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Last Brand Standing: Creating an Authentic Cannabis Brand

Apple. Nike. Disney. The most famous brands in the world all have one thing in common; their brands are authentic. What does that mean exactly? How can you build an authentic brand for your own company and why is an authentic brand essential in the cannabis industry?

Your brand is a way to immediately convey a story, an emotion, or a feeling to your audience. It’s the foundation of your business, the backbone of your company. Having an authentic brand is the most important first step you’ll take in setting the tone for your company — and one of the costliest missteps businesses bring upon themselves when they get it wrong. Inauthentic brands lose power and the trust of their audience, resulting in lost time, energy, and profits.

Your brand is a living, breathing piece of your company. It is the message that represents you and building that brand requires meticulous attention to detail, intense passion, and time. Let’s look at some steps in creating an authentic brand and how it will help you stand out in the cannabis industry.

Building a new brand from the ground up takes a lot of creativity and determination, so set yourself up for success by planning ahead.

Know who you are and who you serve

How do you begin to form an authentic brand? You get personal. Who is your audience and what story are you trying to tell?

Nike believes that anyone can be an athlete, and their brand promotes finding personal greatness so you can “Just Do It.” There is a fearlessness in each aspect of their brand. Disney is focused on creating magic for any age, and this comes across in every ad, commercial, logo, tagline, and event.

What do you want your company to “feel” like to your customers? This stage in the brand building process is time consuming but reaps great rewards. Understanding both who you are and who you serve will help define your mission and drive your company forward:

  • What is your company’s purpose?
  • How can you best execute that purpose?
  • How can you best serve your consumer?
  • What does that consumer look like?
  • Where would you find this consumer?

Having specific answers to these questions is essential to building an authentic brand. 

How do you fit in and how do you stand out?

One of the biggest mistakes I see business owners make in the cannabis industry is trying to build a cannabis brand as opposed to building an authentic brand in the cannabis space. Creating your brand is a “gut experience” and includes decisions made with passion and what “feels” right. Too often, I see companies incorporate a cannabis leaf in their logo or add some scientific symbolism to their brand and think they are finished. Wrong… branding goes so far beyond that. 

Your logo — the most important visual aspect of your brand — needs to feel iconic to YOU. Your logo is your calling card, the visual representation of the promise you make to your consumers. Take the time to print out your logo options and spend time with them in different scenarios.

Does your love for your logo accrue with time? Your logo is like art — the more time you spend with it, the more you should appreciate it. Test your logo in different mediums: how does it look on a business card versus a billboard? The visual representation is the cornerstone of your brand and should be crafted with meticulous care.

An authentic cannabis brand shouldn’t scream “marijuana,” but should demonstrate forethought and sophistication. Photo Credit: Sarah Climaco

I challenge you to create a folder and continue to add visual and verbal items to it. Over time, you will begin to recognize a pattern in the items you gravitate towards. The art, fonts, colors, and patterns you choose need to feel authentic to your company and what you stand for.

This will also help you communicate your wants and needs to the artist you hire to design your brand. Developing brand guidelines in a style guide will help your company identify key colors, taglines, and visuals for your brand — here is an example from my own company. It will also help you police your brand, give you credibility, and help the media share your story while keeping your brand strong. These are the guidelines others will look to when using your brand.

How do you know it’s working?

So you’ve done the research, you’ve created a logo you love, and you’ve created your style guide. What’s next?

It’s time to live with it for a bit and try it on for size. This is the moment your brand starts working for you. How do you feel when you engage your brand throughout the day?

Ask others around you how they feel about your messaging and logo. Is your story coming across the way you intended it to? While feedback is essential, I encourage business owners to “trust your gut” on this one. Your brand is like your baby — you know what’s best.

The most important advice I can offer is to get started. You will discover throughout your journey that an essential component of a successful business is staying true to your mission and your brand. People buy into what “feels” right, and the story you tell will determine the authenticity of your business. So trust your gut and go for it.

As J.P. Morgan said, “Go as far as you can see, and when you get there you’ll be able to see further.”

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