For many small cannabis companies, marketing may just be a matter of putting the labels on straight. Jennifer Whetzel is out to change that.
When pharmaceutical companies roll out a new product, they have squadrons of marketing people who choose the poll-tested name, design the packaging, and write press releases and advertising copy. More than that, they build a brand – the central personality and message they want that product to convey.
Whetzel is a branding pro, having worked in retail merchandising, advertising, and market research and strategy. (She describes one past job as “talking about cow medications, Hallmark, and rum on the same day.”) More importantly, she also has a background in working with regulatory professionals to make sure products are marketed without illegal medical claims. “I’ve made my way around all of the different disciplines that would fall under marketing and branding,” she says.
When she needed to reinvent her life a few years ago, she was experiencing a number of medical issues. She knew she needed to move to a state where cannabis was medically legal. “I went out and got my medical card and started figuring out how to heal myself with cannabis.”
During her healing process, which included a bout with post-traumatic stress disorder after a series of unfortunate life events, she learned a lot about cannabis products and services.
“I’m a dedicated consumer! I’m taking myself through the entire discovery process that consumers go through, learning about different kinds of flower, spectrum of product. The PTSD is gone, my food sensitivities are gone. I did that by finding how cannabis could work for me.”
Whetzel realized that her background and skills could benefit entrepreneurs in the cannabis sector, many of whom have more expertise in cultivation and cooking than in building customer relationships. So she began her own research. “I spent a lot of my time at my caregiver’s, talking with different people and really diving into the industry.”
Now she and graphic designer Glen Hawkins have joined forces as Ladyjane, working to bring the sophisticated marketing tools of other industries to bear on cannabis products, both as a consultant and as a researcher. Ladyjane offers a starter product, a free online questionnaire aimed at helping entrepreneurs and their teams get a better sense of their brand personality, with brand “makeovers” available to further develop that personality into everything from labels to store décor.
She starts you off with a quiz, which anyone can take for free at www.ladyjanebranding.com. Based on your answers, she presents you with an archetype that answers the question, “If your brand were a person, who would it be?”
Once the archetype is chosen, Ladyjane can recommend everything from color schemes to store displays and ways to connect with customers. Depending on their budgets and needs, companies can get a little consulting help or a full-scale brand makeover, complete with graphic design and follow-up coaching.
Case study: Trella
Trella Technologies, based in Bourne, Massachusetts, makes an automated horizontal plant trainer that allows home and small-scale growers to increase yield in small spaces. CEO Aja N. Atwood filled out the questionnaire, discovering that her company’s archetype was “Magician.”
Working with Ladyjane, Atwood got to know her archetype, built out her brand strategy, and involved the rest of her team in understanding and implementing the company’s identity. “She leapfrogged herself!” Whetzel exclaims. “We just took her strategy and gave her guidance in terms of how to provide her team the right direction.” Trella’s product launched this fall.
Case study: Friend Jen
Friend Jen, a grower and dispensary in Richmond, Maine, is owned by four partners. When they took the archetype quiz, they all got different answers. Whetzel went through their results and chose the one she thought best reflected the company’s mission – “Best Friend.” “They said ‘Yes, we’re that!’” With agreement on an archetype, the four of them were able to better work together on consistent branding decisions.
Research: Women in cannabis
While Ladyjane works with all kinds of customers, women-owned businesses are becoming a bit of a specialty. “The need is that women often have fewer resources in terms of network or financing to be able to spend on something like branding. It’s really critical,” says Whetzel. “I think that sometimes women have an easier time of sitting down and thinking about the questions I ask them about their personal brand. There are so many women who have great ideas! I want to be able to help good ideas, regardless of where they come from.”
Working with medical sociologist Dr. Nicole Wolfe of Wolfe Research & Consulting, Ladyjane is sponsoring the Women of Cannabis Conference in December in Las Vegas. That gives Whetzel and Wolfe the opportunity to work on oral histories of women in the cannabis industry as part of a longer-term study.
Because survey responses are also valuable market data, Whetzel is inviting companies to sponsor one or more questions, which gives the company the right to use the answers in their own marketing.
“We’re going to do a longitudinal study of women to find out what happens to women in the industry,” she explains. Themes of the study will include sexual harassment, access to capital, and leadership opportunities. “It will be a quantitative study, but also capture women’s stories. This way, we’ll have a record of how women are experiencing their time in the cannabis industry.”
Why this research in particular? “We’re losing women,” Whetzel says. An MJBiz study shows that female executives are becoming less prevalent as the industry expands, and, anecdotally, many women report sexism in the form of criticism of their dress or having questions redirected to male colleagues. Whetzel and Wolfe seek to document women’s experience and learn more about encouraging and supporting gender balance in the industry.
And good research is the basis for better marketing and better entrepreneurial outcomes.
Find out more at www.ladyjanebranding.com.