Who Do They Think You Are? Building Your Cannabis Brand
Without giving it more than a second, answer this question: What is your favorite brand?
For many of you, a few recognizable names are coming to the fore: Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Patagonia. Whatever company that you thought of, chances are images of the company also populated your thoughts—almost assuredly their logos and their products. But it may also be the case that something intangible also came to mind—what it stands for, a feeling you get when you hear that name (perhaps warm and fuzzy, perhaps cold and logistical), but all the same, it’s an association that goes beyond the products and services that company provides.
At its core that feeling is what a brand should convey, meaning beyond a product. The brand should communicate to consumers key aspects about that company, including the company’s values, its product promise to consumers, how it portrays itself in public and in private, what social causes (if any) it supports, its internal employee engagement and its reflection of the aspirational desires of its customers. This list is by no means comprehensive but serves as a starting point for this discussion.
Brand Space in Cannabis is Wide Open
In cannabis, the topic of “brands,” and more importantly, “brand promise” is unsettled. While there are several well-known brands in each cannabis category and within certain states, none are top of mind for a majority of consumers.
When we asked consumers to name their preferred edibles brand for our Consumer & Edibles report, nearly half (45%) reported that they either had no brand preference or didn’t know the brand they preferred, and this is among current cannabis users who list edibles as their preferred form. In fact, the most cited brand that consumers listed comprised just 5% of all responses.
Expanding away from edibles and looking at smoking strains, essentially the brands of loose flower, the results are surprisingly similar—45% of cannabis users who prefer smoking either had no strain preference or couldn’t recall their favorite strain.
Naturally, this may contradict sales figures, which may show greater concentration of edibles sales with a handful of manufacturers and a clustering of loose flower sales among a few key strains. However, those sales figures reflect many things, including limited product distribution across and within states, not true consumer popularity. Today, that point may be moot but as markets open and product distribution widens, sales will spread and likely start to reflect the brand and strain awareness figures cited earlier.
For the glass half-full crowd all of this points to an open market with plenty of opportunity.
Getting to Your Brand
The starting point for all this is internally focused. Many companies today are moving so quickly, overwhelmed with compliance paperwork, product demand and distribution challenges that they have had little time to take a step back and reflect on softer brand considerations. But the question must be asked of every business at some point, “how closely does what you are doing now reflect why you started in the first place?”
The question goes beyond the products that a company sought to make and is really intended to get to the motivations that drove its start.
And assuming that there is no great disconnect between the motivations of yesterday and the actions of today, it’s time to assess why no singular brand is garnering more than 5% in stated preference in our study.
It would be easy to point to limited product distribution and inconsistent marketing guidelines, but those only tell part of the tale. The other part is that it’s not clear what efforts cannabis companies have made in telling their story.
Too often there are “About Us” sections on websites that mention therapeutic access and other platitudes, but little in the way of concrete actions that reinforce those founding promises. And understanding that a website may not garner a lot of traffic, there is scant information on product packaging that makes mention of anything other than the product. Social media pages often feature glamor shots of products in an idealized setting but do not go further into bringing to life the company.
The time for brand building is now. As we have stated elsewhere, cannabis is in a unique situation—a semi-protected environment that is keeping major corporations on the sidelines. Expanding into as many markets as possible should be a goal for many, even if it requires the development of CBD-only products that can help overcome distribution limitations.
For how this is working with one company, look to Lord Jones. Its CBD-only product line allows for national distribution (and name recognition), celebrity endorsements from Olivia Wilde and Amy Schumur garner even more attention, and public stances on social issues on immigration and gun control may alienate some customers but are clearly intended to signal the values of the company. Working in concert, the effect is the development of a brand that has more social media followers than even the most well-established edibles brands today and continues to build a loyal customer base that is engaged with Lord Jones the brand, not just its lotions and tinctures. Could these stances be further strengthened by visible actions? Absolutely, but it is already ahead of many in carving out a unique space for itself in an increasingly crowded market.
Loyalty is not built only on a foundation of products; it requires initial positive product experiences and the layering of multiple positive reinforcing experiences. Proof of promise is required. Exposure is required. And so too are distinguishing elements unique to your company, valued by your customers, that you can deliver upon over and over again.