Brand Strategy


Sadaf Ferdowsi
Junior Strategist & Copywriter

February 3, 2020

It’s a little hard to believe the first Apple store opened just nineteen years ago. On the one hand, our reliance on technology makes it difficult to remember a time without iPhones and Mac Books, and on the other, Apple’s glass storefronts, Genius Bar experts, and curated selection of interactive products lend energy and newness to shopping nearly two decades later. To this day, Apple continually persuades customers to purchase products that change how they interact with computers, music and mobile phonesÑand the brand’s risks in product development and experiential shopping have paid off. What was once unfamiliar for a consumer is now a normal and even necessary part of life.

As more and more states legalize cannabis, similar opportunities exist for the brands that want to sell the increasingly diverse range of cannabis products. Just as Apple has become synonymous with innovation and cutting-edge disruption, cannabis brands can also develop unique identities and ownable touchpoints as they navigate the new territories that legalization has opened. However, cannabis brands differ from technology brands because they have an added challenge: reducing and reversing the stigma around marijuana. With this emerging market that is simultaneously new and mired in stereotypes, successful cannabis brands must tackle the stigma head-on through brand development and activation across the following touchpoints.

Using our Brand Landscape tool, we can help you determine where you “live” as a brand. By looking at where you are located in relation to your competitors, we can develop an effective strategy that is authentic to your brand promise while also identifying whitespace opportunities for future growth. For example, Marley Natural—named after singer Bob Marley—leverages marijuana’s existing history and traditions from the 1960s and sources their products from “transcendent old school strains.” Conversely, Kiva Confections is a brand that wanted to do something entirely new and worked in laboratories to determine the best way to infuse cannabis into chocolate bars, gummies and other confectionery. From identifying a key “location” for their brands, Marley Natural and Kiva are able to claim a recognizable stake and presence in the market—and your brand can, too.

Based on your positioning, you can then adopt particular naming strategies for your brand and product line. Whether you are built around holistic wellbeing, self-care, or a fun and carefree experience, your naming strategy can help communicate your position at shelf. Body and Mind (or BaM) is a brand that makes it loud and clear that its cannabis is about balancing the physical and the mental. Other brands are more evocative of medicine and healing such as Green Therapeutics, Cannabiotix, and Nature’s Chemistry. Alternatively, brands such as Fleur, Flora Vera and Green & Gold evoke floral and premium tones, whereas others such as Dog Walkers, Dosit and Hiku lend an air of mystery to attract curious consumers. In terms of the products themselves, there are heritage-based names such as Sour Diesel and OG Kush; playful names that hint at product benefits such as Truth Serum and Laughing Grass; and dessert-inspired ones like Key Lime Pie and Mandarin Cookie to link cannabis use with treating one’s self. As more products enter the market and inevitably crowd the category, informative-yet-compelling names will become increasingly important to stand out at shelf and encourage consumers to pick one product over another. Keep in mind this may be the first time some consumers are purchasing cannabis products and will most likely select products based on emotional and impulsive responses that will eventually become their “tried-and-true” choices. Our naming capabilities can help you become a go-to favorite.

Like any new product, the excitement and anticipation around attractive packaging and its opening ceremony will be key differentiators for new cannabis brands. Think back on the last time you unboxed a smartphone or ripped open a Christmas present. However, cannabis products may require different storage solutions for myriad challenges. For example, packaging will not only be visually attractive but also needs to ensure freshness for longer periods of times for casual users, conveniently portable for on-the-go consumers, or discreet for first-timers. Moreover, don’t forget that packaging is a built-in solution to deploy your brand story or enhance brand activation across multiple touchpoints (e.g., the packaging can encourage consumers to check out social media channels and vice versa).

Experiential Shopping
We’ve already mentioned the Apple store, but other brands also invest great detail in making in-shop experiences unmistakably theirs. How consumers navigate an REI,
T-Mobile, Potbelly or Chipotle, for instance, is immeasurably important to the overall impression of these brands—and the in-shop experience has become a touchpoint in its own right. More than anything, the experiential aspects of cannabis stores may help eliminate the negative stigma surrounding marijuana. For example, The Source in Las Vegas is reminiscent of the Apple store with its use of glass, sleek bars and helpful staff, which has been immensely successful at drawing in consumers and encouraging them to explore. Don’t forget to lean into any seasonal strategies such as decorating for Christmas and offering Valentine’s Day promotions, among others.

In terms of reducing stigma, education is a surefire solution to normalize and enact acceptance of cannabis. While the stigma for cannabis revolves around relatively innocuous traits such as laziness and overeating to more charged ones such as encouraging crime, educating consumers on strains, medical benefits and usage occasions can aid in balancing out the stigma with specifics. There is a long history of using marijuana for treating pain, sleep disorders and other ailments, so it’s a matter of bringing it to the forefront in a communicative way. Moreover, there is research on certain strains that promote relaxation and creativity. Grassroots Cannabis and Greencamp are two examples of organizations who develop educational resources for consumers. No matter how you choose to educate, please don’t forget to emphasize that everyone is different and may have a unique reaction with cannabis products. Despite its benefits, it is still not for everyone and successful brands will not shy away from being open about that.

Through the Southern Strategy and War on Drugs, former presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan explicitly linked marijuana to counterculture and crime which continues to disproportionally impact minorities in the United States. Marijuana cultivation requires hundreds of gallons of water and other finite resources. There is still so much research to be done to determine how exactly cannabis interacts with the body and the brain. Successful cannabis brands are not only motivated by selling their products but also contributing solutions to these overarching issues. For example, revenues from cannabis could be used towards legal fees to release nonviolent “criminals” or dismantle mass incarceration. Or, invest in solar panels and sustainability initiatives. Donate money to independent research institutions. Find a value you’re passionate about and demonstrate that you practice what you preach. Remember: today’s consumers buy brands that reflect their own values and they will be loyal to you if you live (and can back up) your brand promise. If not, they’ll find a brand that does.

To follow through with our tech thread, brands such as Apple, Facebook and Google have been recently involved in various lawsuits around privacy rights and misleading users about their personal data. Although these issues were unforeseeable to many consumers twenty years ago, they now play a significant part in how they interact (or don’t interact) with these brands while influencing the overall perception of them. Just like tech, the legal cannabis market is new and no one can predict what will happen twenty years from now. However, this doesn’t mean that brands should not attempt to be prepared for the future while also acknowledging one can never fully know. Will there be long-term consequences on health, government or public policy with the increasing use of cannabis? How will legalized marijuana impact the black market—or the environment? Thinking through these questions now as opposed to reacting to them later is a vital component for any brand strategy so you can thrive today and adapt in the future.

Sales growth remains high

“Sales of recreational cannabis in legal states were estimated to reach $6.7 billion in 2018, a 158% increase since 2017. The market is forecast to reach $15.7 billion by 2022. The growth is due largely to new recreational use markets
gaining legalization.”

Mintel, The Recreational Cannabis User – US September, 2018

The blunt truth

“In October 2017, 61% of Americans said the use of marijuana should be legalized. This is up from 57% who believed that was the case the year prior and is a large jump from the 31% who responded as such in 2000.”

Mintel, The Recreational Cannabis User – US, September 2018