a business — like branding, payroll, IT, security, Food and Drug Administration rules and regulations. That’s when I saw a need, a place where I thought I could give back and use my expertise to help an industry and the people that had helped me so much.
So Ladyjane Branding will focus on the cannabis industry because that’s where we can help the most. But this process works for any business in any industry. It even works if you want to do a little personal branding to enhance your own image.
MV: Overall, how has response been to your services so far?
JW: Extremely positive.
Our mission is to help as many entrepreneurs as possible with their branding, particularly those who are willing to do some work themselves. The cannabis industry is filled with entrepreneurs who have hustle and are looking for an edge. Branding is one way to get that edge.
Most advertising, branding and design agencies have strategists on staff to guide clients through a “brand discovery” process — usually an in-depth work session with exercises that help determine the brand’s mission, identity, values and more. The valuable output of this type of strategy session is a “creative brief.” This brief then helps designers understand the brand from the inside out and gives them clear guidelines for creating logos and ad copy that fit the brand.
These strategy sessions can be time consuming and expensive, but without a good strategy and brief, the design work might not hit the mark.
Our model is a little different. Through Ladyjane, we have turned those exercises into fun, multiple-choice questions that shorten the process considerably and allow any entrepreneur to work through the exercises on their own. These budget-friendly shortcuts to basic branding principles can help entrepreneurs build a more strategic and consistent brand — without having to pay an agency to do all the thinking for them.
We’ve talked with a lot of small companies who paid for design work only to be disappointed with the result. That’s why we developed a streamlined process that focuses on the things that small companies need.
We also work with companies that have a budget and just want someone to handle everything.
MV: How can Ladyjane help cannabis companies improve their branding?
JW: Ladyjane helps companies develop a clear, up-front brand strategy that uses shortcuts like archetypes to help cement that emotional connection with consumers. And we offer reasonably priced services for entrepreneurs on a budget.
We know that when businesses take the time to intentionally define and inhabit their brand and understand their role in the industry, everything they do from then on — from expensive advertising to developing a brand logo — fits around this vital homework. Without it, companies flounder with long-term planning and developing a laser focus on their customer base, those who ultimately pay the bills. Do you want to be deep inside a forest of brands or fly above and stand out?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.