Gone are the days of stoners being forced to choose between one or two marijuana products in clear plastic bags sealed with plain stickers. Now, when a customer goes into a dispensary, they have options.
Shelves are stacked with marijuana flowers with intriguing labels like Caramel Candy Kush and Alice in Wonderland. Edibles have mouthwatering titles like Dreamy Milk Chocolate Bar contained in individual wrappers adorned with gold foil. Cannabis-infused Calming Cremes sit in sleek white bottles stamped with stylized metallic blue leaves.
It’s all part of a branding strategy helping marijuana companies newly energized by legalization get their products bought by more mainstream audiences.
“People need to know which marijuana brands to trust. You know that Coca-Cola tastes exactly the same every time you drink it. It tastes exactly the same as it did when you were a kid, and that’s who you trust. You trust that Coca-Cola isn’t going to poison you. And that’s a real fear for some people. So that’s where brands step in,” said Jim Patterson, CEO of Eaze, a California home-delivery dispensary app.
Now that marijuana is a multi-billion-dollar business, companies are starting to pay much more attention to the details of selling the plant. In recent years, popular products have become household names in stoners’ homes, giving some industry leaders reason to believe that, with improved packaging and advertising, companies could eventually transform into marijuana brands as widely recognized as Budweiser and Marlboro.
“The trend we’ll see — and especially as things go more national — is larger marijuana brands emerging in the industry around these specific product categories,” Patterson said. “There’s going to be major edible brands, major concentrate brands, and that’s the way mass market consumers are going to make their purchasing decisions.”
When marijuana first became legal recreationally in Colorado back in 2014, there was an outpouring of ambitious business owners looking to fill up dispensary shelves with their THC-laden creations: gummy bear edibles, flavorful flowers, powerful concentrates and nifty utensils. But they soon learned they needed to address not only quantity but also quality. They had to make their products stand out.
One way to do that was through branding, or consistently and concisely showcasing exactly what a customer was getting when they purchased a specific company’s products. Companies started to emulate business models similar to other retail industry powerhouses by beefing up their presentation, creating quirky and unique logos, and stamping items with interesting catch-phrases and slogans. They began putting forth effort to make their products more distinguished and memorable — all with the goal of generating customer loyalty.
Though each business did it differently, they collectively established a trend: The number of clear-cut marijuana-focused brands jumped from 465 in 2015 to 975 last year. By the end of 2016’s third quarter, 40 percent of all products sold came from recognized brands, according to a January report from Arcview, a market research firm that has analyzed and tracked marijuana-related investments and trends since 2013.
In total, that amounts to more than $150 million in branded products.
Now, for instance, instead of customers buying chocolate edibles loosely wrapped in flimsy plastic with a company’s name stamped in unimpressive black-and-white lettering, there are a slew of up-and-coming brands starting to have major aesthetic appeal with customers.
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