Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
It does seem to be an industry where everyone has a “why”. Personal experience often related to health improvements fostered through cannabis use, decades of legacy market support, start-up enthusiasm, etc…. in my case, it was two things:
1) The challenge to build something new. As a marketer in Canada, you rarely have the opportunity to totally own a brand from concept -> domestic launch -> multimarket rollout. Typically, you’re an outpost for some sort of internationally based Headquarters and this was an opportunity to flip that on its head. (Putting the Canadian website URL on some creative developed in the US for your packaged goods brand can grow tiresome.)
”There are great brands that do it well, but there's nothing like building something from scratch and there's a bit of patriotism that goes with that.
2) Impact. In addition to being a medical patient of a competing cannabis brand, I had the opportunity to spend time with some other patients before I joined TGOD in Spring 2018 and that was the clincher. To understand their story, their struggles with some current market offerings, and a clear path to how TGOD could have an impact on a cleaner product that wasn’t in the market (ie. national availability of certified organic cannabis), it sealed the deal.
Everything we’ve done as a brand has been based on those early days of identifying an opportunity in the market and what that consumer segment articulately explained had been missing.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Not exclusive to marketing alone, the challenge is that everyone is new or at least new to the current legal framework. Many teams have incredible elements to them… great legacy market individuals…. remarkable brand builders…. notable financial professionals, but everyone is trying to figure things out at the same time. The fusing of those work styles and personalities compounded with the evolving regulatory nuances by region/province or country have caused headaches for any cannabis brand/distributor/retailer, and the learning curve has taken a long time.
”At times, it feels like this industry operates in its own snow-globe. The eagle eyes from investors or other nations with their own legalization plans are ever-present.
Wins are occasionally over-hyped as monumental enhancements and small missteps can be misread as catastrophic challenges. No one is as good or as bad as Twitter makes them out to be.
Internally, legacy market individuals are frustrated by the “newbies” whereas the structured process to scale an organization like traditional corporate environments doesn’t work in the same format (yet). Everyone in the industry has a daily “puzzle” to solve and although frustrating at times, it will be the patient, disciplined, collaborative approach to solving those puzzles that will win the day.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
First off, I’d say having ADCANN around is of great value. The community approach to sharing learnings or “best in class work” as we all navigate the tough restrictions has been very helpful.
Let’s start with the good. A round of applause for the budtenders (past, present, and future). If it wasn’t for them, no LP would have success. They’re the truth-tellers for consumers and great advocates for various brands.
”On marketing challenges, within Canada, limited dosage (10mg THC restriction) is a real problem when comparing the legal industry to the legacy market.
However, even once that is solved, from a competitive standpoint and attracting new consumers, almost everything related to packaging should evolve. We’ve gone to great lengths to find real recyclable packaging (ie. our proprietary leaning glass jars), but still, the consumer’s needs aren’t being met…. There is still too much waste due to overpackaging.
If I could wave a cannabis wand and ask the regulators for two changes….
- Better education of where to get legal product – After two years, there should more clear regulatory direction encouraging trips to legal retailers. Surprisingly, we have had knock-off versions of our brand purchased at illicit stores and the consumer had no idea it was a fake. More education for consumers to support legal retail businesses will be helpful.
- Moving communication regulations from the “tobacco” world to the “alcohol” industry. – The minimal branding opportunities makes a consumer view it as a “sea of sameness” as opposed to brand building which could form loyalty and deter consumer confusion. Plus, the limited on-pack product education leads to frustrating consumption experiences.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Despite the restrictions, the social channels (Instagram primarily) is a great, quick way to have a dialogue with consumers. Granted there aren’t any notable promotional opportunities beyond the native functionality, but storytelling for your brand or products can still exist and it’s a fast way to address questions and inquiries. Investing in good quality product photos and ensuring that you’re outlining your differentiators are key.
”With TGOD specifically, since certified organic cannabis growing is such a fundamentally different approach (ie. Living soil vs. traditional artificial substances, only using recycled rainwater, and on and on), there are lots of educational opportunities for our brand to explain that via social.
Beyond all of this, due to the limited ability to have effective paid advertising, the industry as a whole will rely on “word of mouth” as their best channel and with that, the requirement of product consistency will trump any social media, swag giveaway, etc. The discipline to hold product back from the market if it won’t meet/exceed your customers’ needs is tough, but something the industry has occasionally tripped over since legalization.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
There are four…
1) My team (Emily, Tara, Lynsey, Tyler & Sebastien) – my job is to enable them to ensure their remarkable subject matter talents have a way to scale. They’re extremely talented and as a team, I’m fortunate to learn from them.
2) Budtenders (too many to name) – walk into any retail store and there is always at least one individual that can articulate a product/brand comparison better than any marketing person (myself included). We are extremely fortunate by the level of retail talent in North America.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
It’s not all about the data, although the data is really important. It’s an industry, unlike a lot of other industries where you can’t rely on years and years of market data, but at the same time, if you’re creative and can look at both where things have happened in other markets, how things are shaping out in Canada, and then have some point of view about where things are going it’s a really fun and exciting opportunity. But it’s not without taking a step left and taking a step right, taking a step back and then getting to take a step forward.
A big thank you to Drew 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.
Last Updated on September 29, 2020 by ADCANN