CBD brands can’t trade on curiosity forever

CBD brands should prioritize building trust over following trends, argues Natalie Redford, creative strategist for branding agency Robot Food.

I work as a strategist for the branding agency Robot Food and the most visible aspect of our work is often the packaging. One thing I know is that even the glossiest pack can’t win out over substance – and I’m not just talking about the product. Beyond the allure of standout packaging design, people want an experience with a brand that reflects them – a brand they can trust because it just gets them. And for emerging markets in the wellness space, like CBD, authenticity is all the more essential because while customers may be curious, they’re also more likely to be wary.

Remedy vs reservation

There’s no question the CBD market is on fire right now, with new products launching in varying strengths, promising to remedy all manner of modern ailments. But it’s all a bit ‘wild west’ and the CBD industry has some work to do to gain trust and shake off its ‘head shop’ vibe.

Customers are right to have reservations, with lab tests from the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis revealing that 62% of the UK high street products studied didn’t contain the CBD content promised on the label. One product (retailing for £90) had no measurable amount of the CBD at all. And while lacking in advertised cannabidiol, some products were packing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the intoxicating (and illegal) chemical that causes a cannabis high.

So, the market is confused and there’s understandably little confidence. What role can branding play to bridge the gap and build credibility?

No blanket products

Recently, our client – wellness startup Present Life – created a product line called Healist to take advantage of this sector growth. Crucially, it wanted to change the narrative around CBD products by removing confusion, demonstrating integrity and making the health benefits crystal clear to the consumer. The Healist team understood that their customer base needed clarity and reassurance of efficacy – a key hurdle that many CBD brands need to overcome at this stage in the CBD market.

So what sets Healist apart in the ‘wild west’ of the CBD space? For starters, Healist’s offerings clearly tell consumers that Healist isn’t just a blanket CBD product but a range of products targeted at specific issues, eg Sleep, Calm, Relief, Immunity. In other words, Healist started with the needs of consumers and then created each product and range from there, using CBD as the hero but other natural ingredients known to help – like chamomile.

To highlight Healist’s unique point of view in the cannabis space, it was crucial to create a brand that departed from the stereotypes fast becoming associated with the CBD industry. We needed to tell a story that both eschewed ‘head shop’ tropes and was becoming the typical blanket Instagram aesthetic all at once.

Cutting through

We wanted the brand to visually and verbally embody this balance and so took learnings from the world of pharma to create a design that led with science, to build efficacy and trust, while heroicizing nature through beautiful botanical illustrations. On pack, science (quite literally) reveals the power of nature.

By emphasizing the roles of science and nature into Healist’s brand story and assets, we were able to uniquely position Healist’s brand as trustworthy and recognizable. Healist’s foundation in science offers users confidence and safety, its roots in nature keep it from feeling cold, clinical, or too minimal. In this way, the brand avoids falling into the trappings of old cannabis stereotypes and new, overly trendy marketing; instead it favours longevity and trust.

Ultimately, Healist’s brand identity succeeds in cutting through all the white noise and suspicion associated with CBD products, to build trust, demonstrate efficacy and to bring it into the mainstream.

The brand showcases an authentic commitment to solving a problem, it assures customers they can feel confident in its promises – from ingredients through to tone and community, and it bakes that trust into its DNA from the very start.

Trust over trend

Looking to the future, there’s no denying that new brands seeking to capitalize on the popular curiosity around CBD brands will continue to pop up all over the place. And it’s absolutely true that there’s always an audience for products that trade on trend and counterculture.

But the question emerging brands in this space need to ask themselves isn’t whether or not anyone will try their product out of curiosity; it’s whether or not anyone will keep buying it based on the value it provides to their lifestyle.

That’s why a focus on trust, efficacy and longevity are so vital for brands that want to survive in the CBD space in the long term.