As the Canadian cannabis industry continues to see new brands entering the market monthly, retailers need to be prepared for this influx. Until recently, the focus for retailers has been to sell consumers on individual products instead of selling them on the brand. This is partially due to consumers’ ingrained pre-legalization buying habits, many of whom were not purchasing branded cannabis products beforehand.

Cannabis retailers need to begin working towards improving consumer awareness of the various brands in the Canadian market. Putting a focus on having retailers deliver basic cannabis education makes sense in theory but it has unfortunately led to consumers making purchase decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. As consumers start searching for more information to base their purchase decision off, both retailers and brands should be working together to help guide them on this search.

THC Selling Cannabis Brands

Current Landscape

One of the major hurdles for retailers to overcome is that cannabis consumers tend to still have buying habits from pre-legalization. While the level at which consumers interacted with brands pre-legalization differs across provinces (e.g. B.C. had a thriving cannabis industry with established brands), many consumers have never interacted with a cannabis brand before legalization. Cannabis consumers weren’t purchasing a brand, they were buying cannabis. With every product now having a brand associated with it, efforts need to be made to help consumers understand where these brands fit in the cannabis market. This undertaking will be easier in product categories such as edibles and beverages which are much closer to traditional CPG products that consumers are accustomed to shopping for by the brand. Even the concentrates product category has more brand-aware consumers due to the demand for products that meet quality expectations. Concentrates consumers tend to know what they are looking for and will have a certain level of loyalty to the brands that can meet their needs.

The product category most affected by the lack of brand awareness is cannabis flower. Before legalization, most consumers bought flower based on the strain name or the plant type. Post legalization consumers are focusing on high THC% and/or price point when purchasing instead of the brand they are buying. While the price point will always be a factor in the purchase decision for consumers, the focus on selling based on THC % hurts retailers in the long-run. There is the assumption that high THC% means a better product which is not always true. Everything from terpene percentage to the moisture of the product should be considered when assessing the quality of a cannabis flower product, THC % is only one piece of the puzzle. Playing into the high THC narrative can also potentially limit the products that a provincial distributor is willing to take. This can unnecessarily limit the selection retailers have to choose from. A sales strategy focused on selling consumers on brands instead of selling them on individual products should be the long-term objective for cannabis retailers.

Edison Selling Cannabis Brands

Incentive for Retailers

Shifting consumer purchasing habits to be more brand-oriented is not without challenges for cannabis retailers. One of the largest hurdles retailers will have to overcome is consumer apathy towards expanding brand knowledge. While there is a certain percentage of consumers who will focus on understanding the various cannabis brands on the market, there are many who don’t care. They want to purchase their cannabis product without doing research into the brand they are buying. The furthest they’ll go to get product knowledge is during their brief interaction with a retail associate. Getting these consumers to grow their brand knowledge is a difficult task that needs to be done incrementally over time.

A simple way for retailers to help customers grow their knowledge of the various available brands and the value proposition of each is through a well-crafted menu. Even something as simple as having the brand associated with each product on the menu is frequently neglected by retailers. Retail menus can be made even more convenient for consumers by segmenting based on the value proposition each brand provides. Having a menu that is segmented into categories such as value, bulk, and top-shelf will help consumers understand where each product and the associated brand sits within the market. Having all products listed under Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid makes it difficult for consumers with very little brand awareness to choose a product that meets their needs. Further segmentation makes it easier for them to find a product that will leave them satisfied while also helping them understand what the various brands on the market have to offer.

Educating consumers on cannabis brands is also important when setting realistic expectations for purchases. Clearly explaining the value proposition a brand offers will help consumers leave with a product they’re going to feel good about. If a customer purchases a value brand flower product because of the strain name but expects it to be high quality, there’s a good chance they’ll be disappointed with their purchase. The same goes for selling a product as “premium” because of a high THC% while completely ignoring the other factors that make a product high quality.

Superette Selling Cannabis Brands

Brand Support

With all that being said, retailers should not be solely responsible for increasing brand recognition. Brands need to work with and support retailers for the most successful outcome. It is a symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit from a more educated consumer. While the retailers are the ones on the front-lines selling the products, the brands they are selling have to set their retail partners up for success.

Giving retail staff a clear picture of what your brand has to offer will help them when they are selling your products. Providing them with well-crafted, easily repeatable key messaging should be a top priority for brands. Not the generic key messaging you see on a brand’s website but rather key messaging that will actually help staff when trying to sell a customer on your product. It’s easy for a brand to make grandiose claims about being the best product on the market but if your products don’t match your value proposition then you’re setting your retail partner up for failure. Providing retail staff with inaccurate or incomplete information about what your brand and the associated products have to offer leaves them holding the bag when a customer comes back unsatisfied with their purchase. Transparency and honesty are key when a brand is trying to build and maintain good relationships with retailers and their staff.

This symbiotic relationship between retailers and brands is only possible if both sides work to help each other. In-store activations and point-of-sale marketing materials are a great way for brands to engage consumers and grow recognition for their brands, but acquiring the time and space to market like that costs money. Retailers have become accustomed to working with brands owned by large companies who can afford to spend heavily on marketing support but as smaller brands start to enter the market they won’t have the marketing budget that large corporations do. Retailers will have to choose whether they want to continue to milk the cash-cow and only focus on taking marketing support from companies who will pay them, or they can choose to work with these smaller brands. Making it easy for small brands with tight budgets to engage consumers in-store will help retailers continue to grow recognition of new brands as they start entering the market. It will also help grow goodwill between brands and their retail partners.

Last Updated on September 22, 2020 by ADCANN

Sam Gallaro

Sam Gallaro

Sam is an entrepreneur who mixes his love marketing and cannabis to write on brands and trends across the Canadian cannabis industry. He loves chatting cannabis and encourages anyone with questions or comments to reach him via email.