the 5 rules of building a brand for cannabis businesses

cannabis brand development strategyBefore all is said and done, and you’re about to layout a roadmap for your cannabis brand, I believe there are five rules in building a brand you should know and, hopefully, follow.  I’ve listed them in order of importance, as follows, and while the rules are relevant for any-size company, I’ve written them from the perspective of the start-up or smaller company, which we meet more often in this new category.

building a brand rule #1: stand for something

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been with the head of a company and he or she refuses to clarify what their brand stands for because they believe this will limit their potential market. In truth, it’s exactly the opposite: narrowing your focus and standing for something you passionately believe in generates the power your brand needs to make a difference in the marketplace.

You absolutely don’t want consumers to define your brand for you, as it may not end up where you want it and most likely will become schizophrenic: meaning different things to different audiences. Not a good thing. So before you start out, or really anytime you feel there’s a lack of clarity about your brand, take the time to express it in a simple, straightforward way.

While there are many techniques that help surface that focus, the one I prefer sounds deceptively easy, but can be really challenging:  What’s the category you compete in; what is the key benefit your brand delivers every time without fail; and what supporting reasons do you offer for that key benefit.  Answer these, and you’ll have the focus you need to succeed.

building a brand rule #2: know your customer

This could arguably be the first rule, but, regardless, before you start, it is essential you have a clearly defined target market and know exactly what they want and need from your product or service.  Then, as you enter the market and begin to expand and grow, be sure you truly understand the role your brand plays in their lives. Knowing your customers isn’t the result of sharing anecdotes or what you hear at cocktail parties, but instead, a concerted, ongoing process of talking to them and learning not only what they think, but how they feel about you.

I believe the best way to do this is through research, which many feel might be too expensive, but there are ways that are more cost-effective. If your budget is too limited for proprietary research, I recommend finding secondary studies that have already been done and will help provide the perspective you need to make smart decisions. There’s also online dialogue on social media that may be relevant.

Certainly, Google can be your best friend, including reviewing how your competitors position themselves and the way they present themselves to their audience. There’s much you can learn by seeing what they do and doing it better. What is key after you launch and start to mature as a brand, is if and how your customers’ perceptions about you have changed in some way. If they have , are you comfortable with where they are now?  This is especially relevant in today’s instant social media, especially if your brand has taken an action that might be misperceived or is subject to rumors or innuendo that impact how people see you. Knowing any shifts in perception allow you to address it in a timely, informed way.

building a brand rule #3: ensure your internal vision aligns with consumer reality

I’ve worked with and for literally dozens of companies in my career, from the largest global entities to the smallest start-ups and, without a doubt, the two greatest obstacles to success are: (1) a lack of internal agreement on the company vision, and,  (2) aligning that internal vision with the external customer wants, needs and perceptions. I’ve found this can exist in any size company, but can be a particular obstacle to growth in the early stages, when a small band of passionate believers may not be quite as much agreement as they might think.

If not addressed, this can lead to a splintering of effort and focus that can seriously harm the brand’s potential. So get with your team and discover if every key decision-maker and brand influencer is on the same page in terms of the brand, goals and aspirations.  Oftentimes, one person may have undue influence that is different from the others, who may be reluctant to make this known. Then, and I recommend using an outside mediator, these different viewpoints must be surfaced, addressed and resolved into a singular point of view that is not only agreed upon, but believed and supported. Unity really is strength.

Once the internal perspective is clarified, you need to learn if it is aligned with your target market’s wants, needs and perceptions. You want to learn if how you’re positioning your brand is both desired and believable. This can be done fairly easily and inexpensively with online research tools such as survey monkey. If you learn your internal position is not aligned with what your customer wants, you need to take a good, hard look at your offering and consider how to make it more appealing to them. In the end, aligning the internal vision to the customer wants and needs helps ensure a solid foundation for brand success.

