BRANDING AND RELATIONSHIPS When we try to conceive and talk about “branding”, we most often approach it from a strict business mentality. Our machine minds take over as we do our best to boil our company down to a slogan that’s going to be “catchy” or an image that will both “represent us” and “stick in their minds”. We think of it as a way to define our company, market ourselves, or build a following; but what we’re really talking about here is relationships. So let’s talk about relationships. When you first meet someone who’s going to be special in your life, how do you attract them? Is it their first impression of you? Or maybe, your “look”, or the way you’ve dressed yourself up? Perhaps it’s how they perceive you socially, or generally in comparison to others. Wait! Obviously, it’s all about that first real one-on-one experience with you. Right? Well, with both business and dating, the truth is that it’s all of the above.
BRANDING AND THE LAWS OF ATTRACTION Now, any basic business person already understands these elementary concepts, but have they learned the art of the dance? In all forms of “attraction”, some people are naturals, some get lucky, some are wise enough to get coaches or mentors. The purpose of attracting is setting yourself up so that you have the real opportunity to build a relationship beyond a single moment of connection. With this perspective in mind, why do we create brands while thinking about our business and ourselves, on a personal level, instead of thinking about the specific types of cannabis customers we’re trying to attract to our cannabis businesses? When you go out on a first date, are you really trying to show “your true self” or are you purposely projecting only the best parts of yourself that you think your potential partner is seeking? These are some of the traits that we’ve found to apply on a social and macro-cosmic level as aptly as they do in actual interpersonal relationships.
BRANDING – WHAT’S IN A NAME? Over the generations of branding trends, we’ve noticed that brands have as much of an ability to isolate certain potential clients as they do to attract others. Sure, calling your dispensary “Uncle Jerry’s Pot-a-Palooza” sounded like a great name when you were testing out the potential products, but the next morning, before you file that license, rent that property next to the old record shop, and contact a sign company; you may want to ask for an outside opinion. The more “fun” the name incorporates, the more it will appeal to the culture of “stoner humor”. The more “medical” it sounds, the more “approachable & trustworthy” it will appear to older and more conservative crowds. The problem with both is not in who they attract, but who they either fail to attract or who they repel. Still, there is a third option. High end cannabis branding has been finding recent success by using words or phrases that have seemingly nothing to do with the cannabis products themselves, but carry more of a “sense” or “feeling” of luxury or an exotic nature. Generally, if you were to name your brand “Luxe”, french for luxury, it could easily represent anything from a cannabis brand to a perfume, meaning that the only sense the name gives to your customers is the experience and emotional memory of luxury and foreign lands. Combining the right kind of professional cannabis brand image with these kinds of more aloof brand names can present a mystique, sending the message: “Whatever this is, it’s the good stuff.”
WHY SHOULD CUSTOMERS CHOOSE YOU? Your customers think that they can get what you have lots of other places; so why would they keep coming home to you? Maybe, at this point, you’ve already failed at love at first sight. It’s okay, we’re talking about rebranding now. At this point, how else can we build that attraction? Well, by social comparison. When thinking about how they’ll see your product next, will the items have their own display case or is something used to keep things presentable? In packaging, we can think ahead so the sole responsibility of keeping your cannabis merchandise tidy and presentable on the shelf isn’t the sole responsibility of the local budtender on shift. When hanging next to other cartridges, do your eyes read the font more easily on your packaging than others? If you look at your packaging in a lineup of others, would you guess that your product would be visually identified as the most expensive or highest quality? What local partners do you have promoting your product at popular events, festivals, & community gatherings? Further, when you are out in the community, what image are your representatives projecting on your company’s behalf? Yes: all of this is still “branding”. This is why it takes a community to make a real business. Some are naturals at this, and some are wise enough to get help when it’s time to take the next real step forward.
BRANDING – LOOK THE PART Someone walking around at an event with a duffle bag full of hamburgers wrapped in paper towels may actually have some trouble giving them away for free. But someone walking around with hamburgers stacked aesthetically on a silver platter will sell out before the burgers cool. So when out at events, are you telling your staff to “dress comfortably” or did you make uniforms and set a dress code? These are the little moments that matter! When Starbucks started, their mission was not to make coffee, it was to replace the word “coffee” itself. When I was young in business, an exec from their company bragged to me “One day people won’t say ‘Let’s go get some coffee’, but say ‘Let’s go get some starbucks’.” Hearing this, I thought, there was no way; he had to be out of his mind… and that was my first real lesson in business. Little moments matter. Having grown up, I’ve learned that when you first hear of a product or new company, first see a new something on an old familiar shelf, see a new sponsor at a show for your favorite band; these are the beginnings. These are the key moments that we work to make meaningful, and potentially form a relationship from them. If that new thing catches your attention once, you may not engage with it, but after the third time, on average, people stop and interact. At that point, it’s about the actual quality of your services and products, your customer’s belief in what they’ve conceived of your brand, and what it means to them. If I call my chemical company “one-earth sustainable chemicals”, it doesn’t matter what I’m actually making; I’m going to be protested less than “capital-first chemical solutions” (Though the latter would probably grab more investors). Even if both companies manufacture the exact same products. When you find yourself in times of trouble, image can be everything.
BRANDING – IMAGE MATTERS People want something to believe in, to rally around, to fall in love with. Connection is the purpose of life for most of us on this planet. It’s why we make families, observe our faiths, and live in communities; we recognize that we need each other. So why does your customer need you? How much time do you spend telling people to buy your product versus showing them how you can help them? If you offer the most “expensive looking” and highest quality product, and it’s “marked at a discount” so it’s still at a competitive price point; now you’re doing them a favor. You’re reaching out and giving instead of looking for new opportunities to take. You’re making the same amount of money, but having your product is now a bragging right, so your sales start trending steadily upward. The point here is just this simple; like it or not, “image matters”. At a lecture, I was fortunate enough to attend, a group of investors asked Russell Simmons, “How do you always know what the next big thing is going to be?” Russell responded, “I don’t. I look at where there is a need and an opportunity to do a good thing for my community, then I do it. Funny, it always comes back to me once others see it, support it… and it turns into that next big thing.”* Step one to branding is not just knowing who you are now, as a company, but who you want to directly serve in your community. Step two is finding a way to use your brand and logo to convey to the community how you are going to help them. Step three is having a good product and service… but that’s a whole different article.