When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
I started banking cannabis deals at Laurentian Bank in 2017, working with new entrants who wanted to raise capital and become the biggest and baddest in the cannabis industry. I met their claims of national domination with a high level of skepticism and in 2019 joined WeedMD in an attempt to bridge rationality between the numbers cannabis companies claimed they could achieve and real world production/sales numbers. I joined the corporate world of cannabis at a time when retail and institutional investors realized that there was too much cannabis, too many lofty assumptions and a much more challenging cannabis environment than anyone in 2016/2017 had been willing to admit. Since then I have been waiting and trying to assist the industry reach cannabis equilibrium – a place where production, sales and innovation are aligned.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
I would say the biggest challenge is many companies desire to market by committee. Given the high regulatory scrutiny, ambiguity in the rules and a desire to both push innovation while avoiding regulatory fines has forced many companies to do what was safe or copy one another. Each follows the others paths with the only differentiator being that they would “do it better”. As a result innovation in marketing has been fairly lackluster and I think companies have been paying for that through loss of customers, which is then only offset by acquisition or new product launches (which are then copied by someone else).
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
I think the biggest issue, which is beyond marketing alone, is the equal treatment of THC and CBD by Canadian regulators. No country in the world looks at these two cannabinoids equivalently and restricts the marketing and sale of these two very different products using the same guidelines. America already has federal OTC hemp products and we are still restricting CBD topicals to only the places pre-rolls and shatter can be sold.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Relationships are everything. Relationships with the provinces, relationships with the store managers, relationships with the budtenders. It’s an expensive way to market and you are having to rely and pay your top sales people very well but it is the most effective to staying relevant.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
Not to sound pretentious, but we make it a habit not to follow any person or company to closely because that limits our ability to be truly innovative. We do believe though that new companies and leaders coming into the space who are more product focused instead of capital markets focused are the ones worth watching. Luckily we work with a bunch of those people.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Understanding when and where to take risks is the only way to be successful marketing cannabis.
A big thank you to James 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.
Last Updated on September 24, 2021 by Spencer Tropea