If there’s one thing America does really well, it’s selling products. From Air Jordans to fidget spinners, the U.S. selling machine knows how to crank it out by the millions and create hip products that stick. Some of that success has to do with sleek and novel design, like the iPhone, or the perfect celebrity endorsement, like Michael Jordan. But what’s almost always behind a great product that sells is one key feature: spot-on branding.
Now the expanding cannabis industry — which is projected by BDS Analyticsto be a $32 billion worldwide business by 2022 — is getting in on the game. With adult-use and medical marijuana now legal across a solid majority of North America, makers of cannabis products are focusing their attention on clever ways to entice consumers to their wares. Many of the offerings are unique and upscale, such as artsy stoneware pipes and luxurious 24k gold rolling papers, and others are utilitarian tools like indoor lighting systemsfor hydroponic cultivation sites. All of them have one thing in common — they’re driven by a razor-sharp style of brand awareness.
While Canada certainly has the jump on legal cannabis production in North America since legalizing adult-use pot nationwide in October, it’s the U.S. that is poised to develop marijuana brands that really hit the mark. The GrowthOp reports that CEO Ben Kovler of Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries said at a recent cannabis conference in Toronto, “The Canadians have a first-mover advantage in large-scale production, large-scale farming, large-scale commodity input, but the U.S. has an edge in brands and the consumer experience.” He went on to say that Americans are “not growing the hops or the barley, we’re making the beer; we’re not tomato farmers, we’re making Heinz ketchup.”
A good current example of mega-brand building is the cannabis producer Cresco Labs and their hire of award-winning designer Scott Wilson as the company’s chief experience officer. Wilson holds a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award, one of the nation’s highest design honors, and was once a lead designer for Nike. Cresco CEO Charlie Bachtell told Fast Companyabout the move, “We know that we haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to consumption methods, forms, the widgets associated with consumption. There are so many opportunities to improve that consumer experience.”
Improve they will, as Cresco recently secured $100 million in private funding, a move that surely will lead to strategic acquisitions, greater brand awareness and more growth.
Others are honing the look of their brands, too, like players in the popular marijuana edibles and topicals sector. There are more and more glossy cannabis products appearing at premium retailers nationwide. Not too long ago, pot dispensaries sold marijuana chocolates and cookies in plastic wrappers that looked just barely a step above the quality of a Ziploc bag.
Today the presentations are far more high-end. Kiva Confections have been steadily polishing their look since 2010 and is now a well-recognized and widely sold seller of cannabis-infused chocolates across the U.S. The company Lord Jones, who makes a sought-after, high-CBD cannabis body lotion, is currently selling at Sephora.
As the cannabis industry eases into selling to a more mainstream audience over the next few years, the same marketing tools used for promoting sports drinks, perfumes and automobiles will be used to sell legal cannabis products.
“If you asked me two years ago, would we be able to get the global creative director for Nike to help us bring cannabis to today’s day and age and beyond, my answer would have been, ‘No chance,’” said Bachtell.
You can bet it’s just a matter of time before some leading Hollywood actor or top sports figure steps up to be the national face of a billion-dollar cannabis company.