Wit, Trust and Certification: Product Labels in the Cannabis Industry

Product Labels

Many consumable products from wellness supplements to microbrews are known for their distinctive labels and catchy brand names. There is even an online quiz poking fun at this, comparing the creativity of New York craft beer labels to the titles of young adult novels, for instance. But labeling in the cannabis industry is a little more complex.

The cannabis industry is slowly maturing. Despite legislation, business is booming. Forecasts show the industry growing 74 percent in 2014 alone. And emerging cannabusinesses are struggling to find their foothold and establish a niche before market saturation ensues. Savvy labeling creates familiarity, and familiarity is key.

Successful labeling is built on the idea that companies are both brand building by trying to capture a consumer’s attention and also displaying claims about quality as well as certifications. The novelty of buying a cannabis product has worn off, and in order for companies to eventually gain equity in the industry, they must create and maintain a brand identity that will gain the attention and trust of consumers.

For medical marijuana dispensaries, the goal is to communicate the benefits of a given product, and trust is often easier captured with claims verified by a trusted third party. The purpose of third-party certification is to qualify virtually intangible product quality attributes, like a given cannabis bud’s strain.

Third-party certification agencies have an incentive to maintain their reliability and reputation because their main business is to be objective and informative. Industry standardization schemes endorsed by third parties are not new. In order for food in the United States to be considered “organic,” it must be notarized through a USDA-sponsored third-party certifier.

Bud Genius is a company that sees the necessity of consumer trust in the medicinal segment. The company focuses on testing and analysis of cannabis strains, and it provides certification labels that not only cover the companies legally but also appeal to consumers who want to know that they are buying a quality strain that meets their individual needs. The company’s website includes testimonials from business customers and doctors, many of which claim that the company’s seal of approval provides professionalism and garners trust.

Creativity is the other half of the labeling and branding equation. Plays on words are common everywhere in the industry. They get attention and they can run the gamut from corny to fun to outright hilarious. Companies’ names are even clever. Incredibles by Medically Correct LLC doesn’t stop at the brand name but extends creative labeling to clearly communicate a message, such as with its Mile High Mint chocolate bar or its Mile Higher Mint chocolate bar.

When the industry emerged, many entrepreneurs were generalists, trying to do it all. But there has been an explosion of white label seed companies, such as Sensi Seeds, for the very reason that branding is increasingly important as the industry grows and competition steepens. It comes down to a balance of listing all of the necessary legal items in order to check off the legislative boxes and gaining trust and exercising creativity to get and keep the attention of a consumer who has more and more options available by the day.

Today and into the foreseeable future, cannabis product packaging and labeling guidelines are, like most legislation in the industry, a state-level issue, which in turn will be a major barrier for those companies looking at quality standardization as a means to sustain the market’s growth trajectory.

Having a catchy brand name helps, but it will not be enough to motivate consumers in the long run. The differentiator for cannabis brand owners will be their ability to effectively demonstrate the value and reliability of their products to conform to consumer expectations and, more importantly, not sell their consumers short with ambiguous product information.

Jen Knox is an educator and freelance writer with a background in technology market research. She earned her BA from Otterbein College and her MFA from Bennington. Jen's creative works have been published in over 70 online and print publications, and she teaches writing at San Antonio College. She is fascinated by the way both business and creative communications are influenced by shifts in technology. You can follow her on Twitter @JenKnox2.

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