Expert Designers Give Tips to Make your Cannabis Brand Stand Out

croc and plover cannabis brand

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Hi I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. That’s www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. We’ve talked about CBD or cannabidiol on the show many times. Just to review though CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound from the cannabis or hemp plant that has many benefits. Now our friends at Treatables have put together a wellness chew that can help your dog or cat become more calm and balanced. Valerie wrote in to tell us about her experience with Treatables.

Valerie writes my ten year old Husky/Shepherd/Lab mix Chuck is my faithful companion. Chuck got significantly quantifiably better from using Treatables. It took about three days of feeding Chuck two to three doses a day to see the full effect but he did get noticeably more comfortable on the first day of feeding them to him. Before CBD Chuck limped and couldn’t enjoy longer walks though he clearly had the desire for them. Once he started taking them he could leap around again. Thanks for writing in Valerie. Treatable chews are legal and available in all 50 states right now. If you want to learn about what Treatables can do for your pet visit www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com/pet and get a coupon code for 10% off your order. Once again that URL is www(dot)canainsider(dot)com/pet. Now here’s your program.

Many people listening right now already have a cannabis related business and others are looking to start a cannabis related business. Either way one of the most important decisions you’re going to need to make at some point is how to create a brand that resonates with your target market. To help me intelligently think about branding for your cannabis business I’ve invited husband and wife design team Jamie and Pika Stearns from the firm Croc and Plover to the show today. Jamie, Pika welcome to CannaInsider.

Jamie: Hi Matt. Thank you.

Pika: Yeah thanks for having us.

Matthew: Sure. Jamie and Pika can you each in turn tell us a little bit about your background, your design experience, and how you pivoted to the cannabis space?

Jamie: Yeah I’ll kick things off. So I’ve been working in branding for over 14 years. Most of that time has been spent in Minneapolis and New York City. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of the bigger brands like Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Target. I’ve worked with a variety of different types of agencies like the innovation company IDL to product design consultancy Smart Design and then in the past five years we’ve been spending most of our time working on our own startups. We’ve also been doing a lot of branding for entrepreneurs developing products and bringing them to market.

Matthew: Cool.

Pika: My background is mostly in package design and illustration. Before we moved out here to Boulder I worked in New York freelancing at some really great packaging studios and I also worked as an illustrator with innovation consultancies. I got to work with a lot of big brands and my favorite ones were Carlsberg, Bath & Body Works, and Disney and while we were in New York Jamie and I started to work on projects together outside of freelancing and we found that we actually work really well together and wanted to start trying our own thing and so started our own studio called Croc and Plover with our own clients and projects that we could just have more control and influence. Neither of us are really city people so we moved to Boulder on a gut instinct that it would work out for both business and lifestyle reasons and that was two and a half years ago and now we’re living by the mountains and we have two dogs and a baby and things are going really great for us.

Matthew: Well that’s great. I should be a Boulder tourism show. We give so much press to Boulder. It is such a little zanadoo though that it’s hard not to brag on it.

Jamie: It is.

Pika: Yeah.

Jamie: It’s a pretty great place to live in. It had everything that we were looking for and then when we came here we mostly did work with food and beverage companies but then once cannabis was legalized we saw a really great opportunity to help influence this industry from a branding and product development perspective. So I started going to the conferences that were around here and to the meet ups and because it’s such a small world I started meeting a lot of the people that are now the innovators in the space. Then we got involved with mentoring at Canopy Boulder. We’re really excited about a lot of the companies that we see going through that program and what we do is we help companies with brand strategy, we help them with naming companies or naming products, writing around story, helping to come up with marketing tag lines, and then designing logos, designing custom structures for packaging, designing all the graphics that go on to the packaging that go into marketing materials, websites, and now helping companies that are going off to investment with their pitch decks.

Matthew: Wow.

