Thoughts & Insights

When It Comes to Cannabis Marketing, This Is No Field of Dreams

September 18, 2018 · 4 MIN READ

The idea in the cannabis industry has been that if they offer it, consumers will come. And, in some small measure, they have. However, there are so many other consumers out there that the cannabis industry could win over. That includes over 60% of Americans who believe marijuana should be legal, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. That’s an incredible opportunity for those in the cannabis industry.

But they can’t do much with it if they stick to a marketing model that ignores the consumer. Already, cannabis companies are making mistakes in their approach to marketing.

Don’t Assume You Know the Customer

Like any other consumer today, the cannabis customer cannot be stereotyped. According to a 2017 Eaze Insights research study, the modern cannabis user among those 10,000 consumers studied in California is anything but the “potheads” or “stoners” shown in movies and television. Instead, 91% of the respondents hold a full-time job; 32% of the respondents were female; 51% of the respondents hold a college or postgraduate degree; and 49% of the respondents have an annual household income that exceeds $75,000.

Changing Consumer Preferences

Related to this lack of understanding about the consumer is the inability to follow the trending behaviors that they exhibit. For example, The Cannabist explained, “As the legal recreational and medical cannabis industry matures, consumers are increasingly open to experimenting with new products and delivery methods, including concentrates and infused edibles, according to a report released Wednesday by cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data.”

Additionally, research firms like BDS Analytics are conducting benchmark studies that reveal even more about today’s cannabis consumer. The firm’s recent trends research revealed that consumers are the driving force behind the evolution of the cannabis industry, including a push for greater affordability. Other trends include emerging brands, demand for greater variety and delivery methods, and cannabis solutions for every mood.

Marketing Tactics Are a Must

Cannabis companies also assume everyone in the cannabis community talks to each other. Therefore, they think that works as the primary marketing tactic. In reality, like every consumer-driven brand, you need to engage with customers and go where they are. For cannabis consumers, that is online. That means learning how to incorporate SEO practices, create a content marketing plan that includes a blog, and develop a strategic social media strategy that focuses on education.

While it’s true there are some legal issues that restrict some aspects of marketing or the messaging, there are still many approaches that a cannabis company should consider. More time should be devoted to assessing how different platforms respond to the cannabis industry in order to find the best combination of online and offline channels to use.

Model Approaches

An innovation model identifies the local market a cannabis company can serve and then learns from them. The innovation approach is a great way to capture a specific demographic among cannabis consumers. The Cannabis Business Executive likened the model to what craft brewers have done in the alcohol industry. It stated, “Among infused product manufacturers, innovation is critical to seizing market share. As a result, we’re seeing a growing number of ‘craft cannabis’ companies, similar to craft breweries. These companies develop innovative infused products and edibles with distinct flavors and aromas, and they leverage these innovations to increase sales and revenue in an industry where big companies are getting closer and closer to stepping in and taking over.”

For example, specific brands are modeling themselves on a luxury brand level. Ad Age cited “Take Leafs by Snoop, the cannabis line that is owned and promoted by rapper Snoop Dogg. Leafs has a clean, classy appeal that looks like it could be sold at any luxury boutique or spa; it would fit in a gift basket alongside fine soaps, candies, or perfumes.” Other brands can follow this same approach marketing toward a specific age group or interest within a demographic to carve out a loyal following.

The Education Model 

Finally, an empathy and education model focuses on understanding consumer needs and product awareness. Then, the cannabis brand can educate them through workshops, website materials, and in-store experiences that best serve the market. And, it may pay off to take this approach in other ways.

Industry expert Danny Keith believes cannabis branding will be driven more by education than imagery. In a recent Forbes interview, he said, “There are more new customers in the cannabis space than in any other space in recent history around product consumption. Without education of product, customers are ignorant and the lack of budtender education is a white-hot space. It is important for brands to establish their presence for brand recognition while also educating the budtender about the quality of the product. Only then can the two marry and have brand presence at dispensary level while customer appeal on the macro awareness level.”

As explained in The Atlantic, “One lesson in this, for marijuana companies, is that if their marketing efforts are successful, public-health officials will take note, and invest more in research to determine just what the drug’s health benefits and detriments might be.”

Final Thoughts

Brands in the cannabis industry have more challenges than the average consumer brand. However, as you can see here, succeeding is not an impossible task. In fact, cannabis companies can do a better job at leveraging some of the same marketing techniques. These include tactics that focus on getting to know the diverse consumer segments. More of the marketing effort needs to involve education and research. This approach will help convince more consumers to enter the cannabis market. Cannabis brands can learn from the challenges associated with traditional vice product marketing and how to engage consumers through experiential marketing. The results will go far in propelling cannabis into the mainstream.

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