How to Use Identity Guidelines to Protect Your Cannabis Brand

Cannabis branding is absolutely essential today, and it becomes more important every day as the marketplace gets more competitive. In short, cannabis businesses and cannabis-related businesses must start competing at the brand level if they want to capture significant market share. 

That means you need to define your cannabis brand based on the 7 P’s of branding and stake your claim on a position in the market in order to stay competitive, continue growing, and win in the markets where you do business.

What does your marijuana brand promise to consumers? How is it better or different from other brands in the marketplace? How do consumers perceive it? Does it meet their expectations? These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself as you build your brand. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

When you’re building a cannabis company, you’ll invest a significant amount of money into raising awareness and recall of your brand. In addition, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to increase brand loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. All of this requires a very strong identity, which starts with a brand name and visual elements that represent it.

Establishing Brand Value (and Why You Need to Protect It)

In business, your brand can become one of your company’s most valuable intangible assets, so you need to prioritize it from the start.

Any brand has the potential to become extremely valuable, including marijuana brands – and including your brand. If you’re not taking steps to protect that potential value from the very beginning of your brand’s lifecycle, then you’ll lose opportunities to fully exploit it. In fact, you might even make critical mistakes that open the door for others to profit off of your brand’s value.

Therefore, you need to take steps to police and protect your brand immediately if you’re not already doing so. One of the most important steps you can take to do that is to create brand identity guidelines that tell your employees, vendors, business partners, journalists, and everyone else you can think of how to correctly use your brand name and assets in the marketplace.

A key to building brand value is consistently representing your brand in every consumer and public interaction. Imagine if the Coca-Cola logo looked different everywhere you saw it. You wouldn’t instantly know what company was behind the products if the logo was inconsistent. The same is true of a brand name and the other visual assets that align with the brand such as color palettes and typefaces.

That’s why you need brand identity guidelines and why those guidelines should be used by both your employees and by external audiences. Consistency is essential to brand building.

Developing Your Cannabis Brand Identity Guidelines

Your goal in developing brand identity guidelines is to give clear instructions to anyone who needs to produce any kind of material with your brand name or logo in it, so they know exactly how your name and logo (and all other assets you want to protect) can and should be used and displayed.

Know Your Purpose

The purpose of brand identity guidelines is to ensure your brand is used consistently and accurately at all times so there is no confusion among consumers or the public in general as to the source of the goods or services being sold or marketed. Confusion is the number one brand killer, so every aspect of your guidelines should focus on consistency.

Include the Basics

First, your guidelines should cover colors, fonts, the amount of required clear space around your logo, dimensions, shape, proportions, and positioning in different treatments (e.g., a co-branded ad, a PowerPoint presentation, a sign, or a brochure). Do the same for any other special images or iconography you want to protect as part of your brand identity.

Cover the Do’s and Don’ts

Next, include descriptions of permitted and unpermitted uses of your logo and brand assets. Do’s and don’ts lists are very helpful in making guidelines less overwhelming and easier to understand. Importantly, explain when people need to contact you (and how to do it) to determine if they must obtain your permission before using your logo or brand assets in their materials.

Make Sure Your Guidelines are Easily Accessible

Also, make your brand identity guidelines and high-resolution logo files available on your website. This makes it much easier for members of the media to find what they need when they want to mention your company in a publication. 

It also prevents many people from pulling your logo from a Google search where the results can come from sources other than your company and the file they choose could display your logo incorrectly.

Use Other Brands’ Guidelines for Inspiration

LeafLink’s brand identity guidelines provide a great example of a cannabis brand with useful guidelines easily available on its website, including logos, icons, fonts, colors, buttons, social posts, rules, examples, and more. 

NewLeaf Cannabis’ brand identity guidelines document is 22 pages. It’s broken down into three sections that cover the brand’s culture, mission, vision, and values as well as the logo wordmark, icon, and size and the color palette and typeface.

Use the guidelines from LeafLink and NewLeaf Cannabis as inspiration to create your own. You can also look outside the cannabis industry for ideas. Take a look at the brand identity guidelines from some well-known brands like Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn, SquareSpace, and Skype. You can also search for the phrase “brand identity guidelines” on Google or your preferred search engine, and you’ll find many examples to review for inspiration.

Train Your Team, Vendors, and Partners

Finally, make sure every employee gets a copy of your brand identity guidelines and understands what they mean and how to use them. Do the same for your vendors and business partners. 

For example, a business partner might want to show your logo on its website. Make it easy for your partner to access your official logo and related usage guidelines by providing a copy of your identity guidelines as well as a link to the guidelines and logo files on your website.In other words, make it easy for people to get what they need, so they’re less likely to use your brand incorrectly.

Create a One-Pager

A comprehensive brand identity guidelines document can get very long. Few people will take the time to read through the entire document to find the specific instructions they need. Therefore, it’s a great idea to have simple, one-page PDFs available that provide easy-to-understand instructions on how to use your logo and other brand elements in common ways.

For example, make a PDF available that covers how to use your logo online and another about how to use your logo in co-branded ads. That way, you can direct people to the exact list of guidelines they need to follow when the time comes. You’re more likely to get compliance when it’s easy for people to comply.

Protecting Your Brand

Just as you might hang signs and notices at your place of business to keep people from trespassing or stealing, you need to hang signs and notices on your brand to keep people from trespassing or stealing your brand value.

While many marijuana-related brands can’t secure federal trademark registrations today since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, there are steps you can take to increase the value of your brand so you have a better chance of securing a trademark in the future when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finally begins granting them on a wider scale.

1. Search

Conduct a comprehensive trademark search as soon as possible to make sure your brand isn’t already unintentionally infringing on another brand’s rights, and if it’s not, start following the steps provided in the preceding link to stake your claim on your mark to the extent possible.

2. Get State Protection (If Possible)

Also, if your business is in a state that allows state registration of cannabis-related trademarks, like California, try to get one. Doing so can only help your chances of registering a federal trademark when the opportunity arises.

3. Monitor

Furthermore, you should create your brand identity guidelines and start monitoring how people use your brand name and assets. Even if you do register your marijuana brand’s trademark in the future, it will be extremely difficult to keep others from infringing on it and exploiting the value you’ve built in that brand for their own gain if you don’t take steps to ensure people are using your brand name and elements correctly. There are two simple reasons for this:

  • A trademark registration only protects your mark exactly as it was registered.
  • You’ll lose your ability to protect your brand as far as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is concerned (even if it has been trademarked), if you’re not policing its use and taking steps to stop other people from infringing on your mark.

The onus is on you to monitor your brand and maintain its value by protecting it to ensure others aren’t misusing it or profiting off of it without your permission. Therefore, create brand identity guidelines and enforce them. After all, the only one who loses out if you don’t protect your marijuana brand is you.

Key Takeaways about Cannabis Brand Identity Guidelines

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the potential value of your brand by failing to define it and protect it. Imagine what would have happened to Apple and Google if they didn’t prioritize brand protection in the early days when the companies were just getting started? Things might be very different today. It’s very possible that the Apple name and the logo on your phone or laptop could be a different icon entirely.

Bottom-line, the amount of money required to rebrand is significant, and you don’t want to have to pay that money if you don’t have to! Define your brand and protect it with brand identity guidelines, trademarking (to the extent possible), and monitoring its usage starting right now.

Originally published 7/27/18. Updated 7/16/21.

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