Brand Profile: Baker Technologies – an interview with Founder/CPO David Champion
To any business owners or executive managers hoping to launch a wildly successful brand in the cannabis space, let me first say: you’re welcome.
The following is an invaluable lesson on how to do just that. This article is a collection of the highlights from a one-on-one interview with Baker Technologies’ Chief Product Officer David Champion. In it, David (also a co-founder of the company) shares the psychology and process behind the creation and redesign of the Baker brand, its role in customer relations and business development, and its relationship to the culture and ethos of the company itself.
You may have read my brief review of the Baker Technologies brand in last month’s piece about cannabis business cards, but just in case you haven’t, let me just fill you in: I am IN LOVE WITH the Baker brand. It is one of the few brands in the cannabis space I’ve seen that doesn’t reference any other brands, industry conventions, or design trends (other than the hexagon – more on that in the interview). It is exceptionally clever and unique in its elegance, and – as I learned from this interview – was thoughtfully conceived through a highly involved process of research, brainstorming, experimentation, and – YAY! – cannabis consumption.
Here are some key takeaways from this incredibly rich, insightful dive into the logic, thoughts, and experiences of David and his team at Baker Technologies:
- Successful brand design requires a deep understanding of the psychology of your customer. You must be able to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider his/her perspective. What does s/he want to feel or experience when interacting with your brand and/or products? Is it a sense of security and belonging? Or maybe s/he’s seeking thrill and rebellion, joy, excitement – perhaps arousal or passion. The shape, color, tone, texture, logotype, relative dimension of your brand assets must evoke those emotions
- Trust is critical for cannabis brands. In an industry still steeped in cultural stigma and mired by such political and regulatory uncertainty, any cannabis brand must continually strive to establish and maintain trust with its customers. It’s no coincidence the word “trust” was mentioned 14 times in this interview alone (only three of those mentions were mine).
- Your brand is an asset, not an expense. A successful brand – one that will continue to advance and grow your business over the long run – is something you invest in, and renew your investment in over time. A long-lasting brand should follow the same lifecycles as your business, and evolve to meet the expanding, maturing needs and preferences of your customers. Alternatively, not investing in your brand early on can result in huge expense, both in terms of lost revenue from having a brand that doesn’t communicate what it needs to (quite possibly working against you) AND the cost of taking the steps to course-correct at a later stage.
- Your brand should reflect your company culture, and your company culture should reflect your brand. A customer’s experience of your brand goes well beyond seeing your logo on a business card or opening your product packaging. Your brand is EVERY SINGLE touch point a customer could have with your company: your product packaging, your website, a blog article or social media post, a conversation with a sales person or customer service rep, a published interview with a member of your executive management team *wink wink*…the list goes on. It follows, then, that your company values should be very clearly defined, communicated, and nurtured both internally and externally – AND that they should inform the visual expression of your brand.
So here you have it, folks. Below are the highlights of my hour plus interview with David Champion (with all of my entirely ineloquent ‘you knows’ and ‘sort ofs’ edited out for your benefit). ADDITIONALLY, for your listening pleasure, I’m including the audio recording of the interview – I figured it wouldn’t be fair for me to keep all of the blush-provoking charm of David’s genteel British accent all to myself… 😉
Click to jump to any of the following sections of the interview transcript:
M – Can you just state your name and your title, and describe briefly what you do at Baker and how you’re involved with the Baker Brand?
D – Yes. I am David Champion. I’m the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Baker. And about 3 years ago, we – we being Joel Milton (who’s the CEO) and Roger Obando (who’s the CTO) and I – recognized that there was a need for technology in Colorado, specifically in the cannabis space. And we recognized that the three of us had the skillsets to address the problem. Joel with his understanding of how to work with business owners and make sure there’s a mutual understanding of where benefit can be brought to their businesses. Myself with an architecture background and then experience for several years in New York working in user experience and user interface design, coming in to lead the product. And then Roger with an understanding of the data models and the back-end system architecture for us to build it.
M – Was it always understood from the beginning that you would have ownership of the creation of and development of the brand? Is that part of your role?
