cannabis branding

Developing A Cannabis Brand? Show Some Respect

An estimated $2.34 billion worth of legal marijuana was sold in the US last year. That fact is certainly not lost on big monied interests, all ready to capitalize on this exploding new opportunity. Madison Avenue is hungrily sitting on the sidelines looking to jump in and apply skills honed by a long tradition of selling booze, to the the sale of pot. But alcohol is not marijuana. In fact, given its unique place in history and the complexity of what it offers to a wide ranging consumer base, big monied corporations and their army of marketeers would be wise to step back, listen, and learn from all those very committed and hard fighting activists and entrepreneurs who are helping bring the industry out of its prohibition. If you want to engage cannabis users, you had better be ready to show real respect for the plant and the people who use it.

“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”
Jeff Spicoli, from Fast Times at Ridgemont High

For those coming of age in the ’80s, Sean Penn’s character, Jeff Spicoli, from the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” represented pot’s “key demographic.” The Spicoli character was the evolution of the Cheech and Chong hippie stoner of the ’70s. But those days are long gone. Cheech and Chong are now in their golden years and Spicoli has kids in college. Most likely they are still smoking pot, either to help relieve health ailments or because as they’ve gotten older, alcohol takes too big a toll. Pot may be illegal but it’s been quietly mainstreaming for decades. As the medical marijuana industry has proven, cannabis use is not just about getting high. My sister-in- law swears that it is the only thing that helped her get though menopause. My elderly next door neighbor recently started smoking after undergoing chemo therapy for thyroid cancer and a significant share of my friends are choosing pot over alcohol because, one, with vaporizers and edibles it’s easier on the lungs and two, alcohol is harder on the head. For these people, weed is not a party drug. It’s a “healthy choice,” like drinking Kombucha for probiotics, or taking Valerian supplements for better sleep. Ask a marijuana user why they smoke and chances are you will get an answer that is associated more with general wellness or health maintenance than “I like being stoned.”

“I…favor…marijuana legalization.”
John Mackey CEO Whole Foods

In fact, that LOHAS consumer that made Whole Foods possible may be the best model for helping guide the development of new cannabis branding. LOHAS — an acronym for Lifestyle Of Health and Sustainability coined back in the ‘90s—describes a shopper that factors in health, the environment, social justice, personal development, and sustainable living into his/her purchasing decisions.

In the early ’80s we helped pioneer one of the first big hits in LOHAS branding, Odwalla. From that experience, we came away with a basic formula for what it takes to reach a consumer that demands “authenticity.” That formula basically has four ingredients.

A Sense Of Place

Most of us remember the long running Pace Picante Sauce add that disdainfully shows a competing product as coming from “New York City,” as opposed to El Paso, Texas. You can tell a lot about something by where it comes from. The “place” speaks of culture, style, and beliefs. A sense of place can also be associated with place in history. Beer makers are great at showing their venerated place in the brewing tradition. Cannabis product manufactures need to follow the same principle. A warehouse with lights in an industrial park in Denver doesn’t have the same brand story potential as a small, organic, family farm in Humboldt County, California. It’s safe to assume that cannabis users, like wine enthusiasts or chocolate fanatics, are “relational.” They like some sort of connection to their product. An important part of their experience comes from sharing the story, and good stories always start in some real place.

Larger Purpose

If you accept the premise that the LOHAS consumer generally captures the basic attitudes and beliefs of the cannabis user then you’ll understand the need for building a brand mission that extends beyond making money. Companies targeting the LOHAS market spend a lot of time and money defining and expressing their particular values, which extend beyond traditional quality statements: “Caring for the communities we serve,” “Paying livable wages to our employees,” “Using only certified fair-trade ingredients,” or “Dedicated to using sustainable packaging.” Why? Because this component creates an emotional link between this type of consumer and their product. And herein lies the difference between an authenticity-based brand, and a brand based on selling. When a brand is rooted in authenticity, it is actively striving to make a human connection. LOHAS consumers want to align themselves with companies that support their belief system.

