top of page
  • Writer's pictureDarla Miazdyck


Five foundational imperatives for defining a cannabis brand to standout in the current market.

BRAND DECODE is an ongoing exploration series helping decode the world of brands – bringing a sharp lens on cultural shifts, tensions and explosions and what it all means for brands.

The first instalment explores what it takes to build a standout cannabis brand.

It’s an interesting time, it’s a wild time and it’s a critical time when it comes to the emerging cannabis space. Cannabis players are gearing up for legalization and making bold moves to stake ground in a category on the brink of an explosion. An influx of cannabis players have already unveiled themselves and a steady flow of entrants will continue to flood the market.

DM Brand Consulting has had the privilege of diving headfirst into the wild west cannabis category, partnering with several cannabis players in the formation of their brands – helping players craft disruptive and relevant brands to gain traction and own a strong position at legalization and beyond.

Given the emerging category growth projections and pace, anticipated congestion, competitive intensity, and lingering cannabis stigma that players are up against, there are FIVE foundational imperatives for defining a cannabis brand to win in the current market.

Cannabis players tend to take a very self-focused approach to their brands, with many falling into the trap of defining their entire brand on their product – the craftsmanship, the grow and quality. Attempting to set your brand apart in the sea of promise sameness all claiming 'organic', 'handcrafted' and 'quality-crafted' – is not how you will set your brand up to win. It’s the inward-focus of the category that actually weakens the disruptive power of many cannabis brands.

All you have to do is look at the craft beer category to see how the promise of craftsmanship backed with cool beer can design isn’t enough stake dominant ground in the category and set craft beer brands apart. The brand promise needs to be bigger.

While ‘craftsmanship and quality’ are still drivers for consumer consideration, alone, they lack persuasive power to define your entire cannabis brand on. A ‘craft and quality’ promise needs to be anchored in a bigger promise and brand point of view.

The foundation for a disruptive and meaningful cannabis brand means turning the brand lens away from the cannabis brand and toward the customers that are impacted. This means defining your cannabis brand on the actual role it plays in consumers’ lives, not just your product.

Driving strong brand connection isn’t fueled by the cannabis product alone – it’s created through cultural relevancy. Brands that take their promise beyond their cannabis product and anchor their promise in a highly relevant cultural issue, shift or tension, not only can drive strong brand engagement and connection, it enables cannabis players to boldly set themselves apart. When defining your cannabis brand, look for ways to link the key cannabis product benefits to prevailing and relevant cultural truths.

Here’s an example of a current cultural tension that could become the foundation and fuel for positioning a cannabis brand:

OUR LENS ON THE WORLD IS NARROWING. With social networks putting perspective blinders on us, limiting us to the views, cultures and news of our tribes and feeds, AND biased, agenda-driven media reporting one-sided perspectives and fake news dismantling truth – our thoughts and lens on the world are narrowing. This cultural truth creates a firm foundation for a cannabis brand to stake ground in – owning the power of cannabis to open our minds and broaden our lens.

Grabbing onto cultural realities, shifts and tensions can take cannabis players beyond the product-benefit sameness and give cannabis brands the power to engage and disrupt. Not to mention anchoring your brand in a cultural truth helps to shake off cannabis social stigma and perception baggage and help normalize the category.

Having a tight lens on the cannabis brand promise is critical to fuel brand connection. Cannabis players are often guilty of using their brand to stake ground in a broad list of benefits and uses – from sleep, to stress, mood, fun, etc. They define a broad brand promise with diverse appeal, and as a result, ultimately dilute the impact of the brand.

For example, the broad and nebulous promise of ‘Wellness’ is a common brand promise trap in the cannabis category. While it’s a promise that houses the broad list of cannabis benefits and packages cannabis in a more purposeful role (vs. a straight-up recreational role), it’s a promise that can be easily copied, easily leapt over and one that blurs into the cross-category ‘Wellness’ promises that live in almost every consumer category. Whether it’s packaged as ‘overall wellness’, ‘health and happiness’, or ‘rejuvenate body and mind’, a general and broad brand promise of ‘Wellness’ isn’t going to give your brand the attention or connection it needs to insert itself in a powerful, ownable and sustainable way.

Having a clear, tight and distinct brand promise will fuel the connection you need to better drive traction and growth.

Many cannabis players take a macro approach to targeting, often seeing the cannabis market divided into two segments: 1) Current Cannabis Users; and 2) Open/Curious Consumers (with the greatest market opportunity and growth potential in the Open/Curious segment).

But it’s important to remember, it’s estimated that almost 40% of adult Canadians are the total market potential after legalization, and that number will be growing daily as we approach legalization (Deloitte Recreational Cannabis Market in Canada, 2017). Trying to be a brand for everyone open to cannabis is how you quickly dilute your meaning and dismantle the potential for strong brand connection.

It helps to look at targeting through the lens of other categories. For example – beer brands. Beer players do not target all beer drinkers; they narrow their target on consumer mindset, values, lifestyle and needs that link to their product offering. The beer category use those drivers to narrow and commit to target-audience segments to focus growth.

Cannabis players will help drive market traction and growth by bringing a clear and tight lens on who their cannabis brand is for – not just targeting all potential users.

Winning in this category requires a long-term lens on your brand. Given the cannabis category is on the brink of a cultural explosion, staying one step ahead in business strategy is critical to growth. When defining your brand, think about how the brand promise can not only live across your cannabis product portfolio today, but if it can extend across portfolio expansion in the long term. Ask yourself: Can this brand promise live across product expansion, expansion into edibles or infused, or even branded cannabis accessories?

Given the explosion that’s upon us and anticipated pace of growth, thinking long term with your brand is key.

These are FIVE foundational imperatives for setting up a cannabis brand to win based on the current lens on the market. But the cannabis category is a dynamic one. As the category continues to explode, regulation shifts and category research strengthens, our lens will broaden and the ground-floor brand fundamentals will likely expand and deepen. Stay tuned on DM Brand Consulting Brand Decode blog for future cannabis brand decoding as the category explodes and other brand explorations or follow the blog on Medium.

180 views0 comments


bottom of page