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Make no mistake about it, the cannabis industry is extremely competitive. And as cannabis continues to be ingrained in the mainstream — and more brands enter the market in an effort to capture the hoards of new customers — that competition is only going to heat up.

With so much competition, it's never been more important to find a way to stand out on cluttered dispensary shelves, capture your ideal customers' attention, and show them why your cannabis products are a step above the rest. And the best way to do that? The answer is the same among most consumer-driven industries: branding.

Effectively branding your products is key if you want to edge out the competition, build a loyal customer base, and drive sales of your products. But how exactly do you do that? What are the marketing and branding basics you need to know to succeed in the increasingly competitive cannabis market?

First Things First — Why Branding?

Like the industry itself, marketing cannabis products is a relatively new concept. So, before jumping into the branding basics, you need to know to effectively market your cannabis products. To find out why you should be branding your products in the first place, look no further than the industry's leading marketing firms.

“Until recent years, the notion of branding was nearly non-existent in cannabis,” said Eric Layland, founder of Canna Ventures, a cannabis branding and marketing firm. “For the first 20 years of its operations (1996-2016), California's colossal medical marijuana industry rarely saw a glimpse of branded products … dispensaries and brokers primarily delineated between products by strain names and production methods.”

Product packaging by the Los Angeles-based cannabis brand Nameless Genetics. (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

But as the cannabis industry has evolved, consumers have come to expect more from their cannabis products. “Branding is very important now because as legalization continues to happen, people are going to want cannabis products to be up to the same par as any other products that they see,” said Sarah Remesch, founder of 270M, a creative and digital marketing shop that specializes in cannabis, and New Highs CBD. “So, just like consumers are more likely to grab a Pepsi instead of a generic cola, they're also more likely to gravitate towards cannabis products with clear, cohesive branding.”

Branding Basics for Cannabis Brands

Now that you know why branding is important, let's talk about how to brand your cannabis products.

Here are a few branding basics to keep in mind as you're building your cannabis brand from the ground up:

Good Product is the First Step

Before you start thinking about designing a logo or locking in your messaging to potential consumers, there's one branding element you need to take care of — and that's ensuring you have a high-quality product to market.

“You should definitely put products first before branding,” Remesch said.

If you don't take the time to create high-quality products, it doesn't matter how incredible your branding is — your products aren't going to sell. Before you start building your brand, focus on building your products. Once you've developed products you can stand behind, then you can move on to the marketing phase.

Establish Your Product's Point of Difference

The most important element of your branding strategy is, hands down, your point of difference.

When consumers walk into a dispensary, they often have hundreds of products to choose from. The point of difference is what sets your brand apart from those hundreds of products — and lets your ideal customer know why your products are the ones they need to leave the dispensary with.

Aside from quality, think about what makes your cannabis product unique. Do you create the most potent edibles in your state? Is your company committed to sustainable growing and manufacturing processes? Did you design a vaporizer that delivers the smoothest hits on the market? Whatever it is that sets you apart from the hundreds of other cannabis products out there, figure out what it is and infuse that into every aspect of your branding and marketing campaign.

Think About Whom You're Marketing to

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to branding. The branding that's going to connect with an avid snowboarder in Colorado who wants something to soothe sore muscles is going to be completely different from the branding that's going to connect with a mother in California looking for something to help with her insomnia.

If you want to use branding to successfully market your cannabis products, it's important to consider exactly who it is you're marketing to.

Create an ideal customer avatar that defines your target demographic. How old are your customers? What are their hobbies? What are they looking for in a cannabis brand? What kinds of products are they in the market for? Get it all down on paper — and then use it to drive your branding strategy. The more comprehensive your avatar, the clearer you'll be on who, exactly, you're branding your products for — and the more your branding will ultimately speak to those consumers.

Tell a Compelling and Cohesive Story

Logo. Color palette. Packaging. Copy. When it comes to branding, there are a lot of different factors to consider. If you want your branding to connect with consumers, and ultimately drive sales for your brand, each element needs to build off the other and come together to tell a cohesive brand story.

Let's say, for example, that you're launching a new line of edibles specifically designed to help people relax and unwind. Every element of your branding should speak to that theme of relaxation — from your color palette and logo design to your packaging and web copy. A neon yellow and purple color palette or an edgy, in-your-face logo design is going to cloud your brand messaging and confuse your customers. Ultimately, that confusion is going to prevent people from connecting with your brand.

When you're building your brand, make sure there's a clear, consistent message across all your branding elements.

Anticipate Branding Challenges Unique to the Cannabis Industry

No matter what the product is, there are always challenges when it comes to branding. But the cannabis industry presents its own unique set of challenges — and if you want to build an impactful brand, you need to prepare for them.

There are a number of restrictions on what you can and can't do when branding and marketing your cannabis products. You want to keep those challenges in mind as you're building your brand strategy. So, for example, many states have strict regulations in place that prohibit marketing to minors. In that case, as you're designing your branding elements, you'll want to avoid anything that could be misconstrued as too childlike, like a cartoon mascot and pastel-colored packaging.

Get Out There and Start Branding

The cannabis industry is a competitive one, and if you want your brand to succeed, it needs to separate itself from the pack. And with these branding tips, you have everything you need to design a cannabis brand that jumps off dispensary shelves and connects with your ideal customer. All that's left to do now? Get out there and get branding!

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