How a Great Story Can Build your Cannabis Brand
In today’s marketing landscape, it isn’t enough to put out a few ads and hope that they encourage customers to come try your products. Modern customers are media-savvy, and don’t respond well to hard sells. In order to effectively engage with consumer bases, brands need to emotionally connect with them to promote sales and encourage brand loyalty. In such a competitive industry as the cannabis market, this emotional engagement is even more crucial. A key part of this emotional connection comes through effective storytelling.
Throughout human history, storytelling has been a means for people to connect and engage with each other, to entertain, and to pass along a common history and important information. According to Psychology Today, neuroimagery shows that consumers mainly use emotions such as personal feelings and experiences rather than information such as brand attributes and facts when evaluating a brand. Advertising research shows that emotional response to an ad far outweighs the ad’s content when it comes to consumer intent to buy a product, by a factor of up to 3-to-1.
Whether it’s the origin story of how the brand came to be, narratives of how the brand solves problems for consumers, or stories about the consumers themselves, they all paint compelling pictures for the audience that can translate into expanded customer bases and increased sales.
What’s in a Story?
Effective stories follow a similar structure and narrative arc. At its most basic, a brand story should consist of a protagonist, a problem presented to the protagonist and the way the problem is solved. This simple structure can be used in myriad creative ways to reach a variety of customer bases. It is the structure of a brand’s origin story, and can be the structure of the consumer journey with a brand’s products.
For example, the StickerYou origin story starts with a trip I took to LA, where I (the protagonist) was impressed by the ubiquitous sticker art culture I saw there. I researched custom stickers, and found that they were prohibitively expensive to order in small batches (the problem). I set out to change that, and StickerYou was born (the resolution).
This basic structure (protagonist > problem > resolution) is the platform from which all of a brand’s stories can be created.
Create an Origin Story
Having a strong origin story for a brand not only helps in reaching customers, it also provides a platform for future brand storytelling. When deciding how to tell the origin story of your brand, brainstorm ideas on who the protagonist will be. Usually it is the founder of the company, (think Mark Zuckerburg creating Facebook at college, or Jeff Bezos founding Amazon in a small office and starting the e-comm revolution), but it could also be someone that served as inspiration for the creation of the company.
Think about the values that your brand engenders, and how these values are shown in the problem that the brand solves and the way that it solves them. What emotions are attached to your brand’s values? What stories about how the brand came to be best encapsulate these stories and emotions?
Tell the Stories of your Brand
Brand narratives also follow a similar structure as the origin story. A protagonist, presented with a problem, finds a solution. But these don’t necessarily need to be tied to the founding of the company, and only need to be tangentially tied to product. There is a lot of room for creativity here. Take advantage of it.
YETI Cooler’s wildly popular Hungry Life campaign is an excellent example of the power of brand storytelling. The video series follows Chef Eduardo Garcia on a range of unique cooking adventures in stunning locales, including Montana, Mexico and Hawaii. Each video is a complete story in itself, of how Chef Eduardo uses YETI products to create incredible meals under less than ideal circumstances. The locations provide gorgeous outdoor landscapes which audiences then associate with YETI products, and provide a sense of inspiration for overcoming challenges as well as for new ideas of how to cook outdoors.
When it comes to creating stories for your cannabis brand, start with the main character. What does this person want? What problem do they need to solve? It might be a real life customer who uses your product to achieve a goal or solve a problem, or it could be your company itself helping a customer or doing something inspirational or innovative. For example the Canadian airline Westjet, who surprised customers at their destination with the Christmas gifts they most wanted for themselves and filmed their emotional reactions.
Another option is to consider is to have a character that accomplishes something or telling a story that doesn’t necessarily directly involve using your product, but does align with your company’s goals and values. Consider Dove’s hugely successful Real Beauty campaign, which portrayed the marked difference between the way women look in real life and the way that models are portrayed in ads – made-up, airbrushed and Photoshopped through the stories of real women. Whoever the character is in your brand story should make the audience want to care about them, identify with them and understand what it is that they want.
Telling a great brand story doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, the best and most compelling stories are often quite simple. Keep the focus on one protagonist and one story at a time. This tight focus keeps the narrative clear and relatable.
Build tension and emotion
The starting point for emotional storytelling is tension. The tension is created by the problem the main character, whether it be your brand or someone else, sets out to solve, or the challenge they set out to overcome. What does your character want? Is it a problem your product solves? Is it an issue your company dealt with as it grew and expanded? This sense of tension will be the answer to the fundamental question for your audience: why should I care?
Empathy is also key in imbuing a story with emotion. As you are crafting the story, regardless of the medium, consider the point of view of the protagonist. This will help the audience feel that empathy as well, which in turn will help them feel a sense of connection with your brand, which is the goal of this kind of marketing initiative. Emotionally-engaged audiences are more likely to convert and more likely to feel a sense of brand loyalty, which will in turn drive sales.
As the founder of StickerYou, Andrew believes in the enormous power of customization. With over a decade of StickerYou success, he is one of Canada’s leading experts in e-commerce, customization, startups, marketing and the tech economy.
He is a graduate of Dalhousie University and holds an MBA from the Schulich School of Business, York University. Witkin has previously served as VP North American Licensing for Nelvana/Corus Entertainment and Director of Marketing for MegaBrands/Mattel.