D – Yeah, absolutely. I think that Joel and Roger both recognized that I have design expertise, and that – while the main focus of my work has been on the product itself and making sure that our aesthetic as a company is going to achieve the goals of having the cannabis community embrace this topic, feel that they can use products that bring convenience and transparency to the process of ordering cannabis – at the same time my design ability also allowed me to take the lead on the branding side of things and that’s more important than it may be in most other companies, certainly my own previous companies. I think the branding of this company was instrumental in making sure that the topic of cannabis, along with the very complex, unreachable, often taboo systems behind getting ahold of it are alleviated and can enter a new type of conversation which is that cannabis can bring benefits, it’s accessible, and there’s education available around it.
M – And it’s completely normal. Right? I mean – your brand is so accessible. It’s so clean, and welcoming – and streamlined, and modern too. It takes you out of the head shops and the stoner culture that a lot of people associate with cannabis and into this new age of understanding this plant for what it is.
D – I appreciate that. That’s exactly the desired effect, and so I hope it’s having that impact and we do hear from our clients and their customers that there’s truth in that. The brand has allowed people to feel like the interaction they’re about to embark on when ordering cannabis, engaging in some way with a cannabis retailer, is more welcoming and is more transparent than they’re used to.
At the same time, we have to be cognizant that our clients’ brands are first and foremost, our top priority. The last thing that we want to do is generate a brand that people recognize that almost then competes with the dispensaries that they are purchasing cannabis from. It’s our goal that our brand brings that element of ease – of a lightness of touch – but also the scalability and a sense of trustworthiness that the dispensaries themselves can engage with so that they can use our tools to help make sure their brands reach their target audiences more effectively.
THE ORIGINAL BRAND
M – The brand that you have now is the second incarnation of the original brand, correct?
D – Correct.
M – So, originally – the first brand that was created – what was the thinking behind that? Was it always expected that it would be an interim brand and that perhaps once you guys went to market and you were funded you would actually then invest in creating your forever brand? Explain a little bit the process behind the original brand and then the pivot to the new brand.
D – Yeah absolutely. Well the first brand wasn’t meant to be an interim brand, it wasn’t meant to be a temporary fix until we had more resources. But at the same time, I had worked on logo design and branding design and worked with lots of other smaller stage companies in my past and knew from experience that most brands evolve or go through a process of being refreshed if not redesigned, so I knew that was coming. It wasn’t an urgent priority for the first couple of years of the business. And even with the first one, I’d say lacking by comparison with the one we’ve ended up with more recently, it was still a brand that our clients and the end customer respected. They could gain a sense of professionalism from that brand and it didn’t cause any red flags – which I will say a lot of brands in the cannabis industry do. I was happy with the results of it but what most people don’t know is that there is a background story to why that brand was designed the way it was.
The goal at the time was to build a piece of software that would make the online ordering process of cannabis as convenient as possible to the small minority of shoppers: the locals who are buying regularly – at least once or twice a week. And at that time in 2014 when we started the business, those shoppers amounted to only 19% of the total retail audience, but they were spending 83% of the revenue that was coming into dispensaries.
M – Wow.
D – So our goal was to create a brand for those individuals – therefore, not for the tourists, not for the individuals who were purchasing cannabis once a month – but for those regulars. And in doing so we wanted to make them feel really special. We wanted create the sense of a VIP brand, something that was boutique, almost luxury in nature. Not give it that underground feel, but give it a private feel – and there’s a distinction there for sure. The color purple was the most expensive pigment to find in nature in the middle ages, and before that. It therefore was used for royalty so you see a lot of the gowns, furniture, cloth – that kind of thing – that were designed in those early periods using pigment from nature would use purple because it was a sign of wealth being so rare.
I wanted to leverage that psychology and bring purple and a sense of regality into this experience. At the same time, what we were doing was taking a group of people who were used to a very mechanical and manual procedure for getting ahold of their cannabis, and bringing them a piece of software that could help them achieve that same end with the same level of convenience that they have when they use online ordering apps for food, for their dry cleaning, or even for ordering a private car, for example.
And at the time – and possibly still now – I think Uber is the most well known, recognized, trusted, respected brand in the space of on-demand services that are delivered through an app.
