In the new world of cannabis, brand is everything | the emerald report
By Nora Mounce
From pre-rolls and flowers to concentrates and body salves, branding is critical for any business in the cannabis industry to succeed. The irony of creating a memorable brand is hardly lost on an industry that has worked to stay under the radar for decades.
According to Julianne Eagle of North Creative and Jennifer Skog of MJ Lifestyle Magazine, the strength of a company’s brand will be critical to their survival in the flurry of innovation and competition. While everyone understands that 2018 is the year to make waves in California’s cannabis industry, a strong brand that communicates quality and authenticity may be the only guarantee for success.
We sat down with each woman to discuss branding, visual communication and representation in the cannabis industry…
Julianne Eagle – North
Julianne Eagle embraces everything that her adopted home, Humboldt County, has to offer. After graduating from Humboldt State University with a degree in journalism and mass communications in 2009, Eagle threw her passion for design and storytelling into the stylish and successful blog, Fern & Fog. As the creative director, Eagle uses Fern & Fog to showcase artists, makers and craftsman from Humboldt County and beyond. With her reputation for branding and social media, Eagle soon began consulting on marketing campaigns for local businesses, including Los Bagels and Wrangletown Cider Company. Eagle considers herself a marketer first and a creative second, but loves to apply personal design to a fine-tuned marketing strategy. In 2017, Eagle spearheaded her own creative firm, North, where a collective of designers and artists are helping cannabis brands find their identity in the competitive marketplace. North works with both lifestyle brands and cannabis companies, helping to create a future where cannabis is stylishly integrated into our vacations, experiences and daily lives.
The Emerald Report: What is unique about branding for the cannabis industry?
JE: So many new ideas, creativity, education and learning opportunities. And the rare challenge to shift perspectives, through design, is an amazing experience as a creative.
Emerald: What 3 essential elements do you recommend for a new brand to compete (and thrive) in the cannabis industry?
JE: It’s important to consider first, your purpose. Why did you start this brand? What’s the story behind your brand and how is it useful? These are key elements that make a brand of value, not only you, but to those who will experience it. Next, a brand must identify its target audience, which can feel like an overwhelming, even immeasurable, task. But when you take the time to imagine, down to the smallest detail, the people you’d like to reach, it will elevate your brand. Focusing on core niches, derived from understanding your target audience, will help you practice the third step for any successful brand – consistency.
Emerald: You’re a designer – how much does a cannabis brand depend on visual concepts?
JE: I have always believed that visual concepts are a key piece to human communication. We started drawing before we started writing, because art is a universal language. What better way to communicate with people who are confused about the science or history of cannabis, than an artfully designed image? After years working in healthcare marketing, I came to realize that not one patient wanted to read a long scientific article – unless absolutely necessary! Though the information is critical, most patients struggle to relate to an article. Humans are emotional communicators and we need more than black-and-white words – what we crave is an emotional connection. That’s where design is so critical – visual language is communication with feeling.
Emerald: As many small farmers seek to enter the legal marketplace in 2018, how can each brand themselves uniquely?
JE: Your story is your story. Although it can feel like there’s a sea of competitors, not a single one of them is you. Branding is about being yourself, authentically – your tone of voice, your core purpose, when executed with consistency, will help you be far more visible than the next person.
Jennifer Skog – MJ Lifestyle Magazine:
A professional photographer with a marketing degree, Jennifer Skog has enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur and an artist. Being a long-time cannabis consumer, she has personally experienced the shame and stigma that she feels society puts on cannabis users, particularly women.
“The modern woman is completely ignored in the cannabis space. It’s typically bongs and thongs. We need to have a better positive image of women and cannabis,” says Skog. To answer that call, she started an Instagram account to showcase the convergence of fashion, style and women in the cannabis space. It has since evolved into MJ Lifestyle Magazine, which Skog calls, “A beautiful product for women to educate themselves about everything cannabis.”
Emerald: What do you think translates from traditional branding into the cannabis space?
JS: When I determine what look and feel I want for my brand, I seek out companies outside of the cannabis space, to get inspiration on how they’re visually promoting themselves: how their logo looks, what fonts they’re using, how they set-up their website. As far as branding is concerned, the number one is visual. Next, making sure your mission statement coincides and complements with that vision.
Emerald: Have you identified any branding strategies from “traditional” marketing that don’t work in cannabis?
JS: For me, it’s the sensuality of our women. I absolutely want that in there, but sometimes, we notice that the reaction can be off-putting at first. At first glance, people think we’re trying to sexualize cannabis, when our mission is really empowering women, helping them to be comfortable in their own skin. Second, is anything that appeals to children. We don’t want giant cupcakes or gummy bears that a kid will see and say, “Yay!” It’s hard because, I love gummy bears, but I completely understand how this is problematic.
Emerald: It’s difficult when there’s so much focus on women and identity in the cannabis space, but due to the risk of appealing to children, a brand has to remove any reference to motherhood. Of course no one wants to market cannabis products to children, but a brand has to go so far…
JS: Exactly. We need to talk about motherhood. Honestly, soccer moms are a number one market for cannabis brands. It’s a huge market, so we have to touch on motherhood, which obviously affects so many women. It’s the anxiety, sleeplessness and shame that mothers can battle. One of our core values at MJ Lifestyle is empowering women to own their power, which includes not being ashamed of their needs.