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The Cannabis Gunslinger: Pretty Label. Meaningless Brand.

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Not all that long ago, cannabis products and the packaging in which they were sold, consisted largely of the proverbial homemade brownie tucked into a sandwich baggie with a cheesy business card stapled to it. Don’t scoff, I’ve seen this approach too many times with my own eyes, and ironically, those were actually the most professional. As the weed industry slowly began to wake up, stoners, growers, and bakers – all with varying graphic design skills— would occasionally hack out something slightly more sophisticated, but candidly, not by much.

Just yesterday, Cannabis branding was a total cluster. It still is.

As the clock spun forward and recreational legalization began to raise its head in more states, the prospect that the tide had finally turned seem a viable possibility. Within a very short amount of time, big investors with big-looking brands began hitting dispensary shelves and kicked major product butt with their fancy new, sophisticated packaging. Products such as Dixie Elixer and Bhang Chocolate wowed the innocent cannabis consumers with their sense of polished corporate bravado.

Packaging aside, however, these new products still were not brands. Not real brands. Not the kind of brands that anyone had any real strategic control over, or a clear understanding of what a brand even is in the first place. They were simply just another cannabis product, some good, some not-so-good, hiding behind a pretty label.

It’s not just that the purveyors of cannabis had only recently climbed out of their basements or stumbled out of the woods smack into the middle of corporate America like drunken hillbillies. Their shameful lack of understanding as to what a real brand is and what it is actually supposed to accomplish, well, it wasn’t entirely their fault. To be fair, a large percentage of traditional, well-educated corporate brands understand just as little. With the sudden rise of cannabis popularity, however, and the increasing number of products appearing every day, this sheer lack of brand intelligence made itself known as a wart on the nose.

The problem with expensive, pretty packaging is that it can merely become a mask and hide the lack of a sorely needed brand. No matter how much bright red lipstick you slap on that pig, people are not stupid. They know a pig when they see one, even if you add expensive silk stockings and stiletto heels. And nothing against great packaging, it absolutely has its place and purpose in the marketing of a product, but it is sorely limited by its very nature. A product can be sold successfully based on the packaging alone, but only for so long. Especially, as in the case of the exploding cannabis industry, when competition with equally shiny packaging moves into the neighborhood and conveniently sits right next to you on the same damn shelf. Then the superficiality of packaging alone becomes as dangerous as a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting. And unfortunately, by then, it’s too late. Your precious customer has been seduced by the lure of yet another pretty picture.

So, what then is the answer? Surely there must be one; a solution to clearly and consciously differentiate one product from another. How do you even begin to approach a subject like preference and loyalty? If blue versus green doesn’t cut it, what does? The answer is so frighteningly simple, it’s almost embarrassing — A real brand.

Now, if you finally ask yourself, “Ok, so what the hell is a real brand?” then good for you. Although you suddenly find yourself out there naked on the cold winter streets, at least you’re headed in the right direction and asking the right question. Take comfort. With that one simple question, along with how you actually go about creating a real and powerful brand… it immediately places you miles ahead of the competition.

In developing a real brand, thought guru Simon Sinek urges us to first ask “why?” When building a brand or a company, it’s a great place to start but falls far short of the real answer. Beyond the actual product itself, we need to clearly define “what” we say and “how” we say it. That’s called Brand Positioning. Then, taking into consideration what and how in which your competitors are positioning their products, it provides an immediate advantage enabling you to clearly and strategically position yours apart from theirs.

It’s not easy. And yet it is. The most difficult part in strategic brand positioning is first to understand what it is, then the realization that you so desperately need it in order to survive the street fight that is happening out there. On the other hand, if you decide to ignore a solid brand position and rely solely on smearing a little more lipstick on your pig…best of luck. That sweet little piggy is dead meat.

__________________
DAVID M. FLANAGAN
Author of #1 International Best-Selling book; RUDDER – Strategic Brand Clarity
and the upcoming CULT BRAND – Creating a Fanatical Following, David is the founder of California brand agency - Misfit.
dflanagan@agencymisfit.com / FlanaganSpeaks.com

 

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