In this panel talk on investing in cannabis, Jennifer Drake, COO of AYR Wellness, points out that the future of the industry lies in branding.
While it’s important for someone of Drake’s caliber to make this statement – AYR being a publically traded company that garners industry respect – to find out what she means the last place anyone should look is AYR’s website.
A blander example of branding is hard to find. AYR’s strategy is clearly to target the canna-curious AKA people who know nothing about cannabis. What I see when I look at their website is a lazy copy, wishy-washy colours and stock photos about as enticing as a dead plant.
Yet, they claim to sell Wellness and Wonder. Well now, I’m wondering how much they paid some Fiverr smuck to come up with that catch-all-means-absolutely-nothing-and-everything concept? But AYR is far from alone. Bland branding is the hallmark of cannabis today. What’s the solution? It’s in your story.
As lifeless as their website looks, even AYR has a story; for God’s sake they’ve created a public traded company that seems to sell air. They’re Kim K circa 2013 when she married Kanye – if nothing else you’ve got to admire the sheer balls on them.
Don’t be the old Kim
To date, the only company that’s achieved awareness is MedMen, and for all the wrong reasons. Right now, they’re the old Kim K, circa 2007, just after her sex tape leaked – sure, customers know the name and are hella-curious but no one takes it seriously. Brand awareness is not the same as loyalty.
Of course, a much bigger problem is the plant’s legal status, which restricts the language cannabis companies can use on and offline, and makes it challenging to educate customers on the benefits of using cannabis.
But there are other damaging ideas floating around the space, ideas like cannabis sells itself, and the black market has been selling shit for years so users will buy shit. Not only are these ideas wrong, they’re dangerous, spurring a trend in high THC strains that confuse consumers, giving them a false barometer for quality.
In this instance, what cannabis brands need to understand is that your product is not your brand. Right now, companies are looking for ways to innovate product based on legal loopholes. As a result, focus is on the plant, how to make it better, bigger, stronger, or cheaper.
A growing trend in legal US States is price-cutting, with record low wholesale prices in California. At the same, there’s a boom in edibles, beverages, concentrates and extracts, a rush to squeeze as much juice as possible from the plant. But is it the best strategy? Is it what the consumer wants? Is it what Kim K would do?
How to be the Kim Kardashian of Cannabis
What does Kim K know that cannabis companies don’t? She knows her market. When she launched Skims, her form-fitting underwear line, she created a product that she not only needed for herself, but one she’d been hunting for forever.
For years, she’d been using Spanx and similar brands, and was constantly frustrated that she could never find colours other than black and that sickly beige colour typical of women’s under-garments. She used food coloring to dye that sickly beige red, blue, green or whatever colour she needed.
One morning she woke up, thinking, wait a minute, if I need this, other women must need it too? She was right. Today, Skims is worth US$1.6billion.
Yes, Kim created an awesome product but the market made it a success. And Kim put the market first. How? She does extensive research.
Kim is an avid user of Twitter, using it specifically for market research. She lets her fans know what she’s thinking about and posts pictures of designs in progress, encouraging customers to vote on their favourites. Kim makes the whole process as interactive as possible. She’s always in conversation with her customers because they both care about product quality and getting it right. What can cannabis brands learn from her?
Don’t be afraid to tell your story
Kim is famous for flashing her wealth and successes but she’s also not afraid to show her mistakes and course-correct when necessary. Her clothing line, Skims, was originally called Kimono but she changed it when an outcry of cultural appropriation forced her to do so. This only endeared her more to her fans.
So Kim’s product is quality form-fitting underwear in a range of colours but her brand is making every woman who wears Skims feel as special as Kim Kardashian, and she reinforces that concept with her transparency and willingness to communicate.
And look at Kim today, now that she’s studying for the bar and fighting for prisoner release, she’s become a force in her own right, a woman with real power. As a result, more women want to identify with her. Imagine if AYR got some principals, could they achieve the same? Think I’m being too harsh?
It won’t always be like this. As soon as new laws open new markets, and more players get into the game, differentiating product based on the niche it caters to will be the only way to survive. There will be mass weed brands, a handful of them, but everyone else will be more profitable adding value in niche markets. How do you find your niche? It’s in your story.
Here are some cannabis brands that are turning heads by harnessing their story to target niche markets:
|Company||Product||Demographic||User type||Gender||Product knowledge|
|LOWD (Love Our Weed Daily)||Flower||Millennial||Recreational||Male||High|
|Red Belly Honey||Edibles||Gen X||Wellness||Female||Medium|
|Canna Brew||Beverages||Gen Z||Recreational||Male||Low|
|Wild Atlantic Hemp||CBD||Gen X||Wellness||Female||Low|
Check out the sites of these brands (links in table) and you’ll see how each one is branded in a way that appeals to its audience. Branding is so much more than product. It’s a chance to flex your creative juices, get you and your market excited about what’s coming, build engaging conversations with your audience, and ultimately breed loyal customers for life.