Burning Love (For Your Brand)

5 Branding Lessons from the Cannabis Industry

Cannabis branding in the United States is, relatively speaking, in its infancy. Similar to alcohol post-prohibition, it’s an industry that has a tricky, controversial past, and no clear roadmap to the future. Even if you’re not in the industry, there are relevant branding lessons from the cannabis industry to consider.

Give yourself permission.  

All too often with well-established industries, there are certain conventions, expectations, and histories that we adhere to. Sometimes to the point of stagnation. Say, for example, you’re in vitamins and supplements. That’s a marketplace that can feel so crowded that it can be hard to imagine a product that doesn’t feel like a riff on GNC.

But if you imagine yourself in your industry with permission to break the mold, possibilities open up. Your supplements can be beautiful and luxurious. They can educate rather than obfuscate. They can be whatever you want.

Of course, in both supplements and cannabis, there are regulations to follow and respect for history to consider (as AdWeek discusses regarding those still incarcerated or having a record for infractions before a law change).

Stereotypes suck.

We talked about avoiding the trap of using stereotypes a little while ago. In cannabis branding, there are some very obvious stereotypes that might immediately spring to mind, but are now obsolete. The Atlantic cites Olivia Mannix, founder of CannaBrand, as saying “A lot of clients come to us saying they want to look like Apple.” That’s a far cry from your Deadhead uncle and, as they detail, language like stonerganja, weed, and pot.

How does this translate? Two ways: in the language you use and make part of the industry’s new lexicon, and in how you imagine your ideal client, both of which we cover while creating a Brand Platform during a Branding Intensive.

Don’t be so literal.

This one’s obvious. When you look at better-known cannabis and hemp products, what do you see?

Very little green, and if you see a hemp leaf, it’s discrete and stylized.

Your customer isn’t that guy from that movie. 

As Fast Company points out, the target audience for cannabis isn’t Harold, Kumar, any of the guys from Half-Baked, it’s not Cheech or Chong, and it’s not Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. It’s (at least at the time of publication) women, older individuals with health issues, and sometimes children. Your message to any of these audiences is immensely different than that first group.

The lesson here is that it’s worth checking on your own statistics to see who’s paying attention. Relying on the same old same old might be hurting you.

The crowd is real. 

Not unlike craft and microbrew, there are lots of new cannabis brands vying for attention. Eleah Lubatkin writes for the Huffington Post: “When faced with numerous competitors, this ethos of independence and innovation became an asset for craft brewers who invested in scaling that ethos with sophisticated design and messaging into lasting brand value.”

And this is a cue cannabis has taken as well that translates well. Thoughtful branding, including a strong visual identity and brand message will go a long way for brands that want to establish voracious connections early on (which is, or should be, all of them).

What do you think? Unexpected, or obvious? Let us know in the comments!

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