Jamie: And in some cases even if a client doesn’t have a budget to hire a photographer for a photo shoot we’ll even do that in our studio. So we’ve kind of become a one stop shop to get brands off the ground or if a brand has been in the market and they’re getting a lot of traction we really need to take their brand to the next level we can help companies with that as well.

Matthew: So for a new company that’s just starting that doesn’t have a logo, branding, or anything yet what advice would you offer so they can put their best foot forward? I mean it’s really a pivotal time because I notice that we’re moving out of the 1.0 of the cannabis world where even my own brand I have a cannabis leaf on there. It’s green but I recognize it’s time to evolve to something else, a second iteration of the cannabis look and feel of what consumers and people want in general. So with that in mind how does someone put their best foot forward in creating their cannabis brand?

Jamie: Well I think the first thing you said there is the first thing people should consider is to try to get them away from doing the stereotypical things that we see around marijuana and avoid using the pot leaf in your logo and get away from using the tie dye gradient as your color palette. I think the main thing to separate yourself is to think of your brand as more of a lifestyle brand then a pot product and then consider how your brand is going to fit in to your user’s lifestyle. I think it’s also a good idea to take a look at the landscape or the category that the brands going to live in and identify that sliver of the market that they think they can own and then just go for it.

I think it’s also a good idea to look outside of your industry for inspiration. If you have a smoking product maybe you look at furniture companies or end carriers or beauty products. Maybe the way you see that a lamp illuminates a room will give you an idea for how to package your product or maybe the way an architecture firm tells their story will inspire how you talk about your brand but by broadening your inspiration pool you’re going to have more of a unique collection of resources to pull from and ultimately it’s going to help you develop more of a unique brand for yourself.

Matthew: Okay and how about an existing cannabis brand? There’s companies out there that have some traction. Maybe they have a logo and some branding and messaging but it’s really not a fit. It’s not honed or really crafted or contoured to the needs of their customers. What would you suggest for people in that boat?

Pika: I guess the trick is to really find out why your logo or your branding or your messaging whatever it is that isn’t resonating with your customers try to figure out why it’s not resonating which I know is a lot easier said than done but one thing you could do is to start by asking a few people from your target market what they think about your branding. This could be friends or family or co-workers or anyone but really just make sure it’s your specific audience and not just a general cannabis user. Try to figure out why they would or wouldn’t buy or use your product. What do they feel when they look at your logo like if you’re selling a product at a premium price does it look like it’s worth the extra cost? Do they feel like they’re paying for the quality and are they willing to pay extra for quality?

Matthew: Yeah.

Pika: If you’re selling a medicinal product does it look effective? Does it look like it will do what you’re promising it will do and if the problem is that people don’t believe that your product will do what you’re claiming it will then you have to figure out how to get them to trust you.

Matthew: Good point. Now Pika you have a flare for illustrating ideas during brainstorming sessions. When you were talking with me about this it sounded really interesting. I had never really seen or heard someone that can do this personally. Can you talk a little bit about how you can do that and what happens during that process?

Pika: Yeah. I used to work at an innovation consultancy called What If and I’d sit in during their brainstorming sessions with clients and quickly sketch up ideas that were being discussed in the team. So whether it was trying to come up with new products or services I would just illustrate them on the spot and it was great because it would give everyone something to instantly react to and build on and at the end of the session there would be walls covered in all these visualized ideas and you could literally see everything that the group had come up with that day and so yeah it was just really great because you could figure out is this idea working or is it something that just sounded great in my head but now that I see it now it’s actually probably not something that’s right for whatever problem we’re trying to solve.

Matthew: And are there any helpful exercises an individual or team can do to crystallize what their branding and messaging should be cause that’s back to that kind of product market fit and be getting into the consumer’s head about why they’re buying it and the benefit and so forth?

