Somewhat serendipitously, just over a year ago, I entered the Cannabis world, pleasantly surprised how many close colleagues and acquaintances of mine were a part of this rather hidden business community. Having been at the epicenter of the late nineties Internet revolution (having founded 3 startups and managed scores of client projects at countless creative agencies), the parallels between that time and now were becoming quite apparent.
With the transition from a medicinal to an adult use retail market, it was apparent the difficulty and uncertainty that cannabis purveyors would now face. Given my specific background, I realized that I could have an impact to support both the legacy cultivators as well as the new constituents who’ve recently entered this emerging Cannabis community.
While actual cannabis might slow life down, cannabis entrepreneurs are acting at lightning speed. In 2016, cannabis startups raised over $213M and legal cannabis sales peaked at $6.7 billion. With cannabis brands popping up like…weeds…it’s important to find the right creative team to differentiate through design, branding and messaging.
As a business matchmaker, I connect cannabis clients with creative/branding and high-tech agencies to help them compete in mainstream markets. Hiring the right agency for your startup makes for smooth sailing in relatively unknown territory. For example — are you prepared for the the ever-changing brand guidelines and FDA regulations that can potentially halt your product or packaging design in its tracks? What about the legality of your product claims — are you aware of messaging restrictions? Do you know how to resonate with your audience in the overwhelming collective of new cannabis products? Do you know who you’re selling to — and how to describe what you’re actually selling? The right creative talent will work with you to answer these important questions.
As the industry continues to flourish — Bloomberg projects sales to reach $50 billion by 2026 — it will become harder to differentiate your cannabis brand without the right creative talent. As Founder + Managing Partner of KindKhameleon, I’ve spent over two decades cultivating relationships with the industry’s brightest branding, design and tech agencies and freelancers to help cannabis brands succeed. Partnering with the right agency is often the best solution for your brand, but if you’re going to tackle it yourself, here are my five “KNOWS” to consider:
Know Your Audience
If you think your audience is everyone with a mouth…think again. Are they patients? Enthusiasts? Recreationists? Are you looking to attract the average soccer mom or the established user? A good agency or freelancer will work with you to define your audience. What keeps them up at night? How will your product benefit them? Understanding your audience’s perspective will make your brand stronger and is the first place to start.
Know Your Story
Your story is your greatest asset. When developing your story, aim to articulate your why. Why are you in business? Why does your product or service matter? Your why articulates your brand purpose and beliefs. Using your story to show off your brand’s scientific capabilities will build trust and enable you to influence the perception of the cannabis industry in a way that is modern and inspiring.
Know Your Product
This cannot be understated: Make what you’re selling easily identifiable and remember to sell your specific product benefits or service offerings and not the category. From medicinal chocolate bars to THC mints to cannabis extracts and herbal sprays to marijuana-infused water, understanding whatyou’re selling (and its benefit) is important. Equally important is being able to describe serving size. Is your single-serving THC brownie a bite? A gem? A chew? A piece? A unique name? Make sure your messaging is easy to understand so that your audience can identify it.
Know the Law
Early in 2016, Colorado passed new packaging regulations for recreational marijuana edibles and screw top aluminum bottles were no longer compliant. For medicinal water beverages, this meant a complete (and costly) packaging rebrand. With more and more states legalizing cannabis and passing their own regulations, designing for edibles can be a considerable challenge. Make sure you stay abreast of state regulations to avoid rebranding before you’re ready.
Know Your Design
Is your design not only beautiful, but informative? Along with clever naming and messaging, use design to appeal to your specific subset of cannabis user. Kiva Confections is the gold standard of cannabis design because of its high-end packaging and educational breakdown of dosaging. Your design should be an expression of your story and purpose — your ultimate “Why.” Here are a few of my favorites that are well executed.
Steve Kirsh is Founder + Managing Partner of KindKhameleon, a free business matchmaking service dedicated to connecting cannabis companies with top-level creative, marketing and development agencies. He is also a mentor at the Cannabis incubator, Gateway in Oakland, CA. Learn more at KindKhameleon.