We wanted to leverage that trust that people had for the Uber brand. So it was very intentional that there were borrowed elements, borrowed form, borrowed icon type and that kind of thing from the Uber brand, simply to leverage the mindset that the general public have around Uber and bring that level of trust to an on-demand service that was unproven, unknown, potentially not trustworthy and I think it achieved that goal.
M – Agreed. I wish you could see me because I’m just grinning from ear to ear listening to you talk about how incredibly thoughtful you were in your approach to the brand and the consumer logic involved – that you were really placing yourself in the shoes of the consumers that you were marketing to.
D – Thank you, I appreciate that very much.
M – What prompted the rebrand?
D – Very good question. There was a shift around the beginning of 2016 as cannabis sales started to grow exponentially in our home market in Colorado, but really all over the legal recreational states. And we noticed that Pareto’s ratio of 80/20 was starting to be disrupted. More and more individuals who were flying into the state or who hadn’t smoked before but now were engaging with cannabis more regularly were becoming the target customer. And we really wanted to make sure that as that shift happened from the few, regular customers being the priority to the new generation of individual and consumer embracing cannabis, we could cater to those individuals with more of a welcoming brand, more of a transparent brand, one that didn’t necessarily insinuate a sense of privacy or VIP or exclusive nature. We wanted to make all of a sudden this brand feel like something anybody could engage with, that it would be safe, that it would be easy, and that it would be convenient. And that was very, very different messaging than the original brand was designed to evoke.
With the new brand I had to go about it in a completely different way. This was about how do we create fun? How do we create joy? How do we make this something that anyone of legal age could engage with and feel that they’re in a safe space. And so there were completely different psychological mechanisms leveraged to achieve that goal.
M – What was the actual process of arriving at the current brand?
D – Hehe, you’ll love this.
D – I’m not a regular cannabis smoker. I have a good amount of experience using THC in various ways and CBD as well, but I’m not a regular smoker
But, what I did at the time when I was working on this rebrand, was about 2-3 weeks of research extracting ideas and inspiration, from the various channels of discovery that I was doing. And then pulling them into as much of a combobulated, sensical brand direction as I could. But I have to say that I was struggling a little bit. There were so many different factors to consider. Really the rate at which the industry was growing and the rate with which the audience was changing in demographic type, made it a very confusing task. There was no one solidified or proven consumer types that we were trying to appeal to. It was very much in flux at the time, and I wanted to make sure we could capture this opportunity to get our message in front of the right people, when those people were not clearly defined. That meant a lot of different types of individuals. And so there were complex and different factors I was considering and I was having a bit of a hard time assembling that into a structure that made sense for the brand direction.
And so – I was working from NY at the time – for 2 days I blocked off my calendar and I locked myself in my home office and I used a sativa concentrate pen. And for about six hours each day the process of all of this complex information starting to slot into a framework that made complete sense and had these nuanced elements to it that I don’t think I would have considered or been able to make sense of or leverage in a normal state of sobriety. I was able to fully envision, fully flesh-out and saturate, as it were – in my mind – and pull those onto paper over the course of those 2 days. And what came out of those 48 hours was more or less identical to what our brand has been for the year and a half since then.
M – Wow.
M – I mean it should be no surprise, right? That a cannabis brand was borne from a cannabis experience?
M – When you say “customers” – your product is consumer-facing, but you are selling to dispensary owners, is that accurate to say?
D – That’s right. And that was the biggest source of confusion. Before that time we had been very B2C focused and selling to dispensaries was something that our sales team did, but our marketing was much more focused toward the end consumer – in the same way that you can imagine GrubHub or OpenTable making their brand very consumer-focused while also selling on the back end to the B2B audience. We were doing the same thing and at that time our attention was shifting such that we realized that if we were to put all of our focus on the businesses then we could develop incredible relationships with them, gain market share very quickly, and through them have access to their customers.
We were also recognizing that, as I said earlier, the dispensaries were not comfortable with our brand being as front and center to their customers. Unlike, say, an Italian restaurant using OpenTable, they are very accepting of OpenTable’s brand being front and center, we recognized an opportunity to create much more of a trusting relationship with the dispensary by allowing their brand to be front and center.
