Developing a brand from concept to shelf is not for the faint of heart, nor is it to be feared. The fact is that if you focus on what both of your customers want, consumers and dispensary operators, your entry to market can be easier than you imagine. With that said, as the cannabis industry rapidly matures and consumers become more mainstream, this introduces new demands for your marketing and business operations to become more mainstream as well. The brands that can elevate their operational and communication strategies across the entire supply chain are better poised to win their place on the shelf.

1. Make sure your brand is well represented.

Have you ever been in the market to purchase a product but need help deciding if its features and benefits match your needs? Most dispensary customers face the same dilemma when deciding what to purchase the first time, so they either stick with the same product they’ve purchased in the past, or they turn to the dispensary staff to educate them. But, in many instances, the staff’s information is only as good as the communication strategy used to reach them.

The first step in developing an effective communication strategy is to build rapport with dispensary staff before your product is even on their shelf. Feed buyers and dispensary staff important, relevant product information that helps distinguish you from the competition. Ask them what materials you can provide or create that will help their staff learn about your product and be able to best represent it to the consumer. And when delivering the content, choose 3-4 product features that make your product unique, speak to a condition/need, and tell a compelling story. For instance, is the product organic, gluten-free, etc? Is it designed as a sleep aid, a mood enhancer, or cerebral high type of experience? Is your brand minority and/or women-owned, philanthropic, or created as a passion project by an MIT physicist? Tell your product’s story in attention-grabbing and memorable bullet points. More than anything else, you want to try to make the dispensary staff’s jobs easier any way you can.

Once your product is on the shelf, you’ll want to ensure your product and its story continues to reach consumers. One main channel to consumers is through budtenders. Budtenders should be thought of as your most important customers and getting them the information they need to promote your products is essential. Many retailers hold all-staff meetings where brands with new products or new brands being carried can present their brand stories and products. But, like any good PR or advertising – consistency is key. Look for ways to educate budtenders consistently so that they are regularly hearing and seeing information, and as a result, your products are top of mind. Your challenge will be to figure out how best to arm budtenders with your brand’s information, without disrupting their existing internal processes.

Some ideas for influencing budtenders include:

  • Provide your distributor with product 1-sheets to deliver with your products
  • Create a video that you can email directly to the dispensary for training
  • Invest in some brand swag for the budtenders that speaks to your brand’s FAB’s (Features, Advantages, Benefits)
  • Include a QR code on your packaging that directs to a landing page full of product information

Another important, yet often overlooked, channel that serves as a mechanism to educate budtenders, but also reaches consumers are your brand ambassadors. Brand ambassadors are the face of your brand at pop-up events, trade shows, local dispensaries, budtender training, conventions, and local events. Make the investment in hiring rockstar brand ambassadors to ensure all of the hard work you have put into building your brand is fully executed.

Lastly, remember the full extent to who are true brand ambassadors are. Your distributor can be much more than the delivery system getting your products to market, they are your partner, your customer, and directly or indirectly, your representative. And as such, it is imperative that you approach your relationship with the goal being to get them what they need before they need it. We’ll talk more about building an effective relationship with your distributor below.

2. Find a niche.

It sounds simplistic, but unless you want to compete with hundreds, if not thousands of competitors, you have to find a way to promote your product as unique. One of the best ways to innovate is with the method of consumption. We are still in the early days of cannabis product innovation, having recently seen products such as cannabis beverages create their own emerging segment in the market. So, think about the different ways cannabis can be consumed and enjoyed; it can be inhaled, ingested orally, applied transdermally, etc. It may seem that you are limited by these few choices, but as we look around us at other industries that have evolved, it is evident the possibilities are plentiful.

