Monica Jones, Creative Director, Bud Branding
Monica is a native New Yorker. After graduating from the School Of Visual Arts with her BFA, she knew that her talents would be best served helping others to define their dreams and find their voice.
Her drive and determination helped her build 3D Studios, an international boutique branding firm that has served businesses and organizations since 1997.
Understanding the needs of the cannabis industry were evolving and growing, Ms. Jones created Bud Branding to help change the conversation around cannabis and redefine the industry. She saw the
need for professional, creative solutions in an industry barely out of its diapers. Bud Branding brings 20+ years of marketing and business acumen to bear on every project.
Monica loves to travel and enjoys tennis and horseback riding.
[00:00:01] You're listening to thinking outside the bud where we speak with entrepreneurs investors thought leaders researchers advocates and policy makers who are finding new and exciting ways for cannabis to positively impact business society and culture. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt
[00:00:30] Welcome everyone. This is Thinking Outside the Bud. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host. Today we're speaking with Monica. Monica, welcome to the program.
[00:00:39] Thank you so much Bruce. I'm happy to be here.
[00:00:42] It's a pleasure. And Monica just give us audience a little bit of background Monica. So originally SCEA School of Visual Arts here in New York BFA and went from there and got into branding helped build her studio 3D Studios which has been around for a while. Do I say how long it's been around for you can you. 1997 that you've been doing this doing this for a while.
[00:01:06] So you know I'm excited to hear your perspective on branding and given this kind of space of the cannabis market and where where it's going and where it's growing.
[00:01:18] And yeah so let's get into some questions. Thanks again for being on the show. And why don't we start. You know I would like to start with just kind of personal backgrounds so come a little bit about the work you've done in branding and then how did you get into the cannabis space.
[00:01:34] So as you know we've been doing branding for quite a while after graduating from college I knew that it was something that I wanted to sort of get into it and we fell into it in a sense because I came out of college and we were focusing on very specific niches within the industry. Well as we grew and I have clients who became more and more reliant upon our services they would say so Monica can you guys decide to do this and we'd go well we don't really do that.
[00:02:06] No I know what we know. But can you take care for us. And of course once you put the system in place for one client and the systems in place for her online.
[00:02:14] And so over the years what started off as a very sort of simple graphic design it ended up being a full service branding and marketing firm where we offer everything from photography to our needs to social media marketing and I mean you know the Gannett Event Management promotion.
[00:02:31] So that that's kind of the history of how we got started. But branding is a subset of 3-D.
[00:02:39] And basically we personally myself I am a huge cannabis advocate because I believe in the product I believe in it as a vehicle to change lots of lives in a very natural and fantastic way. Up until now has not really been embraced in the way that it should have been. And the ability to get into that space and really work in a medium and in an industry that I truly believe in was very very interesting to me.
[00:03:08] On top of that it's an emerging market and in my lifetime I've never gotten to be a part of that either. So there are challenges of course because cannabis is extremely volatile at the moment given all of the different problems in place.
[00:03:23] But I really really was attracted to the ability to come in and really help businesses there are getting into this market find their footing finding their way because there are definitely a lot of challenges and in the process that's an understatement. So that's that's kind of in a nutshell that's kind of how we how we we came to be in the campus space and I think that that story resonates.
[00:03:45] And I think that you know many of the people I speak to that I've gotten into the cannabis market on the business side really is kind of a combination of you know some some kind of personal connection personal passion you know seeing it as an agent of change or seeing it as something that can provide a lot of good for various people for various reasons and unfortunately has been put on a politically and legally in a situation that thankfully now is changing.
[00:04:11] But as a personal passion.
[00:04:12] But then there's also this business opportunity where Melosi you know that there's a lot of hype around the market there's a lot of real growth around the market.
[00:04:19] A lot of money being you know put in various facets of the cannabis industry.
