a lesson for luxury cannabis brands from the bath & beauty industry

a lesson for luxury cannabis brands from the bath & beauty industry

I was once VP Marketing for a retail chain in the bath and beauty category. We started in Seattle and grew to over 300 stores nationally, with comp sales increasing as much as 60% over the previous year.  We had a successful public offering and the sales growth continued. I truly thought I’d found the place to spend the rest of my career.

Then, it all hit the proverbial fan and today the company no longer exists. I believe what happened to that brand then, is a real lesson for all cannabis brands and marketers today.

how to position your brand to stand out in a growing category

At the time this story begins, bath & beauty was a growing category, particularly in the higher end segment. The most desired brands were generally found in the better department stores, situated in top-ranking malls around the country.

Our brand was a true vertical company, producing the product and offering it for sale in branded stores located in the best malls. Our positioning was to offer the same quality and personalized service as those products found in the department stores, but at a more affordable price. We believed we embodied the full promise of affordable luxury.

The products were displayed in a way that invited customers to indulge their senses through look, smell and touch, with store associates helping them choose the perfect product for their skin. Sales increased monthly and new stores opened throughout the country.

how to deepen the connection between your brand and your customers

To ensure the good news continued, we initiated a comprehensive consumer research effort, beginning with focus groups.

We fielded a national study, going to markets around the country and inviting consumers to talk about the brand and what they felt about it. And we learned a very interesting thing: it appeared women tended to have one drawer in their house where they keep the various bath & beauty products they buy. But the ones they loved – the ones they felt best reflected who they were and how they wanted to look and feel — were out in the open, displayed on their counters. And that’s where ours were almost always found.

In fact, the findings were so positive that the researcher’s assistant, sitting in the back room with me watching the conversations, had a piece of advice: don’t screw it up. But, of course, we did.

how to lose your most loyal customers

While all this was happening, the head of the company saw that the majority of bath & beauty sales were in drugstores. So, he decided, to better compete with drugstores, we should drop our prices and then watch the products fly off the shelves. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

What the decision ignored were our customers. In effect, by dropping our prices, we were telling them they had been paying too much, making them feel embarrassed and used.

Additionally, the decision ignored the brand itself, which was all about quality and personalized service to help customers find the best product for their specific need.  This was in direct contrast to a drugstore environment, where the customer knows exactly what product they want, has no need of personal service, and expects to pay less.

how to lose your brand reputation

The effect of the pricing decision was almost immediate: our customer base began deserting us and the drugstore purchaser did not come into our stores. We also lost our brand reputation as customers felt that, if we could cut our prices that drastically, then the product quality must not be as high as perceived.

Within a matter of months, stores started closing and our stock price spiraled down. Today, the brand no longer exists and our customers have moved on.

a quick marketing lesson for cannabis brands

Honestly, the lesson is Marketing 101:

  • Know your customer and the role your brand plays in their lives. Then ensure you deliver on that with every thing you do.
  • Know your brand and ensure every touch point reflects what you stand for.

It’s not that hard: Make sure you keep your brand aligned with customer perceptions and needs – that you have a brand promise you deliver on each and every time – and you will always have a chance of success.

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Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

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Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

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brand activism™ checklist for cannabis brands

brand activism™ checklist for cannabis brands

The first thing I ask when I meet a client is whether they have a brand document I can read. If they do have one, it’s usually located after a lengthy search around their office and of their computer. After blowing the dust away, I open it and almost always find a perfectly rational document, using lofty and beautiful words that, taken together, are meaningless, uninspiring, and incapable of being acted upon.

The realization I’ve come to over the years is that these brand documents are intellectual exercises that fail to excite the heart, and, as a result, are a waste of time. We know a better way. It’s called Brand Activism™.

The simple fact is that a brand document has to get the heart pumping, and the reason we developed Brand Activism™. It’s intent is to give life to your brand by identifying and then leveraging that core spark that ignites passion within both the company and your consumers. Brand Activism™ brings your vision to life, because it’s your vision – the reason you started the company in the first place– where the true power of the brand resides. And the final brand document – what we call the Brand Platform – serves as a fuse that, when lit, is the strategic foundation that powers your brand to long-term success.