Consider food…Visualize shopping for ice cream at the supermarket. Approximately half of the freezer aisle is dedicated to quarts and half gallons of vanilla and chocolate, and other mainstream flavored ice creams, and the other half is dedicated to specialty frozen products. With the mainstream products, the only thing differentiating these competing brands is their equity with the consumer. But, the appeal of the specialty items, such as single servings, low-sugar, non-dairy, unique flavors, squeezable packages, cones, and sandwiches, the list goes on – is the novelty, and each product has limited space to define its offering and attract the eye of the customer. So, do your research, test different packaging options, figure out what’s missing on the shelf, and deliver that.

3. Be reliable.

Being inconsistent, late on deliveries, or poor communicators are definite brand killers. Chances are you started out with the best of intentions but the day-to-day challenges of running a business begin to overtake your ability to deliver a consistent customer experience. Invest early in the tools and infrastructure that will enable you to scale your business with reliability.

Lack of a consistent and predictable supply chain is one of the top reasons brands struggle to stay on the shelf. Have you ever seen an episode of Shark Tank when an entrepreneur doesn’t know their numbers and “for that reason” the Shark is out? Consider being on top of your inventory counts as exactly the same thing. Retailers want to know that they can rely on your brand to produce and deliver all products (even high volume products) consistently.

In fact, Roshi was born out of experiencing this problem first hand. Time and time again we saw consumers fall in love with a product that then disappears from shelves because the brand could not keep the shelf stocked. This results in a lose-lose situation for both brands and retailers. For retailers, they run the risk of losing the customer to another store and brands run the risk that a once-loyal customer will purchase a competing product.

Being reliable extends beyond keeping your products stocked. It’s really all about having a partnership built around trust. Do your products have traceability to all of their source ingredients, whether it be a cannabis input, non-cannabis input, or packaging supply? If a retailer reports an issue with one of your products, are you able you notify all other retailers who might be impacted immediately, and get a new replacement product back on the shelf? These common brand reliability downfalls are avoidable, and we invite you to explore Roshi’s time and money saving solutions to build trust with your customers.

4. Market innovatively.

The restrictions and high costs of cannabis advertising can be a major hurdle for a new brand, especially when looking at traditional media. It is incumbent upon the brand to find creative and cost-saving workarounds to extend the brand’s appeal beyond the first glance.

Let’s start with the dispensary experience. Customers are either standing in line, perusing your website, or online marketplace to find the products that fit their needs. That means that the brand’s chances of engaging with the customer are one dimensional. Therefore, you must grab their attention through standout imagery and text in a very small space. The smaller the space, the more important it is for you to attract them visually through a graphic image and call out unique features about your product, such as a unique consumption method. The customer wants to know what it will do for them and identify with the brand’s personality – so make those two things as bold as possible.

Focus on building your brand personality so it takes on a life of its own – and customers become brand enthusiasts. Think of some brands you love, what is the personality of that product? Chances are, the brands you love have clear, concise, and memorable brand personalities. For example, Apple, the personality is user-centered, sleek, and creative. For Tesla, the dominant personality trait is excitement. What do you want your customers to identify with by using your products? From the brand personality, your packaging choices, voice, marketing channels, everything down to your company swag will evolve.

5. Choose the right distribution partner.

In the event you will not self-distribute, you have choices in who you are going to select to get your products to the retailer, so it is important that you make the best choice for your brand. There are differences in services offered from one distributor to the next (light manufacturing, packaging, COA testing, labeling, transport only, wholesale, etc.), and differentiation by cost, region, retail relationships, etc. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you explore your options:

  • Make sure you are in good company. Do the products the distributor carries reflect your brand’s qualities? Does this distributor have a strong connection to and product presence in retail locations?
  • Does the distributor provide excellent customer service? Are they reliable? In what ways do they protect and nurture their customers?
  • Do they offer real-time data of my brand’s performance? Do you know what inventory there is, has been sold and where it’s going? How much insight do you have into the distribution side of your products?
  • What type of marketing services do they provide? Will they help push your brand?

Even in the midst of massive growth in the cannabis industry, some things never change. As Benjamin Franklin so wisely said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So then, make time to take these extra steps to ensure that your products have the best chance for success. Your efforts will surely be rewarded.