[00:04:23] So I think that's certainly met a lot of people and it's fascinating to see this kind of movement around it and talking a little bit about the companies that you work with that you talk to that are getting into the market looking at this question of branding. Looking into the question of marketing what are some of the common challenges or some some of the initial obstacles that they face when you start to speak with them.
[00:04:46] Well it depends on what they're actually looking to do. That does vary depending on the actual business model. But in general a lot of the alums are similar problems that you would have outside the cannabis industry funding and things of that nature. And then there's the issue of not really knowing what you're doing you've decided that this is something that you want to do and you want to jump in full both feet. But it's kind of complicated. And so a lot of what we end up doing is sort of consulting. It's a lot of consulting that we when we work with a lot of these newer companies and businesses to add organizations to help them figure out where they need to be. And of course because of the legal rejections and all of the various problems the pending where are you located. It's just you know it's it's choppy waters. Absolutely. So we really try to try to try to help to educate. And we gear it so that people understand depending on what they need. So it's really so much of a piece by piece by piece you know depending on what the people are looking forward looking to do. But the basics definitely are there. So you know you got the problems with funding you've got the problems with management.
[00:05:57] How do you start how do you create that space where you focusing your energies. How are you presenting yourself and how are you making all of that happen. I mean these are all very very important questions that you kind of need to answer almost before you start. And once you're at once you're in and you know up to your elbows in the minutia of writing and then you've got to deal with all the other pieces with the clients and customer service. You know a lot of this is basic stuff that surprisingly so many people who run businesses don't understand the mechanics up you'd be shocked.
[00:06:37] Well I I probably wouldn't. I mean I think it's interesting because I think a lot of people have this perception that you know the business folk are or the people in the cannabis business from a business point of view you know aren't as savvy or don't have as much experience. I mean honestly I find that's generally true of all early stage companies. I mean you know a lot of times you know these are people's first time companies maybe second time but it's the learning that an early stage executive you know given the founder rumor needs to go through is quite dramatic and when I you make mistakes of that.
[00:07:11] The question is always how quickly can you learn from those mistakes and take that knowledge and figure out how you're going to make a better decision or learn from it and make the right move.
[00:07:22] You know I'm curious you know looking at just kind of the general challenges of growing your business. And you mentioned you know Canibus has a couple of these you know unique challenges. Right. We've got it operates within a certain political environment with a certain legal environment that both of those things seem seems to shift as any thoughts or strategies or ways that you kind of help companies navigate some of those things or suggestions about how how much to rely upon some of that stuff for you know how to plan for alternate scenarios.
[00:07:55] So a lot of this is flying by the seat of your pants because like you said things are changing as they change for me. One of the biggest things that we look for when we're bringing on new clients especially new clients who don't have the experience in running a business previously or anything like that in the cannabis industry is how well are you able to handle change. Because if you cannot adapt because it is a given in this industry that you are going to run into problems like I'll give you a perfect example we we do direct mail marketing for clients. So email marketing things like that.
[00:08:30] And we had MailChimp set up for some clients and MailChimp decided we don't like cannabis. We're going to just shut you down and no explanation just humiliating our Terms of Service. And they just did not respond to them. And so I said OK we're going to have to make a change that had that they pivot find a different in it. It's the nature of it as the laws change. And you know again depending on where you're operating it's just we have people on staff leaks so bad branding we are people just staff whose job it is to keep track of these changes. That's what they do. I don't even get involved in that truth. But you know there is too much now. It's too much for me to keep track of. So you know we get a new client we bring in somebody new we say OK let's talk about where it is that you need to do what are you looking to accomplish. A lot of the branding questions that come along with their brand and their mark. And then we say OK where you are located we're going to need to address this for that and then we'll move from there because it is so so very specific to you know which is which is one of the things that makes us a nightmare and it's constantly changing so that.
