Updated: May 13, 2019
A Changing Cannabis Packaging Landscape
Nowadays, cannabis packaging must catch the attention of the consumer in an ever-growing array of products. But…gone are the days of smiley faces on clear plastic baggies. In many states, marijuana packaging also has to convey important information to the consumer about what’s inside the package. Requirements for medical marijuana include providing information on dosage, ingredients, etc. On top of this, some states have stringent yet changing packaging and labeling requirements. For example, there are temporary rules in effect from March 1, 2016 until October 1, 2016 for medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon. One of Oregon’s packaging rules (among others) requires that the design of the cannabis package itself must render the package child-resistant. All these fast-moving rules and regulations are making many businesses rethink their cannabis packaging.
And then there’s branding to consider. As the cannabis industry continues to grow rapidly, it’s becoming more and more important for companies to think about how to differentiate their products from competitors. With a growing and crowded landscape of dab products, vape pens, edibles and more, every smart cannabis company is now thinking about how to make their products stand out from the competition. In addition, you probably want to make sure you know that your packaging design is returning the results you expect and providing value for your investment. A lot to consider and far from the days of clear plastic baggies with a Post-it® or scribble for a label…
So with all that in mind, today’s marijuana packaging needs to balance form, function and design while meeting the needs of an increasingly knowledgeable and discerning consumer.
5 Packaging Guiding Principles
So how do you make sure that your marijuana packaging is up to the sniff test (pardon the pun)? Well, good design principles are fairly universal and there are some general rules that apply to marijuana packaging as much as they apply to other types of design issues. Here are our five of our key design principles when we think about designing marijuana packaging:
1. Know your Audience
The key to designing all great packaging starts with knowing and understanding your target audience. Requirements in most states where cannabis consumption is legal for medical and/or recreational use state that cannabis consumers must be over 18 or 21 years of age. But knowing you are targeting an adult audience isn’t enough. As legislation shifts and cannabis consumption becomes more mainstream and socially acceptable, more information is becoming known about cannabis consumers themselves. For example, according to Civilized and Environics Research, most marijuana users are likely to be homeowners, employed full-time, and married with children.
If you’re targeting millennials, you probably know that this is the generation of people born around 1982 to 2000. This generation is now in their early twenties to mid-30s – so it makes sense that many of these folks have families and jobs. The typical “stoner” stereotype of the single young male without a job simply doesn’t ring true any longer. The good news is that millennials are still the majority of cannabis consumers, though that’s changing rapidly. More and more baby boomers are either returning to try cannabis again as they did when they were in college, or are becoming more open to trying it for the first time. These cannabis novices may be looking for a much more sophisticated experience to reflect their lifestyle choices and personality while still remaining discreet. Natural or rich colors, elegant decorative designs and containers that are functional and beautiful can all give the look of something your customers would be proud to have in their home or in front of friends.
Or you may be targeting a more price-conscious crowd, in which case you may opt for simple clean lines and a functional design that still showcases your brand identity quickly and clearly. Perhaps you’re targeting men of a particular age or income for your specialty rigs, or women who are looking for particular types of cannabis-infused body products. These are very different types of cannabis consumers and products, and the packaging and labeling should be designed so that it appeals to that particular target audience.
Understanding your customer and how they purchase your products includes considering several factors such as demographics (age, gender, education level, marital status etc.), psychographics (activities, interests etc.), geographic factors (place of residence etc.) and others. In marketing lingo, this is known as customer segmentation. Segmentation is a crucial step in designing your product packaging appropriately and for the right audience, so your products and packaging can deliver on the investment you’ve made in your business.
2. Consider the Function
One piece of packaging that has me puzzled is stick-of-butter packaging. You know – the little piece of wax paper that most sticks of butter are wrapped in (in the US). While I love the handy little measuring guide on the outside of the wax paper, I’m always confounded by the envelope-style wrapping of the wax paper itself. It’s easy to open but if I just want a small piece of butter from the stick, I have to be really careful with the wax paper so that the stick doesn’t become a glob of buttery mess next time I need it. A better design might be a way to peel off the wrapper along with the amount of butter I actually use? You understand the problem. Designing a package to function well is more than simply covering or containing what’s inside. It requires thinking through how the customer will experience the product – the package itself may be a dispenser, a tool, a guide or even transform into something else once the product is released.
Whether you’re selling seeds, extracts, concentrates, edibles, oils, shatter or other cannabis products, tools or accessories, make sure your customer can easily open, use and re-use the package, if that’s what’s intended. Keep in mind of course that the packaging also needs to comply with state laws for child-proofing (among other packaging and labeling regulations), which often means designing a 2-step process for opening the package. So easy to open shouldn’t mean easy to open for children. Some companies go a step further with their packaging and build helpful tools into the package (like measuring guides on butter sticks) or even better, by delivering unexpected moments of delight.