Source Matters

Organic, Non-GMO, Fair Trade, Shade Grown – these are all stamps that people look for to give them more information about where a particular product comes from. As the cannabis industry matures, source is going be a major differentiator. Are the growers using pesticides? What are the growers environmental practices? Are they depleting creeks and rivers where fish are spawning? Is it “hydroponic” or “soil grown” cannabis? The sourcing story will be another opportunity for brands to carve out a unique strategic advantage.

“When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.”
― Bob Marley


Finally, the cannabis brands that succeed will be the brands that are transparent. They don’t hide their practices. They own who the are and what they have to offer and speak honestly and openly about their process and products.

Focusing on clever names, trendy packaging, and celebrity endorsements is not the best strategy for reaching a broad-based cannabis audience. Real cannabis culture is about doing business in a different way. The evangelicals, the early adopters, the activists who have fought to bring the industry out of its prohibition understand this. The brands that get it will be the ones that will make an authentic, lasting, emotional connection with their customers.

Mythmaker branding

Our Story Telling Ability Gets Noticed

We’ve never met blogger Sean Bolton but he certainly seems to understand what we’re trying to do.

“Through a bottle of juice, it illustrates that story telling can and should have an element of discovery and fun. Especially when you want to teach people something.”

We can’t take all the credit, however. The road idea came from Jimmy Stewart, the founder of Columbia Gorge Organic. We just helped make his vision a reality.

Check out the full blog post here

cblog - Crowd Sourced Design

Crowd Sourced Design: Think Beyond What You “Love”

Crowd Sourced Design services are on-line business that allow you to submit a design request at a set price and receive back design proposals or even finished design concepts from competing graphic designers and you select “the winner”. 99 Designs, one of the largest of this new breed of services, promises to deliver “a design you’ll love, guaranteed.”

In theory, it sounds pretty good. The reality, however, is rarely simple and the process can lead to big problems if your goal is to launch a successful, branded retail product.

We have had many companies over the years come to us with designs they thought they “loved” only to find that their particular design revealed serious issues when it came time to print, or worse yet, when the product hit the shelf. We’ve seen technical failures like color and gradient choices incompatible with specific printed container specs, such as Tetra Pak or printed plastic. FDA compliance and Trademark issues that have been overlooked. Or the design choice has not taken into account potential brand extensions and SKU differentiation.

We often help companies redesign their brand and package to clarify the product’s marketing position and/or make it more “shelf-evident.” Once the box or the bottle gets on the shelf and consumers start actually interacting with it, reality hits hard. If people are asking questions like “What is it?” or, “What do I do with it?” or, “What flavor is this?”, you know you have a problem.

Graphic designers can’t be expected to know and track all the possible details related to your individual process and strategic plan. Nor is it the graphic designer’s job to understand issues related to positioning, merchandising, and brand building. If you have someone in your organization with the experience and expertise to align the design to clear strategic sales and marketing objectives, fantastic. If you don’t, the results can be costly.

We Can Help

Mythmaker has a new service helping companies get the most out of Crowd Sourcing design services. Or, maybe you have in-house graphic design capabilities but your designer lacks retail packaging experience.  Either way, we can help you get to the finished, print ready file without sacrificing the brand strategy expertise and experience that a full service, specialized firm like Mythmaker can provide. Learn More 

Branding Stats

What Does “Branding” Mean

It really comes down to this. If you want a pretty label, you can hire a graphic designer. If you want a platform upon which to build a business, hire a brand developer. Creating a “brand” is more than designing a logo and choosing some colors. Done right, it’s a process that helps define your business at its most fundamental core by forcing you to answer three fundamental questions.

1. What are we promising?

2. How are we different?

3. Who wants what we have to offer?

Going through the process of designing a brand can be a little like psychotherapy. A good brand strategist listens very carefully. He/she helps identify the authentic parts of the story, and challenges weak assumptions. The goal should be to help you arrive at a crystal clear understanding of who you are as a business. This awareness is the basis of powerful brand strategy, from the parameters that guide the creative team, to the underlying assumptions you will use to build and run sales and marketing programs. Clear brand awareness can even strengthen and enliven your corporate culture. If you want to be successful, invest in the strategic thinking before you jump into the creative process.

