The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma. by Charlena Berry I used to be a Qdoba customer. I was in love with their tortilla soup and had it for lunch all the time. Then a Chipotle opened in my area, and over time, my loyalty shifted. Why? Chipotle’s branding. Chipotle’s brand is all about…
The post Create a Cannabis Brand That Customers Are Proud to Associate With Using These 4 Pillars appeared first on Cannabis Business Executive – Cannabis and Marijuana industry news.
The following is adapted from Breaking the Stigma.
by Charlena Berry
I used to be a Qdoba customer. I was in love with their tortilla soup and had it for lunch all the time. Then a Chipotle opened in my area, and over time, my loyalty shifted. Why? Chipotle’s branding.
Chipotle’s brand is all about being real: real ingredients, real purpose, real flavor. They’ve woven that concept into every aspect of the company. Not only is their food delicious, without any artificial junk, but they make me feel good about spending my money there.
Guess what? As a cannabis-based business owner, you have to create a brand for your business that does the same. Your brand will influence every aspect of the customer experience, so it’s important to take the time to clearly and carefully define what your brand represents.
When a customer spends their hard-earned dollars in your store, they are essentially endorsing you. They are choosing to associate themselves with you, perhaps not publicly, but at least in their own mind. So your brand is not just your own identity as a company. It’s also a reflection of at least some small part of your customers’ identity. That’s a big deal, especially in cannabis.
With so much shame floating around, if you can create a brand that customers are proud to associate with, it’s huge and will go a long way in developing customer loyalty and breaking the stigma. To help you get started, let me share the four pillars that the most successful brands all share.
#1: Be Inclusive
Recently, there’s been a push in branding to become more targeted, zeroing in on a specific niche of customers. The idea is that if you try to appeal to everyone, you end up with a weak, bland message that appeals to no one. This is good advice for many companies, but for cannabis retailers, I caution you against that strategy. Inclusivity is typically a better choice for us because we don’t have a single type of customer.
If you try to zero in on a niche, you’re going to end up alienating a sizable chunk of your customer base. Many of our potential customers already struggle with the fact that they don’t fit into the mold of the stereotypical cannabis user. Branding that appeals only to the stereotypical user will not attract them and can even repel them.
First-time or novice users in particular may be afraid or nervous to visit a dispensary. If your branding isn’t inclusive, they won’t feel welcome and may never even step foot in your store, and now you’ve lost a potential lifetime customer.
As retailers, we really cannot afford to alienate customers. Of course, even with a goal of being inclusive, you shouldn’t expect to appeal to everyone. Chipotle’s brand of being real is inclusive because it can speak to people regardless of race, gender, age, and so on, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to be a Chipotle fan.
The point of inclusivity is to ensure that your branding is not purposely or accidentally excluding entire segments of your customer base. By choosing an inclusive branding message, you can make your store a welcoming place for your many varied customers.
#2: Have a Purpose Greater Than Profit
Look, we all want to make money, and in the cannabis industry, we have the opportunity to make a lot of it. In my work with cannabis companies, increasing profit is absolutely a priority. But—and this is a big but—profit cannot be your only purpose.
Every business wants to make money. If you want to stand out and compete in this space, you need something more to make you unique. We have to earn respect from both customers and the public as a whole, and one way to do that is using our brands to actively do good in our communities and the world.
A brand used to just be the experience a customer had with the company, but it’s bigger now, in part due to the rise of conscious capitalism, an idea presented by Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey and marketing professor Raj Sisodia. Conscious capitalism is the idea that companies should operate ethically, serving not just their shareholders but all their employees and the larger world as a whole.
Conscious capitalism is especially important for us cannabis retailers because of the stigma we’re dealing with. It’s not enough for us to disprove the Big Lie that cannabis is dangerous. We have to show people that cannabis is not only safe but beneficial for users and society as a whole.
If you’re struggling to find a purpose, think about how you want customers to feel when they come into your store. You want them to give their money to you, not any other cannabis store. What are you going to give them in return that other stores don’t? The answer to that can likely develop into your purpose. Your purpose may also change over time. As long as you show customers that you care about more than just profit, you’re headed in the right direction.
#3: Be Authentic
Inclusivity and purpose will be at the center of your brand. From there, you can build out your brand strategy in many directions. You could be funny or weird. You could focus on education and the science behind cannabis. You could prioritize an all-natural, organic image. You could go for warm and fuzzy feelings.
Your overall strategy and tone of branding should align with your purpose—if your purpose is, say, supporting local artists, it wouldn’t make sense or feel authentic to have a store designed like a clean, minimalist laboratory. So your purpose will guide your strategy, but you still have a lot of freedom and space to be creative.
Humans are social creatures. We can bond with just about anything—animals, Roombas, and yes, companies too. In order for people to bond with you, though, you need to be authentic. If you’re a funny person, lean into that for your branding, or if you wear your heart on your sleeve in everything you do, then make sure that’s reflected in your branding.
The more authentic you are to yourself, the more unique your branding will end up being, which will help you stand out and connect with customers.
#4: Use Story to Build Trust and Connection
People are naturally drawn to stories. They evoke emotion and stick in our heads. The story of your company is one of your best opportunities to form a connection with your customers and build trust, in addition to communicating your higher purpose beyond profits.
A perfect example of the power of story is Charlotte’s Web CBD. The company was founded by the seven Stanley brothers, and in their words, “We didn’t start as a company. We started as a mission.”
The company’s name of course brings to mind the beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web, but it was also named after a little girl, Charlotte Figi. Charlotte suffered from a drug-resistant form of epilepsy and could have up to hundreds of seizures a week. The Stanley brothers owned a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado; they developed a CBD tincture for Charlotte, and it worked. Her seizures dropped drastically, to just a few per month.
The brothers’ higher purpose is “to unleash the healing powers of botanicals with compassion and science, benefiting the planet and all who live upon it.” You can see that purpose in their story and in their various social and environmental initiatives, from employing organic and regenerative farming practices to partnering with nonprofits.
The Stanley brothers’ story reveals the soul of the company. When I think of Charlotte’s Web, I don’t think of a cold, impersonal business; I think of the very real people who make up the company. Because of that, I trust Charlotte’s Web. I know they are committed to helping people and producing a quality CBD product.
Weave Your Branding into Everything
Once you’ve established your four pillars, you will have the start of a strong brand. The next step is to weave it into every aspect of your company.
There are lots of ways to weave your branding into your company, but one of the first you should consider is your name. A name can seem like a small thing, but names are important. Your name is the customer’s first introduction to your identity, so it should reflect your brand in some way.
After your name, consider your logo and tagline. Does your logo make sense with your brand? For instance, if your brand is all about joy, you’re not going to want a ton of dark colors in your logo, or if your brand is centered around the arts, you better have a cool, artsy logo. Your tagline is a short phrase that sums up your brand. Keep it to a few words, and make it memorable.
After figuring out the branding basics, keep your brand in mind as you make all your decisions as a company. Your staff uniform, the products you stock, the art you put on the walls, the material you put on your website—it should all be informed by your brand. Ultimately, the sooner you establish your brand, the better you’ll be able to embed it into your company, and the more impact it will have on your customers.
For more advice on how to create a cannabis brand your customers are proud to associate with, you can find Breaking the Stigma on Amazon.
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