Marijuana brand name stickers are visible as customers line up at the counter in CannaDaddy’s Wellness Center marijuana dispensary in Oregon in April. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Recreational cannabis is a burning topic around the world, especially in Canada as Parliament puts the finishing touches on legalization legislation. The province of Ontario has introduced a bill to govern cannabis sales there. Other provinces are announcing their own retail plans and minimum age limits.
As they finalize the details, governments must ensure they allow cannabis producers to properly brand their products. This will help consumers find the most appropriate products. It will also encourage producers to improve quality.
Many products are easy for consumers to evaluate before purchase. Before buying a shirt, I can see the colour and test the fit. In product-design terms, those are “search” features. I judge quality while searching for the best shirt to buy.
However, some products have “experience” features that consumers evaluate through use. Consider restaurant dining. I won’t know the quality of a meal until I eat it.
Other products have “credence” features. Consumers can’t evaluate them at all, and must believe the seller’s claims. Legal advice is an example. I trust my lawyer to put the right clauses into my contract.
Cannabis mostly has “experience” and “credence” features. Consumers can’t evaluate a product’s high and side effects until they smoke it. Even afterwards, they won’t know how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) it contained, or whether it had traces of pesticide or mould contamination.
Those are real concerns. Pesticides and mould are not unusual in black-market products. Even legal Canadian medical cannabis producers were forced to recall products this year.
Government regulation can help prevent those unseen factors from harming consumers. That includes standards for allowable pesticides and rules about testing frequency.
In the quality field, such regulations are part of “conformance quality.” They enforce key product minimums and maximums.
But quality isn’t just about avoiding the bad; it also involves creating the good. This is part of “design quality” — making products great, in other words.
For cannabis, design quality has many dimensions. What are the best THC and CBD levels? What is a high-quality high? Should it be smoked or eaten? How do these preferences vary among consumers?
The complexity of cannabis’s “credence” and “experience” features make product branding important. Branding can be done via distinctive logos, packaging and advertising. This helps firms explain their products to consumers.
With cannabis, recognizable brands could help consumers find the best product for their needs. Different customers may want a mild buzz, a powerful high or more medicinal benefits.
Good branding also builds trust. Consumers learn which brands consistently meet their needs.