Baby Boomers spending

What About The Boomers?

We Branding people keep talking about what a gold mine the
“Millennials” are. We blog about reaching those
twenty-to-thirty-something, tech-savvy hipsters in order to spark
wildfire brand success, warning that if you can’t speak their language
you will become irrelevant. YYSSW (That’s “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure,
whatever” in Millennial speak.) What about their parents?

At a recent financial services industry conference in New York a group
of marketing experts discussed the overlooked opportunity of the 50+
consumer. Here’s a great blog post that sums up the five big
misconceptions marketers have about Boomers.

Check out the post here.

odwall recall

Recalling a Recall

There are really only two good times to measure the worth of a brand. One, when it comes time to sell, and two, if the brand goes through a crisis. I experienced both measures working for Odwalla in the ’90s. The first happened on Oct. 30, 1996.  On that day, just after lunch, I bumped into the company PR Director in the hallway. Her face was ashen. Something was clearly wrong. “The FDA is here,” she said, “There’s been a recall. People are sick. This is really, really bad.”

The true horror of the situation would reach its peak weeks later with the death of 16-month-old girl who had consumed an Odwalla apple juice tainted with E. Coli 0157:H7. The event was emotionally devastating for all Odwallians. Sales dropped by ninety per cent. The stock lost nearly half its value. At the end of the fiscal year, the company posted a loss of 11.3 million dollars. You can imagine why many people thought the company was finished. A significant number of investors figured the company was not big enough to weather a storm of this magnitude.

But Odwalla did survive, and the 180 million dollar* question is: How?

* the price Coca-Cola paid for Odwalla five years later

Those of us here at Mythmaker who lived through the ’96 recall believe that the saving grace ultimately came down to having a strong brand built on authenticity and heart. In fact, how Odwalla handled the recall, and the role its unique brand and corporate culture played in keeping the company going,  has become a case study in effective crisis management for business schools.

As the head of “Channel O,” the company’s innovative, in-house multimedia communication department, I was in a unique position to document events. I do a presentation ( Expo West and else ware) about the recall that consist of news footage taken over a twelve-month period showing how the event played out in the media, and the impact of the company’s message strategy on the evolving story – a strategy proven so successful the case study is now referenced in business schools. Contact me if you this is of interest to you or your organization.



It's A Brand New World

It’s A Brand New World

The other day I made the mistake of coming home from the store with a bag of Lay’s Potato Chips. As I unpacked the groceries, my wife gave a little gasp. “Eat those quick,” she whispered, “I don’t want the kids to see that brand around the house!” Part of me wasn’t surprised. I get the “Don’t feed our kids crap” message, but since when is a potato chip brand on par with pornography? Seems a little severe to me, but for my wife it makes perfect sense. She wants our kids to share her values about healthy eating. For her, Lay’s stands for junk food and unconscious eating habits, and we don’t fly that flag. My parents would never have had a discussion like this. For them shopping was simple: “What is it and how much does it cost?”

These days the shopping experience is so complicated, it took a sociologist and a psychologist to come up with a name for people like my wife. It became the title of Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s best selling book, “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.” But that was ten years ago. A lot has changed. Now we just call them “Whole Foods Shoppers.” And marketeers aren’t interested in “Cultural Creatives” anymore. My wife and I are obsolete. Now it’s all about “Millennials.” Millennials move so fast, they can’t even hold onto the label “Generation Y.” If you’re 25 to 35 years old, you can call yourself a Millennial. And you know why we baby boomer marketeers are so interested in you? Because you went blazing off onto the Internet and we can hardly keep up with you.

The ability to instantly access information, easily share thoughts and ideas, and broadcast opinions, enabled a kind of consumer insurgency. To understand what I mean, all you have to do is Google “United Breaks Guitars.” Maybe you’ve already heard of this. One guy gets pissed because United Airlines smashes his guitar and customer service treats him badly. A clever song about his experience posted on YouTube gets him a half million views and an invite to tell his tale of mistreatment on Good Morning America, all in the span of three days.

