It’s been almost two years since recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada. Although marketing restrictions are heavily regulated, some brands have started to form real connections with consumers through creative means. Certain brands and products are emerging as clear winners, while others are suffering to gain awareness.
Brightfield Group, a consumer insights and market intelligence firm, recently released a report titled “Which Brands are Winning Over Canadian Cannabis Consumers?” that examines how successful different licensed producers have been with connecting to consumers.
Reliable market data and research in the Canadian cannabis industry are hard to come by and this report holds a lot of valuable insights. So, we decided to analyze and expand upon the data in this report in an attempt to paint a picture of which cannabis brands are succeeding in Canada and why. We also offer some valuable tips to Canadian cannabis companies looking to increase their brand awareness.
The information in Brightfield’s report is derived from an online survey conducted with 3000 Canadian cannabis consumers across the country in Q1 of 2020. The answers were weighted based on myriad factors including age and geography.
Top 20 Canadian Cannabis Brands (Brand Awareness)
One of the most important insights in this study is that no brand has more than 41% recognition and that most brands have between 1 to 15%.
Out of the top 20 brands for brand awareness, four are produced by Aphria, three of them fall under the Canopy Growth umbrella, three are Aurora Cannabis brands, two are from Organigram and the rest are from smaller licensed producers.
Brands like Tweed, Hexo, and Aurora likely have a high level of brand awareness because they are (or were) the names of large publicly traded companies that get mainstream media coverage. Additionally, Tokyo Smoke and Tweed are both names of cannabis retail stores (TS is also a coffee shop) that have numerous locations. Having your logo on stores in provinces across the country and creating branded in-person experiences through these stores is a big upper hand in such a regulated marketing environment. Therefore the brand awareness behind those four names specifically (Aurora, Hexo, Tweed, and Tokyo Smoke) is not necessarily indicative of the amount of awareness of their recreational cannabis products.
Broken Coast, Canna Farms, Hexo, Aurora, and Tweed also had the benefit of selling through the medical channels for several years prior to recreational legalization, giving them a head start early on. Seth Rogen’s Houseplant is the only celebrity-affiliated brand to make this awareness list and it placed in the bottom 3.
Therefore, the names that really stand out for making the list because of their marketing and product reputation would be Solei, Flowr, RIFF, Namaste, Edison, Good Supply, 7ACRES, Canaca, Altavie, San Rafael ‘71, Trailblazer, Royal High, and Cove.
Top 20 Canadian Cannabis Brands (Awareness to Purchase Conversion)
The top 20 list for brands that are able to convert brand awareness into a purchase looks a bit different than the awareness-only chart.
Brands that did not make the awareness-only chart but are listed for purchase conversions include Symbl, Twd., Chowie Wowie, Redecan, FIGR, Haven St, and Color Cannabis. If these brands did not make the awareness chart but have high purchase conversions, an assumption could be made that these purchases were a result of budtender recommendations, online retailer information, and/or recommendations from a friend. There is the potential that this list of brands is doing well with their B2B (Brand to Budtender) marketing and/or offer quality products with attributes that are in demand regardless of brand name (high THC, affordable price, good genetics, highly-sought-after 2.0 products like chocolates and gummies, etc.). Some of these brands are also limited to the number of provinces they are listed in, so they would have less general awareness but a higher purchase conversion among consumers in provinces who do have access to their products.
It appears that Edison, Solei, Good Supply, HEXO, Tweed, Aurora, Tokyo Smoke, San Rafael ‘71, 7ACRES, Broken Coast, Royal High, Trailblazer, and RIFF have all done a good job of both generating brand awareness and converting interest into an actual purchase.
When it comes to converting awareness to sales for the big Licensed Producers, Organigram and Aphria stand out as over performers, while Canopy and Aurora’s brands lag behind. Edison, Solei, and Good Supply currently lead the pack, which will likely translate to increased market share for these brands over the next few years.
How do Canadian Cannabis Brands Gain Brand Awareness?
Canadian cannabis companies are limited in their abilities to brand, market, and advertise their products. However, creative cannabis marketers know that there are many strategies and loopholes to resonate with consumers – even with the current restrictions.
Digital marketing should be a priority for every consumer-facing cannabis brand. If digital, social media, and email marketing weren’t important before COVID-19 – it sure is now. Consumers are constantly on their digital devices, browsing the internet, and social media. Meet them where they are and talk to them about how they want to be spoken to.
Advertising is banned through most digital and traditional platforms, but every brand can create an Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn account and start building an audience through community engagement and posting content. Creating what is essentially a database of interested individuals to communicate your latest product launches and initiatives is very valuable. Additionally, cannabis brands can insert themselves into conversations on Twitter and other social platforms to grow brand awareness and affinity. Provide value, educate, inform, entertain, and communicate. Engaging influencers and members of the cannabis community through conversation and gifting merchandise items is a common way to broaden your audience on these platforms.
There are even some digital marketing platforms that do accept recreational cannabis advertising. Twitter amended its policies after legalization to allow age-gated cannabis marketing on the platform. AdLoop and similar age-gated technologies allow cannabis brands to target cannabis consumers and those who physically enter a retailer anywhere they are on the internet. Cannabis-specific media platforms like Leafly, Weedmaps, The Growth Op, and ADCANN will run targeted advertising campaigns to their audiences. There are other creative media partnerships that can be made to increase awareness of your cannabis brand. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is also essential to ensure that you are converting any awareness (internet searches) into purchases or at least purchase intent.
Creating an email newsletter list is another great way to communicate with consumers. Social media regulations are changing by the day, especially in the cannabis space. Weed-related brands risk having their accounts shut down by posting content that violates US federal law (even if said content is legal in their local jurisdictions). One list that platforms can’t take away from you is your email newsletter list. Send weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly newsletters to your audience of current and potential consumers letting them know about new product and provincial launches, swag giveaways, and more.
Advertising and branding are also permitted within age-gated venues and events. Brand ambassadors and data collection companies can be sent into age-gated events (such as Oktoberfest or music festivals) to collect emails and spread awareness for the brand. Displays and virtual screens can also be displayed in age-gated venues like bars and clubs.
Cannabis retailers present a variety of opportunities for brands to activate in-store. Brand representatives are frequently given time to set up a table and give out free swag and educate consumers about their products. Many retailers also offer the chance to display information about the brand through digital screens and installations. This marketing at the point of purchase is valuable in an environment with such low unaided brand awareness.
The regulations allow for a small amount of differentiation when it comes to packaging. Brands like The Green Organic Dutchman and Top Leaf have been able to stand out from the competition by offering their flower products in glass jars, which have a more premium look and maintain the moisture of buds better than plastic.
At the end of the day, having a good product that resonates with your chosen consumer segment is the most important aspect of converting awareness into purchase again and again.
The Future of Cannabis Brands in Canada
Cannabis brands have a long way to go in terms of creating awareness for their recreational products. However, we are only less than two years into legalization and the regulations prevent most forms of traditional marketing. The brands that get creative with their marketing and consistently provide their chosen target consumer segment with a quality product will succeed in the long term.
As Brightfield group puts it “for now, it’s anyone’s game”. This data shows the market is ready to be disrupted and is still in the early stages. As more and more Licensed Producers take a Consumer Packaged Goods-style approach to consumer insights, marketing, and branding, we will see real, reputable brands emerge in the space.