What’s in a Name?

As the cannabis industry matures, many businesses are trying to project a more sophisticated image. Rebranding is one way companies can present a more professional impression.

The decision to rebrand via a name change is often the result of an initial public offering, as in the case of Akerna, or the acquisition of multiple dispensaries, such as Cresco Labs’ decision to create a more unified image under the Sunnyside brand.

Other reasons a company might rebrand include launching new and different services, a shifting competitive landscape or the desire to align with the marijuana industry’s growing professionalism, said Bill Winchester, founder and creative director of Minneapolis brand-creation agency Think+Make.

While it’s sometimes difficult to come up with a name that’s not already taken, there are some measures a company can take when trying to choose a name. Winchester suggested the following:

  • Make sure the name represents the feeling of your brand position. If you’re serious, it should sound serious. If you’re trying to be a fun company image, it needs to have a fun name.
  • Some names are hard to pronounce or have sounds that aren’t pleasing to say or hear. If your brand is soft, consider words that make a soft sound.
  • Don’t underestimate readability and font. When you get to a short list of names, start thinking what they would look like. Short names are better than long—especially for signage.
  • Is the name memorable, or are people going to be saying, “What was the name of that place again?”
  • Check out its meaning in other languages. The United States is a multicultural country, and what is good in English is sometimes hilariously bad in another language.

 

Rebranding and Going Public

A merger and an IPO were the impetus behind Denver cannabis technology company MJ Freeway’s renaming as Akerna. The name change occurred when MJ Freeway merged with special-purpose acquisition firm MTech, said Jeannette Ward Horton, Akerna’s vice president of global marketing and communications.

The new name was built around “kern,” which she said represents an organic kernel of corn or a kernel of data.

The rebranding process led the team to a better understanding of what the company offers, Ward Horton added.

“We really wanted for the public listing a name that was not so quickly tied to cannabis but would make a more balanced connection between cannabis and tracking systems,” she said, referring to seed-to-sale tracking software.

“It’s really a reflection of the maturation of the space,” Ward Horton said. “There is a lot of movement from private companies to public companies and people being acquired by larger companies.”

 

High Street Becomes Acreage

In March 2018, High Street Capital Partners became Acreage Holdings as part of its plan to pursue an IPO. New York-based Acreage Holdings trades on the Canadian Securities Exchange as well as over-the-counter exchanges.

Kevin Murphy, the company’s founder, chair and CEO, came from the financial industry and started the company in 2011 as an investment vehicle.

Several years later, he turned his focus to cannabis and invited other investors to participate.

“High Street Capital Partners was a brand for the investment community specifically,” said Howard Schacter, vice president of communications at Acreage Holdings. “Acreage had real resonance in a couple of different places.

“It’s an illustration of the part of the business that’s about growing—and growing is what we looked to do and continue to do as a company. It’s a good reflection of growth in all of its different meanings.”

 

Creating a National Brand

Industry watchers note that as some companies expand into new areas by acquiring dispensaries, they’re choosing to change the retail stores’ names and remodel shops to convey a unified message to customers.

For example, Minneapolis-based medical marijuana company Vireo Health International recently launched its first Green Goods-branded dispensary in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has plans for two more Pennsylvania retail stores in Bethlehem and Stroudsburg, pending regulatory approval.

The name of the umbrella company will remain Vireo, but going forward, Green Goods will be the retail brand.

Vireo CEO Kyle Kingsley said there is no additional cost to build out new stores under the Green Goods brand, but rebranding existing stores requires a significant investment that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for larger shops.

“We’re doing this in a very cost-effective way,” Kingsley said. “It’s a marvelous unifying brand for our dispensaries.”

The rebranding effort also involves focusing on Vireo’s e-commerce platform. Customers can buy products online for in-store pickup or delivery, which is Vireo’s largest revenue generator in locations where the service is allowed.

“We’re looking to make it easy for folks,” Kingsley said. “If they do an online refill, it can be a two-minute interaction. Online orders have increased substantially; more than half of our transactions are e-commerce.”

 

Conveying a Happy Image

Another example is Chicago-based Cresco Labs, which owns 31 retail licenses in 11 states and 21 operating dispensaries—all acquired through mergers and acquisitions of other companies.

Cresco is rebranding the dispensaries it’s acquired as Sunnyside, a name that’s intended to convey happiness.

But the process isn’t simple. “When you want to change the name of a dispensary, it’s not as easy as other businesses,” said Jason Erkes, chief communications officer for Cresco Labs. “You’re dealing with the government and regulators and a lot of firsts. It’s very burdensome.”

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