(This story is part of the cover package in the August issue of MJBizMagazine.)
So, you’re starting a cannabis brand but don’t have a glitzy marketing team or a fat budget. And your design skills don’t match your cannabis expertise.
Now you need a logo that doesn’t look like it was drawn by your cousin.
You’ve got this! After all, you’ve already started a cannabis company in the face of incredible legal and financing obstacles. Consider logo design the next step on your path to becoming a self-made cannabis mogul.
It’s just like teaching yourself accounting or extraction. You do it by learning from the pros. We gathered 10 do’s and don’ts for logo design from some of the cannabis industry’s branding leaders. Consider this your DIY cheat sheet for a logo that stands out (in a good way).
DO: Create a vision board
Vision boards might seem like self-help hogwash, but they’re invaluable tools used by the most experienced branding pros.
How do you want your brand to make people feel? Hip? Healthy? Sophisticated? Fun-loving? Start collecting images that give you that feeling. (A digital vision board is fine; no need to cut magazines to ribbons.)
Look for colors and patterns that keep turning up in the images you choose and consider them your starting points.
“When we think about the definition of brand, it’s the unconscious decision or conclusion that a customer is reaching about your product. It’s your core value and your vision,” said Kim Prince, founder of Proven Media, a cannabis marketing consultancy in Carefree, Arizona.
DON’T: Default to a leaf
Cannabis consumers are barraged by so many leafy logos that few of them stand out.
“I’m tired of all the green,” said Shayda Torabi, CEO of Restart CBD in Austin, Texas. “The green lettering. The green backgrounds. The very explicit leaf. It’s all been done. If you want to attract new customers, think outside the box.”
Prince’s cannabis marketing company started with a leafy logo in green, but eventually she dropped the leaf and switched to IBM blue. She wanted a logo that could go on the side of a building in her company’s small town.
“I didn’t want to offend the community that I was doing business in,” she said.
DO: Use the leaf when it works
No design rule is absolute. Even as branding experts advise not defaulting to the cannabis leaf, they say it’s still a powerful symbol that can fit some brands perfectly.
Nicole Kennebeck, marketing director for Willie’s Reserve, a cannabis brand with no leaf in its logo, pointed out that brands shouldn’t immediately rule out its use. There is a reason, she said, that people don’t put tea or oak leaves on T-shirts.
“There’s power in that symbol,” she said. “When it’s appropriate, it can be a strong message in signaling culture and community.”
DO: Look outside cannabis
In a crowded retail environment, you don’t want to resemble your competitors. Look beyond the cannabis industry when creating a logo.
Prince takes her team shopping at Whole Foods Market grocery stores and large drug stores to get inspiration from branding and labels outside the cannabis industry.
Torabi goes to REI stores for inspiration.
“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Torabi said. “Just because somebody has done something doesn’t mean that you can’t do it better. Pick and choose what you’re gravitating toward, why you like someone’s brand, why you like their label, why you like their logo, and go from there.”
DON’T: Focus on one state
You likely have big ambitions for your cannabis brand. Don’t hamstring growth by creating a logo or tagline that can’t be used in different states and countries.
Kennebeck said it’s no accident that the cannabis brand owned by Willie Nelson has a text-only logo. It gives the company maximum flexibility when entering new markets.
“You want brand consistency out in the world,” she said. “Be mindful that there are a lot of regulations, and they vary from state to state. So, if your message is, ‘Smoke weed,’ that’s not going to work everywhere.”
DO: Get help (when it’s cheap)
Startup founders don’t have to choose between designing a logo themselves or hiring a professional.
Torabi recommends using free or “free-ish” websites that specialize in logo creation. She especially likes Tailor Brands.
“If you’re scrappy, and you’re just starting out, use the tools that are free and cost-effective for you to start getting your brand in front of your target customer,” she said.
DON’T: Start in color
Logo colors are essential elements in a brand. Think of Coca-Cola red or FedEx purple and orange.
It can seem counterintuitive to start a logo in black and white. But that’s what Colorado brand strategist Holly Prohs recommends for logo development.
“I always present logos in black and white first,” said Prohs, who is also chief operating officer at Lucid Mood, a Colorado company that manufactures vapes of THC and CBD blends.
“Color really changes our perception of something,” she said. “Only once a logo has been determined does it make sense to start playing with color.”
Colorless logo design also allows you to adjust colors later under the same logo.
Think back to FedEx: The company changed the colors in “Ex” to denote different services and types of shipping, giving it a wide variety of logo variations using familiar branding with minimal extra words.
DO: Use a simple font
Make your logo font simple, and resist the urge to spell your company’s name in unique lettering.
Startup brands need replication, and a font that can’t be replicated in open-source content platforms such as WordPress will get changed.
“If a font doesn’t exist in a place like Squarespace or Shopify or any of those platforms, I wouldn’t invest the money and time creating it,” Torabi said.
DON’T: Put a logo on everything
Once you’ve got a great logo, it’s time to print it on countless stickers and low-cost items to give away, right?
Wrong, branding experts say. Better to invest in fewer, more expensive swag items that really speak to your consumer than throw-away items likely to fester in business-card purgatory.
Kennebeck’s team created a pop-up vintage clothing store that appeals to Willie Nelson fans (think lots of denim and bandanas) and hired a tailor to attach brand patches at special events. The result was an impressive number of organic shares on social media—a better investment than, say, handing out free T-shirts likely to end up as wash rags.
“It’s not something that every brand can do or provide,” Kennebeck conceded. “But it really was a great way for us to share this brand in a unique way. When you see somebody who’s wearing a denim jacket with a Willie’s Reserve patch on it … it’s a brand signal that you’ve had an experience with us. And I think that is something that creates stories and legends that people love to share.”
DO: Ask for something in return
You’ve got the right logo on the right products. Congrats! Now ask for something in return.
Torabi advises against handing out swag to crowds. Instead, use swag to engage consumers and research their behavior.
“Do I get your email address? Do I get your cell phone number? How am I capturing that person?” Torabi said. “I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, you came to my booth, I gave you this product. … Now, I want to know the next time you came to my dispensary (and) the next time you hit Add to Cart.’”