Marketing Without Design: How Canada’s Cannabis Market Proves The Importance of Brand

Canada’s New Cannabis Marketing Rules May Have Something to Teach Us All

What if you couldn’t rely on a logo or packaging to make your cannabis brand stand out? How would you reach your customers, signal your unique qualities, and inspire people to seek out your products?

That’s the challenge that many Canadian cannabis businesses are likely to face, and it’s one with critical lessons for cannabis marketing in the U.S., as well.

While final rules have not yet been adopted, Canada’s federal health agency has recommended strict limits on marketing and advertising. Most notably, the proposed regulations would allow only plain packaging for cannabis products, with a small logo and brand name, but no images or graphics. In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, the restrictions could go even deeper, preventing products from being displayed on store shelves at all.

On Friday, Canada’s Globe and Mail published a subscribers-only piece outlining how some companies are tackling the challenge of building brands that don’t rely on quick visual shorthand.

The story is full of insight that every cannabis marketing plan should take into account, no matter the market.

Here are some key takeaways from the COHNNABIS team to help our neighbors to the north.

Brand awareness is the name of the game.

Without flashy labels or eye-catching packaging to lure potential buyers at the counter, Canadian cannabis brands will have to rely on customers asking for their products by name. That means they have to reach their audiences before the point of purchase and connect with them so meaningfully that the brand stays top-of-mind when a customer is confronted with a store full of near-identical-looking products. Brands should also have a memorable and recognizable (and “pronounceable”) name that can be easily recalled at the point of purchase.

That kind of brand awareness takes a comprehensive strategy to achieve, but the power it commands is undeniable. Visually restricted or not, every cannabis business’s marketing plan should have that power as its goal.

Creativity is king.

With in-store marketing non-existent and traditional advertising routes largely closed off, Canadian cannabis brands are being forced to get creative. Unusual partnerships, event sponsorships, and non-cannabis products that share branding with cannabis ones are just some of the ways companies are thinking outside the box.

But for those tactics to work, companies must have well-defined brand strategies that ensure they’re telling the right story to the right people through the right partners, products, and venues. No amount of graphic design can substitute for that kind of brand development.

Write your own story.

Just because you can’t advertise on a billboard or flaunt stylish packaging in a dispensary doesn’t mean you can’t build a relationship with potential customers. Whether it’s through content marketing that highlights your company’s special expertise or budtender education that teaches your unique values to front-line salespeople, the key is understanding and communicating the story that makes you different…and better.


One of the most common misconceptions in cannabis marketing is that your brand is your logo, your packaging, and possibly your website design. While those certainly can be (and should be!) expressions of your brand, a pretty design that doesn’t have roots in a deeper brand strategy is ultimately just window-dressing.

Canadian cannabis businesses are having their marketing hands forced by regulations. But whether you’re marketing cannabis in Canada, California, Colorado, or Connecticut, if your brand plan doesn’t go beyond a logo, font, and color palette, you’re not prepared to compete.


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