Olivia Mannix lives and breathes cannabis branding 24/7. She founded Cannabrand, the first cannabis branding and marketing agency, in January 2014, during an industry period she refers to as “the wild, wild west.”
“We created the company to ‘rebrand’ cannabis, and were the first people to ever come out and demand a change in the industry and how it is perceived,” said Mannix, 26. “I’m always strategizing on how to make the company better and help my team grow within the business and personally.”
At the time, their mission of “weeding out the stoners” wasn’t well received by the industry, especially after the New York Times ran a story called the “Re-branding of Pot Inc.” prominently featuring Cannabrand. Though they had some backlash from the industry, dozens of others have followed.
Mannix has been a serial entrepreneur in the marketing and branding space her whole adult life. She had her eye on the cannabis industry long before Cannabrand launched.
Although she has been a casual smoker for most of her adult life, she only recently learned about medicinal benefits after two knee surgeries due to skiing accidents. While recuperating and medicating, Mannix decided to launch the first cannabis branding agency. “I want to change people’s perception of cannabis and help companies generate awareness through captivating marketing campaigns as they strive to get quality products to market,” she said.
The agency cut its teeth on the Mindful account, a Colorado-based flower and pre-roll company for which Cannabrand created a logo design and color scheme that feels very twenty-first century. Other accounts followed, including Caliva, Vangst, and Verde Natural, all attracted to the modern touches Mannix and her team brought to Mindful. She’s put together an all-start team, consisting of Vice President of Operations Don Berlin, who previously worked for Disney; Chief Operating Officer Julian Kahn, from Voyage; Creative Director Ketan Patel, who has worked with brands including AT&T and Starbucks; Kelsy Woodson, digital media director, who previously worked in the music industry; Osprey Packs, and Kristal Pelkey.
When it comes to successful branding, Mannix and her team have a three-prong strategy: creating an identity, telling a good story, and building infrastructure. The company recently extended its services to consulting, public relations, digital marketing, and analytics.
“We found a substantial number of companies would call Cannabrand not only for marketing or industry connections, but also for operational and consultative help,” Mannix said. “So, it was natural that the company that helped me with valuation work and scaling expertise should work with our partners.”
Business is thriving. The company has served hundreds of clients, ranging from dispensaries to cultivations, edibles, and concentrates, as well as manufacturers and services companies. Cannabrand has increased its run rate almost 300 percent in the past six months.
“We’re very cognizant of the challenges faced in fast-growth environments,” Mannix said. “This means we’ve also had to be very diligent, since relationships with our clients are so important and we have to make sure to maintain high-quality service.”
She’s quick to point out branding cannabis is not all that different from branding, say, sports apparel or coffee.
“Something that I have always stood my ground on is marketing cannabis in a way that is informative and educational and positioning the cannabis industry as a whole in the most positive way possible,” Mannix said.
She’s particularly proud of what her team did with Vangst, a staffing agency. Previously known as “Gradjuana,” the company underwent a colorful, elegant re-branding and has grown to more than 30 employees. Just recently, Vangst raised a hefty round of funding.
Mannix said she feels like she’s seen and heard it all when it comes to bringing people’s visions into a breathing brand that thrives. Lately, quite a few celebrities and mainstream services have sought her assistance. Most fall into the category “cannabis novice.”
“Most people come to us wanting marketing and branding and quickly realize they have an idea but not a business model,” Mannix said. “But in order to market your company, you need a solid plan. We are not doing cultivation consulting, but rather business consulting so that our clients and partners can have a foundation from which to grow.”
The secret to Cannabrand’s success?
“Cannabrand got back to the basics,” Mannix said.