So at that time the change in brand was also about: how do we create something that is less obtrusive, more modular, can be seen as more of a template onto which we can map our clients’ brands? And that wasn’t the case with the previous application, or the previous brand, which was very much in your face with our color scheme, with our asset types and our typography and so forth. With this brand we decided to pull back the assertiveness of all of those details, create something that could easily be recognized in any piece of material as the Baker brand, but not have it scream in your face “Baker” so that we could also put the client’s brand front and center.
M – Yeah, I mean certainly, the previous brand with the density and saturation of color and of content – I’m looking at your new site right now, by the way. It’s so clean it actually communicates “white label.” Like, “We white label, for you!”
D – Yeah. Exactly right.
D – Exactly. That’s really spot on.
REBRAND: PSYCHOLOGY/SHAPE AND COLOR
D – If you’ll notice, there are a few other elements in there. The color scheme is something I think is something worth talking to, if you’d like me to.
M – Yeah, actually. Not just the color scheme. If you could speak even to the logo mark itself, because I kind of interpreted the scene – what I make of that shape – but I’d love to hear you describe it.
D – Starting with the idea of making this brand feel welcoming, friendly, easy, trustworthy – it struck me that we need to help our target demographic get away from this idea of Baker being a complex, abstract piece of software, something that doesn’t have a physical presence as a product. It’s very difficult for people to conceptualize, and especially individuals who are not traditionally with working with technology. Our target demographic are business owners, many of them first time in business, many of them not familiar with the suite of software products that are available to small businesses, and they think of these technologies as difficult, as ethereal, as expensive, and that kind of thing. I really wanted to help them to get out of that mindset and make sure that this product felt like something tangible with tangible results associated with it, and that would be easy for them to engage with.
So the first part of that is to help them almost recede back to a child-like state of wonder. As you may know red yellow and blue are the primary colors, the and the very first colors that children engage with. Many children’s toys are red yellow and blue. It’s been proven in study after study that small children are much more comfortable engaging with objects of those colors than of the other tertiary colors. So that was the first piece of psychology I wanted to leverage for this brand.
On top of that, the product itself was previously something that you would be sent as a link with a password. You would be sent your credentials, you would have documentation. It would be absolutely not an enjoyable process to get started on the Baker platform. And while rebranding, it was interesting how much that exercise also impacted our whole process of onboarding a client.
So now when a client receives Baker, we help them feel like it’s a present, like it’s a Christmas gift. It’s something they’re opening that’s fun. It comes in this box that has been designed with our branding, and the box is filled with crinkle cuts, and inside there they have their iPads which they use as their check-in tablets for digital loyalty. They have various other pieces of marketing collateral that they can use: stickers that they can give to their customers, informational sheets for them to know how to use the product itself. And the whole thing is presented and in a much more fun, much more tactile and friendly format. And that box became such a representation of Baker being a tangible, results-driven product and not some abstract piece of software, that I wanted the box to be represented in our brand and our logo.
The logo, if you look at it, it sits on an isometric grid which is a grid that’s tilted 30 degrees. And the box, if you see it this way, is actually represented in that hexagon. So the beautiful thing about an isometric grid is that you can depict a box in 3 dimensions. But when you do that it comes out as a hexagon. I was doing a lot of research on many, many other brands: good ones, less well-designed ones, but brands that were well-known in the cannabis space. And time after time after time again I was recognizing – as I think you did – that the hexagon comes up. I didn’t know officially why this was – I have my own theories.
I think it’s possible that the molecular symbol for THC which leverages a hexagon is something that early designers in the space wanted to use as a sort of a head nod to the science behind this process of getting high, of enjoying the plant, and so they started to use the hexagon and that became appreciated within the community. It’s possible that we see hexagons when we’re in an altered state, and looking at light and it starts to break into fractals. I think it’s also possible there was just a trend going in that direction, and that the people who were funding the process of having their companies be branded noticed that it was popular and wanted to leverage that for themselves.
