There are many respectable and recognizable cannabis retail brands emerging across Canada and the United States. One key to these successful retail stores and chains is that they understand their consumer. You need to identify who your customer is and create a brand differentiation strategy based on those insights when establishing retail cannabis brands.
Identify Your Target Market
Are you targeting customers on a budget or are you targeting individuals with more expendable income? Are your customers coming from the legacy market? Are they familiar with legal cannabis brands? What types of products are they looking for and what questions do they ask? What do they care about and why?
Why do your customers visit your store – is it convenience? Price? Location? Brand story? Store design? Your employees?
These are all important questions to ask to better understand your consumer and how your brand services those individuals. Similar to other industries, we recommend constructing a single persona that represents your average target customer. Name the person and describe their wants, needs, beliefs, habits, challenges, and concerns.
Translate consumer insights into branding strategy
Cannabis retail brands that are looking to build brand equity and sell a premium experience must focus on building their brand first, as opposed to building up the brands they carry. These stores should have Instagrammable installations, should produce their own merchandise, and focus on creating social media content.
Value-based chains can succeed by focusing on the brands they carry and the prices they offer those products for. These stores should ultimately be focused on offering the right products at the right price and communicating that to their potential customers.
Premium chains are selling an experience, value-based chains are selling an affordable price.
If your customers are familiar with legal cannabis brands and products already then you can focus on the brands and products you carry in your brand marketing and messaging. If your customers are transitioning from the legacy market to legal, you may not want to focus on the specific brands and products you carry and instead speak to them in language they are already familiar with (ex. Indica/Sativa/Hybrid, Cannabinoid Percentages, Terpene Profiles, etc.). If your customers are completely new to the cannabis category itself, you will need to focus on basic education and effect-based product recommendations.
By deeply understanding and thinking like your target customer, you can create a successful branding and marketing strategy.
Take the Time to Define Your Brand
When you operate a cannabis retail store, many individuals will likely be helping you communicate your branding. You will need to operate social media channels, a website, an email newsletter, and more. You’ll need to create tags, menus, and posters for displays in-store. You will need to have corporate communications for your employees and investors. All of these materials should be aligned and follow your brand guidelines.
Take the time to clearly define your brand (its visual aesthetic and its voice/tone) by creating a Brand Guide. Use this guide or booklet to frame all of your marketing and corporate messaging going forward. This Guide can also be provided to agencies or brand partners to ensure your brand is always communicated properly. Stay consistent but be flexible and adapt your brand when necessary.
Differentiate and Stand for Something
After you define your target market and create a branding strategy based on those insights – now it is time to ensure your store is differentiated and has a meaningful brand story and mission. Here are some great examples of Canadian cannabis retail stores and chains that have picked a lane and stand for something.
Superette is a hip, trendy cannabis store with three locations in Southern Ontario. This brand is a perfect example of a store that has created a premium in-store experience. Superette’s store design is completely unique and encourages word-of-mouth and sharing on social media. Superette is as much a fashion brand, accessory company, and experience purveyor as they are a cannabis retailer. This chain is targeting the consumer willing to spend a bit more (or are at least not solely focused on price) to shop in a high-end environment.
Value Buds is a cannabis retail chain with locations across Alberta and Ontario. This store is laser-focused on value-based cannabis consumers, those looking for budget-friendly options. Value Bud’s branding, store design, and communications all center around the low price that they offer their products for. This chain focuses heavily on the brand equity created by LPs and is targeting those who are already familiar with legal market offerings and want the best price available. The store design is reminiscent of an informal market dispensary – approachable, simple, and humble.
Calyx + Trichomes
Calyx + Trichomes is a Kingston, Ontario-based independent retail store. This store operated in the legacy market for many years and made the tough transition to the regulated side successfully. C+T targets the experienced enthusiast consumer that has formerly or is currently purchasing from unregulated sources. The store has received press for choosing to primarily hire candidates that have a (non-violent) record for cannabis-related charges, which is a cause that resonates with customers familiar with purchasing from unregulated sources. The store’s name, interior design and product selection all reflect their focus on the knowledgeable cannabis enthusiast.
Their unique branding led Calyx + Trichomes to be a Storefront Brand of the Year Finalist in the 2020 ADCANN Awards.
With one location in Vancouver, British Columbia – The Village Bloomery is a unique cannabis retail store that deeply understands their consumer and how their brand delights them. This store targets environmentally and socially conscious consumers that care about where their products come from and how they were made. Their social media, store design, website, and all other marketing materials reflect this. They seek to educate and empower their inclusive community. This is a great example of a store that stands for something and follows their brand values in everything they do.
Learn From Other Industries and Mature Cannabis Markets
Don’t just get inspiration from your competition. Look outside the Canadian cannabis industry for ideas and tactics. If you are creating a premium brand – high-end fashion, collectibles, electronics, and other industries will hold relevant insights for you. If you are creating a value-based store, you may be able to learn from grocery stores and budget-fashion retail brands for example.
It can also be valuable to study the successful brands in more mature cannabis markets such as California, Colorado, and Washington. Below is a list of the hottest U.S. Cannabis Retail Brands from 2020 that you may want to research, as prepared by Pioneer Intelligence – a reputable cannabis data company.