Reefer. Grass. Pot. Weed. Mary Jane. Sticky Icky. Marijuana.
Few things have undergone as big of an organic rebrand as cannabis in the last decade. For a product to be illegal and then suddenly accepted as a wellness product in such a short amount of time is unheard of.
This sea change was made abundantly clear to me as I embarked on writing a book, High Art, about using certain cannabis strains to make sense of different works of art.
Right off the bat, I struggled with what to call the thing I was writing about. Saying “weed” or “pot” felt antiquated. But as someone who grew up secretly smoking in basements and listening to Pavement, saying “cannabis” felt too highbrow.
The sad fact is that writing the book involved much more reading than smoking. I soon discovered that the cannabis category is all over the map when it comes to branding and communications.
The legal cannabis category is valued somewhere around $17.5 billion. While impressive, it’s a mere speck in the shadow of the $4 trillion wellness category. But today, cannabis brands can tap into the wellness market simply by existing, because cannabis is a new thing to experiment with. In this context, brand matters less than sheer availability.
But this won’t last forever. At some point, cannabis will go from cool to commodity.
As we emerge from the honeymoon phase, cannabis companies are oddly going to have to take a page from the most disciplined CPG marketer on earth: Procter & Gamble. Because as the category matures, not every brand is going to make it.
Now is the time to do the hard work of true brand building; to nail down a strategy and make decisions. Are we a fun brand, or a brand rooted in science? Are we about quality? Do we differentiate on flavor? Do we own specific strains?
But these questions can and should go deeper than specific product attributes. Cannabis brands must ask themselves, What’s our reason for being? What’s our message? Who is the audience (hint: the answer isn’t "people who enjoy cannabis”)? What do we look like? What’s the tone (another hint: it shouldn’t change with every product launch)?
Strategy is a framework to make decisions, which cannabis brands need more than anything. Some brands, such as Dosist, Kiva and MedMen are doing well now, but the category is just getting started — and opportunities are plentiful for others.
It’s time cannabis grows up. Pot is about to go to the squares.
If this makes your head spin, try a Camino Watermelon Lemonade Gummy from Kiva Confections. It’s a delicious mood booster with a mellow 5 mg THC per serving.
Rob Lambrechts is Chief Creative Officer at Pereira O’Dell.