[00:09:35] So our first question is how well do you handle it. Because if he's saying he was dating me i really like it you know I'm not big on uncertainty. The first thing out of my mouth going to be you may not want to get into this industry because you gonna have to kind of out to have that that steel stomach that just allows you to because it's it is frustrating it's stressful. There's money on the line. I mean there's all these problems that just are tied into doing this you know and you have to be ready for that you have to be ready for the pivot. You have to be ready to make the change. And the biggest problem with cannabis at the moment which I am starting to see changing but it's not going to be a quick changes. It's gonna it's to it's got an image problem. Right. So one of the things branding y branding is so and in specifically and cannabis is because we need to change the dialogue. We need to change the conversation away from it just being you know the random pothead the drug dealers the dread heads the skaters. It needs to be more about the benefits the quality and why this is such an amazing product.
[00:10:50] But in order to do that you have to change how it looks. So if you put out something that's just it looks like it was done by someone in their basement. Right. You know you're not going to change that perception. I had a client who we were counseling not made up a brain in a 3D client and the cameras in the middle of a conversation about something and we mentioned that you know we had created this division and we were working now with you know planning for cannabis clients. And she is interesting the ashes. Wow. Yeah I know it's becoming popular now but I just don't know how I feel about it. And I said OK but why. Well you know it's you know it's Patru and say OK. But but there are a lot of really make it. We're not talking about somebody who is an educator and we were talking about people who are in business in the business world too who have this perception. The only way that you can change this is by creating things they don't give off the impression that you're just talking about somebody standing on a street corner smoking a joint. Yeah not this is anything is it you don't say.
[00:11:56] Is it education.
[00:11:57] I mean is this do companies need to think about how how they're going to sort of educate their market or re-educate them. So how do you and what is the what is the answer. Yeah.
[00:12:08] So I think a big part of what's going to push the legislative changes that we need to happen because let's be honest we need this to be federal. I mean it's the state by state thing is in. It's public perception it's public demand. The public screaming to say OK we need this done. This needs to happen in order for that to happen. And like I said it's started to change and is much more sort of a much more greater conversation around it now. But in order for that to happen it needs to be seen as a viable industry. It needs to be like you know the alcohol industry needs that it needs you know you need to have that brand that face that says we're legitimate right. And that means that the products need to look legitimate. So companies need to function legitimately. They need to have you know viable websites. And when you're walking into the door it needs to feel like a real store it needs to not be like some back someplace you go around the corner. But it does not help me. You know it needs to be legit. Yeah. And it seems.
[00:13:23] I think you're I guess the way that I've sort of seen the market sort of a challenge from branding for you. The market is is we have this on one side this kind of overhaul of the pop culture. You know the historical pop culture.
[00:13:35] And then we've got this very kind of medical side which is sort of very scientific and very you know kind of regulated and almost sterile red it's way you know to go get a prescription. It's going to be some kind of you know tonsure or something. So I'm going to the way in which I engage it it's going to be like I would take you know I'm going to sell arms. Yeah exactly. So it did. And I think the I think the interesting space for me has been this kind of in-between space where it's around wellness.
[00:14:10] It's not necessarily medical it's it's a lifestyle wellness kind of recovery. You know a place where I'm thinking about health I'm thinking about my body on thinking about how I can use cannabis based products to improve my lifestyle linguistically. And I think that's where it's nascent but I see this huge kind of opportunity to kind of grow brands grow products in this space. Yes I think you're right I think people still you know still have this oh it's pie feel but you know I'm sensing a general a general trend shifting.
[00:14:47] Yeah I think the other states as well are are sort of well to your point those two those two dynamics. So I'd say in general the majority of the country in Nanking into Canada and all that stuff at the moment but the majority of the U.S. agrees with the concept of cannabis and the medical thing. They are not yet completely onboard with it as a recreational thing. So that's where that's sort of that with that brand. So a lot of the the adjacent industries who are not necessarily doing medical stuff for the state that this is legal we're doing things that are or recreational in nature even if they're doing edible and things of that nature. That's where the brand becomes so important because everybody is kind of like Okay yeah the benefits are medically okay. Yeah we get that. And for the most part that stays in that in that corner and it's not questioned as much where it really becomes an issue where the growth portion of this is really going to be taking on in how companies and organizations are going to market this other section. This other segment of the cannabis industry with all of the various adjacent business models that are coming into play as a result of this being something that's legal.