 

here is a brand activism™ checklist that will ensure you create that spark:

key benefit.

Too often, the benefit cannabis brands claim is something like ‘highest quality’ or ‘most effective’ but research shows these generic statements don’t have meaning to consumers. You must be specific, and often companies are afraid of that because they believe being specific somehow limits the true potential of the brand. We’ve learned that is simply not true because a clearly articulated benefit is the root of brand meaning.

reason(s) for the key benefit. 

These are the things you offer or do that provide the proof points to your key benefit and make it believable. In truth, collectively, these reasons are the storyline for your cannabis brand and provide directional strategy for your marketing efforts.

brand attributes. 

Research shows that the best – and worst – brands take on a human persona that becomes the emotional link to your customers. Our recommendation is to develop a list of the 5 key personality traits that you want people to associate with your brand. And then prioritize them. Your marketing team will then translate these attributes into both visual and verbal touch points that will provide the emotional centerpiece for your cannabis brand.

internal alignment.

This is essential to any company in bringing to life what you stand for. Too often, the internal executives and those in the field representing your brand have different interpretations of what you stand for. So the Brand Activism process must ensure every key staff member is on the same page. This means ensuring all voices are heard and feel a part of the process as you reach alignment on the key brand issues.

external alignment.

And finally, the ultimate judge of your brand is the consumer, so be sure you talk to them to ensure they truly want and identify with what you stand for. Find out what they’re missing in the category and determine how your brand best meets these needs and market opportunities. Then, if you find you need to revise your internal statement to better reflect the consumer reality, be certain it’s authentic to who you are, what you do and the product or service you offer.We believe that, if you follow this brief but essential Brand Activism™ checklist, you’ll set in motion the full power of your cannabis brand and build long-term success. Good luck!

locations

Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

hours

Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

b2b cannabis branding short guide

In its simplest terms, branding is having the courage to stand for something, ensuring, of course, that the target market both wants it and, preferably, is not currently getting it. This is the basis for a long-term relationship that the most successful brands understand connects on both a rational – “I want it because of what it does” – and emotional – “I want it because of how it makes me feel” – basis.

Related image

In moving between the B2C and B2B product categories, I’m always struck by the B2B marketing contention that connecting with their consumers on an emotional basis is not only irrelevant, but virtually impossible. They invariably tell me the basis for purchase is 100% rational as the products being purchased are simply widgets that fulfill some functional duty that it either does better or more cheaply. That’s wrong and an opportunity for these marketers’ competitors, and I want to explain why.

From the research I’ve done with B2B consumers as well as direct experience marketing to them, I’ve found that, while the emotional benefit may be a bit more subtle, it is there and can be uncovered with a little detective work. To do that, you need to analyze your target market applying the same principles as those used in B2C marketing.

The difference is that in B2C, the emotional benefit is most often based on how a product fits into the personal lifestyle of the purchaser and makes them feel about themselves. In B2B marketing, however, the emotional benefit is related to how the product makes the purchaser feel about their ability to perform their job and the impression they want to convey to the key people in the company in which they work.

Image result for dwight happy gif

So the key detective work for the B2B marketer to determine the emotional contact points is to learn as much as possible about the purchaser and their surrounding group. Here are some questions that will help you find that out:

1. who is the purchaser in terms of title?

  • What are their responsibilities and how are they judged within the company in terms of how they handle those responsibilities
  • How does the decision they make on what you’re offering reflect on their ability to perform their responsibilities
  • What is the next position they may be eyeing in the company and how does the decision they make on what you’re offering impact their ability to move to that new position
  • What is the procurement process and how many different people are involved in the decision? What level of influence  does each have, and how might what you do or offer make their role in the purchase process reflect on them in a positive way
  • Is this person the final decision-maker or must they present their recommendation to someone else within the company

2. how will this decision be recognized in the company?

