When you’re building a marijuana company, you’ll invest a significant amount of money into raising awareness of your marijuana brand. This identity includes both your brand name and its visual identity. In business, your brand can become one of your company’s most valuable intangible assets, so you need to prioritize it from the start.

According to Interbrand’s 2017 list of the most valuable brands, the Apple brand tops the list with a worth of more than $184 billion followed by Google at nearly $142 billion. It’s probably safe to assume that 20 or 30 years ago, no one would have guessed that Apple (a brand that was known for making computers for the designer niche 20-30 years ago) and Google (which wasn’t even founded until 1998) would become the most valuable brands in the world.

I’m telling you this story about the Apple and Google brands for a very specific reason. Any brand has the potential to become extremely valuable, including marijuana brands. If you’re not taking steps to protect that value from the very beginning of your brand’s lifecycle, then you’ll lose opportunities to fully exploit it. In fact, you might even open the door for others to profit off of your brand’s value.

Therefore, you need to take steps to police and protect your brand immediately if you’re not already doing so. One of the most important steps you can take to do that is to create brand identity guidelines that tell your employees, vendors, business partners, journalists, and everyone else you can think of how to correctly use your brand name and assets.

Developing Your Marijuana Brand Identity Guidelines

Brand identity guidelines should be used by your employees and by external audiences. A key to building brand value is consistently representing your brand in every consumer and commercial interaction. Imagine if the Coca-Cola logo looked different everywhere you saw it. You wouldn’t instantly know what company was behind the products if the logo was inconsistent. The same is true of a brand name and the other visual assets that align with the brand such as color palettes and typefaces.

Your goal in developing brand identity guidelines is to give clear instructions to anyone who needs to produce any kind of material with your brand name or logo in it, so they know exactly how your name and logo (and all other assets you want to protect) should be used and displayed. Therefore, your guidelines should cover colors, fonts, the amount of required clear space around your logo, dimensions, shape, proportions, and positioning in different treatments (e.g., a co-branded ad, a PowerPoint presentation, a sign, or a brochure). Do the same for any other special images or iconography you want to protect as part of your brand identity.

Next, include descriptions of permitted and unpermitted uses of your logo and brand assets. Do’s and don’ts lists are very helpful in making guidelines less overwhelming and easier to understand. Importantly, explain when people need to contact you (and how to do it) to determine if they must obtain your permission before using your logo or brand assets in their materials.

Finally, make your brand identity guidelines and high-resolution logo files available on your website. This makes it much easier for members of the media to find what they need when they want to mention your company in a publication. Make sure every employee gets a copy of the guidelines and understands what they mean and how to use them, and do the same for your vendors and business partners.

For example, a business partner might want to show your logo on their website. Make it easy for them to have access to your official logo and related usage guidelines by giving them a copy of your identity guidelines as well as a link to the guidelines and logo files on your website. In other words, make it easy for people to get what they need, so they’re less likely to use your brand incorrectly.

Your Next Steps

Just as you might hang signs and notices at your place of business to keep people from trespassing or stealing, you need to hang signs and notices on your brand to keep people from trespassing or stealing your brand value. While many marijuana brands can’t secure federal trademark registrations today since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, there are steps you can take to increase the value of your brand so you have a better chance of securing a trademark in the future when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finally begins granting them.

Furthermore, you should create your brand identity guidelines and start monitoring how people use your brand name and assets. Even if you do register your marijuana brand’s trademark in the future, it will be extremely difficult to keep others from exploiting the value you’ve built in that brand if you don’t take steps to ensure people are using it correctly. There are two simple reasons for this:

  • A trademark registration only protects your mark exactly as it was registered.
  • You’ll lose your ability to protect your brand as far as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is concerned (even if it has been trademarked), if you’re not policing its use and taking steps to stop other people from infringing on your mark.

The onus is on you to monitor your brand and maintain its value by protecting it to ensure others aren’t misusing it or profiting off of it without your permission. Therefore, create brand identity guidelines and enforce them. After all, the only one who loses out if you don’t protect your marijuana brand is you.

To help you get started, take a look at the brand identity guidelines from some well-known brands like Slack, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SquareSpace, and Skype. You can also search for the phrase “brand identity guidelines” on Google or your preferred search engine, and you’ll find many examples to use as inspiration.

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. 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.