The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began accepting state and tribal hemp production plans in 2019, and already, 17 states’ plans and 29 tribes’ plans have been approved. Additional state and tribal plans are in various stages of drafting and review.
As a result, the hemp CBD market is getting more competitive every day, which means businesses operating across the supply chain need to find ways to differentiate themselves from competitors and stand out with strong brands if they want to carve out an early chunk of market share.
To get started, focus on seven fundamental P’s of branding: promise, position, proof, persona, perception, personality, and persistence.
Define and Deliver on Your Brand Promise
Brand building in the hemp CBD industry follows the same strategic process as brand building in the cannabis industry or any other industry. The key to creating a strong brand is to first understand that your brand is a promise to consumers.
Your marketing initiatives, packaging, communications, and everything else you do or create related to your brand set expectations for your brand in consumers’ minds. To build a strong brand, you need to keep your promises to consumers – always.
Just like in life, you can promise something but if your words and actions don’t deliver on that promise, it’s meaningless to people. Your products, services, and customer experiences need to deliver on your brand’s promise or consumers won’t trust it or buy it.
Consistency is key. If you don’t consistently meet consumers’ expectations for your brand based on your brand promise and your communications, visuals, and customer experiences, then people will become confused with your brand and will turn away from it in search of a brand that does meet their expectations in every interaction. Branding is highly emotional, and confusion is the number one brand killer.
Identify Your Brand Position and Provide Proof
How does your brand compare to competitor brands in the marketplace? How is it different from other brands? How is it better than other brands? The key to brand positioning is carving out a niche in the marketplace and owning it.
I like to use car brands to explain brand positioning because it makes the concept easy to understand. Think about the Lexus, Toyota, and Scion brands. Each brand is owned by the same company, but they hold very different positions in the marketplace – Lexus is luxury, Toyota is reliable, and Scion is affordable. Of course, there are more attributes you could associate with each brand and you can dive deeper into the examples, but this simple breakdown makes the idea of positioning clear and succinct.
Now, think about your hemp CBD brand. Where can it be positioned in the marketplace so you can exploit the strengths and benefits it delivers?
Keep in mind, your brand becomes much more powerful when you can prove your brand’s position and promise. For example, anyone can say their brand is the best, but few can actually prove it.
This is why data is so important to brand building. To that end, use market research, social media, content marketing, blogging, videos, customer feedback, and more to collect valuable proof for all of your brand and marketing claims.
Once you’ve collected your proof, make sure consumers know about it. Include the data and information on your packages, labels, marketing materials, website, advertising, and more. For example, Nashville, Tennessee’s Veteran Vibe Food Truck promotes its proof by hanging certificates of third-party testing directly on the truck.
Understand and Monitor Your Target Audience Personas and Their Perceptions of Your Brand
Who is your target audience? What are their customer persona profiles? How do they perceive your brand? Your brand needs to deliver value to each of your target audiences and personas, and they need to perceive your brand as the right solution to their problems.
An easy way to understand this concept is to think of brand launches that failed. Harley Davidson perfume, New Coke, Trump Steaks – the list goes on and on. What do these brands have in common? They failed to meet consumers’ expectations and perceptions of each brand. As a result, they caused brand confusion and had almost no chance of success beyond becoming brand failure examples that stand the test of time.
Brands are built by consumers, not companies. Yes, companies can nudge perceptions in certain directions through marketing and advertising, but it’s consumers who experience brands, make brands their own, and give them value and strength.
Therefore, every aspect of branding starts with the consumer, and you need to understand your target audience personas and their perceptions of your brand at all times.
Match Your Brand Personality to Your Position, Personas, and Perceptions
With a clear understanding of your brand’s promise, position, proof, audience personas, and perceptions, it’s time to develop a brand personality that visually and aurally communicates all of those things. In other words, it’s time to create your brand identity, which includes your logo, color palette, copywriting and communications style, packaging, and so on.
Everything you do, create, write, and say should appropriately and consistently reflect your brand’s personality based on its position and supporting proof as well as on your audience personas and their perceptions.
You can learn more about creating brand identity guidelines in this post on the Cannabiz Media blog: How to Use Identity Guidelines to Protect Your Marijuana Brand. The details in that article are applicable to hemp CBD brands as well as cannabis brands.
Think of branding as a long-term investment that can deliver sustainable, organic growth to your business over time regardless of environmental factors. You need to be consistent and persistent in order to grow your CBD brand, because brands aren’t built overnight.
In other words, be persistent by continually providing content and experiences to your target audiences that consistently communicate your brand promise and meet consumer perceptions and expectations for the brand.
Persistence supports the development of brand awareness, recall, sales, loyalty, and word-of-mouth marketing. The end result is organic brand growth.
Key Takeaways to Build Your Hemp CBD Brand
With new brands entering the hemp CBD market every day, brand building is absolutely essential. There is a significant opportunity open for well-positioned and well-defined brands to become market leaders.
The key to brand building success is to prioritize the seven P’s discussed above and build a brand that has a chance to own a place in consumers’ minds and has a foundation that can strengthen over time.
Originally published 9/10/19. Updated 6/12/20.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. She has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.