Regardless of what the initial intention behind the hexagon was, clearly this is a symbol that the cannabis community embraces and feels comfortable with. So I wanted to leverage that. I think it was much more important for me to leverage that sense of trust and familiarity than for me to try and break the mold and bring in some new shape just for the sake of making a stand against the status quo, which a lot of branding designers are often drawn towards. For me it was about leveraging familiar habits.
So the hexagon came into play, and as I realized that the box on the isometric grid creates a hexagon, I started thinking more about the isometric grid itself. And this is the last major component of the brand that is worth me talking about: you’ve got all these elements of fun, playfulness, and…
M – And whimsy! – you said something about wonder. Wonder, I love that.
D – Yeah, exactly, that child-like state of wonder. Exactly. That psychology is at play first and foremost, but secondarily I really wanted to make sure that that psychology didn’t undermine the fact that we had built a robust, scalable, very secure piece of software.
It’s very easy – especially in this industry – for people to assume that software which has just been built in a matter of years not decades, is newer, may not be built with as much integrity, may have security issues, may not be scalable to their needs.
Especially because we recognized early on that a lot of dispensary owners were being sold to by technology companies left, right, and center, promising them the world, bringing them all of these great ideas, beautifully designed mockups, then eventually launching the software and it transpiring that the system was just not built well.
We really wanted to avoid anyone feeling that way towards our brand before our engaging with our products. And so, as a subtle hat-tip toward that sense of scalability and trust as well, the isometric grid creates this map. It sits behind our branding on most of our pieces of collateral. You’ll notice that the hexagon starts to make its way subtly into that isometric grid in various places. But ultimately, having everything fit on a grid that holds its space and time, in a very stable way allows the rest of the brand – which does have that sense of whimsy and playfulness – to be grounded and also to imbue some of that sense of trust.
M – I really admire how your work so beautifully dovetails your architectural and design background with the psychology and behavioral understanding – which I kind of want to get into later. Yeah, I’m gonna – okay, I gush. I’ve got to stop gushing for your brand.
D – No don’t stop gushing. No – I really appreciate it. And by the way in my company most people say I just make things look pretty, so it’s nice to have somebody appreciate what I do.
M – That’s one of the things that I’m constantly battling is this perception that branding is just making things look pretty. Because it’s really not. Effective branding goes so much deeper than things looking pretty. Pretty can work against you, if you’re selling to the wrong customer.
INVESTMENT IN BRANDING
M – So, now – you didn’t outsource this branding to an agency or a consultant. You are the brand person in-house. I don’t know whether you could place a dollar value on it, but I’m curious to know – just the creation of the logomark, that’s one small component of all of the branding work that was done from that change. Do you have any idea of how much of an investment that was? The reason I ask is because I think that a lot of brands don’t understand that they need to be considering actually the dollar value of investment in brand – what they’re going to carve out budget-wise from the beginning.
D – The bigger risk that I see available from working with an external branding agency is that the project has no room to grow, breathe, iterate, evolve. And if there’s one thing I’d say has made our brand successful, it’s that – while I put in that extremely concerted 2 or 3 weeks of focused work on this brand – it’s been constantly growing in its life since then…With every single piece of new marketing material, with every single page of the website, every piece of collateral that we use at all as a company, there’s an opportunity for this brand to evolve, to constantly grow and iterate. And I think that’s something that is impossible to put a price tag on.
When a branding project is approached as a one-month endeavor that you receive a proposal for from a series of agencies, you’re creating a very different beast in and of itself with regards to the brand. That’s something I’m glad we were able to avoid by having myself as the designer in house.
M – Agreed. And a very artful, a very artful dodge [of my question].
M – No but I appreciate that, and I agree. I don’t think, I mean – there are a lot of companies for which that’s not really an option, at least initially. To find a partner – someone who’s not only a great designer but is also invested in the business is, I think, for most businesses a later-stage opportunity. Not every business has the advantage of having a David Champion on their team from the start. I think, in that sense, the outside agency or consultant can play a productive role.
But I do agree that it needs to be thought of as a living, breathing thing. It’s not like you set it and forget it. And that’s true for websites too. When it comes to a website, it gets created – it’s not like ‘oh it goes live and you’re done’. A website needs constant attention, and tracking, and evolving of functionality and paying attention to how it’s getting used and funnels and conversions and all of that. It’s an ongoing, never ending undertaking. So, I appreciate that.
