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The growth of the cannabis industry in the last few years has been nothing short of astounding. As more states have legalized, both medical and recreational, business opportunities have abounded. New banking rules and federal recommendations for descheduling point to continuing change.

With so many opportunities, it’s little wonder that there are plenty of newcomers in the industry. New enterprises come in all shapes and sizes. They run the gamut from growing to technology to storefronts.

As more companies enter the space, the importance of carving out a name for yourself is evident. Branding plays a key role in separating any given company from the rest of the pack. There are plenty of pieces out there on why cannabis brands need to set themselves apart.

You’re probably asking “how” at this point, though. That’s why we put together this guide. You can use it as a manual to steer your cannabis branding in the right direction.

Go Against the Flow

Before we dive into what to do, let’s look at a couple of common missteps brands make. You can see examples of these mistakes across almost every industry, and cannabis is no exception.

The first rule here is you need to think outside the box. Plenty of cannabis companies have already invoked the usual associations. Many brands feel compelled to add the cannabis leaf to every ad or display prerolls and smoke. Others rely on “stoner” stereotypes.

These images may not fit with your brand. They also won’t help you stand out, because everyone else is using them. When it comes to branding, the best thing you can do is be creative. Don’t be afraid to try something a bit different.

Do Research the Rules

Getting creative does come with a serious corollary for the cannabis industry. You need to know the rules about what you can and cannot do inside out.

That may explain why companies use imagery and messaging associated with cannabis stereotypes. The FTC takes truth in advertising seriously, so you must be cautious about claims as well.

You may also need to identify your brand as a cannabis brand. That too can be considered part of truth in advertising.

Individual states will also have laws about what you can and cannot include in ads, packaging, and more.

Narrow Your Audience

Who are you selling to?

It’s the first question marketers and advertisers need to ask. Different demographics react to different messages and imagery. Branding hinges on values, design, and messaging. You must make sure you’re aligning with your core audience on this point.

Spend some time both thinking about and researching your audience. If you already have customers, then take a look at their profiles. Try to identify patterns.

You may also think about who your ideal customer is. The answer here is almost never “everyone,” although it can be tempting for cannabis brands to think that their products should have such widespread appeal. Trying to appeal to everyone usually doesn’t work, as it forces the brand to compete solely on price. Defining a niche and a more specific buyer allows for more targeted campaigns and products. In turn, focus on the niche ensures people in that niche feel the brand is attentive to their unique needs.

In an age when building relationships is key, the ability to zero in on and respond to the specific needs of a buying demographic is essential. 

When you define your target audience, you can direct your branding to appeal to these people. That gives you clarity on your next steps.

Carve out a Niche

What does your company do well? If you’re involved in the wellness market, you’ll want to look at what you do that stands out from your competitors.

There are plenty of cannabis brands focused on wellness, health, and even beauty. A unique selling proposition, or USP, will help you focus your messaging.

Think about your company values. Do you value environmental sustainability? Are you interested in empowering people to take charge of their health? Maybe you just want to help people feel healthy and well.

Whatever your values are, use them to direct your brand toward a niche. Just as most brands aren’t “for everyone,” most also don’t speak to all aspects of “wellness” or “beauty.”

You might decide to focus on eco-friendly products or benefits of the whole plant. You might focus on people with concerns who want to be empowered to take charge of their own wellness.

These are specific niches within these cannabis spaces. If your values align with the people you’re trying to reach, you should find them in these spaces.

It’s All in the Presentation

Branding has a uniquely visual component as well. That affects everything from the packaging to the imagery you use on your website and in your ads.

Presentation matters a lot to your potential customers. Packaging is a key factor in many product buying decisions and cannabis products are no exception.

Different customers value different things in packaging as well. Some will appreciate intricate design, while others want to keep it simple with a minimalist look. Different designs speak to different audiences, which is another reason to know who your audience is.

Colors, typefaces, and more factor into the “look” and “feel” of your brand. Consider the vape manufacturer Pax. Their sleek packaging and product looks like it was born in Silicon Valley. Rival dosist has a similar feel. Oregon-based WYLD uses packaging design that embraces their name, which takes inspiration from the rugged landscape of the Pacific Northwest.

Some cannabis brands have adopted packaging designed to appeal directly to women. Others have tried for a retro glam look, invoking days of yore.

Again, your target audience plays a role here, as do your brand values. Are you a quirky upstart with modern sensibilities and competitive pricing? Or are you a luxury brand providing the highest-end cannabis? Maybe you’re science-focused, and your stripped down packaging communicates a “no frills, just the facts” attitude.

How Design Communicates

Design evokes certain feelings for people. Different people associate design aesthetics with different meanings. Design can also evoke different eras and, with it, different meanings and emotions.

Take the current trend toward retro-1980s and 1990s design. This trend is everywhere in the design world. It adopts gradients, color palettes, and patterns that were prominent in these eras.

For many people, these designs evoke nostalgia. They remind them of “simpler” times.

An art deco design evokes the 1920s. People associate that era with glamor and decadence. An art deco design is shorthand for good times and high-class products.

Typefaces and colors have similar effects. Blue inspires trust and loyalty, while green indicates health, wellness, and money. A sans serif font like Arial feels bold and modern. A classic serif like Garamond evokes a sense of gravity and class.

Think back to your audience and what they value. Do you want to inspire trust, or do you want to be seen as a guide on the road to wellness?

Good design can help you communicate these values.

Design is Noticeable

The other reason design is important is because it’s what stands out. Think about your logo for a moment.

A good logo is memorable. The Nike swoosh or Apple’s bitten-into logo are instantly recognizable.

Design can help you stand out on the shelf in a store or even in an ad. A well-designed ad will evoke your brand’s design sensibilities. The next time someone lands on your website or sees your products in a shop, they’ll know it’s yours.

Become a Storyteller

More than anything, people want to connect with the brand they buy from. Today’s marketing department should focus as much on building relationships as messaging.

People want and need an emotional connection to the companies they buy from. They want to feel good about choosing your company over another.

Telling stories can help you give them a reason to feel good about choosing your brand.

Stories are powerful brand differentiators, because no two stories are ever the same. They help your customers connect to your business on an emotional level, which is fundamental to building a relationship.

Stories are also an excellent way to communicate your brand values. They can also help people put faces to a brand. When they can connect with the people on your team, they’ll feel better about buying from you.

So, what kind of stories should you tell?

The most important story any cannabis brand can tell is why they’re here. Think about it. Why did you decide to open this company, in this place, with these values, to sell to these customers?

A great example is Papa & Barkley, based out of Colorado. The company is named after the founder’s father and his dog, Barkley. “Papa” suffered from debilitating back pain. The products in the company’s line were designed to help bring him relief through high-quality CBD.

That’s a fantastic brand story. It’s relatable, and it clearly shows the company’s mission. The people behind the company want to bring high-quality CBD to others, in hopes of helping them achieve relief and management, just like they did for Papa. It also offers a great emotional hook, a familial connection.

Your brand’s story might be quite different, but you have one. Don’t be afraid to tell it. There’s a good chance that your story will provide the basis for the best branding a cannabis company can get.

Start Your Branding Efforts Today

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, it’s important to ensure that your brand stands out. Cannabis companies that take steps to differentiate themselves now will have a much better chance at both surviving and thriving in an increasingly competitive market.

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