Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
Officially it was Feb 2018 when we (Vice Media’s VIRTUE) were awarded creative agency of record for VIVO Cannabis (then Abcann). We created and launched medical cannabis brand BEACON MEDICAL, rec brands FIRESIDE and LUMINA and led the corporate rebrand to VIVO Cannabis. All for Oct 2018 legalization. It was the most demanding but rewarding experience of my professional career.
I then joined Tilray and got the opportunity to lead the rebrand of their adult-use brand CANACA and spearhead creation of the value brand THE BATCH.
I’ve now created my own creative services company focused specifically on cannabis marketing, branding, and product innovation.
At the end of the day it’s because of two things:
- Getting to help create, launch, and market new, real, legal, Canadian, cannabis products and brands is simply the coolest thing I’ve been able to do in my professional career.
- I believe there’s still so much more room to create and invent in this industry.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Can I use the “it’s like flying the plane while you build it” analogy?
That’s been said about 1000 times by everyone else in this industry asked this question???
Ok. Guess I’ll have to tell the truth.
”The biggest challenge in this industry to this point has been dealing with people in powerful positions that have not yet been able to deliver the goods.
You don’t have to smoke weed to make an impact in this industry but you need to have some baseline understanding of the product and the consumer. And if you don’t, you need to be able to set your ego aside and determine to learn fast. Too many, early in this industry, made decisions without having a clue about the thing they were purportedly in the business of selling.
Everybody knows this is true. But things are absolutely getting better, and I’m more and more optimistic about the future of this industry every day.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
The shackles need to be taken off the edibles and beverage categories. Even if you stick to 10mg per unit… you need to allow multi-unit bulk formats… 10-pack of chocolates… 2-4 of cannabis and sodas etc…
…It’s punitive to the consumer not to allow it and a huge weight-hoisted around the neck of a category many enterprising Canadian companies have made significant investments in and which jobs are attached to.
What would dried flower sales look like if you could only sell 1g at a time?
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
It’s not the tactics, it’s the story behind the tactics. The tactics should be in service of the story, and at the end of the day it’s only the story that matters.
What does your brand mean to consumers? What is the unique point of difference distinguishing your product from the competition?
The people who care, learn things on their own, so it’s more about the quality of your answers to those questions than the tactics you take to get your answers out there.
The basics work well: trade, digital, social. The usual. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t waste money on advertising. Focus on winning the hearts and minds of the people that matter most: retailers, budtenders, enthusiasts, heavy-users. Understand your job is to persuade them, and trying to buy and stunt your way mass awareness is an expensive fool’s errand.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
John Fowler was the first that really inspired me. I’m now also a big fan of Peter Shearer. Admire what Colin and the ADCANN team has done; digging the hard work and writing of Matthew O’Brien, and admire the team behind Abacus and High12 Brands including musings of strategist Jeff Goldenberg.
Always impressed by my former client and now VP Marketing Thrive Cannabis Sung Kang (so happy for them for developing what I think is a contender for the product of the year “Terp Slush”) and now, from an industry perspective, I have to throw my support and respect behind Aphria’s Irwin Simon and former Hain Celestial colleague Beena Goldenberg…
From an outsider’s perspective, it looks to me like both are bringing the right kind of strategy and discipline to the industry that’ll help it take its next step in its development.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
I think it’s brutal right now.
More jobs are being shed than added. And that’s after hundreds of capable and competent cannabis professionals have already been spilled into the job market over the past year or so.
Marketing budgets have (rightfully) been slashed. The few positions that open you’ll probably be out-credentialed for. It kinda sucks.
Probably what makes the most sense (if you can’t strike something up entrepreneurial) would be to work in an adjacent industry and then just keep making the push. Start researching, start writing, start making up product ideas and marketing strategies, while simultaneously building professionals skills and competencies.
I think cannabis 2.0 will be about passion and professional discipline in equal measures. Cultivate both and combine with persistence and stubbornness and you should get in eventually…
A big thank you to Matt 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.