D – Yeah, it is. And what I would say to that, with that framing, is that it’s absolutely critical for a brand in any space, but specifically in one that’s marred by taboo, skepticism – that the brand, the business be developed so that it’s approachable and that its message is delivered, whatever its message may be.
It’s impossible for that to happen without design expertise invested toward the brand, and the process we’ve gone through to achieve that would have cost us most likely hundreds of thousands of dollars if we had approached the problem too late and had to use this branding exercise to make up for the months or years of misinterpretation of our message up until that point.
D – I thought so.
BRAND + CULTURE
M – Internally, are the core brand values of being welcoming and transparent and professional and forward-thinking and at the cutting edge of technology – all of those key brand offerings but also the brand values – how is that manifested in your actual corporate culture?
D – That’s a great question. We have a team now of 35 people and it’s been growing rapidly for the last couple of years. Something that all of our team members notice is – that they haven’t experienced at other previous companies they’ve worked at – is that there’s no cliquiness – there’s absolutely no sense of tribalism within the team. Or a sense that some groups of employees deserve to know some things and sit on a higher plane than other groups of employees. And I think that, whether that’s a result of our brand being out there when these individuals were applying for jobs and came our way, or if it was just a coincidence, or if it’s something we’ve really generated from within, I think it’s absolutely in line with our brand that our team members have that same sense of trust with each other, friendly communication, and even a sense of playfulness with the number of events we do, and the constant interactions outside of the office, and ways of creating play amongst our team culture. I think that’s something that’s directly in line with the brand that we have external-facing as well.
M – Yeah, that’s great. I would argue that is a key component of your brand. Period. The actual human interaction – how employees represent your business is your brand.
D – Yes. On that point, we also did an activity about six months ago – possibly nine months ago – where we had everyone in the company in one room and I asked everyone to speak out with a word or a phrase that they felt represented not our company, not our brand, not what Baker stands for, not our mission, but what we as human beings in a room together stand for. And what our values are as individuals within this team.
Words started to fill the whiteboard and I was writing them all down and people were coming up with really beautiful words but also I think there were signs in there that were also what people wanted to strive towards – there was a sense of ambition and mission to what they were saying they wanted to represent but there were also many words that were descriptive of what they already felt like they represented. Together we voted on all of these different options, we described them, we opened out discussions about specific ones that really called to us, and we ended up with five key values that not only represent our team, and have really acted as the glue amongst all of our different personality types and far ranging uniqueness as a team, but also it’s a document that we – or I should say, I created a short article about this exercise and five values and why they’re important to us and it’s something we send to every new hire before they join – often even as part of the interview process – so we can be sure that everyone who is joining this team is aligned with those values.
And they are: collaboration, integrity, hustle, kaizen, and humor.
PLEASE NOTE: The above 5 terms were not explained during the course of the interview, but I feel it’s worth including the breakdown of those 5 values as outlined in the Baker Team Values document given to every new employee as part of their on-boarding process.
- Collaboration: “Like no other team, we look to each other for answers, support, and inspiration. There is no person or department that has contributed without the help of at least one other team member.” Working together expands beyond professional collaboration; finding team members who are diverse enough to inspire each other creates a safe and productive environment that allows for freedom of thought.
- Integrity: Once a team establishes collaboration, it is critical to evolve from simply getting along, to generating a shared vision that can be both actioned and trusted. This relies heavily on the integrity of the team and it’s individuals because, without integrity, the temptation to over-promise can overcome the strength to follow through and deliver. With integrity, others can trust that what we as a team communicate to the outside world will become reality.
- Hustle: It is tough to quantify hustle, but one look at our company’s growth across a number of verticals since our inception shows that our ability to get work done is unmatched. Hustle doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Relative to our competitors in the industry, we are able to meet the needs of the rapidly growing world of cannabis – both those of the customer, and the wider trajectory of the industry. Hustle is that intangible combination of driven work ethic and the impassioned will to do whatever it takes.
