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The importance of branding for cannabis businesses

New York’s legal market is just around the corner and both new and existing businesses have the opportunity to create consumer focused brands in the State. Proposed advertising laws have restrictions on celebrity endorsements, ‘stoner’ language and the use of cannabis imagery, but there is still plenty of room “to build brands that aren’t just a place of comfort but a place for discovery.” says Willie Mack.

Willie Mack is a brand marketing executive, creative director and photographer with over 20 years’ experience in creative and executive leadership in New York City and Los Angeles. He is also a co-founder of Think BIG, where he serves as the company’s president and leads its executive management and strategic vision.

We sat down to speak to Willie ahead of Business of Cannabis: New York to explore cannabis branding and New York regulations.

A watch from Walmart or Rolex both tell the time. How much is the success of a luxury cannabis brand defined by the quality of the product or the branding? 

I think in all luxury premium and aspirational brands, the quality of the brand and the brand promise are key which in cannabis is going to be very important to make sure to not only about its consistency, clarity, and information around what the brand is providing from point of view perspective into the audience that is speaking to but also doing something that is very unique as far as customer experience, product, packaging and everything that a consumer loves about a brand.

Even if you are creating a mass entry point brand that is a low price it is very important to have all those pieces in place.

New York’s Cannabis Control Board approved cannabis advertising regulations, allowing licensed cannabis companies to advertise, provided the “primary purpose” of such advertisements is to “displace the illicit market…” and “not jeopardize public health or safety, promote youth use, or be attractive to individuals under twenty-one.” What advice would you give new small-business owners, marketers, and design agencies to ensure they’re in line with regulations? 

Ensure your team has legal oversight regarding your designs to ensure they are in compliance. NYS has restrictive advertising rules and I would also recommend anyone who is involved in copy,  creation, design, and marketing review the regulations and make sure they provide feedback during the public review process. If we can get the voices of Madison Ave and advertising agencies together to comment on the regulations, this may help make them more brand friendly.  Legalized states need to stop treating legal cannabis as something shameful that needs to be hidden. Yes, we need to make sure there is public safety and information around not targeting children etc., but we can not tie the hands of brands and agencies and creatives to be able to present stories that will resonate with the consumers especially out of home, billboards etc. 

In New York, some municipalities have opted out of allowing dispensaries to open, and have opted out of allowing licensed cannabis lounges to operate within city limits. Why do you think that is? What impact will this have on market growth?

In California when municipalities opted out there were lawsuits around access and delivery to people living in towns that do not allow dispensaries. If we legalize cannabis then let it be legal and let us build the industry.. Let patients get access to medicine and the ability to utilize the products and allow the cities/ states to benefit from the tax revenue generated from the legal sale. People want to use cannabis for various reasons: recreational, medical, undiagnosed medical conditions, for their children, parents, friends and family, for pain, for relief, for rest, and being able to provide that places to purchase legally are key. As many of us start the day with a cup of caffeine, or unwind with a glass of wine, we will see unknown opportunities for cannabis to be interwoven into our modern lifestyle. If it’s helping you wake up and focus to help you get into the flow state/ zone, aiding your family members dealing with epilepsy, autism, cancer, pain, PTSD. This is very exciting to me and for Frank White how we begin to look regarding policy, educational, innovation, health and wellness. 

The cannabis industry is going to touch and revolutionize every industry that exists on this planet. Everything from shipping, inventory, software, beauty, pharmaceutical, medicine, recreational, lifestyle, food, dining, city planning, accounting, and legal, everything will have to be built in scale and nomenclature to support this industry. Banking, finance, import, export. Look at the recent news about cannabis being sold at gas stations the GTI/ Circle K’s partnership or Uber eats delivering cannabis in Canada. Things are just getting started and it’s a very exciting time. 

Willie Mack will join the ‘High society: Cannabis in Fine Dining, Fashion, and Real Estate in NYC’ panel this week in The New York Academy of Medicine. Willie will join an expert panel of speakers to explore how the emerging cannabis industry is going to elevate and innovate hospitality, fashion, retail, and architecture in New York and beyond.

Business of Cannabis: New York will be held November 3rd at the New York Academy of Medicine, located at 1216 5th Ave, New York. Join us and leading speakers, including Fab 5 Freddy, as we deep dive into the New York opportunity.

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