building a brand rule #4: be consistent at each contact point, every time

A brand is all about cues, which are the signals it sends every time a consumer comes in contact with it, wherever that might be. I’ve learned that people are in a continual process of reading what your brand is saying about itself, from the logo, packaging and website, to the advertising, sales and promotional materials. Each time, they interpret the signal in a way that either confirms and deepens their existing brand perceptions, or makes them question if and how the brand is changing and what it now stands for. I was once worked with Saul Bass, the graphic designer many credit with founding the corporate identity industry. Whenever we had a new client — and they were often global or multi-divisional – we’d hold the first meeting in a large hall.  On over-sized boards arrayed throughout the room, we’d display every logo, piece of stationery, ad, promotional material and signage of the company, from every country, from every division. Almost without fail, the client would wander around the room, open-mouthed, stunned at all the different, conflicting and sometimes contradictory looks of his company.  And we’d simply ask: what is your company trying to convey about itself, and is it working? So regardless of what stage your company or product is in, always review what message each brand contact point communicates to the viewer, whether consumer, distributor or vendor, and ask yourself if (a) there’s a singular message being communicated each time, and (b) are they working synergistically or not with each other?  Remember, it’s the consistency of message, look and feel that is the hallmark of the most successful brands.

building a brand rule #5: establish an emotional connection

I’ve said this before and promise it’s true: while the brain may explain a purchase rationally, it’s the heart that controls the wallet.  It’s a circular effect: when customers feel emotionally positive about a brand, they intuitively trust it, and trust is the reason brands exist. So beyond determining the features and benefits your product delivers, it’s essential that you clarify how you want people to feel about you. The emotional connection is that link to your consumer that endears your brand to them, and overcomes short-term problems or hiccups that may derail other companies. Brands that are built in the heart are the ones that endure. The emotional connection can be inherent in the product itself, or felt by how you look or communicate with your audience.

Another increasingly important way to achieve it is what you do as a company that reveals the way you conduct business, or your set of values and what you consider to be of true importance in life.  In truth, it should be more than selling something to make a profit. For example, are you contributing a portion of your sales to those causes that help people know what you stand for? Do you hire personnel or select vendors in a way that raises the quality of living for them and helps ensure better lives? Every action you take, and every word you speak, should go towards deepening and enriching the emotional connection between your brand and your customers. And that is about much more than simply selling a brand, but helping define and create the type of world that you and your customers believe in.

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Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

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Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

consumer research & marijuana brands: finding your customers

identify target customesAt the matters. group, our client relationships usually begin with what we call the Brand Platform process, which consists of three steps:

(1) Internal Platform: in which we ensure all key decision-makers and influencers are on the same page (often more difficult than you’d think);

(2) External Platform: where we seek out existing customers and potential prospects perceptions of the brand;

(3) Final Platform: in which we align the internal and external Platforms into a final Brand Platform document.

While each step can be a challenge, we’ve found that the most frequent barrier to forming a viable, actionable Brand Platform is determining how the client’s customers view the brand.

do you really know who your customer is?

Whenever I hear a client say, generally with great conviction, “I know my customer,” my heart freezes, because, much too often, it’s related to his own less than objective perceptions, anecdotes from his sales people, or what  the spouse says. But, you really cannot build your business on hearsay and assumptions.

So, I ask one simple question: When is the last time you talked to your customer? And that is the point where I learn exactly how well a client knows who their customer is and why they’re buying their product. In way too many times, the answer to my question is either dated – informal surveys done years ago – or, worse, the executives tell me they’ve been out talking to customers in the stores. Now imagine you’re that customer and the CEO asks what you think of his company. How comfortable would you be giving an open and honest answer? I’d guess, not very. The simple fact is, your customer should and must be the central focus of everything you do as a company. They are the reason you’re in business, and the driving force behind your success or failure.

You need to know all you possibly can about their wants, needs, and, especially, how they perceive your brand, why they buy it, and the role it plays in their lives.

the best way to learn who your customer is, is through consumer research.

There’s no question that the best way to know your customer is through proprietary consumer research. And I’ve been around long enough that I’ve seen the transition from traditional research to Account Planning, and I’m a very big fan. The Account Planning methodology was brought over from England by Chiat/Day, the ad agency I worked with, and is based on a simple assumption: the notion that the best brands are those that have established the strongest emotional bonds with their customers.