Jamie: Yeah I think if the company or the people that launch their product have a unique story of how or why they came up with the product or what problem they’re solving that’s a really good place to start to build the brand and kick off the brand story and it’s great because then it’s an authentic story that you have to tell. But I think the other thing that you want to think about is if you’re launching one product you want to try to forecast what all is going to live under that brand. Maybe it’s going to be that that one product is what the brand is but if in a short time you’re going to have three or four more products under that umbrella then making sure that you set up the right umbrella brand to support everything that you’re going to have is a really good idea as well.

Pika: Just to elaborate a little bit on what Jamie was saying as far as exercises that could help I think what helps sometimes is to think of your brand as a person and that way you can start to really build its personality. So you can ask yourself is this brand fun, creative, is it serious, is it quiet and then going further.

Matthew: Does it have Tourette’s or a weird feature that people are complaining about.

Pika: Yeah and I mean when you start to personalize it in that sense or personify it I think everything else can fall into place in a more maybe tangible way. So when you’re thinking about the messaging or the colors or the visuals that you use relating it back to that person does it make sense that that person would say that or do those things or act that way? It’s easier to think about what’s right for your brand so that it doesn’t feel like a brand that’s got multiple personalities and so yeah you can see how does it speak? Is it loud? Is it witty? Does it get right to the point? What does it look like? Is it sophisticated or masculine or young and then if you want you can also take it a step further. Imagine your brand is a kid going to its first day of school and you want to know how does it stand out from all the other kids. What’s going to make it unique or different and if you can’t find a reason or a thing that does make it unique or different it could be a sign that you’re entering a super saturated market and you have a real uphill battle ahead of you.

Matthew: Great points. Now packaging let’s pivot to that. I’ve really started to notice packaging recently over the last couple years and have an appreciation for companies that can take the time to invest in their packaging and also I can tell when something is packaged well that I subconsciously maybe I’m willing to pay more for it when packaging itself is not necessarily really expensive. There’s a big ROI there so can you talk a little bit about the importance of packaging and how companies and brands should be thinking about their own packaging?

Jamie: Yeah when we approach packaging we always try to find a design or find a structure that’s interesting to the product and houses the product properly but if your long term goal is to have a custom structure but you’re just getting your product into the market you might end up going to a stock structure that’s cheaper just to get your product to market and then once you see that there’s a need for it and you’re generating some revenue then you can go to that custom structure that you’re looking at. Another thing like you talked about if it feels nice in your hands that’s going to draw people to it as well. So you might look at different finishes that are in line with your brand and in line with your price point. Do you use gold or silver foils or do you use screen print metallic ink or do you use spot varnishes?

These are all options that can really help elevate what your packaging is but when you package your product I think it’s also a good idea to think about how your customer is going to see your product and how they’re going to interact with it so you might look at where it’s going to be displayed and where it’s going to be sold. For example if it’s going to be in a dispensary you might talk to the dispensaries or talk to the bud tenders and find out if it’s going to be in a glass case, if it’s going to be hung on the wall behind them, or maybe you have the opportunity to do a little display that’s going to sit on top of the countertop and then if you sell your product online you’re going to have to rely on your photography to capture the unique features of what your product has and then your opportunity is when you package it for them to receive in the mail you make sure that it’s a memorable experience.

What kind of materials are you using? Do you have any clever little messages that are revealed as they open the product? I think everybody always uses Apple as a good example for packaging and I think it does apply in this case. When you get your Iphone or your computer it really is an experience and the products reveal to you as you open it. It’s not just thrown in a box. So the best thing is to do what you can to show your product well and make it feel like something that your customer is going to be really excited to open and they might even want to keep the packaging because it’s so nice.

Matthew: Great points and also a lack of packaging sometimes. In Apple’s case I think the first Iphone came with no instructions. I mean that’s pretty telling in its own way that you don’t even need instructions to operate it.

Jamie: Yeah absolutely and then in some cases it is a matter of you have to educate them. So then we always look at what is the Apple way of doing that? What’s the 1, 2, 3 that tells them perfectly clear of how to use this product.

