No matter how great your cannabis product or service is, you likely won’t get very far without a solid strategy for marketing and branding.
What is branding exactly? It’s the desirable idea behind a product, service, place, person, or experience.
Branding helps create trust and recognition for your business. A brand can influence perception, preference, and loyalty. Essentially, it can help generate new customers, inspire employees, and add financial value to your company.
Marketing, meanwhile, is the multifaceted process of raising awareness of your brand.
When cannabis companies need extra help with their marketing and branding, a lot of them turn to Jared Mirsky, founder and CEO of the full-service creative agency Wick & Mortar.
Since 2009, Mirsky has worked with hundreds of cannabis companies from every area of the industry – garnering a ton of media coverage and high-profile awards along the way.
However, for Mirsky, the drive and inspiration behind his work is much greater than any award or accolade. He’s on a mission to rebrand the cannabis industry itself, which is one of the reasons he’s joined several other industry leaders in Green Flower’s upcoming online Cannabis Business Essentials Certificate Program.
Mirsky started his career when he was just 19, doing promotional work for the nightlife industry.
When he and his business partner realized they were paying $3,500 a month for graphic design, Mirsky decided to teach himself Photoshop and he fell in love with it. Soon, his graphic design work was in demand among bars and nightclubs.
“I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I was good at design, and I could manage people and lead a team and that was it, but I figured it out,” he says.
When cannabis dispensaries started popping up in Washington State, Mirsky began to bring in cannabis clients as well. This is when he started a company called Online Marijuana Design in 2009, which has since rebranded as Wick & Mortar.
Early on, Mirsky’s relationship with his clients in the cannabis industry quickly blossomed into something much more than graphic design work.
“I was also able to teach them something about branding and something that they didn’t know about their company,” Mirsky explains.
“So that is what’s made me and Wick & Mortar a preferred choice in the industry because we have the heritage and lineage of legacy brands in the space, but we also understand the present and the future [of this industry] and so that’s what helps us guide our clients towards successful solutions.”
When Mirsky decided to rebrand from Online Marijuana Design to a full-service agency as Wick & Mortar, it was a big decision that catapulted him into new levels of industry success.
“Rebranding to Wick & Mortar was huge for us. It certainly made an impact on the type of client that we started to attract,” Mirsky notes, adding that even though he suspected this would happen, it didn’t make rebranding any easier.
“Rebranding is really tough when you’re already six or seven years deep and you’ve got all of this stress, and you already rank on the first page of Google for everything related to your subject matter.”
Mirsky and his team documented their entire rebranding process, turning it into a comprehensive guide and video series, which inspired a lot of other players across the cannabis industry to reconsider their own branding strategy.
“We recognized at the time that nearly 90% or more of the industry needed a rebrand with so many people calling their company canna-this or canna-that or using pot leaves in their logos,” Mirsky adds.
“This was our opportunity to show everyone what we could do for ourselves and what we could do for them. Especially if we’re supposed to be a conduit to success.”
What’s come since the rebrand of Wick & Mortar, Mirsky continues, includes not just bigger clients but also greater credibility as an agency designed to help businesses achieve greater success in their own branding, rebranding, and marketing efforts.
Marketing in the cannabis industry comes with its own set of unique obstacles and challenges, including restrictions on language and the inability to fully utilize popular online channels like social media or Adwords to reach customers.
These challenges are important, however, there are a lot of other nuances to getting your marketing strategy dialed in, which Mirsky covers in the Green Flower course.
For example, one big nuance in cannabis marketing relates specifically to vertically-integrated operations.
“If a company is vertically integrated and they want to create a retail store as well as create a branded product, it’s better not to make them the same,” Mirsky advises.
“They need to be different because if you think another cultivator is going to sell their product in your retail store when you’re pushing a product under the same brand name as your retail store, they know you’ll be favoring your own product versus pushing theirs.”
Another important touchpoint in marketing cannabis products, according to Mirsky, revolves around staying true to the experience itself.
“Brands should really start focusing on curating their cultivars around experiences,” he says. The intended experience needs to be conveyed through the packaging language. Other industries have done this to global effect. “You look at beer, they’ve got IPA, stout, and all of these different kinds. You’ve got wine, wine has its packaging language. You’ve got coffee, dark roast, morning blend, all these different kinds.”
What about cannabis? Aside from sativa and indica language, Mirsky believes there is a better way to market a more relatable experience to consumers.
“How do we really tell a consumer what the intended experience is in the simplest way? And even connoisseurs themselves find it easier to identify products based on the intended experience,” Mirsky says. “So, if you create a brand that, for example, uses words like ‘excite’ or ‘chill’ or ‘calm,’ at least it alludes to what a consumer might expect from a medical, recreational, or wellness benefit.”
This ties into the packaging design and communication as well. Cannabis companies that miss the mark here are leaving a lot on the table. “What is it you’re selling and how is it that you are helping consumers best identify what it is that makes this brand or product unique,” Mirsky notes. “It’s a missed opportunity that companies don’t take when they could, simply by identifying basic words that convey the intended experience.”
The cannabis industry has evolved, and companies have become much more competitive and smarter about their marketing tactics.
“We’re seeing creatives that have come from other industries – and really just experienced people from a variety of different spaces entering into the cannabis industry – and they are bringing really creative solutions whereas others have just remained in existence solely for the quality of their weed,” Mirsky explains.
“And now, it’s at a point where the quality of your cannabis isn’t the only sales tool and/or method. It requires a lot more nowadays.”
Mirsky covers a great deal of ground about all of this in his marketing and branding course, which is part of Green Flower’s upcoming online Cannabis Business Essentials Certificate Program.
In the “branding process” segment, Jared Mirsky covers:
In the “marketing strategies” segment, he covers:
The online Cannabis Business Essentials Certificate Program is a set of 14 courses led by industry-leading experts that will give anyone the playbook to find success in the cannabis industry today. This upcoming Green Flower certificate program will include winning a cannabis license, cannabis cultivation, processing and manufacturing, lab testing and analytics, retail, distribution, the business of industrial hemp, securing real estate, regulatory compliance, marketing, sales, accounting, human resources, and investing.
Mirsky and his team at Wick & Mortar have worked hard to imbue cannabis companies all over the U.S. with stronger branding and marketing strategies.
He admits that he is very selective about who he chooses to collaborate with, and Green Flower is no exception.
“Green Flower has continued to impress me in a number of ways but most importantly, they’ve continued to honor and respect the cannabis industry by bringing real, valid, credible information and education to the cannabis industry,” he says.
“And because they’ve continued to respect the plant and the industry with open arms, I did the same for them, and being someone who’s been in the industry as long as I have, I’m very selective about who I let into my circle.”
People have a lot to learn about cannabis, Mirsky concludes, and why not send them to the place where they can get the best information and education?