This week’s Trailblazer is Nicole Wolff, Brand Director of The Flowr Corporation, an LP that grows consistently exceptional cannabis for those who know what cannabis can be – a tool to balance and enhance our lives.
Questions with a Cannabis Marketing Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
If we have dog years and cat years, then we should definitely have cannabis years – because the last 11 months feel like a decade. August 2019. That’s when I officially stepped into the cannabis industry and joined the team at Flowr. Before that, I spent nearly a decade (in human years) in the Bev-Alc space with Molson Coors, splitting my time between sales and marketing on a number of global and Canadian-owned brands.
Working on brands at the Molson scale was an education. Workshops, case studies, and advanced training were the daily bread. As I learned, I always put those lessons into practice and was able to progress through various roles. It was certainly an education – learning about brand marketing, but also learning about myself and where my strengths and passions lie. That’s what ultimately led me to peek outside my industry and take a closer look at the burgeoning cannabis space.
”The cannabis industry at that time – reminiscing about a time less than a year ago – was just beginning to bloom. The opportunity to build brands from the ground up in a completely new industry was irresistible. It was an intoxicating challenge.
To have carte blanche to build a brand that consumers would embrace. There was certainly risk in leaving my previous role for an undefined industry, but I guess I’ve always had a bit of an adventurous streak in me.
So as I looked out across the landscape to a sea of new brands and organizations, I kept my eye out for the characteristics that always drove success for brands at Molson. That’s what I saw in Flowr. The values of the company, the strengths of the team, the commitment to quality at all costs, those aspects made joining Flowr an easy decision. I appreciated and believed in the marketing opportunity of focusing on high-quality, indoor-grown dried cannabis, and I trusted that they had the chops to achieve it.
It is always the people that drive a company forward. So I made the jump into cannabis and haven’t looked back since.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Easily the biggest challenge to date is the lack of data. Where is all of the research, consumer insights, and sales data that I was so used to having at my fingertips? The entire industry is scrambling for better research. Fortunately, in that challenge is an opportunity. Without the industry-standard data and databases, at Flowr we’ve been able to carve out a distinct advantage by creating new research methods.
”As we gain new insight and hard data, we’ve been able to make decisions that help us rise above an industry reliant on self-report and anecdote.
Without an unlimited budget, it’s essential to be as dialed in as possible to make the most impact with my consumer. There is no crystal ball, so much of my job is formulating hypotheses and triangulating data to ultimately push the right plan forward.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Since I’ve moved from one regulated market to another, I’m used to playing in the sandbox of regulations. The most important thing is keeping our youth safe, and the regulations are here to keep cannabis out of the eyes, ears, and hands of those that are not of legal age. That must be protected.
In my mind, another very important milestone will be when the illicit market retracts to the point of disappearing from the picture. I believe quality brands need to play a role in that. However, quality is often difficult for a consumer to judge in the information void of simplified branding and regulated retail uniformity. Having a bit more flexibility in how we can brand and market our products will actually help consumers choose the right products for them. I believe success for the industry is consumers buying products and having experiences that match their expectations.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
In the early moments of legalisation, a large number of brands were immediately competing and every one of them had only one message for consumers: “we’re selling cannabis”. That was the whole brand/comms strategy. And how did they express that? By building brands with tired weed tropes and stoner clichés. But come on.
”Consumers don’t need to be pandered to.
In my time at Flowr, the most effective strategy has been being real to our consumers. Our company has a long history in the cannabis space and our products speak for themselves, so we don’t have to dress up and use inauthentic slang to be perceived as knowledgeable. We are positioned to speak authentically to the modern cannabis user, and we’re seeing other brands following suit.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
The cannabis industry is full of talented individuals. One of the biggest surprises for me so far is that everyone and I mean everyone, is willing to connect, network, meet for a coffee, and share their experiences in cannabis.
One person that really stands out is Mimi Lam, CEO, and Co-Founder of Superette. I had the opportunity to present her with Lift & Co’s Womxn in Weed award for 2019 and the pleasure of chatting with her at a couple of events over the past few months. Even in these brief interactions, I can attest that she is the definition of a trailblazer.
The work that Mimi and her team at Superette has done really stands out. The brand itself is visually pleasing with its vintage look and feel, but it is really the strategy behind Superette and the retail experience that is special. Breaking down stigmas and making cannabis shopping the new normal is exactly the kind of forward-thinking this industry needs. Mimi’s vision, leadership style, and down-to-earth personality is something that I personally admire. I look forward to having a Superette right down the street from me!
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
I’d love to be able to sum up the last 43 years… sorry, I mean 11 months in a nice shiny sound bite of advice. But the reality is that it’s too messy for that. The cannabis industry is not (yet) a well-oiled machine. Things that are table stakes in other industries (data, processes, large teams, and larger budgets) aren’t always a given in cannabis. So your job description will shift day to day. One day you’re evaluating packaging and the next you are working the tradeshow floors. It’s staggering and overwhelming in the most beautiful way. If you’re passionate, motivated and not scared to get a little down and dirty, then buckle up. My advice? This industry moves fast. Be ready to move faster.
A big thank you to Nicole 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.