  • This can be key: in some companies, they may be looking at working with brands that offer the best value, or the highest quality
  • Does the decision show that the purchaser is on board the company philosophy and a strong team player

3. what is the underlying rationale behind the decision?

  • Is it about pricing and the purchaser needs to show they’re a good negotiator
  • Is it about ensuring the company has the best possible product
  • How will their superiors view the decision: how is the purchaser trying to impress them in terms of how they want to be perceived – is it as a great negotiator or some other factor

To find the answers, don’t hesitate to take the purchaser out of the office and talk about their job and what makes them happy, what they find challenging and how they hope to move up within the organization. This will not only help you better provide what they need, but start the basis for a relationship of equals. Establishing an emotional connection with your B2B customers can be your competitive advantage.  It really does all boil down to who knows the purchaser best and helps them fulfill their goals within the company.

locations

Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

hours

Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

the new bottom line for cannabis consumers

Once upon a time, not really that long ago, commerce was relatively simple: you made a product and, hopefully, people bought it and you made money. Consumers based their purchase on product utility: did they need it and would they use it?  They certainly didn’t give much thought about the company in terms of what it stood for, who was running it, what its religious or political beliefs were, or whether it shared the same values they had.

They understood that companies were in business to make and sell products, and people either bought it or didn’t. It was simple, really. That’s how it was for decades.

Then, along came the Internet and everything changed.

It was something of a perfect storm: 24/7 access to information occurring in real time, creating a greater social and environment awareness. Soon after, the development of social media enabled individuals to observe, critique and comment on anything they felt needed to be known. Suddenly, there was no place to hide and companies were caught in the crosshairs of a more informed, judgmental and critical audience. It was no longer simply about a product, but what you did as a company for the greater and common good, that became part of the a potential customer’s purchase consideration.

the brand – consumer connection

Brand has always been about people buying products that reflect who they are or aspire to be.  Whereas this previous bond between consumer and product was on a more superficial level – I just feel good wearing this brand — the Internet has now provided people with the ability to know a company as well as they know a close friend. So the brand – consumer connection moves beyond product alone into “this product comes from a company that represents exactly what I believe.” As companies have grown and their impact on lives have become more apparent, they’re under more scrutiny than at any time before.

 

What are their labor practices? Are they making jobs here or in another country? How much do they impact local issues? Are they run by people I respect and admire? How do they give back to the community and society? Once upon a time, John D. Rockefeller gained a reputation as someone who cared about the less fortunate by handing out nickels to children on the street. Of course, that would be a bit less effective today. Instead, in running your cannabis business –

you need to make both a profit and a difference

Today, the traditional bottom line has evolved into the following: People, Planet, and Profit. Nicknamed the “three Ps” or the “three pillars of sustainability”. Beyond the financial, consumers measure performance in terms of the positive social and environmental impact your company/products/brand has on the world.

So, as you form your company, in addition to product features and benefits, think of what you do in a holistic sense: How can you reveal the heart behind what you do in terms of having a social and environmental agenda? Remember: people will want to know and they will find out. And the choices you make – your business practices and ethics – will either fit what they look for in a brand, or they won’t. It’s up to you.

locations

Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

hours

Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

developing a communication strategy for your cannabis brand

cannabis brand communication strategyIn its simplest terms, marketing is the communication bridge between your target audience and your brand. So once you’ve taken the critical first step and nailed down what you stand for as a brand, you then need to determine how you want to engage with your target market. This process of consumer engagement represents your communication strategy, and consists of four key parts: Audience, Message, Creative, and Media.

audience

It’s impossible to have a conversation with anyone if you don’t know who they are, what they’re like, and what they want to talk about, so it’s critical you spend time clearly identifying and learning about your target audience. In truth, you should know this audience as well as you know your own brand. I’ve worked with some marketers who know their audience so well they actually bring them to life as individual segments, complete with photographs, names, lifestyle and demographic descriptions, even the type of neighborhood they live in and car they drive.