Matthew: Let’s talk a little bit about mistakes and what people run into when they’re creating branding and packaging and all these things. Is there one or two things that stand out in terms of mistakes you see clients make or have made by the time they get to you that maybe people can think about sidestepping when they create their brand?

Pika: Yeah. This is I guess the most common mistake is one that we find isn’t really intentional and a lot of people might not even be aware of it but it’s when owners of companies or products get too personal with their brand and by this I mean with their branding and specifically their logo. For example if they first launched their company maybe they were bootstrapping their branding and made their logo themselves or they had a cousin or an aunt who could help them out for free and so they have this really emotional connection with their logo. It was their first and it was the face of their company for a long time so they don’t think there is anything wrong with it and are reluctant to make any changes or too many changes.

And so really the thing that we try to tell people is when you create a brand try to separate yourself from your brand. The brand isn’t you. It’s not art. It’s not an extension of yourself or an expression of your feelings. It’s a product or a service that is hopefully filling a need in another person’s life. So when you make decisions make sure you’re asking yourself what’s right for the brand not necessarily what do I like personally. So don’t rule out the color yellow for instance just because you or your partner hates it but to that same point you’re the one that has to live with your brand so at the end of the day make sure that whatever you create is something you’re happy and proud to live with and then the second point would also be to find good partners to help build your brand in an effective way. Don’t think you can or should do everything yourself. You’ll still be the captain. You’ll steer the ship but find good product designers or web designers or marketing people or whoever the expert is in the field that you need help with so that you can really focus on what you do best for your company.

Matthew: Great points. I want to really zero in on differentiating and give listeners some public examples of brands that have done a good job of differentiating themselves. Is there a company or two you might be able to highlight that has done a good job branding their cannabis company?

Pika: Yeah. I think this might be an obvious designer choice but Leafs By Snoop is really great and this will go against what we said earlier about not having to use the obvious cues but even though they use the leaf on it and it’s like their main symbol I think it’s done in a really elegant and classy way. The branding and packaging overall just look like a range of beauty products and not your obvious cannabis product. They have interesting structures to house their products. They have different finishes to add that premium touch to the brand and they also have it’s like a more subtle detail but the copywriting is really cool. One of their products is called Dog Treats and it’s playful and descriptive and it’s not trying too hard and then also carries in a little bit into the types of flavors that they’re offering for their edibles. So it’s not just a dark chocolate but there’s strawberries and cream with waffle bits and peanut butter gems and I don’t know that I would try all these things but they were really different and it’s cool just to see that out there.

Matthew: That is cool. He has some talented people that help him for sure. He’s got so much stuff going on.

Pika: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jamie: Yeah and then another brand that I think they’re doing really good stuff is IVXX. It’s a very minimal design that’s executed very well. It’s really nothing more than a well crafted logo with a unique name. A very subtle pattern and some gorgeous colors on simple elegant packaging and then they also take it a step farther and their website is done really well. It’s a real branded experience where every little element is considered from the black and white photography and videos that you see on the homepage to the rollover effects and then the pop out windows. I really think they did a great job and I also think companies like IVXX and Leafs By Snoop is really elevating the way people in cannabis are seeing branding and packaging. So it’s really great to see stuff like that out there.

Matthew: Yeah. So IVXX is an infused products company?

Jamie: Yeah.

Matthew: Okay pretty cool. I’m at their website now. I just pulled it up. You’re right. It’s www.ivxx.com. Very sleek minimalist and very interesting overall. So I encourage people to check those two out Leafs By Snoop and IVXX. So how do you text your color and narrative get woven together to give a cannabis focused business its unique brand identity?

Jamie: Yeah so a brand is made up of all the components that are going to live out in the world together. Once you identify what your brand is going to stand for and then what sliver of the market you’re going to own then you’re going to develop a look and feel through a logo, through color palettes, icons, supporting patterns, unique packaging, website, product design but all these things are going to have a consistent esthetic to them to make them feel like they’re part of the family and then the other important part is the tone of your brand. How does it sound? Are you giving it a point of view and a certain attitude that’s going to help to distinguish it from the other brands? The idea is that every time somebody interacts with your brand they get a consistent quality experience that’s in line with what you set out to create for the brand.

