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Cannabis 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 neither 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 cannabis 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…

This is a bit dated but back in the day things were a bit different. 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, mother and caregiver.  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.

And THAT is what a brand really is.

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