This week’s Trailblazer is Zoë Patko, Marketing Manager at Zenabis Global, a large licensed producer of medical and recreational cannabis across Canada.

Zoe Patko Zenabis

Questions with a Cannabis Marketing Trailblazer

When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?

I have been a cannabis advocate for over 15 years. I don’t look like your “typical” weed smoker and I noticed this misconception, that the majority of people have, at an early age. When I was growing up, the adults I looked up to – teachers, parents, authorities – all spoke of cannabis being a problem, a threat to mankind. However, most of the people that I knew consumed cannabis were high performing, intellectual members of society. They included my friend’s mom, my sports coach (who worked full-time and donated a lot of his spare time to our team), and a nurse who used medical cannabis on the weekends.

There was a shocking difference in the way non-consuming adults spoke about cannabis, compared to those who actually consumed it. This difference has been verbalized through negative stigma for decades and this stigma is the reason I entered the industry and took on the challenge of changing perceptions about a plant that is highly criticized and incredibly misunderstood.

What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?

Being in the cannabis industry since 2016, as the Marketing Manager at Zenabis, there have been significant challenges. If I had to choose one, on the largest scale and impacting the most factors, it’s the pace that the industry changes. It is very rare for a new industry of this size to be introduced to economies on a global scale. We’re at the forefront of making history and developing processes leading to success.

Being at the starting line means there is no historical reference to help inform decisions or forecast environments. Consumer behavior has to develop before it can be measured and targeted. Product development begins without market insight before regulations are announced, and it changes as regulations develop over time. It is a very fast-paced environment, on an incredibly large scale, impacting everyone from the general public to policymakers, physicians, educators, and so on…

We’re at the forefront of making history and developing processes to success.

I have launched five successful cannabis brands with very different target markets, across nine provinces, three territories, and three international destinations, containing hundreds of product SKUs consisting of dried bud, pre-rolls, oils, oral sprays, gel caps, vape cartridges, accessories, and more. I can list dozens of unique challenges that each brand, product, and region has faced. Reach out to me on LinkedIn if you’d like to talk more!

Zenabis Global TSX

If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?

For me personally, it would be changes to the promotional regulations (C-45 17(1)). I think allowing creative promotions and promotions in public places would increase awareness and encourage useful conversation.

Similar to alcohol campaigns, we should not have to hide or limit branding to the public, knowing that these are legal products that the government agrees are safe for adult consumption.

The promotional regulations specifically state things such as no brand elements that “evoke a positive or negative emotion…” or that depict a “person, character or animal” etc. I don’t see the harm in lifestyle branding or images that show people or animals. Adults make their own purchase decisions, promotions that display a person, character or lifestyle have little risk but so much reward potential for the brands. The difference in promotional regulations for alcohol compared to cannabis is alarming.

In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?

Although many would argue that cannabis marketing regulations restrict you from connecting with your audiences, there are still many effective channels and tactics at our disposal. 

Social media is an easy one because it opens direct communication with targeted groups, segmented by a variety of different categories. It also provides effective and cheap earned media, that significantly increases your reach and brand awareness. 

Websites can also be very effective because consumers want to know about the products and brands they’re buying and about what’s happening in the market now. We live in a digital world where audiences expect to have information quickly, easily, and anytime. Online engagement has grown exponentially with COVID isolation this year, proving online age-gated channels to be very effective communication tools.

The best way to provide that information to your customers is to post it online, in a searchable format for them to easily find at their own convenience.

That said, third-party site monitoring is also important, to ensure your brand is presented well across all channels where consumers find you. Collaborating with industry partners and sharing communication is also a great way to increase reach and connect with consumers.

Lastly, retail marketing channels also provide impactful ways of connecting with consumers. There are many consumers who purchase their cannabis in-store instead of online. Reaching these consumers, and the staff helping them impacts purchase behaviour at the last touchpoint prior to the point of sale. Retail techniques can include product knowledge training, event pop-ups, branded displays, and collateral that consumers can use or take home to learn more.

Zoe Patko Women in Cannabis Panel

Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?

Is this a trick question? There are dozens! Follow me on Twitter or Instagram to see for yourself!

What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?

We are at the beginning of something that is going to change the world. If you are trying to get into the cannabis industry, know that it isn’t always an easy choice, conversation, or path but the value is what you make it. Be persistent in your search and when given the opportunity, collaborate with others to take things further, faster than you ever imagined.

Cannabis Marketing Trailblazers

A big thank you to Zoë 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 April 13, 2021 by ADCANN



ADCANN is a digital publication and content creation team that showcases the most creative concepts in the cannabis space.