Branding for cannabis companies, dispensaries, and other marijuana-based businesses is a critical step to long-term financial success.
In the below guide, we'll outline the growth of the cannabis industry and how it has created challenges for marketers. On top of that, we'll share some insight on how to stand out in a crowded marketplace to leave a lasting impression.
Table of Contents
- The growth of the cannabis industry
- Common marijuana branding problems
- Branding tips for cannabis companies, dispensaries, and marijuana-based businesses
- Case study: how marijuana-based brands can stand out in a hazy market
The growth of the cannabis industry
Reefer Madness. What was once just a title for the propaganda film released in 1936 in order to scare people away from using marijuana is now an ironically fitting name to describe the budding cannabis industry.
15 states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational use of marijuana since 2012. And 36 states have legalized medical marijuana — my, how the times have changed!
That progressive, positive momentum for the “devil's lettuce” is riding hot and isn't showing any signs of slowing down. States like New Jersey, which became the first Mid-Atlantic state to legalize marijuana in 2020, are scrambling towards legislation in an effort to promote social justice, stimulate economic growth, and capitalize on tax revenue all in one shot.
As such, a ripple effect is taken place. It's projected that the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey could harvest an estimated $450 million in tax revenue. This type of financial opportunity doesn't go unnoticed, both from the public and private sectors. Savvy entrepreneurs and investors are starting up new brands to capitalize on potential big gains.
“Since Election Day, when New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved legalization of adult-use cannabis, we’ve seen a huge surge in interest on how to get into the cannabis space,” said Enrique Lavin, publisher and editor of NJ Cannabis Insider, the Garden State’s only weekly trade journal dedicated to covering the ins and outs of the legal cannabis industry. “Every insider I’ve spoken to in recent weeks says the same thing. It’s as if the floodgates have been opened.”
- Source: https://www.nj.com/marijuana/2020/11/bill-to-launch-nj-legal-weed-industry-is-back-on-track-could-pass-by-monday.html
We've seen similar trends in other states that have legalized marijuana. Colorado, for example, set all kinds of sales records in 2020. In fact, dispensaries in Colorado sold more marijuana in the first 10 months of 2020 than they did during a record-setting sales year in 2019.
With more states relaxing laws and moving towards a pro-marijuana mentality, we expect to see a continued surge of new businesses and brands entering the space, creating more competition than ever.
In 2017, there were between 20 thousand and 28 thousand cannabis businesses in the U.S. What does that number look like in the coming years? This is one of the many things that will make branding for cannabis companies, dispensaries, and other companies challenging.
Common marijuana branding problems
While growth in the cannabis industry is a good thing, it doesn't come without a few bumps in the road.
Business owners rushing to market
Due to the new financial opportunity as demonstrated recently by states like Colorado, there is a mad scramble of businesses and entrepreneurs trying to simply open shop.
Everybody wants to be first. Everybody wants to show off the shiny new car. However, this rush to starting line results in a lot of poor strategic planning and cutting corners. The fact of the matter is this — not every entrepreneur is equipped to open a dispensary. Just because I like burgers doesn't mean that I'm qualified to open a Five Guys down the road (although, I will continue to lobby for one).
This type of “me-first” school of thought is dangerous. Not only does it inevitably set a poor foundation for growth and business sustenance, but it also leaves a greedy blemish on an industry that has worked its tail off to rectify its misunderstood image in the media.
Lack of creativity
For an entry-level drug that has always hung its hat on being a way to tap into the creative corners of the human mind, there sure is a lot of cookie-cutter branding out there.
Take a quick minute to Google cannabis branding, or marijuana logos. Hit the image section and you'll find a lackluster catalog of dusty, overused, earthy-looking results that all wash together. Are you tripping, or are all marijuana-based brands really that basic? How many times do we have to see the famed pot leaf incorporated into a dispensary logo? Are Rastafari colors really the answer?
An overall lack of creativity stems from the aforementioned problem of businesses rushing to market. This is often compounded by the fact that many cannabis companies have no real direct experience with cannabis. They are not the users. They are mainly suits looking to capitalize on a new profitable venture. Their basis of marijuana is mass-produced.
A wide, diverse consumer base
Speaking of users, there are a lot of them. And they come in all different shapes and sizes.
Marijuana has evolved a lot over the last few decades. It's not just for Grateful Dead lovers and hippies alike. What do Elon Musk and Joe Rogan have in common? Well, for starters they smoked a joint together live on a podcast.
Celebrities, athletes, entrepreneurs, Baby Boomers, Millennials, Tik Tokers, veterans, the list goes on and on. From the people that handle your food to a guy that sold his first company for over $300 million–the demographics, interests, and behaviors of cannabis users are vast.
This creates a challenge as many brands widen their brand messaging to reach multiple audiences. This creates a division in communication channels, diminishing consumer engagement and trust, ultimately limiting results.
