Last week, the Cannabis Marketing Association hosted the Cannabis Marketing Summit, a four-day virtual conference covering everything from digital marketing strategies to CSR for cannabis companies.

The goal of the Summit was to evaluate the current state of cannabis marketing and learn about the practical tools, tactics, and data that produce effective strategies and campaigns for cannabis brands across the country.

The panels and workshops were designed for marketing leadership — CEOs, CMOs, VPs of Marketing, Marketing Directors, and senior-level marketing professionals who work in-house or on the agency side for licensed cannabis companies.

There were plenty of great takeaways from the Cannabis Marketing Summit. If you weren’t able to attend, we’ve got a recap of each of the day’s best talks.

Cannabis Marketing Summit – Day One

Building a Comprehensive Cannabis Marketing Strategy

The first panel of the Cannabis Marketing Summit was about creating a cannabis marketing strategy. The panel featured, Ericka Pittman, CMO, Viola Brands, Jennifer Dooley, CSO, Green Thumb Industries, Joy Hollingsworth, Co-Owner, Hollingsworth Cannabis Company, Sean Curley, CMO, Canna Provisions and was moderated by Amy Larson, VP Sales & Marketing, Simplifya.

One of the major themes of this panel was the importance of authenticity. Cannabis brands need to understand where their customers are coming from and what they want a brand to stand for. Consumers can see through a brand when they claim to be socially responsible but have no evidence to back that up.

Investing in the community through social equity work and donating to local causes is a good way to show consumers that your brand is socially conscious. Promoting sustainability with initiatives such as recycle packaging is another good marketing strategy.

Social media is an excellent channel for customer engagement. It allows you to have a one-to-one conversation with consumers and build a community for free. While social ads are still unavailable to cannabis brands, some Google ads and paid search have worked brands that leave out the phrase “cannabis”.

Building Strong Cannabis Brands

In this session, Daniel Stein, Founder, and CEO of Evolution Bureau and CEO of the newly launched cannabis marketing agency, Essential Good, shared his philosophy on building a strong cannabis brand. He provided insights, experiences, and learnings that he’s gathered up along the way.

Building an authentic brand requires you to strongly consider aspects such as your visual identity, packaging, website, social, and swag. Things that can be considered inauthentic and can destroy your brand include, but are not limited to arrogance, inconsistency, dishonesty, sexism, and unfair labour practices.

Cannabis Brand Framework

The right time to think about brand building is early and always. When creating a brand, it helps to follow a framework to ensure that there’s a cohesive approach to determining the marketplace, narrative, and messaging.

There are many touchpoints, both digital and physical, across the cannabis customer journey that should be kept in mind. Quality of product is not the most important reason for purchases. A combination of quality digital and physical touchpoints are more effective.

Cannabis Customer Journey

The five key takeaways from this session were that branding is a continual investment, every touchpoint matters, know yourself, find your difference, and find your North Star.

Cannabis Marketing Summit – Day Two

Navigating Social Media & Understanding Digital Marketing Strategy for Cannabis Brands

The opening panel of the first day was about social media strategy for cannabis brands. The panel featured Alphonso (Tucky) Blunt Jr., Owner, Blunts + Moore, Hope Wiseman, CEO, Mary & Main, Joe Hodas, CMO, Wana Brands, Durée Ross, CEO, Durée & Company, and was moderated by 2018 ADCANN Marketer of the Year, and CEO of Grasslands, Ricardo Baca

The panel discussed how social is an important marketing tool because it can be easily restrategized, allows brands to connect on a broader scale, and reach consumers from across the nation.

When it comes to social media, there is no one size fits all strategy. Brands have to have a direct voice to their consumers and you can control the message of your owned media, but not the message of the earned media.

To ensure your brand doesn’t receive any backlash on its social channels, don’t schedule your posts a long time in advance. Tailor content to what’s happening in the world at the time and have at least three people look at the messaging to make sure it’s safe.

Instagram has the best engagement rates for good visual brands, but it’s hard to get click-throughs to your website. LinkedIn is the best social channel for communicating business updates and sharing thought leadership pieces.

For brands struggling with their Instagram account being banned, try shifting to more general content, such as highlighting blog posts and community events. By doing so, you’ll be able to find a sweet spot where the account won’t be banned, you can drive more traffic to your website and build more trust with consumers in your community.

Workshop: Effective Campaign Development Strategies: What To Do and How To Do It

In this workshop, Ru Johnson of the Minority Cannabis Business Association discussed effective campaign development strategies using her experience from the political world.

She proposed that a campaign’s audience is broken into four sections that each require different treatment, with brand efficacy and loyalty moving them up into a different section.

Good brands are conscious of what’s happening at the moment and are able to create a conversation about what’s important. LinkedIn is one of the best places to run a campaign because the people who want to know about what you’re doing are there.

Cannabis Marketing Summit – Day Three

Cannabis Media & Public Relations: A Deeper Look

The first panel of the third day covered the topic of cannabis and public relations, featuring Kyle Porter, President, CMW Media, Daniel Yi, CCO, Shryne Group, Oren Todoros, Director of Marketing & PR, CannBe Media, Jen Turano, CMA, BR Brands, moderated by Mary Pryor, CMO, Tonic CBD.

