Questions with a Cannabis Marketing Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
I joined the cannabis industry in the fall of 2017, a little over a year before the legalization of the recreational market. I discovered cannabis during my university days, so you could say I had an inherent interest in the industry early on. However, it wasn’t until I finished my post-grad program that I realized that an impending legal cannabis market meant that there would be jobs available in the sector. I began my cannabis job search that summer and had joined AHLOT as a marketing intern by the fall of the same year.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
One of the biggest challenges for marketers across the industry is the lack of data available. With a relatively new industry, it’s understandable that customer behaviour and consumption data is few and far between, but the data vacuum is truly felt the most at the bottom of a marketer’s funnel; with a retail framework that varies from province to province, cannabis marketers are most frustrated by the lack of conversion data.
Traditional marketers coming from other industries can say goodbye to the days where they knew exactly which tactic led to what number in sales dollars, as cannabis marketers don’t own the final point of sale data. Even with the limited data you can purchase, the plethora of conversion points and systems makes it hard for marketers to paint the full picture of how a campaign impacted sales. As such, attribution and tracking, the bread and butter of performance marketers, becomes a game of assumptions and best guess estimates.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
While most restrictions in place are of value and serve to protect minors, I would definitely be in favour of a more relaxed version of a few of them to enable the legal market to better serve those who currently favour the legacy market.
For example, relaxed restrictions around loyalty programs and rewards points for those who currently consume cannabis would give the legal market an edge over the relatively cheaper prices and deals offered by one’s local dealer and/or legacy market store, which would help bolster the legal market as a whole.
Likewise, the stringent packaging rules make it hard for brands to compete with products seen in the legacy markets. The sea of nearly identical packages, constructed according to the same set of rigid rules, places the onus on consumers to make sense of what’s available to them, a struggle that could readily be solved with a more lenient approach towards how legal cannabis can be packaged and showcased.
The issue is further compounded by the limited allowance of “informational promotion” that restricts the use of anecdotal experience when describing a cultivars best use case. With cannabis’ unique effect on each individual, it can be hard for a new, legal consumer to discern which product is the best fit for their needs.
While I recognize that there isn’t a fix-all solution that can address marketing deficiencies while tackling all the potential risks, I strongly believe that a loosening of a number of current marketing regulations could vastly benefit consumers and the legal market in the long run.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Budtenders are vital to connecting with consumers, however, the pandemic has caused most stores to discourage direct interaction between staff and customers. In lieu of this, brands have seen success in connecting with consumers through compliant trial of product, followed by an active push to connect with and gain feedback from those who’ve done so.
With a sea of sameness when it comes to product packaging, one of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to actually have your product put to the test through trial, a proven channel in the CPG world. Without the freedom to promote cultivars with typical marketing messaging, there’s nothing better than having the very customers you’re targeting, discover your brand after they’ve tried the product.
Invest marketing efforts on promoting that first purchase and let your product speak for itself. The companies that most effectively promote trial of their brand and products will ultimately be able to connect with the most amount of consumers, as customers will naturally seek your standout brand based on their past experience. This is, of course, assuming that the product itself is of the desired quality and fits with the target consumer’s needs in the first place!
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Find a company that appreciates big thinking and is open to marketing experiments that allow for creativity and ingenuity. Once you find your home, grow to become resilient in the face of rejection, as most traditional marketing ideas will be shot down by regulations, and work towards honing your marketing skills to excel within the given restrictions. Oh and of course, study the Cannabis Marketing Act like your life depends on it, so you can come up with ways to work within them of course 😉
A big thank you to Kaitlyn 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.