Neon green marijuana leaves, smoke clouds, tie-dye, plastic baggies, and aluminum foil are the iconic staples of stoner culture, and, in the wake of increasing legalization, are finally being replaced with more sophisticated branding.

All successful businesses recognize the importance of identifying their unique skills, their customer’s needs, and the way they stand out from the competition and the importance of packaging all of that information into a memorable and intriguing brand.  Developing a brand is all about self-definition, and that can be both a complicated and an exciting process.

Branding is even more important when a business’ legitimacy has not been fully embraced by culture or the law, a problematic situation the cannabis industry is currently navigating through.  The industry’s hope lies in its widely publicized lucrative potential: according to Arcview Market research group, a cannabis consulting company, legal cannabis business produced $6.9 billion in 2016 and is projected to generate almost $22 billion by 2021.  This marijuana boom means that marketing is one of the business sectors within the industry that continues to grow, and innovative companies are totally transforming the way consumers look at cannabis.

Marijuana culture has become far more complex than its trite icons of old may suggest, and the industry is working hard to redefine and destigmatize what it means to be a cannabis user.

Pot smokers are business professionals, the elderly, the health conscious, and everyone in between

Marijuana itself is so much more than just a way to get high.  While it does provide that recreational outlet, it is also an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant alternative method of pain management, cancer treatment, and mental health therapy. Cannabis can be infused in foods, used as a topical treatment, inhaled, and even sipped in cannabis infused teas and beverages.  More and more people are recognizing the ubiquitous therapeutic uses of the cannabis plant, and, consequently, its legalization is becoming more readily accepted by Americans of all ages.

This cultural shift means it’s time to redefine and rebrand, and that requires the recognition that the market is comprised of populations which are incredibly diverse, knowledgeable, and respectable.  Savvy companies know how to promote themselves to these populations by using venues such as websites and trending social media platforms to increase brand recognition.  But that self-promotion will only gain momentum if the brand creates the right kind of energy.  The following marketing agencies have acknowledged that nuance and are playing an enormous role in bringing beauty, edge, and legitimacy to the industry’s image.

MINE™

This San Francisco based graphic design company works with entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists, restaurant owners, and, of course, cannabis ventures to create packaging, products, books, and full service branding.  The company’s use of bold colors, space, surprising icons, and innovative thinking give their work the modern, minimalist look trending today.  Its packaging work with Prophet Cannabis Company has a masculine, modern feel that far surpasses the sketchiness of the black market’s clear plastic bags.

Rival

Rival, another California based agency, works with a variety of organizations but is known in the cannabis world for its project with Willie’s Reserve, Willie Nelson’s line of marijuana products.   Rival incorporated Nelson’s love of music, dedication to positivity, equal dedication to nonconformity, and his appreciation of the American west into the company’s brand.  In constructing Nelson’s branding, Rival’s inclusion of the cannabis leaf nodded toward the subculture’s history while incorporating the sophistication of the modern legalized movement’s style.

Think It Design

A small Georgia marketing studio, Think It Design helps businesses develop their identities, brands, packaging methods, and print and digital designs.  They have worked with an array of businesses including Trump Towers, Safety 1st Infant Products, Crayola, Ford Motor Company, Coca-Cola, and the medicinal cannabis label, House of Jane: Jane’s Brew.  Think It Design used the busy but clean, bohemian look reminiscent of Starbucks graphic design in its development of House of Jane’s branding, giving the product a warm, artsy, and professional look.  The products blend in quite well with the beverages that line grocery shelves today while standing out just enough to pique interest.

Sockeye

Located in Portland, Oregon, Sockeye is a marketing agency that has worked in everything from retail business to academia.  Sockeye worked with Mirth Provisions, a company specializing in the production of cannabis-infused goods, to create a dark, rustic, brand appealing to those seeking happiness in the simple things the earth has to offer.  The agency’s use of natural images and minimalism are gentle reminders that cannabis, despite the political and social upheaval surrounding it, is just a flower.

Heckler Associates

This marketing agency has worked with retail monoliths including Starbucks, Qdoba, Jansport, Panera, and New Balance.  More recently, it worked with Privateer Holdings’ cannabis brand, Marley Natural.  Heckler Associates is responsible for the brand’s lion-themed logo, an integration of the deep connection between Bob Marley and cannabis and the movement today.

Pentagram

branding cannabis This marketing agency, self-described as the world’s largest independent design consultancy, has locations around the world designing websites, architecture, interiors, books, posters, and exhibitions. Pentagram has worked with more than one cannabis business, but perhaps its most notable partnership has been with Snoop Dog in his venture, Leafs by Snoop.  Pentagram’s simple but elegant use of a gold leaf over a white background gives Snoop’s products an air of surprising sophistication.

Cannabrand

Cannabrand calls itself the world’s first cannabis marketing agency, and its mission is to “partner with cannabis industry companies who are dedicated to making their brand image not only recognizable, but an experience for the consumer.”   MiNDFUL was featured on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Style section and given air time on 60 Minutes.  Not bad.

References

Benjamin, Dianna. “2016 Cannabis Revenue Breakdown.”  Wikileaf.  23 February 2017.

Joseph, Jim.  “Defining Your Brand: The First Step in Your Marketing Strategy.”  Entrepreneur.  9 May 2013.

Keeler, Jenn.  “Cannabis Jobs: A Fast-Growing Industry.” Wikileaf. 25 March 2017.  

Keeler, Jenn.  “Social Media and Your Cannabis Company.”  Wikileaf.  7 March 2017.

Keeler, Jenn. “Why Your Cannabis Company Needs a Website.”  Wikileaf. 10 February 2017. 

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.