When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
I first got involved in 2016 in an investor capacity when it was apparent to me that legalization was forthcoming in Canada. The industry was ripe with opportunity and I wanted to get in on the action. It is not everyday you get to be at the forefront of a new industry budding while the world sits back and watches. What was also intriguing to me was the people I met along the way. Everyone was here because they had a fiery passion for cannabis and boy was that contagious. I was hooked immediately – I’ve never seen anything like it. In hindsight, what felt like dipping my toes into the space years ago, now led to a path of having built and sold several cannabis-based businesses from retail portfolios (including opening the first store in Waterloo, ONT) to building meaningful brands with international reach. I’m really thankful I took the plunge from what felt like the wild west not so many years ago.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
For me, the biggest challenge is to be ahead of the game. People always want new and exciting and it can be challenging trying to predict what is the next big thing. On the brand side, it can also be difficult to be authentic during that process, too.
What I found that works best is to take a step back, take off the CEO hat, put on my consumer hat (because this is why we first truly got involved, isn’t it?), and ask myself — what isn’t available that should be, or what is not done well enough?
And we’ll go through this exercise with our amazing team and the ideas flow and then turn into products we are very passionate about and consumers love. Cause at the end of the day, we are all consumers and our purpose is to built product that people love.
What came from this exercise is the Mini J’s from our top-selling brand; Violet Tourist. Not everyone wants to smoke a 1g or even a 0.5g joint all the time. The quality of cannabis that we put in our product is so good that you don’t need a lot. Also, the everyday smoker wants something that is quick, convenient, and often times, — is alone. The result of this discovery has led Violet Tourist to become a Top 10 selling pre-roll brand in one of the largest markets in Canada through our 5 and 10 pack 0.35g Mini J’s.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
For Canada, this one is an easy answer for me. At BRNT Group, our entire purpose is to build brands that connect with people. The marketing limitations are so strict that it makes it near difficult to even differentiate.
Conversely, in the US, the creative packaging and branding that companies like Cookies have come to being so good at, is fun and exciting to follow. Sadly, that is not possible here because the regulations don’t allow it. I understand the principle of not appealing to children but there should be a reasonable middle ground that doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. If alcohol can be promoted in certain ways, at the very least, so should cannabis.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Starting on the retailer side, I’ve come to realize the budtender remains the crown jewel. At BRNT, we often talk about the consumer choice fatigue going on in market given the amount of new product/brands seemingly added everyday. In addition, unlike alcohol, where product is conveniently out in the open for convenient browsing, each retailer has their own way of displaying menus which can be tricky to follow.
The result of this is a consumer asking for an opinion from the budtender simply to avoid the amount of thinking required. Luckily, the budtenders are often very passionate and educated which provides a great service to the customer. Their referral often times ends up as the consumers’ choice and therefore — the budtender remains a huge component to retail performance. And until the market matures or things become simpler, this may always hold true.
On the digital side, social media is one of the most influential tools a brand can use. Engaging regularly with consumers and posting great content can build a business overnight. For example, one of our recent Instagram posts on BRNT Designs accessory channel has over 445,000 views with over 31,000 likes. Where else could you get that type of reach for such little cost? Know your customer and create consistent content that connects with them — and watch your business grow overnight.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
A mentor once told me – “You have a choice – do few things well, or do many things and run the risk of doing it horribly. Choose wisely and choose with a purpose.”
Companies that have focused have done incredibly well, while others, who try to do everything, have suffered. As the saying goes — you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.
A big thank you to Gage 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.