How Your Style Guide Makes or Breaks Your Cannabis Brand

Imagine you’re a caterer and have the biggest wedding of your career this weekend. You ask 100 employees to bake you a vanilla cake with vanilla icing. Seems simple enough, right? The next day your staff comes back with 100 different versions of the cake and you’re shocked. How could vanilla on vanilla have so many versions? Some team members believed they would jazz it up with sprinkles. Some have smooth icing and others whipped. Some are round and some are square. Some cakes are small and others resemble the tiered wedding cake you had in mind. It’s a mess and now your business looks unorganized and unreliable.

Now, if you’d taken that same request but offered detailed instructions and photo examples of acceptable cakes, you would be parading into the wedding confident and in control of your product. This is the same reason your cannabis brand needs a detailed style guide.  

The cannabis industry is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and in the rush to market, business owners often neglect the policing of their brand. You cannot give away your logo to vendors, press, and partners with no instruction or guidance. Why would you, as a business owner, take so much time to build your brand only to release it into the world without the proper care it needs?  

There are four main goals for building your brand’s style guide:

  • It makes it easy to monitor how other companies use your brand.
  • It makes it easy for the press to get what they need. If you are interested in having a relationship with reviewers, media, etc, then a style guide is essential in policing your brand.
  • It makes it easy for your employees to work your brand on your behalf.
  • It protects you legally from the repercussions of misuse.

Remember this: Each time someone gets your brand right, you add value — when someone gets it wrong, you take value away.

Let’s walk through each element of a style guide so you can begin to build your own. I want to include a link to 50 Meticulous Style Guides, so that you can have a visual of how best to lay it out.

A few general tips to consider from the outset:

  • Don’t let unqualified vendors design your logo. Many products in this industry are starting to look alike because people are letting print vendors design their logos. These people are not invested in your brand, they are invested in getting your business. Be mindful of those who offer discounts or free art; you get what you pay for. I know it may seem like the easy thing to do, and vendors use this as a hook to buy their product, but taking the early time to work with a true designer to create a memorable logo to develop your brand will pay off in the long run. This is something you only want to do once, so do it right the first time.
  • Keep the finished style guide on your website. You want to make it easy for the media to cover you, so give them the tools to do so! 
If you put a lot of work into your brand or product, you should make sure it is well-represented by your employees, business partners, or in the media. Photo Credit: Rory Savatgy

The basics of a style guide include:

  • High-resolution art
  • Your brand logo
  • Your selected brand font (select a main font and complimentary font)
  • Your selected brand colors
  • Your Basic Proper Usage; the variations of your logo that you will allow the public to use. 
  • Include examples and photographs of acceptable and unacceptable use of your logos and taglines

 Complimentary applications and extensions include:

  • Reverse logos
  • Additional fonts acceptable to use
  • Trap/knock out versions of your logo  
  • Set up patterns for templates that others can use
  • Patterns, step and repeats, gradations, silhouettes
  • Merchandising examples for apparel and product development

Language

  • The verbal aspects of your brand are as important as your visual aspects. Create a verbal style guide for your brand to help teach others about its usage. This is especially important for people who sell your product or describe your services (including your staff)
  • The language in your style guide influences how you’re talked about. Some things to include in the language section of your style guide;
    • How is your brand spoken about?
    • What key phrases are used to describe your brand?
    • What material is used to introduce your brand to press? 
  • Include your mission, your passion, and your reason for being in business
  • Write your tagline and your headlines. Elaborate on your reasons for why these phrases were chosen. This will help with advertising and marketing.

Digital style

In a digital age, this is an important element to add to your style guide. Who are your customers? What do they “look” like. What does your target “sound” like? How do they move through social media? What are they sharing? These are the questions you need to ask yourself and then tailor your digital image around them when you market. 

  • Choose inspirational examples for social media. All great social media pages have a “look” and a “feel”. Make sure you communicate that in your style guide so that people posted about you can work within your brand.
  • Evaluate your brand on different digital platforms
  • Evaluate your brand on different social media platforms
  • Look at the digital ads on your city’s alternative weekly and have a designer layout an ad so you can see your presence in that space. If it works for you, add that to your style guide.
  • Add a legal notification at the end of your style guide that indicates that if someone reproduces your images improperly, it’s their liability. You can also add any intellectual property protections here. This will protect your brand at the highest level. 

As an agency, I can’t tell you how valuable this tool is and how much time is wasted if you don’t have it. 

This is an ongoing rule book for your brand’s success and value, so make sure to modify your style guide as your brand evolves. I know you’ll have tremendous peace of mind knowing your logo is shared in the way you intended and that you can forward your style guide to press, partners, and employees and have it executed perfectly.

Remember, go as far as you can see, and when you get there you’ll be able to see further.

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Authored By

Doreen Sullivan in an ultrapreneur, creative strategist, speaker, and CEO of award-winning agency Post No Bills. As founder of My Bud Vase, Doreen continues to advocate for entrepreneurs and business owners in the cannabis industry, committed to helping develop creative solutions for marketing, branding, and packaging needs. 

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