Establishing a nationally recognized brand in the crowded—and federally illegal—marijuana market isn’t easy, but there are steps cannabis companies can take to ensure consumers are aware of their products when they visit an MJ retailer.
Two companies from Colorado—the first state to begin legal sales of adult-use cannabis—are among those that have built brands and successfully expanded into other states. Denver-based infused products company Binske and Boulder-based edibles and vape maker Wana Brands are well on the way to national brand recognition.
Steps the companies have taken to ensure their brands are top of mind include:
- Ensuring products are consistent from state to state.
- Entering licensing agreements for their products in new states.
- Educating budtenders about their products.
Praetorian Global, parent company of the Binske brand, recently announced its expansion into Canada through a partnership with Edmonton, Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis. Binske products will be available to 82 million people at more than 1,000 marijuana retailers across Canada and in 12 states, potentially reaching 100% of the Canadian population and 52% of the U.S. population.
“When you have access to that number of consumers, you’re in a unique position,” Praetorian founder and CEO Jake Pasternack said. “The phrase that’s thrown around is ‘planned expansion,’ but that doesn’t mean much. The planned expansion is not the same as having a signed deal.”
In terms of access to population, Pasternack said that Binske already could be considered a national brand. Its products are available in California, Colorado, Florida and Nevada, with more U.S. markets coming online in the next few months.
Pasternack said he chose the licensing model over acquiring permits through mergers and acquisitions because licensing doesn’t require building an expensive facility to manufacture Binske products.
“Anybody who is getting into territories through M&A activity is forced to build a facility,” Pasternack said. “In a world where state lines go away, that’s an obsolete model. I was looking at the future—whether it’s two years or 10 years from now, those state lines will go away.”
Wana Brands CEO Nancy Whiteman said educating budtenders about your product is more effective than renting a billboard or soliciting celebrity endorsements. Wana talks with budtenders about the quality, consistency and potency of its edibles products when launching in a new market.
“A lot of the brand-building is making sure your product is loved by the people who are selling it,” Whiteman said. “This is still a B2B market. Winning the hearts and minds of the buyers and budtenders is the first thing you need to do.”
Wana also has a full-time employee who develops interactive training content that appears on the websites of marketing technology companies such as Learn Brands and ZolTrain, which offer training courses for budtenders. The training programs are not specific to Wana. Rather, they cover topics ranging from CBD to bioavailability to the safe use of edibles.
“They’re branded as Wana trainings, but they’re not necessarily about Wana,” Whiteman said. “We have medical professionals review our training before it goes out to the public. We are trying to elevate the conversation so that everybody is more knowledgeable about cannabis and can better serve customers.”
Consistency is key to building a brand, so Wana has established a robust team to support its licensed partners outside Colorado. The team helps partners design their facilities and ensure they have the right equipment. Partners visit Boulder to learn how to make Wana products. Because the company’s products are sensitive to changes in altitude and humidity, a research and development team visits out-of-state facilities to fine-tune the recipes.
When a new facility is ready to start production, Wana sends two cooks to ensure the launch goes smoothly. Wana also makes quarterly visits to ensure each facility is following standard operating procedures.
It’s important to understand the market maturity and competitive landscape of each state you’re considering. Questions to ask include:
- How many licenses have been awarded?
- Is there a cap on the number that will be awarded?
“If a brand wanted to enter Colorado, it’s a very mature, very crowded market,” Whiteman said. “Unless you’re coming in with something really unique, you’re going to have to fight your way onto the shelves. Dispensaries are not that big, so they place their bets on the top three or four categories.”
Find the Right Partners
Matt Morgan, CEO of Phoenix-based cannabinoid-focused company OneQor Pharmaceutical, said building a national brand using licensing and franchise agreements first requires identifying the markets you want to be in and then finding operators in those states who are creating products that align with your brand and already are selling merchandise in retail stores that fit your brand.
Morgan looks for people who have similar ethics, morals and drive. He wants to partner with self-starters who can push his initiatives with the tools OneQor provides.
“This approach allows companies to piggyback off of others’ licenses and infrastructure to further push their brand into new markets,” Morgan said. “The next step is to develop a marketing strategy for that new market and start building brand awareness.”
The strategy allows companies to save on capital expenditures, get their brands into new markets and build new revenue streams through royalty or franchise fees, Morgan said.
Chicago-based multistate operator Verano Holdings, which expects to be active in 12 markets by the end of 2020, approaches expansion into new markets by applying for and winning licenses as well as through acquisitions. The company promotes its brand by educating budtenders and consumers about its products.
“There’s a lot of waste involved in mass marketing,” Verano Director of Retail Marketing David Spreckman said. “We’ve never been the type of company to push things on people. It’s a very organic process with a little bit of paid media.”
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