The suits have officially arrived: B2B brand Viridian Sciences brings SAP to Cannabis. Viridian is corporate, tailored, and maybe just a little-bit scary.
By Claire Kaufmann | October 15, 2014
Last month I attended the International Cannabis Business Conference in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. It was a smaller conference, but it drew a top selection of vendors. I was impressed by many of the brands, but Viridian Sciences stood out from the pack. As a branding and marketing expert, I found Viridian to be both exhilarating and just a little bit scary. The MBA side of me was thrilled that a company like Viridian had finally arrived in the market; we need this kind of process efficiency to scale cannabis production. The branding and marketing side of me felt that maybe they were just a bit too corporate, a bit too soon. It made me wonder if people in cannabis might be scared off by Viridian’s very corporate aroma.
Who is Viridian Sciences?
Viridian Sciences is a seed-to-sale platform built with SAP software. (What? Did you say SAP?) If you aren’t familiar with SAP, you can read their creepy corporate fact sheet here. Viridian Sciences is the sole and exclusive licensee of SAP for the entire marijuana and hemp industries. (I know, right?) Joe Kloucek, Sales Manager for Viridian explained to me, “we aren’t really for people with one location. We are for people with multiple locations, or larger scale operations… As a company, Viridian is also interested in government contracts… and we also work with smaller businesses who are ready to scale up production…” (So like, everyone, then?) Basically, Viridian is bringing the same all-in-one business management software that runs industries like aerospace and mining to marijuana – and that is a really, really big deal.
Why Viridian’s Branding Matters
Viridian Sciences’ design is important because it is a peek under the hood of what truly corporate cannabis will look like. Take a look at this folder I picked up at the conference:
Don’t you just want to open up your free checking account, but in a good way? It became clear to me rather quickly that these guys are after really big fish. This is a brand that wants to be trusted, and reliable.
And look at that logo? Notice how it looks like Lady Liberty’s crown? It’s like the Liberty Mutual of marijuana. It is just so alluringly safe and rubber-stamp-ready, I didn’t know whether to cheer with glee or shriek with fear.
Who does Viridian’s Design Work?
When I asked Joe Kloucek at Viridian about their aesthetic, he explained that “so far to date the creative work has been both by me and by our creative firm (local design firm Bologna Sandwich.)” Take a look at some of their “clip-art” style marijuana design.
As someone from a corporate background, this aesthetic is easily digestible and familiar. Here we see the same generic software aesthetic we’ve all come to expect in the boardroom, just with cannabis instead of like, widgets.
I was loving everything about Viridian until…
Here is where it got kind of freaky…(well, really freaky.)
As I began to learn about the people involved with Viridian, it became very clear to me that there was one very glaring problem – It turns out that neither Viridian nor Bologna Sandwich have anyone from the cannabis industry working on this project – and it shows. (Um, yeah.) The sole licensee for SAP doesn’t have anyone on staff (or even a consultant) from the cannabis industry and neither does the design firm they hired. I call a foul, Viridian. I was all just too good to be true.
Viridian needs to remember that their overall success will be determined not by how many dotted lines get signed, but by how well they can bring all the different parties to the table and execute.
In an effort to appeal to “big fish,” Viridian needs to be perceived not as a steamroller, but as a willing partner. If they don’t, they could risk alienating smaller businesses in the industry (i.e. their future clients) who dislike their corporate vibe. As we found out a few weeks back with the Cannabrand, MiNDFUL split, the number one marijuana marketing rule is to never abandon — or in Cannabrand’s case, insult — “the base,” (even if you think they are ‘dirty stoners’, or that their dispensaries resemble “abortion clinics.”) “The base” still accounts for a majority of revenues in the sector and if you are going to play in our sandbox, you have to accept that as a reality. So get someone in that boardroom from cannabis, pronto. (Ideally, more than one.)
Is the industry ready for truly corporate cannabis?
In that regard, Viridian will make a very interesting test case. While government clients might find Viridian’s aesthetic alluringly safe, I think some in the cannabis industry will be hesitant. Viridian might get a few big clients, like maybe Solstice Grown, but it might take a while for the industry to catch up, both in terms of need and in terms of acceptance.
That said, I must say the team at Viridian was friendly, professional and open to hearing all of my concerns. I appreciate Viridian showing us what marijuana looks like in a suit and tie (cleans up pretty good!). I have a feeling we will see more (a lot more) of them in the months to come. Thank you, Viridian for helping bring SAP to our industry, we need you to grow, even if your corporate look scares some of us.
Below you can find more specific critiques of their creative work.
Viridian Doesn’t Have Anyone on Staff From the Cannabis Industry – and it shows.
Case in point: Garden Genie. See below:
Garden Genie is basically a large-capacity task management tool. Yes, it will automate regular tasks and probably really increase profits. But, seriously, “Garden Genie?” The name and font choices are bad enough, but is that an actual genie holding a shovel? Is he coming out of a watering can? I would think that someone associated with SAP could do better. Why not just the red watering can, or just the shovel? In a failed attempt to look “Mr. Clean-chic” the logo comes across as cheesy – not to mention demeaning to marijuana growers.
Anyone who equates growing marijuana with a genie, clearly has never actually grown marijuana. Marijuana is both a disciplined science and an art form, demanding patience and hard work. There is nothing “magical” about it, really. Most cannabis industry people would find this logo insulting and they should change it. We are not craft-beer version 2.0, Viridian. Cannabis is medicine for millions of people and it needs to be treated with some level of reverence and humility. The genie has to go.
And if you haven’t had enough “corporate-speak” for one afternoon, read on…
As Viridian acquires a critical mass, they plan to bring the Cannabis Information Network online. The CIN, (complete with a federal-government inspired seal) is an online marketplace for cannabis. “Our goal,” explains Sales Manager Joe Kloucek, “is to create an inclusive environment where small craft-batch companies can post product, and where larger scale producers can post as well… We are the Ebay of marijuana.”
To me, it seems like it commoditizes cannabis and makes it compete solely on price, but hey, who am I to say? Plus, the design makes cannabis consumers and growers look like clip-art automatons. (Ever see that Prisiq commercial?) It just kind of rubs me the wrong way, and I think other cannabis industry people will feel the same way.
And that is sad really, because even though this is a product that could radically evolve our industry, the way it is designed is polarizing. It needs to rid itself of the corporate-speak and use words like “collaborate” and “invite.”
Viridian and SAP, don’t be so arrogant. As a first mover in the industry, be mindful that this is a group of people who needs to be lulled not squashed. Tread lightly and show a sense of reverence, that way you will win over corporate and cannabis types alike.