As we close the summer and head back to our fall routines in business and life, I began thinking of how much building your cannabis brand mirrors heading back to school. You often hear CEO’s say “my brand is my baby,” and in many ways it’s true.

Many business owners make the mistake of believing that once you have a product or service and a logo, that you’ve built your brand. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I often speak about how your brand is alive. Like a child, a brand must be built, be educated, be tested, evolve, and graduate. How are you checking in and helping your brand grow? How as a “parent” are you making sure your cannabis brand has the foundation for success?

In “kindergarten” — or the initial launching your brand — it’s essential to build consistency and repetition. You’re protective, delicate, deliberate. What does that look like in a business?

  • Develop the rules of your brand. Repetition of your branding rules is critical. Develop your style guide and stick to it. “Get back to the basics.” What are your colors? Your fonts? Where is your logo placement? Training your eye and reinforcing your brand basics is essential to establish a strong brand identity.
  • Test your ideas. I cannot say this enough about building a business: VALIDATE YOUR IDEAS. Like a toddler looking for reassurance from a parent, it’s critical that you are consistently checking with your audience and a trusted group of advisors to strengthen your identity. Feedback at this stage is critical and will save you thousands of dollars and hours of energy if you focus on using proper feedback to refine your brand and product. On that note…
  • Find your tribe. “It takes a village to raise a child,” and the same is true for your brand. The trusted people you choose as influencers and sounding boards for your business will have a lasting impact on your success, so choose wisely. Look for honest, articulate team members who are focused on problem-solving and who share your vision. Work with them to reinforce a strong identity protection.

You’ve found your tribe and built your foundation, what’s next? It’s “middle school,” or the time in your business when you really begin to see your company grow. It’s awkward, it’s painful, but it’s essential. At this stage, your brand is connecting to its own growth cycle and beginning to expand. How can you facilitate healthy brand growth that increases your brand’s value and worth?

  • Form beneficial partnerships. Making new friends can be tough in a new space, but forming alliances with other like-minded business leaders can offer insight into your business, help you develop creative strategies, and move your entire industry forward.
  • Put your brand in new situations. You’ve got your foundation and brand personality, it’s time to test new waters. Are there new conferences you can attend? New vending opportunities? There may be a target market you haven’t considered. Now would be a great time to reach out to a branding expert and get their advice on potential opportunities to carefully grow.
  • Grade your brand. This is the time to sit down and evaluate where you are. Is your brand adapting to every opportunity or is it struggling with visual and verbal execution? Put yourself in a teacher role and grade yourself. Your grading needs to include evaluations on:
    • Visual — How do we look? How does your brand look in its execution?
    • Verbal — How do you sound? Does your messaging come across to your audience as intended?
    • Internal — Is your brand working within your organization?
    • Environmental — How does your brand fill out a room?
    • Social — How does your brand perform on multiple social channels?
The back-to-school season is an excellent time in the year for brand reflection and strategizing for the months ahead.

The goal in your brand’s “high school” years is to develop your self-expression and strengthen your relationships with your consumers. This is the most creative yet most challenging place for your brand. Here, your culture thrives and sets the tone for lasting success. How can your brand help take your company to the next level? How can your brand differentiate you from your competitors? How can your brand build an identity that resonates with your customers for the long haul?

  • Add secondary visual and verbal elements to your brand. What other visual and verbal elements can you add to your branding palette and incorporate in your style guide that would elevate the experience for your consumer?
  • Open yourself to opportunity. Develop the nuances that make you an intriguing brand. Look at this as an opportunity to grow your most creative ideas and team members.
  • Change vending setups. Again, we want to expand our opportunities for growth. Find opportunities to continue to develop and promote your brand in new spaces and new markets.
  • Build Recognition. Continue to develop your space and build relationships in your market. Brand awareness is essential for healthy growth.

As we look at the back to school season, it’s important to remember these lessons of growth and opportunity — they cover the baby steps to running full speed ahead, and it’s critical you’re touching base with your team and connecting with your consumer all along the way.

As your brand “grows up,” you will look back on how the discipline and effort you instilled from its inception plays an essential role in your success. When you invest your time into a proper education, your brand will work for you in dividends. And remember: go as far as you can see, and when you get there you’ll be able to see further.

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