Brands have been utilizing a design-forward approach to engage consumers in the marketplace and the tactic has proven successful in a number of ways. Although cannabis became legal in Canada on October 17th, there is still controversy surrounding the plant's recreational and medicinal properties. Tokyo Smoke is a brand that aims to initiate discussions about cannabis and educate the public of its benefits. Starting off as a coffee shop, the establishment has been able to make a mark on the Toronto scene with contemporary and slick design, engaging campaigns, as well as premium products. It has become a hub that embraces a tightly knit and knowledgeable community.
Trend Hunter spoke with Berkeley Poole, Tokyo Smoke's VP of Creative, about the brand's ethos, its values and its approach to design-thinking and curation which is an essential part of the business.
What are some common tactics that Tokyo Smoke uses in-store to engage consumers?
First, there are our 'Scent Orbs.' Once you realize how varied and beautiful different strains can be, a whole new world opens up! I think a lot of people don't expect to smell notes of pine, lavender or citrus in their weed, and once you connect that more visceral, tactile experience to your cannabis – it’s so fun! It also challenges stigmas, because you start to realize that 'oh, not everything smells like the super skunky sour stuff I bought behind the Plaza strip mall in high school.' Not that I did that.
Secondly, there are our 'Icon Sculptures.' In design, whether designing a poster or a shelving system, the visual hierarchy is key. It helps the end user see and understand a system immediately. That's why we developed these icon sculptures. At a quick glance, the customer can see — 'ok there are oils, there are pre-rolls, etc.' Thanks to Castor they're beautiful too.
We also have 'Bud Carts' which is an evolution of the bar cart. These pieces are so fun and were created totally custom by and for Tokyo Smoke. The pieces and accessories on these bud carts highlight different stories of how you can curate your collection at home. Of course, we have our shopping experience which is a dream. I hated feeling overwhelmed by options, consumption methods, brands, and etc. in other dispensaries. Here, the path to selecting the right product is much more streamlined and stunning! Other dispensaries can feel unseemly and hectic or worse still — it feels like everyone is speaking a made-up language and you just wanted to buy some pre-rolls. That's not the vibe at Tokyo Smoke.
Finally, we have our 'Education Bays' since we've also recognized that a lot of consumers are either A) new to cannabis or B) less acquainted with it than they'd like to be. So the education bays are set-up to provide some basic cannabis education. People can read/look/learn at their leisure and as a result, feel more empowered about how and what they purchase. Again, everyone's experience is so unique to them so we think about how to create an experience that can be tailored to each individual.
What are some of the inspirations for the store’s aesthetic and how does it tie to cannabis?
Many facets of the store drew inspiration from the design world (i.e. Dieter Rams, the Bauhaus movement and Scandinavian design). Incorporating design-minded details at every touchpoint ensures the consumer journey is thoughtful, useful and functional — from the moment they step in the store to when they enjoy their products at home. A lot of care, research and planning went into the stores to make it the best shopping experience possible. Of course with the intent of being super mindful of the fact that the cannabis purchasing journey is highly unique and requires an approach distinct from any other industry. The way you buy clothing/wine/beauty products/groceries is markedly different. In addition, the way everyone consumes/experiences/enjoys their cannabis is highly specific and individualized! As such the stores necessitated being set-up to a tailored experience for everyone who comes in.
I am aware that you often partner with artists, display or even sell their work? Can you guide us through the process of selecting a creative and what happens after?
We worked in collaboration with Castor to create the scent orbs and icon sculptures throughout the Tokyo Smoke retail stores. The scent orbs allow the customer to interact with our strains - to smell and understand their terpene profiles. The icon sculptures help the customer navigate through the space with ease. At a quick glance, one sees how oils, pre-rolls, flower, capsules, and sprays are organized and presented. Both these pieces are unique to the Tokyo Smoke stores and both speak to the importance we place on the consumer experience. Castor is a brilliant partner to work with. Their designs are so considered. They really test and iterate the functionality and design of pieces, and really deliver on the aesthetic value too. Scent orbs, in particular, are very similar dispensary to dispensary, but ours feel great in your hand, are fun to interact with and incorporated the laundry list of regulations and limitations we were facing.
Artists are so tapped in. They know what's on the come up and have such a unique way of seeing. This is especially beneficial in the cannabis industry because while most companies and people are trying to figure out what cannabis is all about, artists saw the potential of all that it could be. Whether it's creating visuals for a new kind of cannabis culture, photographing a campaign, designing cannabis accessories — it is the artists that share our vision of the future. A lot of people find it difficult to see past the stigmas or stereotypes, but artists see fertile ground to create.
The process of selection and creation is definitely iterative and highly collaborative. Few (successful) creative projects happen in a vacuum. As such, the creative process with all of our artists is one that involves a lot of dialogue about form, function, the experience, the people experiencing. It feels like we're creating a new language together and it's one of the most fun parts of my job.
How do you think art affects consumer decision?
People are more art and design savvy than ever. Everyone is very thoughtful about the aesthetic choices they make in their life — the curation of their Instagram accounts, their clothes, what brands are hype and which are weak. As such brands need to demonstrate that cultural literacy.
Have you seen any difference in consumer behavior since cannabis’ legalization on October 17th?
It's funny because I think a lot of people expected to see plumes of smoke everywhere and people running amok, whacked out with bloodshot eyes. But of course, that's not how it all went down. From what I've observed, people are becoming more open about their use, more comfortable with it. They're also making more conscious choices about what they consume and how they do it. The biggest difference is that people are asking questions, and they feel empowered to do so. Questions about what strain is right for them, how they can consume, what's the difference between THC and CBD, and so on. This is how the culture moves forward.