It is not often a once illegal industry suddenly shifts to being a legal one. Certainly in the U.S. the end of prohibition back in the 1930s is a good example, and so is the more recent legalization of gambling by many U.S. states. As with any industry, a newly legalized one will draw competitors who are looking to earn their share of the emerging market. This, of course, means marketing decisions become a key factor in whether a company will be successful. And at the top of the list of what marketers and their companies must do is to develop new products that will provide advantages over competitive offerings.
As we discuss in our Product Decisions tutorial, a key part of the product development process is the need to identify a brand name that will help distinguish a product from those offered by competitors. Obviously for the alcohol industry this can be seen with the thousands of branded beers, wines and spirits. The gambling industry also has branded products including branded slot machines and table games.
So it is no surprise that product development is now news in the nascent legal marijuana industry. As discussed in this Los Angeles Times story, companies selling medical marijuana in California not only deal with product design issues (i.e., new strains of pot) but also face branding decisions. And while to some readers this may sound pretty amusing, one company profiled in this story indicates that brand names are created through brainstorming sessions. While this story focuses on the marijuana business in California, there are many other states where medical marijuana is dispensed as well as two states, Colorado and Washington State where retail sales are permitted.
On the downside, marketers in this industry face legal issues when it comes to protecting their brand names. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will not grant trademarks on brand names, at least not for newly developed marijuana strains. However, some state governments appear to be more open to offering trademark protection for products sold in their state, including marijuana. With the pace at which states are now permitting the selling of pot, it would not be surprising to see the USPTO loosen their restriction over the next year or so.
Image by Jeffrey Beall