There’s an exception to every rule.
When I talk to clients about cannabis branding generally, I tell them to focus first on the product. Selling an inferior or inconsistent product is hard — the marketing is easier if the product sells itself. Trademarks are important because they provide an easy way for a customer to recognize that a product comes from your company, and customers have come to trust the product, not because there is something inherently cool about any particular name or logo. Companies that put brand first and product second have to figure out how to convince consumers that their product represents something without having actually demonstrated anything over time. It’s a tough sell.
But if you’re going to develop your brand first as an “upscale” cannabis brand, it doesn’t hurt to have celebrity connections and good PR. Enter Beboe, a California brand of vaporizers and infused pastilles. Beboe has managed to get featured in the New York Times Style Section, Vanity Fair, Harpers Bazaar, and a host of other outlets. How did they get all this press? By getting celebrities to invest in their brand and to come to their launch party. Beboe’s founders fit the bill — one of is a celebrity tattoo artist and the other is a former fashion executive who spent some time working at Privateer Holdings. With their powers combined, they have been able to pull some real muscle from both celebrity and fashion publications.
Granted, this marketing route won’t exist for everyone. Orlando Bloom can only go to so many cannabis branding parties before he’s had enough. But in a broader, sense, the question remains whether the cannabis market will support “luxury” branded products that are heavily marketed as such to consumers.
We saw the first attempt at this in 2013, when former Microsoft executive Jamen Shively called a press conference in the Columbia Tower in Seattle to introduce the new brand he was co-founding, “Diego Pellicer.” Shively said that Diego Pellicer was going to be the first and greatest luxury cannabis brand, and he predicted it would mint more millionaires than Microsoft. Diego Pellicer received a ton of press coverage, but it seemed to stumble in finding a business model that would work and it has taken time to get off the ground. Diego Pellicer has shifted its focus and it now bills itself as “the worldwide leader in property acquisitions and leasing in the emerging cannabis arena.” Several other companies have attempted similar “big bang” branding strategies, but there still is no go-to brand out there that has established itself as THE “luxury cannabis brand,” with a track record of strong sales over time.
This isn’t to say that early stage brand development is a bad thing. There’s a real chance Beboe will be hugely successful. Any press is good press for new, unknown companies. But what experience has shown time and time again is that for long-term success in the cannabis industry the product must back up the story the press is telling about it. If you are claiming to be a luxury cannabis brand, what people find inside of the box has to meet a high quality hurdle. Or as Seth Godin so ably puts it, “it’s important that these words be true, that your product, your service and its place in the world match the story you’re telling about it.” Otherwise, customers will figure out that your marketing was all smoke and mirrors, and you will be looking at another flash in the pan.