Good Chemistry: Creating Branding for the Marijuana Industry

Editor’s Note: The following project earned two nods in last year’s HOW International Design Awards—one in websites category and one in signage/environment. Enter today.

marijuana industry branding

by Joseph Duffy,

When you mention that you’re working on a branding project for a client in the marijuana industry most people give you a look, make a weed joke and come to an instant opinion. That’s an amazing dynamic, and it presents an interesting challenge for the design team and for the brand.

Good Chemistry is a real Colorado trailblazer in the recreational cannabis world. Once they had their business together, they saw that design would be the key to help squelch negative perceptions about the brand, while reinforcing and celebrating the wellness, benefits and science found in this amazing plant.

Mary Jane has come a long way since the days of Cheech and Chong, NORML and rock and roll bands being jailed for possession. Recreational marijuana use is legal in 8 states with many more lined up to join them. Hundreds of millions of dollars from big time investors have created a gold rush mentality. It’s that collision between a stoner’s past and a hedge fund’s bet that makes this so interesting.

[Related: How to Differentiate a Brand from Its Competitors, with Joe Duffy | Craft Beer Branding Tips: Defining Your Core Values]

Like any brand we work on, we have to first understand the past in order to succeed in the future. We did our homework, studied the competition, toured the growing facility to really understand what goes into cultivating “the finest cannabis grown in Colorado” as GC proudly puts it. It was so much more than we had ever imagined. A mixture of science and art.

One of the first decisions we faced was how to balance the existing stigma and hippy baggage of the product with a new aura of legitimacy. Ridiculous names like “Bubba Kush”, “LSD” and “LA Cheese” are not simply things you can disregard. It would be like ignoring “Chardonnay” or “India Pale Ale” in the booze business. But with the wacky factor so high, it’s almost like the industry itself has created the biggest hurdle to broadening the consumer reach.

The job is not just about positioning the business, product or brand. Because the marijuana industry is so new, everyone entering the game at this time is also laying the foundation for the entire category. And then of course there is that whole Schedule 1 narcotic thing with the federal government always looming overhead.

The name Good Chemistry is obviously a clever play on chemicals with a nod to the science of cultivation. Deciding on the direction of the mark immediately raised issues on the appropriate level of playfulness, seriousness, science and recreation. The process started with getting all of the disparate clues down in a collection of visuals. At this point the client’s vision for creating a retail experience influenced the creative path. We decided that there was solid credibility in leveraging a nod to the pharmacy of old. It was place that was part medicine, part convenience store. Plus, the iconography of the apothecary was just cool. Another factor for the brand heft of the mark included a nod to the wider acceptance of the medical dispensaries. Our discussion brought us to a higher order benefit: For customers interested in either medicinal or recreational use, the medical grade quality and expertise of this brand would be the most important to all. The mark speaks to trust, without being heavy-handed.

Duffy worked with Good Chemistry to create the full brand experience, from refining their existing identity to bringing an integrated brand language to life via signage, interior store design, packaging and the website.

Duffy collaborated with Michael Markowitz and Associates and Tony Coleman Brand Design Retail Interiors. Good Chemistry now has a forward-looking brand system that highlights the need for the educating customers. Shoppers explore the world of cannabis in an engaging and orderly flow that is designed to inspire confidence through knowledge. The experience encourages this journey by leading customers to the types of outcomes and benefits they are looking for. Be it sleep, relaxation, pain relief or stimulation. The product is also organized by degrees of lift available from the diverse range of cannabis strains and products.

Mary Jane has grown up to be quite respectable.


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