As the cannabis market expands to new states and matures in others, companies are realizing that in order to continue to grow, they need to start competing at the brand level. In other words, you need to define your marijuana brand and stake your claim on a position in the market in order to stay competitive.
What does your marijuana brand promise to consumers? How is it better or different from other brands in the marketplace? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself as you build your brand.
When you’re building a cannabis company, you’ll invest a significant amount of money into raising awareness and recall of your marijuana brand. In addition, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to increase brand loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. All of this requires a very strong identity, which includes both your brand name and the visual elements that represent it.
Establishing Brand Value (and Why You Need to Protect It)
In business, your brand can become one of your company’s most valuable intangible assets, so you need to prioritize it from the start. Here’s a story to help you understand why it’s so important to prioritize branding for your cannabis or cannabis-related business.
According to Interbrand’s 2018 list of the most valuable brands, the Apple brand tops the list with a worth of more than $214 billion followed by Google at nearly $156 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.
However, this growth and brand value story isn’t unique to Apple and Google. Any brand has the potential to become extremely valuable, including marijuana brands – and including your brand. 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 make critical mistakes that 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.
A key to building brand value is consistently representing your brand in every consumer and public 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.
That’s why you need brand identity guidelines and why those guidelines should be used by both your employees and by external audiences. Consistency is essential to brand building.
Developing Your Marijuana Brand Identity Guidelines
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.
Also, 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. It also prevents many people from pulling your logo from a Google search where the results can come from sources other than your company and the file they choose could display your logo incorrectly.
Caliva’s brand identity guidelines is great example of a cannabis brand with useful guidelines easily available on its website, including logos and other brand assets for download as well as do’s and don’ts lists. LeafLink also offers brand identity guidelines and a variety of brand assets for download on its website, including logos, web buttons, founder headshots, screenshots of the LeafLink platform, shipping slips and more. Both company’s guidelines can give you inspiration for your own.
Finally, make sure every employee gets a copy of your brand identity guidelines and understands what they mean and how to use them. Do the same for your vendors and business partners. For example, a business partner might want to show your logo on its website. Make it easy for your partner to access your official logo and related usage guidelines by providing 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.
With that said, a comprehensive brand identity guidelines document can get very long. Few people will take the time to read through the entire document to find the specific instructions they need. Therefore, it’s a great idea to have simple, one-page PDFs available that provide easy-to-understand instructions on how to use your logo and other brand elements in common ways.
For example, make a PDF available that covers how to use your logo online and another about how to use your logo in co-branded ads. That way, you can direct people to the exact list of guidelines they need to follow when the time comes.
You’re more likely to get compliance when it’s easy for people to comply.
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.
Conduct a comprehensive trademark search as soon as possible to make sure your brand isn’t already unintentionally infringing on another brand’s rights, and if it’s not, start following the steps provided in the preceding link to stake your claim of your mark to the extent possible.
Also, if your business is in a state that allows state registration of cannabis-related trademarks, like California, try to get one. Doing so can only help your chances of registering a federal trademark when the opportunity arises.
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 infringing on it and exploiting the value you’ve built in that brand for their own gain if you don’t take steps to ensure people are using your brand name and elements 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, 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 review for inspiration.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the potential value of your brand by failing to protect it. Imagine what would have happened to Apple and Google if they didn’t prioritize brand protection in the early days when the companies were just getting started? Things might be very different today. It’s very possible that the Apple name and the logo on your phone or laptop could be a different icon entirely.
The amount of money required to rebrand is significant, and you don’t want to have to pay that money if you don’t have to! Define your brand and protect it starting right now.
Originally published 7/27/18. Updated 4/19/18.
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.