- Kaizen: Kaizen is a Japanese business practice best summed up as the concept of continual improvement. It is impossible to succeed in an industry as complex and ever-evolving as cannabis without the constant willingness to learn more, and to apply that knowledge to our work. It is our ability to adapt to the needs of the market; to see an opportunity and seize it in a way that truly benefits our clients and end-users; to show unceasing resilience against the obstacles of working in a nascent and taboo market. This is what we believe has made us the fastest-growing tech company in our industry.
- Humor: At Baker, we work incredibly hard. In order to maintain such a rigorous workload, we have to find balance in our daily routines. We take risks, and that means we make mistakes. If we begin to take ourselves or our work too seriously, we lose the ability to maintain perspective, which in turn makes it more difficult to bounce back from setbacks. To have a sense of humor demonstrates maturity, and our ability to ‘see the forest through the trees’. At the end of the day, we’re here to live life and have fun doing it!
IMPORTANCE OF BRANDING: B2B VS B2C
M – Your experience gives you the unique perspective of understanding both the needs B2C and B2B branding in the cannabis space. So I’m curious to know, do you think that it’s more or less important for B2B vs B2C or do you think they’re equally important and why?
D – Branding in general? Or for us?
M – Branding in general. How important is branding to the success of a business in each of those spaces?
D – I think it’s paramount, honestly. There are many businesses that can accomplish their task in earlier phases especially, without branding. I’d say that I’ve also consulted with many entrepreneurs who’ve placed too much emphasis on branding too early on. And I’m talking before they even have a customer or before they have a model ironed out. The tendency amongst entrepreneurs is to do the checklist items of creating a new business that they can do in a vacuum and that they can feel good about in a vacuum. And it’s much easier to spend two weeks thinking about what pretty logo to design than thinking about which sales strategy you’re going to deploy to get your first five customers. So there is a tendency to do that, and I generally advise against doing that. At the same time, once you have some semblance of a business that you are brining off the ground, it’s absolutely critical to make sure that the intention of your business as well as the way in which somebody can engage with your business are as clearly communicated as possible. And a brand is the channel that achieves that.
I don’t think that the separation between B2B or B2C businesses really places a bearing on the importance of brand. It’s something that has to be approached very, very differently depending on which type of audience you’re appealing to and certainly whether you’re appealing to a million person audience like a B2C business would, or perhaps a one hundred person audience like a B2B business would that will dramatically effect the type of communication you want to represent. But I wouldn’t say there’s more importance in one type of business branding itself over another.
D – Yes.
BRAND + COMPETITION
M – Who is your competition, and do you feel the Baker brand has given you an advantage? Do you have any examples of that?
D – I’ll start with our competition. We have no direct competitors. There are some companies that have products that compete with individual products of ours. One of the differentiators that we’re proud of is that we’ve very very quickly built multiple products, each of which could be a business in and of themselves, and for our competitors they are. But, because we were able to build each of these, we have a platform which encompasses that entire ecosystem of product, and that ecosystem touches the customer lifecycle at every key point of their journey as they interact with the dispensary. And because we have that, the data we’re gathering is much more far-reaching, much more comprehensive, and therefore the tools that we can provide to the dispensaries to leverage that data can be more sophisticated. So we don’t have any competition in that manner.
However, point of sales systems do act as a form of indirect competition. It’s interesting because we have very friendly and collaborative relationships with almost all point of sale systems, certainly all of the most well-known ones. And we integrate our software with theirs so that the databases can speak to each other and so that our joint plants can benefit as much as possible.
At the same time there’s a propensity for point of sales systems to develop their own tools for online ordering, or for loyalty, or for promos, because they know it will help them make a sale against their competition. And because they’re doing that, they’re inherently competing with us. When it comes to customers or clients that are usually smaller and have less desire to leverage our more sophisticated software which obviously we can invest in because this is our sole purpose and building a point of sale is a very very difficult, challenging undertaking. So many political restrictions and regulatory restrictions, that just the point of sale software alone is extremely complex.
I think that because we’ve been able to abstract out everything else that a point of sale system would usually build and focus only on that. Build that platform and then integrate it with all of the primary point of sale systems. It’s allowed the end client to think of Baker as this nice kid in the playground that plays with everyone else. You know?
