CBD + Co. produces pharmaceutical grade cannabidiol (CBD) in a well-equipped laboratory northeast of Boulder, Colorado. “Our chief innovation is a water-soluble isolate that can be ingested sublingually,” relates Founder Stephen Bernard, a mechanical engineer who has spent more than a decade in the cannabis industry. This means it continues to release active ingredients in a biocompatible way even after being swallowed. It’s a major step, and given his company’s focus it makes no sense to follow the branding practices of stoner subculture, “not if we want to reach serious people while providing legitimacy to the business of cannabis.”
Bernard and Alex Cullota, the company’s Cofounder, first looked at other available CBDs, which are most popular as tinctures (alcoholic extracts that don’t fit everyone’s taste). They then incorporated their water-soluble isolate into honey, a natural product with positive health connotations. Another critical decision was to package Honey Drops in blue glass, representative of laboratory packaging, instead of subculture-standard colors and materials.
According to Cullota, a veteran consultant in chemicals, oil, gas, and construction, such tactics build on CBD + Co.’s reputation for bringing the science of cannabis front-and-center. “We cater to ‘Productive Potheads’, people who use cannabis to do creative things, and our branding proposition reflects this.”
The Hard Part
Of course, there have been stumbles along the way. Facebook shut down Bernard’s personal page, and early on there were misunderstandings about online marketing. “We originally built big,” explains Douglas Wilson, a former military man who now consults for CBD + Co. in IT and cybersecurity, “with an expensive website that wasn’t exactly turnkey. But we had no effective content management and we weren’t sure if we could actually sell something about which we couldn’t openly converse.”
Wilson bursts through this paradigm via the clever use of pictures and videos depicting bright, sunny places where consumers engage in productive activities such as yoga, gaming, and athletics. “We’re changing the image of the cannabis user by showing off the science behind a healthy lifestyle that includes our products.”
Cullota believes that the closest space in this regard is Big Pharma, and that many branding problems can be solved by looking there. “Drug companies sell their most controversial products by socially engineering their target markets. This usually involves aligning the general perception of their drugs with productive lifestyle choices.”
Wilson also believes that simply pointing out the government’s acceptance of CBD and other compounds via U.S. patent can help people accept life empowering solutions. To quote the patent abstract, “Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties… This newfound property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune…” Spreading awareness via the major actors in CBD-manageable illnesses, primarily chronic pain issues such as fibromyalgia and arthritis, and neurodegenerative quirks like cerebral palsy and epilepsy, also make intuitive sense.
The company continues to innovate as a major part of its value proposition. “We’re currently isolating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and THCA,” says Bernard, “and we’re working on THCV, cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN).” It’s taken CBD + Co. three years to get to this point, and the plan is to continue to improve incrementally while creating qualitative differences versus the competition. A long-term goal is to eventually sell to Big Pharma and anyone else who needs high quality, cannabis derived compounds.
The Bottom Line
Branding a cannabis related product, particularly a company’s first foray into the marketplace, can be a distinct challenge. One way to cut through the chaff of subculture is to focus on pictures and especially video as a form of social engineering that leans toward the customers who represent the best of your targeted market.
Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, the President of Ben Weinberg Consultants, has more than 30 years of experience in harnessing his creativity to tell your company’s story, including strategic and tactical marketing, sales, operational, and administrative consulting for small- and medium-size businesses across diverse industries such as law, medicine, wellness, leisure, and hospitality. Ben has written professionally for many international magazines and newspapers, online and in print, including as a contributing editor and Editor-in-Chief, is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and has won multiple awards for creative writing.