6 Questions to Ask Before Naming Your Cannabis Company
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Coming up with the right name for a new company is a big deal. It’s the message you send to the world. Like deciding what to call your child or a pet, the result is something you’ll be living with, hopefully, for a long time. And it can be critical in your success. An unremarkable label can mean an exciting brand is overlooked, while a great name can help break through the clutter and catch a consumer’s attention.
When you’re naming a company in cannabis -- a new industry with changing legalities and a lingering stigma -- getting it right can be even trickier. Should you be clever or straightforward? Include cannabis in the name or be more subtle? And how do you even begin? The key is to hit on something that both telegraphs the essence of your brand and makes you stand out in the marketplace. Start by asking yourself these questions:
What is my company’s narrative?
A good name reflects a brand’s story and creates an evolving narrative, one that involves the consumer, says Miguel Aldana, principal and creative director of Slow Fast Go, a branding and marketing firm with cannabis expertise in Portland, Oreg. He asks his clients, “What is your history in the marketplace? Where’d you come from? What are you trying to do, and how are you expressing your values?” Scott Milano, founder of Tanj, the agency responsible for branding Nintendo’s Wii, says cannabis is a “very intimate product that people want to connect with. Getting a clearer picture of what your brand could represent in the world can be very beneficial.”
What is the competition doing?
Milano suggests making a list of your competitors’ names. You’ll notice a large range of styles. For example, there are puns (Cannavore, Incredibles, and MedMen), wellness (CanniMed), place (California Finest, Colorado Harvest Company), personification (Chong’s Choice, Auntie Dolores), natural (Terra), straightforward (THC Factory), and modern (LucidMood). “You want to understand the messages behind their names,” says Milano.
Another way your competitors provide insight is through their customers. Joe Goldstein, director of SEO and operations at TrailBlazer SEO, which specializes in cannabis, suggests flagging any of their negative reviews to “spot patterns or underserved market segments. For example, senior citizens are the fastest growing cannabis consumer base, but very few cannabis businesses cater to them,” he says. By identifying niches and needs, you can carve out a unique market for yourself with your name.
Will my name nod to cannabis?
By choosing a name that announces, “I am a pot company,” do you risk being stigmatized by some in the business community or alienating the cannabis-shy? On the other hand, if you don’t, and go with something generic like Balance, how will customers know what you’re selling?
At Slow Fast Go, Aldana and his coprincipal and strategy director, Robert Shepard, like to embrace plant terminology -- whether it’s cannabis, marijuana, THC, CBD, or another variant -- in the name but use packaging, logo design, and marketing to modulate how strongly to broadcast that identity. They came up with the name Crush Cannabis for a new series of dispensaries in the Pacific Northwest. Crush, they explain, is a crisp, easy-to-remember word that is fun to say and hear, and leaves you curious. It will take up 90 percent of the label, leaving only 10 percent for Cannabis. If a product is, say, CBD balm with a demographic of women over 54, the name would be milder and gentler -- but they’re still not going to “soft-shoe the proposition.” Then again, if you choose a name that doesn’t allude to cannabis, they point out that there are many ways you can refer to it with the imagery and language you use in your logo, packaging, and marketing.
What would be intriguing?
Aldana and Shepard have found that new companies tend to underestimate their potential customers. “I like to assume that consumers know a lot, and I rely on them to have some imagination, and to follow an intriguing idea,” says Shepard. Showing that kind of respect in your name, he believes, builds trust between the consumer and the brand. Rather than going for “a dumbed-down name like The Pot Zone,” he says, consider a suggestive word or phrase that sends the mind to multiple places. Intriguing examples that evoke images and make you wonder what the company’s story is include Eaze, Apothecarry, and Peak Extracts.
What will withstand the test of time?
“Pick at least one aspect of your business that will be permanent, and see if you can reflect that in a name,” recommends TrailBlazer SEO’s Goldstein. Businesses change, and what might be a priority to consumers one year may be completely different the next. You don’t want to be stuck with a name that evokes old news. If you want to open a medical dispensary that may evolve into a recreational dispensary, a name that includes medical, doctor, or RX could send the wrong message. Instead, Goldstein says, “Look for words that distill the essence of your company. If you are a delivery business that focuses on speed, use terms like express and direct.”
Should I try to be funny or clever?
With all the pot puns ripe for trademarking, it’s tempting to be playful with your name. Is it a good idea? There’s no right answer. But in thinking about it, Goldstein says, “remember that your customers aren’t the only ones you need to consider. A dispensary named The Dank Dojo might amuse them, but will it stand in the way of attracting serious investors, winning cooperation from local authorities, or being treated as a legitimate business by your community?” Also, playing solely to your base could limit your growth. A successful business leaves room to expand into other markets. Finally, ask yourself if a name is funny or clever at the expense of feeling authentic. “A millennial consumer will call BS on a brand that isn’t authentic,” says Shepard, “and will view it as untrustworthy.”
What do people think?
Once you have a solid list of names, do a trademark screening on the ones you like to make sure they’re available. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website is a good place to start. Then run your top choices by people you trust -- colleagues, friends, family.
You aren’t necessarily looking for a yes or no but rather an emotional or intellectual response. What makes someone pause? What gets them talking? Which name do they keep repeating? “You’re looking for those kinds of golden nuggets, not just ‘I like this one, and I don’t like that one,’” says Shepard. When people tell you, “It leaves me curious,” then you just might have a winner.