The rise of the cannabis industry has created numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs and brands to make their mark. But many newcomers to the professional industry may not know where to start.
Enter Virgil Abloh. Before his death in 2021, the legendary designer unveiled his “free game” mentorship platform, a resource center for early-stage brands that focuses on empowering marginalized individuals through mentorship and resources.
The platform provides everything from tutorials on building a website to inspirational content to guide your brand-building journey.
“The goal of this resource is to uplift more than a few,” Abloh, who was Kanye West’s creative director at one point, wrote at the top of the page in old type font.
“I will continue to open doors for those that come from the fringe and help them be awarded opportunities usually left for the center.”
Abloh’s initiative is supported by the “Post-Modern” Scholarship Foundation, in partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Foundation, to offer Black students education in fashion.
“As we look at the commoditization of the plant — brand value, brand proposition and brand following become very important considerations,” said Angela Pih, StateHouse Holdings’s marketing chief. Pih served various executive roles in fashion and beauty industries before cannabis.
“Look at Lowell Farms being broken up and sold for parts,” she added. “The most valued asset was their brand IP (intellectual property).”
Only a few in the cannabis space have been able to build a brand in that same vein, with Cookies being one of the best examples. Others have tried to replicate the formula, but a ship is only as strong as its spirit and foundation.
For cannabis startups, Abloh’s “free game” could provide a valuable lens into the machinations of merchandising and early brand building.
Lessons for Cannabis
Good examples of effective branding strategies and valuable lessons for early-stage cannabis brands seeking to establish themselves in the market include Cookies, Jungle Boys, and Miss Grass.
- Cookies, co-founded by rapper Berner and cultivator Jigga, started with some screen printing and a small cannabis dispensary in San Francisco. Through strategic multidisciplinary branding and marketing, its dispensaries and clothing division have evolved into an international powerhouse, known for quality strains, apparel, and accessories.
- Jungle Boys similarly built a strong reputation in the industry by focusing on high-quality, exotic strains and a unique brand identity.
- Miss Grass, co-founded by Kate Miller, distinguished itself by emphasizing education and content creation to build a loyal customer and community base.
“When we launched in January of 2018, we didn’t launch with product. Our product was our online magazine,” Miller noted. “That was the only thing we did for two and a half years before we launched product, and our online magazine has now over 2,000 pieces of editorial content – 99% of which are all education-based.”
Having a unique visual identity, brand story, and value proposition can help attract and retain customers – and differentiate your brand in an overcrowded marketplace.
Talk the Talk
Cookies, Jungle Boys, Miss Grass, and even Seth Rogan’s Houseplant have reached wide audiences by utilizing multiple channels for promotion, such as social media, collaborations, and events.
Diversifying promotional efforts can ensure that emerging brand builders reach the broadest possible audience, too.
Aligning with certain influential people and collaborators can also significantly contribute to a brand’s success. And by partnering with individuals who share your brand’s vision and values, you can further elevate your brand in consumers’ eyes.
Cookies’ collaborations with notable figures in the music and cannabis industries have contributed to its global recognition, while Jungle Boys has used its connections within the core cannabis community to enhance its credibility.
Walk the Walk
Concentrating on quality and innovation is another crucial factor in building a successful cannabis brand. Prioritizing product quality and continually evolving to meet consumer demands helps solidify reputation and encourage customer loyalty.
Demonstrating a commitment to positive social impact can help companies foster goodwill and attract customers who value ethical business practices.
Cannabis brands can contribute to their communities by supporting local organizations, advocating for social justice, or participating in charitable initiatives. Abloh demonstrated this quality and built a name for it through his support for scholarship.
Focusing on a strong brand identity from the outset, along with effective promotion, product quality, and community involvement, is a solid foundation for long-term success.
“Brand merch is tribal,” Pih said. “When someone is willing to put your brand on their body, it connotes their affinity with your values and aspirations.”