This week’s Trailblazer is Amanda Wood, the Chief Creative Officer at Sister Merci, a strategy-led creative agency working with brands and clients in highly regulated industries across the globe.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
We started building Sister Merci in late 2018 and officially opened our doors on March 1st 2019. The allure of the cannabis industry was about a couple things for me: at 36, I was thrilled to legitimize my lifestyle as a decades-long cannabis consumer. I was tired of still feeling like I had to hide the fact that I smoked weed. It was strangely satisfying to stick it to the haters by supporting myself and my family through a legal career in weed.
Also, as a person who always felt like a bit of an outsider, it was exciting and sort of comfortable for me to break away from the crowd and start something new. For my partners and I, being a part of a burgeoning industry and potentially helping to shape it was hugely motivating. It’s very rare to have the opportunity to build brands from scratch!
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
I’m excited to see more investment in long term brand building. There seems to be an unspoken industry-wide agreement that, because regulations are strict, marketing is too hard or it doesn’t work. We’re seeing a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of sales reps who, god bless them, are often promoting dozens of brands at one time. Then we’re hoping budtenders are able to remember and recommend your brand or product among a sea of hundreds. It’s basically like playing the lottery.
The only way to change this is to build brand salience and recall with other channels like earned media and paid social, and to stop making brand decisions based on quarterly results. A brand can take years to build, but when done right, you’ll forge deeper emotional connections with consumers. That kind of relationship builds loyalty that will stand the test of time.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Everyone who enjoys weed does so to achieve a certain outcome ie. relaxation, stimulation, pain relief, etc. Consumers are asking questions like “What will give me a nice body buzz?” or “I have to clean out the garage; what’s gonna keep me on task?!”. By and large, they aren’t asking questions like “What’s the beta-caryophyllene level of this flower?”. Without the ability to convey effect, we’re asking for far too much education and understanding on the part of the consumer. Not everyone wants to take a seminar on cannabinoids to be able to pick out a pack of pre-rolls! We’re only making the purchase experience more cumbersome or even intimidating. I’d love to see a future where packaging includes a list of science-backed “reported effects” that empowers consumers with the information that actually matters to them.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
I love a good misdirect. This strategy can work on any channel and the inherent rebelliousness of the approach can make for some really sticky brand building. Ghost Drops is a good example of this with their recent ImYourMom.com campaign to support the launch of their medical platform. I still love Back40’s National Sparks Department campaign from a couple years ago. The parody of a National Parks campaign was a rabbit hole of content including everything from wild postings and a hotline to journals and playlists, all in an effort to get people outside to enjoy a sesh.
Another effective technique is to be the first to tout a category innovation. In an industry where everyone is selling a very similar product, the biggest challenge is to create radical distinction. Sister Merci has just launched a brand refresh and campaign for LP, J.R. Strain, where we did just that. Their plants are grown aeroponically which is a relatively uncommon practice in the industry because of the cost, but it yields a very high quality flower and is far more sustainable. It also produces these monstrous root systems that are so magnificent, it’s hard to look away. So we went with it. We set out to capture attention by bringing these impressive roots to life in a way that felt part science, part art. We partnered with costume designer, Susan Dicks, to create a replica of aeroponic roots in the form of a garment. It is neither animal, nor human and isn’t even really a creature… it’s a thing! It’s giant and imposing and a little bit scary but it represents the brand’s courageous approach to growing and builds some pretty epic brand recall.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
I love seeing everything that the folks at @high_sprung are getting up to. The events, collabs and content are keeping cannabis weird in a way that makes me fangirl out. Don’t tell them I said that, I’m trying to play it cool.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Marketing in this category is hard work. It takes patience, a deep understanding and the willingness and ability to adapt quickly. All of these factors make your services really valuable. It can be really tempting to discount your services in the name of acquiring new business, especially in an industry where marketing budgets are lean. And while this may work for a while, the long term repercussions are rough. It can lead to burnout because you have to work twice as hard to make a profit. It can also make it really difficult to convince clients to pay what you actually are worth later down the line. Don’t devalue yourself. Make sure you clearly understand the funds that are available. Be realistic about what you can achieve, and then do your absolute best with it.
Last Updated on July 13, 2023 by Hannah Thomson