Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
Like a lot of people in the industry, my path has been a winding one. Having had the opportunity to work for consumer-facing brands with Corby Spirit and Wine, I realized early that I had a passion for marketing, strategy, and product innovation. While I learned a lot working with these global brands, I got excited about the idea of helping build something from the ground up. Around this time, I was introduced to Drew Henson, an award-winning designer who has created everything from action cameras on NASA rocket ships, to personal safety wearable devices that enable loved ones to stay connected. We connected instantly as we shared the same values of integrity & reliability and I was excited about his vision to create industry-leading innovative cannabis consumption technology, so I jumped at the opportunity to join the amazing team that is now TOQi!
Since then, we have launched the TOQi 510 Wireless Vaporizer and built a system of accessories around it, such as the new TOQi 510 Cartridge Holder and Wax Cartridge that gives you the ability to dab on the go. Along the way, we have been building a strong global community, educating consumers, and creating innovative products that are pushing the industry forward. I’ve been an advocate for cannabis use for a long time. I am passionate about showing how products like ours can empower people to create their own personalized cannabis experience and improve lives. I love the challenge and fact that no two days are the same.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Of course, there are general industry challenges that everyone is dealing with. Something I became familiar with in the alcohol industry is the heavy restrictions placed on advertising and promotions for certain sectors. There is no denying that The Cannabis Act has forced brands to get creative in the way that they reach their target audiences. Social media has proven to be a great tool for us, but even with that, different platforms have different rules, and it leaves all of us navigating through shades of grey. With Instagram and getting shadowbanned – it is frustrating to build up your profile just to have your posts not get many eyes on them because it is cannabis-related content.
And then, there are the unique brand challenges. As a canna-technology company, how do we educate consumers and communicate technical details and features in an engaging way? How do we get new consumers to try concentrates? How do we differentiate ourselves? But we embrace the challenges and overcome these types of obstacles.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
It feels in many ways that the industry is still in a primitive stage when it comes to rules and regulations. As marketers and brands, it forces us to figure out what can and can’t be done – what works and what doesn’t. At TOQi, we have a very strong community of brand advocates (shoutout to #teamTOQi), but I would like to see a change in the Canadian rules around influencer marketing and testimonials and the channels they are allowed to be deployed on. They can be such a valuable tool in helping create trust and excitement for new and developing brands, so it would be great to be able to use influencers in our ads and other forms of paid promotion.
Ultimately, it comes down to all levels of the supply chain, government, and brands working collaboratively to find common ground. There is no finish line to this, just a matter of evolving as more data and information becomes available. We understand that we are leading the charge globally in many ways, and what we do today will pave the way here in North America but will also be followed around the world as more countries legalize cannabis.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
I think it is a mistake to view marketing as a siloed component within a company. The foundation of any brand is the experience it delivers to customers, clients, and the community. From how a customer service rep greets an online inquiry, what pop-up comes up on a landing page, and a post-purchase care email. It’s all a form of marketing. A quote that continuously inspires me is, “a brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is; it is what consumers tell each other it is.” – Scott Cook. This is something that we really have bought into at TOQi, which is why our community is such a key component to everything we do.
Now more than ever, consumers want to support brands that care for the community and world – brands that are an extension of themselves (or who they want to be) and share the same values. By delivering exceptional quality and service, we’ve been able to forge strong relationships with our consumers, retail partners, budtenders, and social media followers (we love you all!). We are in constant dialogue with them and always open to feedback and sparking meaningful connections – something that I cannot stress enough. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest trends or tools as a marketer, but it is essential to remember the basics and establish a strong foundation for your brand.
One way we have been able to expand our reach is by diversifying our product portfolio beyond cannabis accessories, such as the TOQi Wireless Power Bank, which gives your phone up to 4 full charges on the go and has allowed us to grow at the top of our funnel through more digital advertising methods that are otherwise restricted for cannabis products.
In addition to that, we have focused on some of our other key differentiators. For us, it has really been about having a strong brand story and creating a narrative that weaves through everything we do. Combining amazing design with functionality, we leverage Drew’s award-winning craftsmanship and heritage as an embodiment of everything that TOQi stands for. With a background in both design and engineering, cannabis is an essential part of his creative process, and for us, it is the perfect way to lead by example in destigmatizing usage. This idea is something that we know resonates with our audience and once again allows us to connect with like-minded individuals.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
Do we have a word limit!? All jokes aside, naturally Drew Henson and the rest of the TOQi team serve as an inspiration every day. Rebecca Bennet, our Senior Sales Manager, recently came over from HEXO and is an invaluable asset to the team. Being surrounded by such talented individuals certainly helps make my job more rewarding!
As we grow as a company, it is exciting to interact with industry leaders and people who have such a wealth of experience and knowledge. Shahbaaz Kara-Virani is one person who deserves a shoutout, he captures the art of storytelling through insights and connects the right people to each other. Jeff Goldenberg is another leader that I look up to – his approach to the consumer journey is eye-opening! Another one would be Adolfo Gonzalez, Co-Founder of Cannareps, who is educating the industry through his Cannabis Sommelier courses and giving us a newfound appreciation for the plant that unites us all. Last (but certainly not least) is Thaomy Lam, who I have a lot of respect for. Not only is she a PR/communications/marketing wizard, but her commitment to corporate social responsibility is also something that we could all learn from.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
I would say the most important thing is to understand that no two days are the same, and the ability to pivot and wear multiple hats is imperative. What is allowed today may change tomorrow and being forced to adapt is a way of life. But I would say that you are not alone! Though networking isn’t exclusive to the cannabis industry, we are such a close-knit community and people are always willing to share insights and stories. Reach out to people, be curious, ask questions, keep an open mind. We are all in this together and the industry is better served when we inspire and push each other forward!
A big thank you to Damini for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.
Interested in working with one of these talented cannabis marketers? Check out our Agency Directory for a list of all the agencies that specialize in working with cannabis companies.