Good Cannabis Branding in 2020

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AUTHOR: Heather Allman

Cannabis Branding and Language Resources

On August 24, 2016 » Alison Malsbury first wrote on cannabis branding in her piece on Cannabis Trademarks: “Deadwood” Policies Could Implicate Cannabis Registrations:

For the past few years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has repeatedly expressed concern over eliminating what it deems “deadwood” from the federal trademark registry. “Deadwood” consists of trademark registrations that are not actually in use for the goods or services named in the registration.

Under U.S. trademark law, all registrations must be renewed between the fifth and sixth year anniversaries of registration by filing an affidavit pursuant to Section 8 of the Trademark Act declaring that the mark is still in use in commerce, or by filing a declaration of permissible non-use under Section 71. If either of these filings is not made, the registration will be cancelled.

In June of this year, the USPTO announced that it would be creating new rules requiring additional documentation under Section 8 and Section 71 of the Trademark Act to prove the registrant is actually using its mark in commerce for all of the goods or services specified. These new rules will require submitting information, exhibits, affidavits or declarations, and any other additional specimens of use as may be “reasonably necessary” for the USPTO’s examining attorney to ensure that the mark in question is in use on all of the goods or services claimed in the application.

So how do these changes potentially impact cannabis businesses? As we’ve discussed before, federal trademark protection is unavailable to marks used on federally illegal goods and services, including cannabis. However, one brand protection strategy we’ve recommended is to obtain registration for ancillary goods or services that do not violate the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

We’ve seen a rush by cannabis businesses to register their marks for whatever they can get, but it’s important to carefully consider what goods and services you will actually be providing to avoid the risk of losing your registration altogether.

The takeaway here is two-fold:

☆ First, make sure that if your cannabis company is looking to register a federal trademark for ancillary goods or services, your company actually intends to sell those ancillary goods on an ongoing basis.

☆ Second, carefully consider the strength of your mark before investing heavily into brand development.

Malsbury continued the cannabis branding  conversation in her seminal piece on What NOT to do with your Cannabis Brand: The Gorilla Glue Trademark Infringement Dispute published on October 9, 2017.

In April 2019 » Olivia Mannix highlighted further research into the words used on cannabis branding in A Look Into the Evolution of Language in Cannabis Marketing: From slang with racist undertones to more scientific, technical terminology.

There are certain terms that are deemed offensive or that the industry has just outgrown in this day and age.

Today’s cannabis brands are captivating consumers through nuanced language, dropping stoner slang in favor of a more refined and technical vocabulary.

On June 24, 2019, Max Lenderman’s Cannabis Brands Need to Establish a Purpose That Doesn’t Rely on Puns admonishes that “Venturing into experiential is one way to do that”:

The explosion of cannabis and hemp-based (THC and CBD) products, peripherals and applications is remarkable. Perhaps because of the blind rush to cannabis riches, most of these companies are also terrible at modern brand building.

Creating a Language for Cannabis Brands Starts With Looking at the Industry With Fresh Eyes was Josh Kelly’s advice on August 5, 2019, astutely advising that a cannabis brand should:

Consider its expansive history to reinvent a unique tone. Even though cannabis has been around for many decades, there needs to be a revival around the language as it becomes more mainstream.

Cannabis poses perhaps the most interesting branding challenge of our time.

The most basic challenge in branding cannabis is simply what to call things. The longstanding names for cannabis strains are not widely known and don’t always attach to consistent product experience, even to the extent you might find in, say, wine varietals. Not many average consumers could describe OG kush or sour diesel or other quirky names from the underground past.

To do the job of naming and organizing a product and guiding people in general, it helps to have a familiar context. Branding cannabis at this stage is like a marketing class assignment to build an ad campaign for an orange or a potato: The creativity comes in imagining a whole new perspective on something you thought you knew.

That goes double for cannabis. Long before its brief history as contraband, it was an agricultural product. There are countless configurations of terpenes, flavors, cannabinoids, ingestion methods, effects, benefits and uses.

In fact, picking a parallel category outside of cannabis is a good way to ground customers in familiar visual and language cues. Focus on how it’s grown or when and where it’s used. Who and what is it for? Where and how is it sold? These are the foundational questions that turn a commodity into a brand.

Kyra Reed’s February 6, 2020 » 4 Tips to Discover Your Cannabis Dispensary’s Company Voice, correctly observes that “A brand’s tone can attract new customers or drive them away.”

Brand voice is the magic thread that pulls together a company’s content, ads, promotions, packaging and more into a singular experience with which customers can relate and engage. A brand’s tone creates recognition and a place from which to communicate. It’s what sets a solid brand apart from the competition. Brands with a loyal following and wide customer base often have a well-developed voice driving that engagement..

According to Reed, these four tips will “help you start to build a brand voice that is relatable, meaningful and effective.”

» 1. Define and Communicate Your Values

» 2. Be Authentic

» 3. Be Human(ish)

» 4. Question Yourself- It requires real digging to discover a brand’s true values. Follow this list of questions to get started:

Why did we start this company? The motivation or passion that drove you to start your company can be a major factor in your value set. Are you trying to disrupt, create a new vertical or save the world? This is all meaningful to your audience.

What do we value about our product/services? This shows that you can stand behind what you do and tells your audience why they should as well.

How do we choose who we want to work with (employees and vendors)? What makes someone a good fit for your company? The answer will reveal your underlying company culture, another point of trust building when you communicate it to your customers. It also helps to attract the right employees.

What is different about how we make or sell our products/services? A great way to stand out from your competition is to share what makes you special and worth choosing over others.

How do we want our customers to talk about our company? Your answer sums it all up. This is the goal in all of your communication, to have won the hearts and minds of your customers.”

Then there’s the helpful Best Examples of Cannabis Branding and Design:

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