I think our brand speaks to that as well. There’s a sense that we’re not defensive. We’re not egoic in our nature as a team or as a company or as a product line. We’re open, friendly, welcoming, and as such, able to develop relationships with a lot of other companies in the space including some of our greatest competition.
M – So I know that I mentioned in my review, that your logo mark reminded me of a sunset over mountainous terrain and a body of water, but as you’re describing the collaborative nature of your brand I also see two handshakes nested in each other.
D – Mmm, I like that.
M – Which is really cool.
D – Yeah, there’s definitely something about designing on psychedelics that leaves things open to interpretation.
M – Yep, even the loaf of bread. So brilliant.
[The “loaf of bread” is a reference to my visual interpretation of the Baker brand in my cannabis business cards review last month.]
BRAND BEST PRACTICES
M – My last question: how do you think that best practices for branding differ between cannabis and other industries – if at all?
D – Here’s the thing. Cannabis industry brands have always had one archetypical aesthetic that everyone complains about now. Everyone apart from the people who are completely ingrained in the cannabis culture and have been for, perhaps, decades. And so now there’s this dichotomy being set up between this new cannabis consumer and the original. And I don’t think that that’s healthy. I don’t think that the sense that one thing is right the other is antiquated, or one thing is right and the other is false and plastic – which is one of the arguments going on right now – should be supported. I think that we’re all trying to work together to make sure that there’s a cohesive and common approach to using this psychoactive medicine, and getting hung up on whether one tribe or another in the branding space of cannabis is right is just going to be a distraction. I’ve noticed that a lot of the new age or hipster designers getting into the cannabis space are starting to leverage the types brands that were used for coffee and candy packaging, more recently high-end chocolate bars, barber-shop kind of typography. All of that speaks to this new-fangled, wealthier, but still retaining a hipster-mentality type of demographic. And it’s not really feeding into a sense that we’re all working together to pull this industry forward. Because that sense of tribalism is constantly being reminded, and I’d be interested to see how new brands coming into the space with ideas that aren’t moving the industry forward can leverage brands that aren’t necessarily as focused on their own sense of uniqueness or their own sense of dominance but instead are doing what really I’m trying to do with Baker which is to just open our arms so that everyone will feel an embrace with this product through whichever company or technology or platform or retail environment is approaching them with these brands.
That wasn’t the most well-articulated answer.
M – No, it was quite articulate. David, you use a lot of big words…
M – Sorry, my humor doesn’t always translate well over the phone.
I think it’s interesting that you brought up that the hipster aesthetic is trending in cannabis. And I think that, a trend is a trend. I applaud you for creating something that was completely unique and in a sense, borne from nothing. I mean, you created this [brand] from nothing, from a clean slate essentially. It doesn’t reference any other brands, or looks, or trends stylistically. It’s its own thing. And I think that that’s really what all brands – regardless of industry, cannabis or otherwise – should be striving toward.
That’s one of the points that I continually hit on is cannabis – what I would argue is that best practices for a brand are best practices for a brand selling to a certain demographic, whether or not it’s cannabis it doesn’t really matter. I think that your description of being open-armed – that’s what this is all about. We are all the same, regardless of our comfort level or exposure to cannabis, or whether we are a parent, or a student, or a business-owner. We are all human beings. That’s the great opportunity I see with this industry and why I fell in love with it, it’s because culturally I feel like there’s more of that understanding of connectivity between us. Um, now I’m rambling and being inarticulate.
D – No, not at all. I agree with your point completely. Are you writing about this topic frequently? Are you interviewing – did you just start the process of interviewing other designers in the space?
M – Oh David, between us: you’re my first actual interview. This has been so great.
D – Yay! Congratulations.
M – Yeah, thank you. Thank you.
ANDDD, WE’LL END THERE.
The rest of the interview – including my low-brow parenting advice, inarticulate ramblings, and industry trash talk – are for the vault. Maybe someday I’ll release a B sessions…but not today.
I am, however, gifting you this link to the Baker Brand Book so you can have a little peek at the detail required to build a strong brand and maintain consistency across all media. You’re welcome, again.
If you’ve got any responses or reactions to anything that was covered in this interview, please feel free to comment below.