Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
2018, in the run-up to legalization. I was sitting at my desk in London and wanted to be a part of it, so I packed up and left for Vancouver. Thankfully the stars aligned, shout out to Nine Point Agency, and by the summer I was working alongside some of the West Coast’s best.
It was an opportunity to create something new, to change perceptions, and shape the future. If the Canadian market succeeds, it will become a shining example for others to follow. One day we’ll look back at how far we’ve come and say, ‘wasn’t that a trip?!’
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
The lack of data. To make truly informed decisions and win over the masses, especially the medical community globally, we need evidence. We need medical trials, in humans, at a scale that will separate the plant from the panacea.
Thankfully Health Canada has proposed amends to enable non-therapeutic cannabis research. Ideally, this should have been done prior to regulation, but it is definitely better late than never.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Just one?! Packaging regulations.
Not only do they obstruct differentiation in an increasingly saturated market, but they also hamper sustainability efforts. Health Canada requires cannabis packaging to be tamper-proof, child-resistant, and prevent degradation. This means plastic, in combination with other materials, is often the only commercially viable solution.
As containers must also carry health warnings and specific product information, they have to be of a certain size. This has led to crazy instances of 3.5 grams of cannabis being wrapped in over 100 grams of plastic. Excess packaging not only damages the brand’s credibility but also that of the industry as a whole.
Rigorous packaging restrictions fly in the face of normalization and perpetuate the falsehood that cannabis is intrinsically dangerous. If you package something like it’s super dangerous, people will believe it’s super dangerous.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
I am a little biased on this one, but public relations and a solid communications strategy – if that counts as a marketing technique.
As promotion is so restricted, a well-thought-out public relations campaign is often the only way to engage and educate consumers through mainstream media. Brand recognition is a real challenge, so positioning a company and its spokespeople as thought leaders is gold dust.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
So many, from all other the world. In my experience, the cannabis community has been super friendly, with Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Clubhouse hosting the best insights from the brightest minds.
Legalization in Canada was decades in the making, with special shout-outs to everyone who risked so much in the legacy industry. There is also the next generation of entrepreneurs, bringing fresh ideas to the rolling table, with the Stolbie Sisters bridging the gap between cannabis and lifestyle.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Your ego is not your amigo. While we owe so much to those that came before us, the giants on whose shoulders we stand, being an old head does not automatically elevate you above newcomers. I was one of those who scoffed at suits at the trade shows, chastising anyone who could not backroll an L sheet. But I was wrong, the future of cannabis is convenient and accessible consumption methods, in an inclusive and diverse industry.
For Canadian marketers, look to California, Colorado, and Washington as a window to the future. For Americans, keep pushing that needle!
Finally, respect the history, but embrace the future. Forget what you think you know about cannabis consumers, keep an open mind, and be real.
A big thank you to Russell 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.