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Building a Solid Foundation for Your Cannabis Brand Is Step One to Success

Establishing a strong brand will guide hard business decisions, attract loyal customers and help you avoid costly mistakes.

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The cannabis industry has evolved since legalization, but old habits die hard. The industry's anti-corporate mentality, which stems from years spent operating in an illegal market, is still pervasive -- and it's easy to see why. After all, before legalization, profits were high, and cannabis companies could afford to make some mistakes as they operated, without the business structures and discipline required to succeed in other industries. For several years after legalization, cannabis operations could still function with this attitude and without business fundamentals in place.

Heath Korvola | Getty Images

Over the last few years, however, a reckoning in the form of overproduction has plagued the legal cannabis markets in Oregon, Washington and California. With so many cannabis products available today, prices are dropping to all-time lows. Competition to remain profitable has grown fierce.

In this environment, those who neglect to build their brand beyond a logo and website will not carve out a niche that resonates with loyal customers. Just as you cannot build a house without a foundation, you cannot build a successful cannabis company in today's market without first laying the groundwork for the brand.

A strong brand can guide your decisions about what products or services to offer, your packaging and marketing, and your interactions with business partners and customers. It helps you avoid costly mistakes by streamlining the decision-making process in every area of your business. Here's how to start:

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Establish Your Mission

Why are you in the business, aside from making a profit? Your brand's mission is its purpose. It should be lofty and speak to a higher calling. At my own company, Shadowbox Farms, we uncovered this by discussing what we valued as a collective team. After many hard discussions, we established that our company exists to offer sustainable, high-quality cannabis and act as stewards of Oregon's growing cannabis industry. Our mission gives purpose to our day-to-day activities and unites our staff and customers behind a common cause that is uniquely our own.

Related: Walmart Just Said It's Exploring Selling Cannabis Products

Add weight with values.

Give muscle to your mission by defining company values to reflect your business philosophy and the culture you work to create. Dig deep with your leadership and staff to found your values in the ways of doing business that set your company apart from competitors.

For example, one of the core values that our team identified is our desire to fight the stigma around cannabis use. With this value in place, we can realize our mission of acting as stewards of the cannabis industry through education and awareness about the positive aspects of cannabis use. It can be incorporated into the company's DNA, and enacted consistently in every marketing effort and customer interaction. We incorporated ours into physical totems that fit out brand --- in our case, wooden wall hangings -- that remind employees every day of the values we strive to accomplish as a company.

Related: Here's Why the DEA Re-Scheduling Just One Cannabis-Based Drug Is a Very Big Deal

Lay out the future with a vision statement.

Think about where you want your company to be in 10 or 15 years. What will persuade customers to be a part of that journey? This is your ultimate goal, and it should tell your customers a story that will keep them coming back again and again.

Tie everything together with a brand promise.

Draw from your mission, values and vision to position your cannabis product or service in a way that makes it truly desirable. Your brand promise should encompass the benefits of choosing your company and the experience that your customers can expect every time they choose you. A strong brand promise rolled out company-wide will spur new product development and guide your company's operating and marketing decisions.

At Shadowbox Farms, once we had our brand promise established, we could more easily make decisions about the new products we pursued. We were able to launch five new SKUs in just three months because we could make more meaningful decisions about the products we launched.

Easy enough? Not really -- that's why many companies fail to establish a strong brand foundation, if they even take the time to consider doing the work required to build one. The payoff, however, can be significant. The process itself will help your company evolve and hold you accountable to your customers and business goals. You'll gain a true north to guide you as you build strong customer relationships that sustain your business in good times and bad.