Then, for every brand communication they undertake, they ask themselves, is this what ‘Kathy’ or ‘Steve’ will find relevant, truthful and emotionally engaging? You might not go that far – although I think it’s a good idea – but there are important questions about your audience you need to answer right away.

First, of course, is who is your primary target market? Demographics are a start, but what is their mindset about canna and the product or service you offer? What do they need — the product must-haves that you must deliver to even be in the game, and then, what do they want that they may not be currently getting and that gives you a point of difference. Another factor to help in your strategy is to know what competitive products they currently use – how is yours better?

I’ve mentioned in another blog that proprietary research is the best way to answer these questions about your audience so you can make truly informed decisions. But If you can’t fund your own research, look for relevant secondary studies that are available, and definitely spend a lot of time in online search. There is no greater waste of marketing dollars than not knowing your audience. You simply can’t afford to guess.

message

Now that you’ve identified your primary target and brought them to life in such a way that you can visualize them in the room with you, what will you say to them to get them to consider and try your brand? Every brand has a story to tell, and you need to determine what yours is, and then tell it in a way that makes it interesting, relevant and persuasive to your audience. My suggestion is to write a creative strategy and, although there are many formats, here’s the one I prefer:

Who are we talking to? Here, you need to bring the target audience to life. What about their lives do we need to know so we can have an effective and meaningful communication about our brand?

What do we know about them that will help us? What is that one key insight into how our audience thinks or acts about canna that we can leverage in our communication to ensure we get their attention?

What do they currently think/do? What do we want them to think/do? Any brand communication needs to change minds in those who don’t know us, and reinforce brand understanding in those that do. Knowing how they currently think and act in our category, including the canna products they currently use, helps us determine what we need to say, and how we want to say it in terms of tonality, that helps change perceptions. Remember: minds must change before behavior does.

What is the main idea we want to communicate? Research shows that people generally remember one thing from a brand communication, so what is that one key claim that we want them to remember about us? When all is said and done, the ultimate responsibility of the communication is to ensure this one main thought comes through.

Why should they believe us? You can’t make a brand promise or statement without support to your claim. What is it your brand features or your business does to ensure that the one key benefit is delivered each and every time, without fail.

creative

Once you have your message strategy in place, there are virtually unlimited ways to tell it from a creative standpoint. Since it’s  incredibly difficult to bring objectivity to a subjective subject like creativity, the strategy you wrote for the message can be used for creative development by adding a few points:

What is the communication trying to do? What goal do we have for the communication? Are we introducing our brand? Trying to get people to switch from the current brand they’re using? In other words, what end effect do we want to see with our communication? What should the brand attitude be? People want to do business with brands that match how they see themselves or aspire to be, and your brand should reflect that. Is it about confidence, strength, humor, edgy or traditional? These decisions help establish the emotional role your brand will play in your customers’ lives.

Let me flesh out that last point a bit more: your brand communications should operate on two levels: the rational, expressed by the product features and benefits, and the emotional, which is how you want people to feel about your rand. Remember, it is the strength of the emotional link to your brand that truly establishes long-term viability. Once the strategy is finalized, your creative can take any shape you like, as long as it is on strategy and delivers your approved message. In the end, select the creative direction you feel is most on strategy in telling your brand story in the most interesting and emotionally compelling way.

media

It’s deceptively simple, really. Your message needs to be wherever your target audience is, as long as you can afford it, and your choice of media is another reflection of how well you need to know your market. What forms of media do they enjoy when they’re relaxing, or when they’re seeking out information in the canna category? Are there blogs or influencers they admire? What terms do they use to search, what radio formats do they listen to, and what TV and print do they watch or read. The more of their media habits you know, the more likely you’ll be seen by your audience when they’re most receptive to your message. And remember, it’s multiple exposures to your message that moves your market through the purchase funnel, from awareness, to familiarity, preference, trial and repeat purchase. 

locations

Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

hours

Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed