Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In recent years, a bounty of state-legal markets have taken root across the U.S. Unfortunately, due to the plant’s continued status as a controlled substance under federal law, the industry remains unable to engage in interstate commerce. This leaves many licensed businesses ready to expand but unsure about how to go about it properly.
Fortunately, there is a solution: brand licensing.
By partnering with operators licensed in other states, your brand can reach customers in multiple markets as soon as possible. But to accomplish this goal, you must take the time to ensure you’ve found a perfect match.
Eager to share our products with as broad an audience as possible, I knew that licensing our fruit chews brand would be an essential part of the mix to get there. I learned a lot through the effort. Additionally, as MariMed’s Chief Revenue Officer, I’ve been able to survey the legalization landscape with an eye on how best to expand as a state-licensed operator.
I’ve gathered some tips for best approaching this rather complex situation with this knowledge. Here are a few of the tried-and-true lessons I’ve learned from my industry experience.
Related: Can You Sue a State Because You Didn’t Get a Cannabis License?
Do you research
To properly understand how your brand will fit in somewhere new, you need to identify your target market. Who are the customers you’re looking to attract? How many potential customers does the market contain? How many are already buying cannabis, and how many others are “canna-curious?”
Once you have a firm grasp on all available market segment sales data and projections, you’ll need to get up-to-speed on the regulations specific to those markets. Does your product rely on any ingredients or packaging style prohibited under the laws of other states? Is your product even legal in that state? Not every state allows ready-to-drink products, for example.
Nothing could be worse than learning too late that local regulations concerning packaging, dosing, or permissible ingredients are incompatible with your products.
Evaluate potential partners
At its core, the cannabis industry is about people. For that reason, getting together face to face should be considered an essential prerequisite to making a brand licensing deal. Though today’s modern world makes the convenience of conducting business via phone or virtual conference easier than ever before, neither can substitute physical time.
The same goes for putting boots down on any potential partner’s land or facilities. Photos are great, maps are helpful, and video footage never hurts, but to truly know a place, you’ll need to spend some time in the buildings, in the surrounding community, and with the staff you hope to bring into the fold.
Protect your IP
Assuming everything is a fit, you’ll also want to consider how your recipes and other IP will be shared. While the underlying mentality of licensing your brand should be teamwork, it’s still required to exercise caution for your property.
We learned that the hard way, courtesy of a Colorado candy consultant who once copied some of our proprietary, award-winning recipes and brought them to market under a different brand name. It was an eye-opening experience and taught us a valuable lesson on protecting our IP with every new vendor and partner.
Engaging with the team and staff members responsible for executing your company’s vision in a new market should remain a priority. Practically speaking, that means training local license holders on best practices, how to make the product, and any other standard operating procedures you’ve built into the process. This allows you to ensure consistent product quality.
Define regional marketing support
Though you may know your product is the best of the bunch, backing that belief up with consumer research, a marketing budget, and resources to implement a strategic plan specific to the market in question will help keep your brand from fading into the background of a crowded field.
As was the case with local laws governing the product itself, the marketing tools you rely on in your home market may not be allowed in other states. For example, not all states allow flower to be shown in marketing photography. Before finalizing your advertising strategies, be sure to know what you can and cannot do in a new market.
Additionally, if your products are sold in one region, localized marketing efforts in that region may not help sales in another. Hoping your ad in the Chicago Tribune helps sell your product in Massachusetts is a colossal waste of time and money.
Know all you need to know
If you’ve done your homework, you can take confidence in pushing a fair deal for all parties. Far from remaining a passive participant in conversations about your brand’s future, this is the moment to take the lead by knowing all there is to know about your new market and partner before sitting down to discuss numbers.
However, as enticing as a brand licensing opportunity may sound, it also needs to work for the product you’re selling.
That’s why it’s important to feel empowered to negotiate when determining the fine print that will guide your brand licensing agreement. Not only will it ensure quality — it will serve to reinforce your unwavering commitment to the brand. And people will notice!
That said, negotiations should always start from a baseline of appreciating what each side can bring to the table. In the case of licensors, deliverables include a powerful brand with proven success in other markets. By contrast, licensees offer intimate knowledge of a market likely unfamiliar to the licensor and established relationships and supply chains.
Brand licensing agreements should always feel like a win-win for all parties. With a good deal in place, the long-term possibilities are vast and immensely exciting. Such is the benefit of finding suitable partners, conducting thorough evaluations, and staying engaged even after the John Hancocks.
Put it all together, and you’ve got a recipe for cannabis brand licensing success.