This week’s Trailblazer is Naveen Islam, Cannabis Account Executive of Ideon Media, who helps major Canadian advertisers and agencies reach their marketing goals through the use of display, video, social, and mobile advertising.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
I joined the cannabis industry in early 2018, prior to recreational legalization. I worked at an LP called CannTrust as an Executive Assistant and then moved on to their Marketing and Communications team. In 2019, I went agency side and worked on a few Canadian and U.S. cannabis brands in the recreational space. Currently, I’m at Ideon Media as a Cannabis Account Executive, helping to provide digital marketing solutions for the industry. I also consult for brands/LPs and write freelance thought leadership pieces for industry executives.
I got involved in the industry because I have always been an advocate for cannabis and I wanted to help break the stigma and raise awareness of the benefits of the product. I have personally used it to manage anxiety, reduce stress and generate focus, and I wanted to educate others and share that experience.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Authenticity. It’s a difficult task for brands and retailers to stand out in such a saturated market. I’ve seen a lot of people come into this industry from CPG, alcohol, and retail and try to market in the same way. That strategy is far too simplistic for a product that has tremendously deep roots.
It’s important to understand that cannabis consumers and cannabis culture have always existed. We have to acknowledge that legacy as a resource and use it to move forward. High-quality products, creativity, and a clear understanding of the history of cannabis will help build future value and authenticity.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
From my experience, promotional prohibitions have been the most restraining. If you read the Canadian Cannabis Act, it says that it is prohibited to promote cannabis by presenting it in a manner that evokes positive emotion, or a way of life that includes glamour, excitement, or recreation. How can I build awareness around a recreational cannabis brand without being able to promote a way of life that includes recreation?
It can be challenging, especially because we’re still competing with the grey market. The rollout of the entire industry has been slightly problematic, but we’re all working towards a common goal. I know first-hand how important it is to remain compliant within a regulated space and I’m confident that ongoing, open communication with the regulator will establish some long-term changes over time.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Digital. It’s a new era, especially post-pandemic, and digital content and media are the best way to reach consumers. Whether it be national brands or family-owned retailers, market share can be captured through consumer loyalty and the best way to do that is to spread brand awareness through digital advertising.
Promoting through digital platforms allows you to target and reach specific demographics on a massive scale. More and more publishers are getting comfortable with cannabis and the opportunity to create branded content and deliver high-impact media is the most effective use of marketing spends.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
So many but here’s my shortlist:
Ali Persiko, Associate Brand Manager at Cronos. She knows how to build a brand from the ground up through strategy and execution.
Hilary Roth, Digital Strategist at Aurora. She’s a social media guru whose knowledge of the regulations allows puts her one step ahead.
Barry Rotenberg. He’s a lawyer by trade but he’s an underrated pioneer in the cannabis industry whose network and ability to structure and close deals is unmatched.
Noah Shebib (OVO40) and BLLRDR. His story from a medicinal perspective is really inspiring and watching the brand come to life, specifically through the launch done by the Halo PR team has been amazing.
Jay-Z and Monogram. He’s always been a leader and I’ve seen a few glimpses of the campaign and I just know he’s going to shake up the U.S market and do really great things from a CSR angle.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Get into it for the right reasons. Believe in the product wholeheartedly, work towards breaking the stigma, and help champion for change. Otherwise, don’t bother.
A big thank you to Naveen 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.