Matthew: So let’s go to personal development questions here. I’ll start with you Pika. Is there any book that when you look over the arc of your life has had a big impact on your that you’d like to share with the CannaInsider listeners?

Pika: Yeah. I wouldn’t say that it was one book that has a massive impact on my life but one that definitely influenced how I think and work was its called “Sticky Wisdom How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work.” It’s just a great guide on how to be creative. How to think about being creative, how to problem solve creatively no matter what the task at hand is, and it’s a super quick and easy read. It’s something you can always refer back to if you need a creativity refresher. So I definitely recommend that to anyone that might feel like they aren’t creative or they might say oh I don’t know how to think like that. It’s something that can apply to anyone no matter what your background is.

Matthew: That’s great. I want to check that out. One book that I’m going to throw in there is called “Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough.

Pika: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matthew: That book is probably one of the top five best books I’ve ever read and the book itself is actually not even made from paper. He made the book of some other compound that’s recyclable and when put in water can be molded into other things as an expression of how to think about design differently right down to the very book he wrote it on and he challenges the reader all the time when there’s problems in your life you run into. It’s a design problem. It’s nothing more and has you reorient your thinking. I just found it extremely helpful and I still go back to that book all the time. So I’ll throw out that plug for “Cradle to Cradle.” Jamie how about a tool web based or otherwise that you use daily or weekly that you consider an absolute must have that you would recommend to listeners?

Jamie: Well I think when we approach design problems we always approach it from gathering all the information that we have to solve for and then we sit down at the table. We grab a paper and pencil and we start sketching out ideas that solve the problem. So a lot of people will go right to tools to execute ideas where I think it’s solving the problem, coming up with a lot of solutions, and then deciding what you’re going to move forward with; what’s worth moving forward with. So I recommend paper and pencils.

Matthew: I like it. You’re going Amish on us and we probably need to do another one once in awhile and get away from the technology. So I like your recommendation.

Jamie: Oh and then we do use the computer but after we have the ideas done we go to it and we use Adobe Illustrator to render our ideas in a finished, polished way.

Matthew: Okay.

Jamie: Yeah.

Pika: I think just to add to that the reason pencil and paper are so great is that you don’t become too precious with what you’re drawing or sketching up. It doesn’t feel like it has to be perfectly in place or finalized by sketching it. You can be loser and rougher and just get that idea out of your head and on to paper to see if it’s working or not.

Matthew: Great points. Pika and Jamie as we close how can listeners find out more about your firm and the services you offer?

Pika: You can check out our website www.crocandplover.com and I’ll just spell that in case anybody has trouble finding us. It’s c-r-o-c-a-n-d-p-l-o-v-e-r.com.

Matthew: Great. Jamie and Pika thanks so much for coming on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate it.

Pika: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Jamie: Thanks Matt.

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Husband and wife design team Jamie and Pika Stearns have helped many famous brands hone their branding, packaging and design, including; Disney, Best Buy and Coca Cola. Jamie and Pika have now turned their focus to helping cannabis-focused companies improve their branding and customer experience.

Key Takeaways:
[2:18] – Jamie and Pika’s background as artists and designers
[6:37] – Jamie talks about creating your cannabis brand
[8:19] – How to improve your cannabis branding
[9:56] – Pika talks about brainstorming idea
[14:26] – Jamie talks about the importance of packaging
[17:45] – Pika discusses common branding mistakes
[20:12] – Examples of companies with great branding
[24:16] – Pika, Jamie and Matthew’s book recommendations
[27:38] – Croc and Plover contact info

Learn more at:
www.crocandplover.com

Important Update:
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