They discussed how a lot of brands seem to leave PR as an afterthought rather than an ongoing process, but it needs to be part of the ongoing strategy and marketing toolkit. World events shouldn’t be the only reason to focus on PR, and brands shouldn’t focus on the doom and gloom, but rather positivity.

With good PR, your brand is selling a story or a message instead of a product, so be genuine to build a narrative with your core audience. Don’t underestimate the audience, we live in a transparent world.

Brands are becoming more serious about their social channels because they can no longer engage with consumers face to face. When it comes to marketing channels, PR is very difficult to measure. It’s not often that there’s a direct ROI tied to a press release and there’s no immediate impact on sales.

Cannabis Marketing in 2020: A look at data, COVID-19, the election year. What’s changed?

The second panel of the day talked about the impact of current events on the cannabis industry, featuring Cory Rothschild, SVP Brand Marketing, Cresco Labs, Valda Coryat, CMO, Trulieve, Bart Schaneman, Reporter Cultivation & Extraction, MJBiz Daily, Hirsh Jain, Director of Government Affairs, Caliva, moderated by Imani Dawson, Owner, MJM Consulting.

So far, 2020 has made cannabis companies more resourceful by radically changing operations from in-store purchases to delivery and curbside pickup. The silver lining that has come out of this pandemic is that it has changed society’s attitude towards cannabis. 

It’s becoming treated more like a regular consumer packaged good and has been further destigmatized since it was deemed essential. There have been positive developments in the industry that will result in it being better off on the other side.

3/10 cannabis consumers feel like all cannabis is the same, so how can savvy marketers distinguish their products and understand the unique point of difference? It’s important to support CSR initiatives such as criminal justice issues and social equity programs. 

Charlotte’s Web has done a great job of telling a compelling story that consumers identify with. When you get it right and you understand your purpose in the lives of the people using your product, that’s when the marketing magic happens.

Authenticity > Consistency. People are loyal to those who care about them. So as long as you’re being honest and authentic then you don’t need to worry as much about running into issues with consumers not being happy about consistent products.

Cannabis Marketing Summit – Day Four

Workshop: Making the Right Thing, the Easy Thing: Social Responsibility for your Cannabusiness

No matter your business size or budget, there are many ways to incorporate social responsibility into your marketing and operations. This session featured Courtney Mathis, Founder & CEO, Cannabis Doing Good, Founder & President, kindColorado, Kelly Perez, Co-Founder, Cannabis Doing Good, and John Shute, CEO, PufCreativ walking through a step-by-step plan for brands to enhance customer affinity, grow employee engagement and generate social impact.

What is Cannabis Social Responsibility

    • A form of marketing crucial to building loyal customers and attracting employees
    • 175% brand value growth for brands that have a positive received impact
    • Post-COVID there’s the need to market more aggressively and convince clients that CSR is a Crisis management tool

Why your brand should be purpose-driven

    • Employees are more loyal to companies who do social good
    • You can tell a story about what your brand cares about, such as the community
    • Consumers want to know who you are and what you care about

How to build a CSR program 

    • Set aside a portion of money for an employee to apply for if they are in need
    • It’s much easier to break trust than it is to build it
    • Make sure the message is authentic and something you actually care about

Good examples of Cannabis Social Responsibility

    • Bloom Farms has provided over 2 million meals to the community
    • For every Lightshade retail location, they identified the community’s biggest need and then partnered with a local initiative to create a program to address that need (hunger, homelessness)
    • Sweetgrass donates 5% of their proceeds from their CBD cookie to Planned Parenthood
Cannabis Social Responsibility Resources

Cannabis as an Essential Business — What does it mean?

The final session of the Cannabis Marketing Summit covered the major themes of all of the previous panels and workshops. This session featured a great recap of the key takeaways from the summit with Leslie Stern, Marketing & Strategy Consultant, Amy Deneson, Director of Marketing & Sales, Curaleaf NY, Evan Nison, Founder & President, NisonCo PR, Daniel Stein, Founder, and CEO, Evolution Bureau, Phil Parrish, Managing Director, PrograMetrix, Chris Day, Founder, Project Evolve, Beth Waterfall, Founder, Beth Waterfall Creative, Mike Leibowitz, Founder, Veritas Cannabis, Olio, and Higher Grade, Samantha Nardelli, Creative Director, Shanty Town Design, Mary Shapiro, Owner, Evoke Law, JC Inda Meza, Founder, Growth Legion, and Jeanine Moss, New Product Development & Brand Marketing, J. Moss & Company.

The four major recurring themes the panel discussed were:

Authenticity

  • It can’t be faked or bought and is crucial to a cannabis brand
  • Connect with your audience before trying to sell to them

Compliance

  • It’s critical to follow the rules when it comes to marketing cannabis
  • If you want to market-compliant cannabis, you need to be able to prove that it’s compliant

Data-driven marketing

  • Treat marketing as an experiment and make decisions based on what the data indicates is working
  • The best strategy uses all media channels, paid and earned

Understanding finances

  • Be familiar with the cash flow situation when advocating for marketing budgets
  • Prove what you’re doing has the ROI to justify the budget

A big thank you to The Cannabis Marketing Association for hosting this excellent Summit, to all of the speakers for sharing your valuable insights and the attendees for keeping the chat interesting and informative.

We look forward to attending again next year!

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