[00:16:12] And so you know I wrote a blog post called your business suç is such a slang term meaning suspicious. The irony is in the regular marketplace you don't want to be suç but really don't want to be Sesson hypersensitivity you really need to do in the immediate reaction is Oh well yeah they really were a company or are they just trying to get money. And so it's so important and I think to a certain degree people don't really understand yet the larger you know the big the big big boy. OK. But when you start getting into that sort of medium size businesses the small businesses where they are not really understanding how powerful that brand image can be they they're losing out because because without defining your brand image. And what the identity is of your of your business. You can't deal with your pricing you can't deal with that. You haven't addressed your customer base you admit you haven't done the work that you need to do to be successful and dominant in your fields. And that's I mean that's where you in business you're not going can do that.
[00:17:24] And I think the the whole idea that the suspect in some respects it makes it very difficult to find though that if you get it right because because there's such a desire for quality a trusted brand.
[00:17:39] When you do get it right it really gives you a huge competitive edge and it gives you a huge edge and absolutely gives you a huge lead. But you know again this is something that needs to be built into your model. When you're figuring out how to start a business in cannabis in a world that actually touch canvas you just needs to be a foundation of how you do things because the brand branding is not just your logo. It's it's the experience that your customers are going to have when they interact with you as a business. And that comes down to everything. Yes what the logo looks like and what your Web site. Okay.
[00:18:19] Right. But it also comes down to how somebody picks up the phone when they sell a Web site for them to track down a phone number. When they pick up the phone what did they hear when they walked into the store. What does it look like. How is the customer service.
[00:18:36] What is your brand promise. What are you. What are these people getting by dealing with you. And it's it's such an important aspect especially in cannabis because the element of suç is very prevalent. So you meet you need that to be because once this does sort of stabilize then you're now going to be dealing with a marketplace it's even more competitive. So right now you're kind of in the forefront. You may not have as much competition but once this once did the legal aspect that this settles down and anybody can jump in. Right. So you need to establish yourself now establish your brand establish your place in your market now because now's the time to do it and do that. You need to make sure your brand image and your identity is solid and without you know I mean that's that's just what it means.
[00:19:30] So that's how we can solve our clients and what are some of the questions that you ask your clients or work through with your clients that help them when you say you mentioned the logo Web site I'm curious about like the brand promise like what. What are some of the more you know who you are. Questions that are important for people to kind of grapple with or to answer in order to effectively do the other stuff.
[00:19:54] So the first thing that you need to think about is who you want to be as a company. What is your story. Storytelling is very powerful in cannabis. Almost anybody got a story like you said you did to me. You want to use that. That's something that you want to start with. And from that story the reason is that you've chosen to do this. You want to build on who you want to get your target market what kind of image are you putting forward. Are you going to be a high end brand. Are you going to be more like a craft beer type thing. It could be more folksy. Give me a million directions from where you can go. And those decisions will determine who you're targeting. It will determine what your look is going to be how you're going to market yourself and where you're going to focus your energies. Those are the places that you want to start. And once you once you answered those questions and I'm not getting into the specifics of things like What is your logo need to look like I mean I mean we have a slew of questions that we what we call homework that we give to each client where we make them answer a slew of questions so they can start thinking about how they need to move forward because for us there are a million directions to go in for any given project. And the only way that we can effectively help our clients is by knowing what they want. And you'd be surprised how often they don't know what do.