An example of a wonderful package is the plantable coffee cup designed by “Reduce Reuse Grow”. Their native seed-embedded cups are biodegradable and aimed at benefiting reforestation efforts, offsetting overgrazing and fire destroyed areas, starting with California. A great example of a package that becomes something even better after it’s first use is over.
Above all, great functional packaging should improve the way a consumer interacts with your products, eliminate as many barriers to purchase as possible, and better yet, encourage your customers to return.
3. Define your Brand
Most people think of a company brand as the logo or perhaps the imagery they see when driving by a storefront.A company’s brand is actually the sum of all the experiences that a customer has with that company. Simply put, the bottom line is that your brand is what your customer thinks of you. What they think of you is based on all those experiences, from the first time they become aware of you until they consider or make a purchase. It also includes how they feel about your customer service and talk about you with their friends after they’ve been a loyal customer for years. When you think about all the ways a consumer might come into contact with your company’s products and services, you start to realize there’s a lot more to brand identity than simply your company logo. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of great branding as we look at this second guiding principle of effective packaging design.
As the cannabis market expands and becomes more mainstream, more celebrities are getting on the “cannabusiness bandwagon”. One celebrity that’s been extremely successful with their marijuana packaging, owned by Razia Hayden, Liddies. The high-quality medical cannabis product line is made for topical relief with natural and effective ingredients. With beautiful, simple clean lines and colors the packaging design reflects the benefits of each product clearly and simply while remaining discreet. The packaging clearly differentiates the product line from other cannabis topical packaging which tends to be mostly white, pink and blue. The Liddies product line leaves the impression of quality, safety and credibility – attributes that really help to nicely position a new product line in the eyes of a discerning female target audience. It’s clear that the utmost care has been taken to craft a high-quality and modern brand. The product packaging and labeling establishes trust in the eyes of the consumer, and increases the likelihood that a customer prospect will make a purchase – one of the elements in what we call the “Packaging Benefit Factor”. (more to come in this blog on the Packaging Benefit Factor soon).
A completely different brand is an Oregon delight known as Franco’s Finest. Franco’s has some of the finest concentrates in Oregon, with multiple awards for their hash oils and extracts. Their brand is lively, cool and fun – and to reinforce that brand image, they operate Oregon’s coolest dab bus known as Franco’s Fun Bus. The recreational tours bring the cannabis community together in a complete tour experience, including prize giveaways, award winning extracts, VIP dab hosts, flat screen TVs and convenient pickup and drop-offs in Portland. Franco is a former marine and a family man, and his brand identity of liveliness, fun and elite cannabis consumption is captured perfectly in the regal bright red logo for his business. He hands the logo out as a sticker, it’s on his cards, and it’s on all his promotional materials. It’s how his particular oils are recognized and purchased by the consumer. Franco’s brand is clear and recognizable to everyone who purchases and experiences his cannabis products and events.
As you can see, Liddies and Franco’s Finest have very different target audiences. While very different, they have both successfully customized their products, packaging and their entire marketing approach to meet, and even beat, the expectations of those customers and prospects they’re trying to reach.
4. Comply with Regulations
Let’s talk about regulations for a moment. The regulatory environment for cannabis is shifting rapidly as state by state, new rules, guidelines and laws are being crafted, passed (or not) and sometimes cast aside for yet another regulation. This is a quickly changing landscape and regulatory compliance is critical if you want to maintain and grow your business in a compliant fashion. It’s also important for your customers in terms of trusting your brand and your products, since we know that trusted brands earn loyalty and repeat business. Whether you’re an entrepreneur just starting out in the cannabis industry or an established medical marijuana producer or business with multiple locations, it’s crucial that you stay up to date on your state’s regulations.
As of the writing of this post, four states – Washington State, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska – have passed laws stating that cannabis is legal for adults and is taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol, and the state also has a medical marijuana law. Ten more states have medical marijuana laws and an additional eleven states have both a medical marijuana law and have removed jail time for possessing small amounts of cannabis: California, Nevada, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maryland and Maine. Washington DC recently legalized limited possession and cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis by adults who are 21 or older, with no provisions for non-medical sales. A number of other states have initiatives, ballots or bills in the works, while others have yet to address the growing trends in the cannabis industry (excuse the pun!).
We’ve put together an FAQ with excerpts on cannabis regulations from various state laws. This FAQ is meant to be a starting place to help you think about marijuana packaging and labeling requirements and is not meant to be legal advice. You should familiarize yourself with your state’s regulatory requirements, including those for child-proofing, dosage and ingredient information, labeling and other regulations and laws. Ensuring your products are compliant reduces risks for your business and additionally provides your customers with peace-of-mind.
5. Measure results
After all the work y