This week’s Trailblazer is Ryan Lamanna, CEO of The Merch Doctor, a company geared towards cannabis brands that share an understanding and appreciation for the value that comes from unique, custom promotional merchandise.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
A side-hustle quickly turned into a main hustle: The combination of a background in overseas product development, followed by working in sports partnership marketing at redtag.ca, provided the realization that demand for customized, unique, good-quality promotional products was prevalent. I recognized that the emerging market of legal cannabis companies would place a high degree of importance on brand swag – so I reached out to those in my network that worked in the industry during its infancy. A few of those individuals gave me a chance or provided the right introductions for The Merch Doctor…and the rest was history.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Client education (in regards to lead times). We pride ourselves on being able to match exact pantones, guidelines and source ANY product. We tell our clients to go on Amazon, Instagram, walk down Queen Street, and send us screenshots of any item – we can get it produced to the exact specifications of their brand identity. We try and communicate to our clients that if they plan far enough in advance we can pass through the tremendous cost savings associated with sea freight, however many still only have time to air freight. It would be beneficial to both our clients and ourselves if accurate forecasting, work-backs, and budget lead times were adjusted to reflect this – ultimately improving bottom lines.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Compliance standards in regards to logos and guidelines on promotional products and swag – many times creativity and strategy is often sacrificed to meet the legal restrictions. It can be disheartening to see when an elaborate product/swag idea that you know would be such a hit in-field gets lessened to something that is marginally what it was intended to be.
Compliance standards in regards to logos and guidelines on promotional products and swag – many times creativity and strategy is often sacrificed to meet the legal restrictions. It’s sometimes disheartening to see such an elaborate, unique, product/swag idea that you just know would be such a hit in-field be lessened to something that is marginally what it was intended to be.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
DIFFERENTIATION. At the end of the day, the product itself (cannabis) can only be altered and changed so much from the competition. Successful cannabis marketers must find ways to set themselves apart from their competition. When we help clients bring UNIQUE products/swag ideas to life, that consumers will actually enjoy/use, we know this will help strengthen brand affinity and ultimately increase loyalty. Stay away from the cookie-cutter items (pop-sockets, lanyards, pins, etc.) and really think about what is practical for your target market – this will create a repeated brand touch-point that can last days, months or even years.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
– Shahbaaz Kara-Virani
– Nicole Wolff
– Cody Hicks
I am honoured to have all 3 of these people in my corner. Having a support system like this within the industry is invaluable.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
In such a competitive space, marketers need to (as cliché as it sounds) really put themselves in the consumers’ shoes. They either need to notice a gap/opportunity to capitalize on or create one by educating consumers. If you are simply doing run-of-the-mill campaigns/strategies/
A big thank you to Ryan from The Merch Doctor for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.