[00:21:22] So a lot of what we do is handholding a lot of what we do is coaching to try and say OK this is what you should be thinking about. Let's talk about these things and how you want to move forward and what you're looking to achieve. And then we can set goals and put things in place to help you get there. So a lot of what we do is it's not just marking with social business management to a certain degree because in order for us to effectively do our jobs we really need to be able to communicate we need for our clients to be able to communicate effectively what that brand promise is going to be what are they going to be giving the customers what are they offering. Why should someone come to them as opposed to somebody else. Right. So that's a lot of what goes into how we determine how we help them to determine what direction that they're going to be going in. So it's a process and like I said you have to be in Canibus just like in any other industry you're going to have the people who don't think it's necessary. They're not going to be successful because it is unnecessary and you think you find a way to make it part of your structure of how you do business or are you going to find that you can get left behind because there's just no way of the world is just super competitive now.
[00:22:32] And I think that's I think that's a lot of what I'm certainly seeing now which is you know companies that essentially haven't had competition you know they've been in a situation either you know logistically operationally legally where they haven't had a lot of competition they've been successful so they kind of write off what we don't need to do these things right. You know the moment that you start getting competition and they start doing these things you're going to see you know their market share eroding or at least you know companies ability not to gain the new market share that's coming in in some respects. It's probably not even that risking their current market meaning not even risking a certain amount of growth.
[00:23:10] It's it's the significant amount of additional breath that they're not going to get.
[00:23:14] And they're going to find themselves you know still owning their kind of market but someone else coming in and grabbing all of the new markets that is coming into play things and when I think it is I think it's key I think for me a really kind of hit it is at the end of the day marketing branding is a question of strategy and really defining what is your core customer what is your core product. What is your core channel like Hower. From a business point of view what are you choosing and what are you not choosing. What are you not by defining those things it makes it much easier to say Okay great. So we can we can dependably say we're not doing all these other things so that we can do this one thing really really well and we really concession ourselves. I think that a lot of challenges I see when companies you know kind of launch and they really start to try to grow is that they're still chasing money and they just don't read anything anything.
[00:24:05] And there is an early stage that we didn't get into the specifics of niche marketing and all that which is something also that needs to be considered but the focus is definitely a priority it's definitely something that we need to think about her because again we're in a global world now. This is not you know business is global.
[00:24:26] It's easy to you know we were setting up an office in Europe now because we're preparing for the onslaught of them then catching up to us which is unusual. We're
[00:24:35] Looking very well and I have talked to a few folks out of Canada and you know the interesting thing there is because of the federal legislation they have in place they can they can actually operate on an international level and that they're looking at this as an international market.
[00:24:51] I mean they're not thinking about it as a state what it is an international market and so you know but you have to operate it as such and you need to think about it you know. Because again why does somebody choose you over somebody else. What are you giving them that just making them that much better. So yeah I mean it's personally I love it the excitement the changes the challenges for me.
[00:25:18] You know I get it. That's that's that's what makes it fun fun that really.
[00:25:23] So this is great conversation on how if people want to kind of contact you to find out more about what you do not talk more about branding and marketing and some of the challenges.
[00:25:33] What's the best way to get a hold of you so they can reach me online and e-mail me Monica at branding dot net or feel free to reach out by phone.
[00:25:43] Our offices are based in New York so it's 2 1 2 4 9 1 7 3 1. And I'm happy to talk with anybody. You guys have questions and you're really looking to get started on this will help. Papeete to have a free consultation with you to kind of walk you through some of the steps you might need to be considering in the challenges that you're facing. We're right we do.
[00:26:05] Thank you so much. And I'll make sure everyone in the show notes here that you that you're your Ehle your email address but that phone number on there as well as a very different way to reach out to Monica I think
[00:26:17] Definitely she is.
[00:26:19] She knows she knows the world she knows the candidates face and I think branding and marketing are going to be key for any company that really wants to be absolutely I guess been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being on.
[00:26:30] Thank you so much. You've been listening to thinking outside the bud with business coach Bruce Eckfeldt to find a full list of podcast episodes.
[00:26:42] Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. Visit the Web site at thinkingoutsidethebud.com. And don't forget to sign up for the free newsletter at thinkingoutsidethebud.com forward slash newsletter.