Live from the RAD Expo: Cannabis Packaging and Branding

Panelists discuss packaging, experiences and customer loyalty considerations.

This week’s RAD (Retail and Dispensary) Expo in Portland, OR, featured a talk on branding and marketing medical and recreational cannabis products, and how to build a strong customer base.

Cannabis producers face the same struggle that pharma and device companies have struggled with for decades: How do you fit all the required information and branding with limited label real estate? Melissa Sandstrom, Design Director at Lucid Design, advised attendees to think about packaging ahead of time, specifically, the verbiage—both branding and warnings—that need to fit on containers that are often very small.

She also noted that recreational products generally face more competition in terms of the number of products available, and that medical products tend to have more word of mouth recommendations. It’s also important to do research on what’s trendy and try to differentiate to avoid being black and gold (a common color scheme as of late) when everyone else is, too.

Neil Juneja, founder of cannabis-focused law firm Gleam Law, emphasized the importance of packaging and branding cannabis products, particularly for those looking at an eventual exit strategy. He noted that big beverage and other corporations will be knocking on some companies’ doors for buyouts. “They don’t want your genetics or your people. They want your packaging and branding,” he said.

As has been said in the past, panelists noted that it’s a good strategy to avoid the obvious where possible, such as leaf images or “420.” Everything in the dispensary is marijuana, and customers know this. It’s important to stand out by avoiding these clichés. Juneja brought up Apple as an example of a company that didn’t use descriptive “tech” branding, but still built a community of loyal customers while bearing the name of a common fruit, distancing themselves from competitors.

Retailers are working on loyalty programs to help keep customers coming back. Reaching customers is a unique challenge because some social media platforms like Instagram are still shutting down accounts for certain cannabis-related tags. Jeffrey Harris, CEO of customer loyalty platform springbig, said that social media is not necessarily recommended as a first means of communicating with customers for that reason, and cited email and SMS (when done correctly, as over-texting can be invasive).

Customer education was also highlighted as an important tool for medical and recreational brands by Ashley Rocha, co-founder of creative agency rumble. Customers don’t necessarily understand the products or their specific effects, even if they aren’t new to cannabis.

The panelists ultimately encouraged companies to consider that they are selling an experience, particularly to recreational customers, and to think about the feeling they want the customer to have when they enter the dispensary and see the packaging.

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