Branding tips for cannabis companies, dispensaries, and marijuana-based businesses
To overcome a variety of challenges in the space, and to establish a cannabis brand with authority and longevity, we recommend considering the following:
Take your time and plan accordingly
Resist that urge to simply be first. You don't need to rush to market.
According to the United Nations, 158.8 million people around the world use marijuana—more than 3.8% of the planet’s population. There's enough of the pie to go around.
Take your time to craft a business plan, identify who your target audience is and talk to them first. Knowing your market and planning around that is key. Survey the crap out of them. Get feedback on what types of brands they like. Understand their interests. Know what keeps them up at night. Then, sell the solution to that.
Are your users really into the scientific properties of the product and how it is manufactured? Or are they more interested in the benefits? Are they gym rats and always listening to podcasts? Or are they grandmas that have arthritis, who desperately want to reduce inflammation? Maybe they aren't even direct users and they are the dispensaries themselves.
We can't stress this enough: know your audience before you start.
Avoid the path of least resistance
Everyone else is slapping a pot leaf on their logo and showing off high-quality weed porn photos on their social media pages. But that doesn't mean you have to follow in their footsteps.
Remember what your mom said to you when you told her Johnny was smoking pot and his parents were cool with it?
“If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you too?”
Queue the eye roll, I know.
But when it comes to branding, you don't want to be a follower. You want to be a leader. You want to be someone that dares to be different. If you run a dispensary, try playing some Mozart instead of Bob Marley. See what that does to attract new customers.
Cliches are tacky. While a simple pot leaf logo is easy to recognize it actually runs the risk of potentially hurting your brand long term. A large part of your potential market base is new users that have never been exposed to weed culture. They didn't take the bait before. What makes you think the same hook is going to work now?
Thinking outside of the box isn't easy. That's why there are professionals and businesses that make a good living just by bringing creative ideas to the table.
There are graphic design for cannabis companies that specialize in logo, packaging, and web design. These companies can provide cost-effective branding and design services that many freelancers and agencies simply cannot match.
Use these resources to your advantage to add a super talented and reliable virtual in-house designer to your team, without the cost and commitment of hiring someone full-time. Not only will this type of investment save you on up-front brand development costs, but it will also provide you with proven resources that can more effectively enable you to A/B test all of your creative assets.
Pick a lane, stay in it, and dummy things down
Once you've established a niche within the market, focus all of your time and energy on building a brand around that.
If you are a grower, and your target audience is dispensaries that want a supreme flower, then you may want to consider leaning into more about your agricultural processes, intellectual property, and any other unique scientific research you might have. But if that's the case, fully commit. Do your best to avoid flip-flopping between medicinal and recreational.
As a general rule of thumb, write like a fifth-grader. People don't buy what they don't understand. It's okay to be proud of your scientific and technological advantages, but tone it down a bit. There's a reason when you buy an iPhone in a store Apple shows only a handful of the features and benefits.
If people want specs, make them available, but don't make people feel inferior because they aren't as smart as you. The average Joe doesn't give a rat's ass about Decarboxylate and your process of converting THCA into THC.
Case study: how marijuana-based brands can stand out in a hazy market
At the end of the day, your brand success is not just about having a pretty logo design and website. Don't get couch-locked. Focus on doing your research first, then getting a minimal viable product together. Your primary focus needs to be generating revenue as quickly as possible.
Cannabis companies have a lot of expenses and liabilities, so driving cash is key. Remember, why you are getting into this business. Yes, you are there to fill a need in the marketplace and if you're improving lives in the process, all the better. But ultimately, as with any business, it's all about results. Without a solid business model, and a proven ability to generate revenue, you'll never be able to stand out in the crowd.
To close out this guide, I'd like to mention a cannabis company that has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years. And it's not because of a flashy website. It's not because of sultry close-up photos of nug. It's because of their consistent ability to provide their shareholders with dividends and results. The name of that company is Innovative Industrial Properties (IIPR).
IIPR is one of the biggest unicorns and sweethearts of the cannabis industry. They are the most profitable pot stock on a per-share basis (as of writing this article) and their brand is gaining popularity and recognition. And get this, they aren't in manufacturing, biotech, or retail. IIPR is a cannabis-focused real estate investment trust (REIT). They buy medical marijuana cultivation and processing assets and lease them out for very long periods of time (usually 10 to 20 years).
To demonstrate the correlation between brand recognition and profitability, I'd like to share a couple of graphics. Please note, the content shared here is for informational purposes only, and you should not construe any such information here as investment or financial advice.
Here is a snapshot of the term “IIPR” on Google Trends based on a five year period.
And here is a chart as provided by Zacks.com for IIPR's trailing twelve month (TTM) Revenue.
Basically, what you need to deduct from the above reference points is this. As revenue grows, so does brand recognition.
The old saying is true: money talks and bullshit walks.
Keep that in mind as you build your cannabis brand and good luck!