Special Considerations for Brand-Building in the Cannabis Market

Special Considerations for Brand-Building in the Cannabis Market

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Let’s start with what most pundits agree on: 1) The worldwide cannabis market opportunity is huge; 2) the market situation is both complicated and rapidly evolving; and 3) the vast majority of future customers know very little to nothing about existing cannabis products or brands.

The implications for those seeking to build more than local brands are profound. We have already discussed general considerations for building successful brands in the cannabis market elsewhere. Here, we wish to list special (i.e., more specific) considerations for creating successful cannabis brands.

Regulation

For the foreseeable future, national and global brands face a confusing array of local, state and federal/country-level regulations – regulations that are not only changing but often are in varying degrees of conflict with one another. Successful brands will be those whose owners are flexible and tenacious. They will make a good-faith effort to comply with regulations concerning what can and cannot be stated on packaging and in messaging. And, as such, brand owners will benefit from working with branding partners who have experience building brands in regulated industries (e.g., pharmaceuticals and medical products).

Education

Successful brands in cannabis will understand that, for a fair amount of time into the future, they will be educating consumers as much as or more than selling to them. True, the market potential is large, but the level of product knowledge is minuscule while the level of misconceptions and taboos is high. When Pfizer launched Viagra, it first had to educate society and break down societal barriers and taboos (we know about this firsthand as we were privileged to be part of the Viagra success story). The same is true for the cannabis market. Brands, at least in these early years, need to be comfortable educating their customers and making their products (and even their competitors’ products) more mainstream and acceptable.

Strategy

Branding is far more than a name, a logo or packaging. It is a strategic process of creating and nurturing perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes (something we call PEBAs for short) among your target audience(s). Successful brands will invest in a brand platform that defines their raison d’etre, their personality, their competitive position and consumer promise to guide the growth of the brand over time. Part of the brand platform is also about defining the architecture of the brand – that is, as a stand-alone brand, a family/range brand or as an umbrella brand.

Differentiation

Let’s face it. If your brand is going to be plant-green or feature a plant-shaped graphic, or if your name/messaging is going to use references to “high,” “blossom” or “bud,” among a long list of others, it is unlikely to achieve the core branding criterion of differentiation. As with all burgeoning sectors, maturation means becoming more sophisticated and worldly. Successful brands in cannabis will look, sound and behave very differently from the early pioneers in their local markets. That is also how they will appeal to a broader, more mainstream audience.

Authenticity

As we now all live in an era of 24/7 democratized brand commentary courtesy of the Internet and social media, brands must be authentic for long-term success. That means staying true to their strategy (i.e., their roots) and dealing transparently and quickly with all relevant brand issues and commentary. The same is true for the cannabis market. Your brand must behave consistently and predictably.

Relevance

Targeting a brand to a specific target audience is more than an exercise in understanding your target market and tailoring your messaging. It is optimally done on a sensory level as well. At Six Degrees, we use sensory research to identify the sensory cues a brand needs to leverage in order to instill the desired PEBAs (perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes) in a given target audience. Only then are you ensuring brand success across all marketing communications. Successful brands use every possible avenue to ensure compelling brand communications.

These are the main special considerations for those seeking to build national or even global brands in the burgeoning cannabis market. Please share other considerations you think are important – or specific experiences you have had – in the comments below. And please contact us for more information about branding in cannabis or any other sector.

Frank Schab
fschab@six-degrees.com

An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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