The market for marijuana is changing, at least in the states where the drug has been legalized. In Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal for adults, cannabis sellers are finding new approaches to the way they sell their products. The new business plan, for many, includes advertising and marketing -- a shifting image.
That's where Cannabrand comes in. Olivia Mannix, on of the founders of the marketing company, says that Cannabrand focuses on marketing cannabis products in legal markets. That includes working with a variety of companies, not just dispensaries.
"We take on clients ranging from the tech space to dispensaries, to grow operations," Mannix says. Cannabrand works on branding for these companies, and aims to make the retail experience in the marijuana industry more accessible.
That include everything from edible taste testing, to logos, packaging, and advertising.
But advertising and selling a product that's largely classified as an illegal drug can be trick. Brands bump into problems with trademarking -- which is not a state issue, but a Federal one. "Trademarks are a problem," Mannix says, "if the name has to do with marijuana/cannabis, it's going to be difficult to have your trademark go through on a Federal level."
Mannix says that the biggest logistical problem for marijuana companies and advertisers is banking. Most banks won't finance companies associated with the drug. "You're not supposed to use credit cards," she says, "and a lot of these companies have bigger holding companies that aren't associated with cannabis so that they can open a bank account."
This workaround can help companies deal with credit, but when banks discover the association, the accounts can be closed, meaning that many marijuana companies deal almost exclusively with cash.
"There are some new banks coming up that are actually FDIC insured for the marijuana industry," Mannix says. She hopes that banking restrictions will ease for her clients, but for now, but of the industry is cash-only -- a model that remains a roadblock to legitimacy.
Mannix's other key role is working on destigmatizing marijuana. She uses the words cannabis and marijuana instead of weed, pot, or grass. She says a lot of the stigma associated with marijuana has to do with old propaganda. Cannabrand touts potential health and social benefits associated with cannabis products -- it's intended to make the plant more accessible to a broader audience, but many people still balk at the idea of recreational marijuana, and advertising related to marijuana.
"It might sound insane, but this is an industry, this is a marketplace, and every industry needs to have some type of branding and marketing and advertising associated with it," Mannix says, "yes, one might think that marijuana sells itself and it doesn't need to be marketed, but now that this is a legal industry it's a competitive marketplace, and companies need to differentiate themselves."
Cannabrand works with about six clients in any given month, and Mannix says they market to a wide range of demographics, including younger people, older people, and an upscale professional market.
Cannabrand stays informed about laws and regulations and works on education when it comes to consumption. Mannix says that one of the biggest gaps in the industry is education about recreation use, including things like where to consume, and how much.
"That's something that we're really trying to promote," Mannix says. When it comes to consuming marijuana she says "it's very important to start low and take it slow."
Changes to the physical spaces where marijuana products are sold are helping with stigma and image, Mannix says. "There actually are a lot of beautiful dispensaries in the Denver and Colorado area that have really been able to change their interior design. Some of them look like Mac stores, some of them just have beautiful woodwork, and a lot of the other dispensaries are evolving their brands and making their space more comfortable for their target market."
Mannix says she hopes the marijuana industry will become more like the liquor industry, where it's easier to advertise and reach a wider audience. Her hopes for the future of marijuana marketing? "I'd really like to see there be more leniency so that marketers and advertisers can do their job for the cannabis industry."