So why is this a big deal? It means companies can’t control their own stories anymore. Now the customer owns the story. The whole concept of what “brand” means is changing fast. We used to think of “brand” as marketing identity; a device used to further the sale, nothing more. Now, thanks to people like my wife, the United Breaks Guitar guy, and a billion others who are out there chatting away on the internet, companies are realizing that maybe they need to engage with their customers more openly and honestly.

Something called “The Sustainable Brands Conference” popped up a few years ago. It’s all about helping companies incorporate this idea of larger purpose into their brands. Here’s how the organizers define a Sustainable Brand: “A better brand that endures by respecting, serving and delighting all stakeholders in current and future generations.” Man, my wife would definitely invite that brand into the house. And don’t think big companies don’t get it. Coke, Ford, 3M, Target, Dell – they are just a few of the sponsors.

All these big brands want to do good so you won’t think they are bad. Including Frito Lay. It turns out my wife was too hard the Lay’s Brand. I went to the Frito Lay Web site. The company talks about healthy eating habits. It has a sustainability program focussed on reducing its energy use. The company seems to be making a real effort to be a good citizen. And it must be real. Why? Because we old Cultural Creatives, and now the new generation of Millennials, are demanding it.

And companies beware. You’d better actually be doing what you say you are doing because we will actively look for the truth. And we will blog about it.

How To Turn A Brand Into A Bonfire

How To Turn A Brand Into A Bonfire

A good brand is like a bonfire. People want to gather around it. Here are four simple touch points to help you create a tone and feel that people want to engage with.

1. Make us feel smart. Deliver the facts without scolding. Watch for words that might feel like guilt tripping, such as “should” or “everyone must have”… Stay positive.

2. Inspire us. Communicate a larger purpose beyond making the sale. Show people that your organization is working to make the world a better place in its own unique way.

3. Demonstrate connection. Introduce me to people who share my world view and interest. What do they have to say? Promote conversation. Invite questions.

4. Make Us Feel Recognized. Reflect back what you hear. Speak the language of the audience you are trying to reach. Look for opportunities and creative ways to say “thank you” to the people who buy your product.

Why Content Matters

Why Content Matters

If you haven’t already heard the term “Content Marketing,” you will. It refers to the changing nature of advertising and marketing strategies, driven by the social networking power of the internet. The days of interruption advertising are dying fast. The rise of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and self publishing tools open up whole new possibilities for reaching and engaging targeted audiences.

The media love to hype the power of Facebook and Twitter, but really these are just tools and they are meaningless without the right content. Anybody can learn to use the tools but it’s the content that will win you customers. Don’t get hung up or intimidated by the technology. Put your efforts into writing and producing relevant, rich, meaningful content. Figuring out how to use different channels for delivery comes second. So what is content that works? Here are ten ideas to help get you started.

#1. Avoid the hardsell! Solve a problem, entertain, educate. Provide real, useful information. Focus on the needs of your audience, not your own objectives. Make the content relevant for people with a specific need. If your content does not do any of these things, it will be more noise that gets you ignored.

#2. Focus: Target, find a niche, identify your audience. The more specific, the better. “Dog training tips” is too broad. “Training tips for Toy Poodle Owners,” much better. Develop content your niche audiences want.

#3. Be Reliable: Don’t start a conversation you aren’t willing to keep going. Let’s say you sell dog biscuits. You set up a blog about training Toy Poodles and after a year, a few thousand people are checking-in and trading tips on a weekly basis. Then, the budget gets a little tight; the Blog has to go. What happens to all the nice people now gathered around your little bonfire? Better not to launch the initiative at all rather than piss off a few thousand possible customers.

#4. Listen. Pay attention to how your audience responds. The point of Content Marketing is to engage with your audience. You listen and you respond. If you hear something you do not like, ask questions. A friend of mine was recently stranded in an airport due to a problem with Delta. He began tweeting his frustrations with how the situation was being handled. He immediately received a tweet from Delta. “What can we do to help your situation?” The company had established “listening posts” in all the right places. They turned the conversation from a bitch session into an example of first-rate customer service.

