This article by Dino H Carter, founder of D Branding, was published on NUGL Magazine, on September 30, 2019
Saying the cannabis industry is saturated is the understatement of the year. While sitting on my Harley the other day, waiting for the red light to change on a busy Los Angeles junction, I saw that all the billboards in the junction promote a different dispensary. And this is just a small example that shows how many players in the cannabis space try to get the consumer's attention.
May it be medical, recreational, THC, or CBD, the market is overflowing with cannabis businesses. Everybody jumps on the cannabis wagon. Big money and corporate America is already deep in the cannabis space, and if you think that flooding your Instagram feed with images of your oil or tincture is what will make you a millionaire, you are mistaken. I am sure a lot of you who read this now already discovered that it is much much harder than you thought, right?
As a brand & marketing consultant I meet, talk, and work with many different sorts of cannabis businesses, and just like in any other industry, only a few understand what branding and marketing are all about and why it is so important for your business success.
Last week I was at a cannabis business event and met a lot of cannabis business owners and entrepreneurs. After the event, I went online to check their websites. Almost all the websites look the same, sell the same products, offer the same services, and have the same messaging (if they have any messaging at all). How many companies can claim “Your trusted source in cannabis” if all of you are my trusted source, how do you expect me to believe any of you?! This is where brand strategy comes in.
Branding is not designing your logo or great looking packaging, and marketing is not influencers or facebook ads. You use branding & marketing in a very deep and highly strategic way. The goal is to get in front of as many specific customers as possible. You want to make them understand why they should buy or use your cannabis product or service, and not the competition. If you think the features of your product are what create sales, you are in for an excruciating realization of the truth. People don’t buy products; people buy personality.
People buy what makes them feel in a specific way. Why do you see a line of people outside an Apple store but not outside any other mobile phone store? Is it because the iPhone is such a superior device than others?
2019 research shows that more than 60% of marketers today do not understand what branding and marketing are and how to implement them in an effective way. Unfortunately, there are not enough pages in this magazine for me to cover all that you need to know about branding and effective marketing. I will give you the most critical aspects of branding, which is crucial for effective marketing in a saturated industry.
The best way to look at branding & marketing is through ‘customer acquisition’. The customer can not relate to your product if they do not understand why they should buy YOUR product and not the competition. Because of this, how can you expect to have a high customer acquisition rate? That is why you need to build brand personality; you need to discover your brand and its differentiation.
It is hard to find your brands differentiation because:
1) the distinction is usually an intangible aspect
2) the differentiation should be from the consumers’ point of view, not the business
3) because most owners and managers are too involved with the product or service they sell, thus can not see its perception from the consumers’ point of view
The differentiation can be in many aspects, one of them is the features of your product or service, but the functions are not what generates long term business longevity. I am sure some of you have great products or services, but sales are low. It is usually not because of the product or service; the sales are low because of the marketing – the branding was wrong.
Now, when I say the branding is wrong, I do not mean the logo or packaging is not good. I mean the product or service did not have a personality or did not communicate its personality in a way that is aligned with its target consumers.
The best way to build brand personality and align it with the right consumers is to think of your brand like a person: Who is the brand? How does it make the customer have a positive emotional connection to your brand? How does the brand make the consumer feel? What is your brand’s voice? Is it an educating voice, fun, professional, street style? What are your brand’s values and personality traits? Helpful, fearless, energetic, reliable? What is your brand’s ‘reason why’ – why does your business exist?
When you have this brand personality, you need to focus on your specific customer base. Let’s say you sell soil or nutrients for growers. If you focus only on home growers, instead of all kinds of growers, for instance, it will be easier for you to know your brand better. You will understand how your brand is making this specific consumer base feel, what media outlets you should use to get in front of your consumers, and what kind of ads and content they want to see, read, and consume.
When you say that “everyone” is your target consumer, you are in for a fall. Believe me, I have seen it happen in all industries in many different countries in more than 20 years of marketing work.
Who exactly do you target and why? You should design and produce service/product that is targeted at a specific customer, specific demographic. For example, a vape pen that is aimed at very affluent young females, which is a small base but a powerful one. In this case, everything must be aligned to this customer base. From the product to the website, to the packaging, to the ads, everything must suit the demographic. The product should be well made from the best materials; the packaging should be extremely luxurious (and cost appropriately). For this brand, the ambassadors must be rich young females, the brand events must take place at super-exclusive venues (with Moet & Chandon champagne served), and this brand’s ads shouldn’t be in stoners magazines, but in luxury living magazines. Make sense?
When you think about brand differentiation, think about this: brands are like celebrities – there are some actors, musicians or athletes you like and some you do not. Not just because of the way they act in movies or the way they play football or sing. Some of them you feel more ‘connected’ to and some less, some have a personality you like and some not so much, right? The same goes for brands – to some, you have positive emotions, and to others not so much, and your best friend might like one brand that you do not care for.
Everything you do with your brand; from the dispensaries you sell your product at, the packaging, events, and trade shows you appear at, or sponsor, your tagline, to your social media and the rest of your content; everything needs to be “on brand” and not on trend! Focus on a specific customer base, find out how your product can make them feel the way they want to, and then communicate clearly.
This is how you elevate your cannabis business above all the noise in the industry.
To conclude, here is an excellent example of brand differentiation: Tesla and Prius. Both are electric cars, but they are two completely different brands focused on two extremely different customer bases. One is about the environment, being environmentally conscious, and saving money, while the other is about speed, style and show you have the funds to drive a Tesla. That is why both brands have entirely different marketing activities, even though they are both very similar products.