The result of a strong bond is that customers perceive these brands as extensions or reflections of the type of person they are or aspire to be. As I’ve said in a previous post about how to craft a brand story, people may explain their purchases rationally, but the heart controls the wallet, and Account Planning gets to those key emotions that explain and predict purchase behavior.  Account Planners are trained to get underneath people’s rational explanations for what and why they buy and, instead, focus on the emotional reasons that are essential to the most successful brands. Let me give you an example: Our agency was working with the new CEO of an established and well-known clothing brand. The executives were convinced their customer franchise was aging and even dying off, and wanted to find a new audience they could attract without losing their existing customers. They also believed that the brand was used almost exclusively for work attire and special occasions, and that their current aging audience had left the work force and went out less frequently for those special occasions. The company hadn’t done any research in a very long time, so we initiated focus groups with their best customers, run by an experienced Account Planner.

What we learned changed client minds, their business and their sales. We learned that these customers, far from being retired and inactive, were full of life and extremely busy socially, as well as on the work and volunteer front.  We also found that the brand had an incredibly strong emotional bond with its customers, who cherished the quality and classic design that never went out of style.  In fact, given how active they were, the customers actually wanted more designs for more occasions so the brand could play an even more visible role in their lives. Needless to say, armed with this new knowledge, the client immediately began broadening their product offerings to meet the unmet demand for more clothing on more occasions, tailored their marketing accordingly, and sales have continued to increase ever since. And all of this was thanks to going out and talking to – and learning from — their own customers.

consumer research is an investment you have to make.

It’s interesting that clients tend to recoil whenever they hear the need for research and I think it’s based on two concerns: time and money.  They believe any research will take too long and cost too much. This just isn’t true, especially with the advent of online quantitative surveys that are easy and relatively inexpensive to field. But even more important, the reality is that, without truly knowing your customer, there can be no greater waste of a company’s time and money than marketing without current and relevant consumer insights. Rather than marketing, you’re really only guessing. My advice is that Know Thy Customer should be one of the first commandments of any company that wants to succeed.

locations

Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

hours

Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

marijuana branding: how to craft a brand story

I once went to a speech given by the then-CEO of P&G, and he said something that I knew instinctively was true, and I’ve followed his advice ever since: Every brand has a story, and it’s your responsibility as the head of a company or marketing director, to tell it.

every brand tells a story

This rings true not only intuitively – it feels right – but has been corroborated from the extensive consumer research I’ve done over the years. People constantly look for cues from your product, packaging and messaging that tells them your brand story.  They want or even need to know what your brand story is so they can understand on an gut level if you fit with their sense of themselves, or if you don’t.  And they purchase accordingly.

There’s no question that people like stories, and respond to them on a deeply personal and emotional level. It’s almost a basic instinct that helps us communicate in a meaningful and memorable way. And we internalize the best stories as part of our lives, which should be your goal: to be the best brand storyteller possible. But there is a caveat here. Your brand story must be the truth.

It should not be a tale or what you’d like the story to be, but a story that rings true at every possible contact point, from name and packaging, to website and marketing communications. With today’s social media, any shading of the truth will be seen and instantly communicated, breaking the trust of your customers, and trust is glue that holds your brand and customer together. Without it, you will not succeed. In answering what is a brand? I pointed out that people want to associate with brands that either fit with their sense of self, or represent what they aspire to be. And telling your brand story in a memorable, emotional, and even entertaining way, helps them make that judgment.

so how do you craft a brand story?

First, as I’ve mentioned before, you must determine what your brand stands for. In a very real way, establishing what you stand for sets the basis for your brand story’s plot: it gives shape and meaning to the story you want to tell. Once you’ve clearly articulated what you stand for, begin to craft your story just like any writer, with a beginning, middle and end.

Beginning: Today’s consumer wants a product to be about more than just someone trying to make money. Of course they understand you want this to be a profitable enterprise, but what was that first glimmer that got you into the business? What is it about your ‘mission’ that gets you up every day and headed to the office? How do you want to make a difference in the world and in the life of your customers? The consumer truly wants to know the answer to these questions and, if you don’t tell them, I promise you – they’ll make something up that you may not like. Remember, aside from the product benefit, which is often the category benefit and thereby not necessarily unique, you want your customers to be inspired by who you are and what you do, and telling the brand story enables them to actually take part in your vision.

Middle: As companies grow, you’ll face challenges and market changes that may require you to shift the focus of what you want to achieve. When that happens, let people know – they need to understand why you’re doing something so they can continue to be a part of your brand franchise. Remember, your story is really an ongoing conversation with your customers that keeps them interested, involved and committed to the brand. Don’t exclude them or think they don’t need to know – they do. They’ll see or sense the changes or shifts in direction and will need to know that you still want and have a role in their life.  Otherwise, they’ll write the middle part of your story for themselves, and it may not be what you want.