#5. Hire reporters instead of marketeers. I’ve said this before; I’ll say it again. Marketing is now about effective story telling. Reporters know how to find and tell authentic stories. What’s the difference between a reporter and a marketing copywriter? Reporters think about the questions their audience might have. Copywriters focus on delivering a message. We are all sick of talking points and sales pitches. We want information and answers.

#6. Use video. Here are three reasons to use more video. One, it’s a very efficient medium for explaining how to do something. People like to learn by watching. Two, video lets people see faces, hear voices, get a real sense of place. It’s a fantastic story telling medium. Three, in the right creative hands, video can be very entertaining and engaging. “Will It Blend?” Need I say more? If you don’t know about this case study, Google it.

#7. Set up “Listening Posts.” People are talking about your product. Are you listening? It is relatively easy to use existing on-line tools to monitor chatter that happens around what is relevant to you. It’s also possible to set up blogs and on-line forums to encourage comments and conversations of interests. RSS feeds, Google Alerts, Twitter Grids, are all tools that you can use to monitor conversations of interest.

#8. SEO = Content. Want to make your website more visible? Create better content. Google looks for two main things when ranking websites: 1) Content with “key words” that are actually relevant to what people are searching for. And 2) Links pointing back to your website from other sites. Great content helps in both cases. If you write something interesting and it gets picked up and blogged by others, Google notices. If certain key words are associated with links back to your site, Google notices.

#9. Look for strategic partnerships. Find ways to partner online with people, causes, or organizations that can build and support your brand vision. Share your content and possibly other resources with organizations that have an active on-line community. They will notice and spread the word.

#10. Don’t fake it. Be honest, or run the risk of starting the kind of online conversation marketing departments dread. People growing-up in the internet age are not passive when it comes to information. They know how to find answers fast. If you make a mistake, apologize and correct it. If you don’t know the answer, admit you don’t know and find out. Be transparent because these days, it’s impossible not to be.

Brand Design Mistakes

Top Ten Mistakes By New Entrepreneurs

Back in 2011 I collaborated with Brian Lovejoy and Corey Comstock  on this illuminating list for a presentation at Expo West. Brian is a brilliant product formulator and founder of Drinks That Work and Dr. Kiefer.  Corey is a General Partner at Sherbrooke Capital, and former CEO of Oregon Chai. Both have had their share of success and failure. Here’s some of their hard won wisdom.

1. Unrealistic forecasting, especially cash flow projections. Your forecast WILL BE wrong. Know that your customers will pay late and pay short. Your suppliers will want to be paid now. Your costs will be higher than expected. Your sales might be lower than expected. If you plan with this in mind you may not run out of cash.

2. Lack of a 1-3-5 year “business / strategy plan” and the annual updating thereof. Many entrepreneurs become so enthusiastic about the business day to day they forget that a measured / methodical approach to the long term strategies increases the viability of the company and in turn creates a stable foundation

3. Not building the right team, internally: Unwillingness to hire expert team members that are smarter, more proficient, and higher skilled than the entrepreneur.

4. Not building the right team, externally: Unwillingness to hire expert external support advisors such as attorneys, accountants, tax advisors, IP council, marketing and PR professionals, etc.

5. Not knowing when to say no: There is a tendency to want to please every account, especially the big ones. If each account doesn’t make you money or if the sales and promotional costs “required” to maintain that account are too costly, be willing to walk away…for now.

6. Undercapitalization: Undercapitalizing the business and misjudging the amount of capital it will take to sustain a brand and company until consumer / customer adoption is achieved.

7. Falling in love with your own ideas: Know when your ideas on product, packaging or marketing are not working and be willing to move on.

8. Not knowing your market: Know your competition, the market and all of the differences between your product and other similar items. Never be surprised about what else is out there.

9. Being too opportunistic: When starting a new enterprise, entrepreneurs find opportunity everywhere – just because an opportunity may exist, if it doesn’t tie in to the business plan and mission – ignore it.

10. Trying to have your product sold everywhere – “boiling the ocean”. With any product or brand having ubiquity is hard to maintain without large capital budgets. With that said, most acquirers would rather see strong performance in specific markets with “white space” available for them than mediocre performance in a broader market.