End: Unlike most stories, there probably is no true end to your brand story, as you want it to unfold as long as possible. And while that may be, there should be a mental target of where you want the brand to continue moving, and your customers need to come on that journey with you. It’s always best if they can visualize that goal almost as well as you see it. In fact, as your customers, they want to join you on that journey. Having your customers share your journey in a way that they’re featured characters in your brand story, is especially relevant today when every company, brand and personnel move is magnified and spread on social media. If your customers are fellow travelers in your story, and feel a part of it, maybe even the cause of it, you will have their support and be much better positioned to overcome problems and obstacles without losing sight of that goal you share with them.  And in that way, your brand story becomes theirs, too. 

locations

Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

hours

Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

marijuana branding: what is a brand?

What is a brand? It seems everyone has their own definition, and I have mine. It’s sometimes easiest to say what it isn’t, especially in an area where there appears to be the most confusion, so here goes – a brand is not a name, logo or package design.

These are important, of course, but are really outward reflections of what the brand is rather than embodying its core essence. The true meaning is very straightforward: A brand is what your product or service stands for. It’s honestly that simple.  And in establishing exactly what you stand for, you provide the foundation for consumers to know what your brand has in common with them, and how you fit into their lives.

defining your cannabis brand

Defining your brand is as important for Canna brands as for any other consumer product or service. Who are you? Why do you exist? How are you better or an improvement over competitive products?  How do you make consumers’ lives easier or better? These are questions that must be answered early on, preferably before you even begin deciding what product or service you want to provide.

getting started

The first step in determining what you want to stand for is deciding the product category in which you wish to compete.  I know it seems simple, but I’ve seen many companies lack clarity in deciding on the category, often by saying, “What we offer is so new, so different that we’ll let the market decide for itself.”  Big mistake. Consumers need to know what category you’re in. If you don’t provide that information, they’ll group you with products or services they already know, and you may end up either competing against the wrong companies, or appearing schizophrenic, as each consumer has their own sense of who you are and what you offer.  Remember – if you don’t tell them, they will end up telling you. Once you’ve determined the category, you need to decide the primary consumer market you’re targeting. Who are they, what products are they using now, and why is yours better? In a very real sense, articulating what you stand for as a brand builds a bridge between your target market and your product that is the most important decision you’ll make.

I have a story that you may find useful in building that bridge for your own brand…

The head of a well-known creative agency I worked at once said something that, after years of consumer purchase behavior research, I know to be absolutely true: people may explain their purchases on a rational basis – who doesn’t want to look like they know what they’re doing — but their wallet is controlled by their heart.  Let me explain… I spent a number of years marketing package goods, specifically cleaning products like detergents and bleaches. That means I probably know more about getting clothes clean than anyone should. And we did a great deal of consumer research to understand why women – by far the majority of detergent purchasers – bought the brands they did. In numerous focus groups, held over a period of years, I saw that the specific detergent the woman purchased was, to her, the symbol of how she defined her role as a wife and mother.  If she bought Tide, for example, she’d relate it to the fact that her mother used Tide and, even though the daughter had to work and spend time out of the home, when she did the laundry, she wanted to ensure to herself that she valued the task and wanted to put just as much love into it as her mother did.  Seeing her kids and husband walking out into the world with clothes she’d cleaned made her feel she was fulfilling her role as a mother and wife, just as her own mother had. For the woman who purchased the less expensive store brand, she’d say that she had a responsibility to her family to be smart about where they spent their money and, she knew store brands cleaned almost as well as the higher priced brands, or at least the difference in quality was too small to pay more for another brand. In effect, she saw using the cheaper brand as a symbol of the importance she put on being the smartest shopper she could possibly be for her family. I learned from this experience, which has been proved over many different product categories, that if what detergent a person bought was a symbol of the mother or wife she saw herself as, then that emotional role was the essential and longest-lasting benefit of any brand. The deeper the emotional attachment the consumer has for your brand, the greater its ability to weather challenges, changes or new competitors. Your brand not only has a role in their life, you actually help define the sort of life they aspire to live and person they hope to be.

locations

Seattle

The Bay Area

contact

(206) 420-6121
info@thematters.group

hours

Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed