It's fair to say I never thought that my professional career would bring me here: Weed Week PDX 2016. That's right, there are cannabis conferences and they are awesome. And no, they aren't super laid back and no, the attendees and presenters are not high. Recreational marijuana is a business, and a very lucrative one that is growing rapidly. While the attire of attendees and presenters may range from grunge to business professional, everyone is on a mission to grow their business. Very much a "work hard, play harder (or higher)" atmosphere, there will be some product sampling as part of the conference experience.
While there are sessions focused on product trends, legal guidance, industry best practices, etc., for all parts of the cannabis trade, there is one question that has been brought up in nearly every session: "What about that marketing plan?" As more states legalize marijuana for recreational use, how will that change how these products are marketed, sold and distributed? How is the industry changing and what does the future look like?
Truth is, it's somewhat the "Wild West" right now since individual states have their own restrictions and regulations. However, there will be a shift with many brands marketing directly to consumers versus the retail locations themselves.
Yesterday, Cy Scott, Co-Founder of Headset, a real-time data platform specifically for the cannabis industry, shared that the 80:20 principle also applies to marijuana sales. If you're not familiar, this means 80% of the purchases are from 20% of the available products on the market today. If you've been to Uncle Ike's or any other retail location, you know there's an overwhelming selection of products in all categories (flower, vape, topical, edible, beverage, etc.).
With that in mind, a number of growers, consumer brands, and retail locations have asked how to differentiate themselves before the cannabis bubble bursts. How do they stand out and continue to grow their business as more and more products and locations hit the scene?
As with many industries, relationships are key and the recreational marijuana market heavily relies on the "Budtenders" to educate the customer and make appropriate product recommendations based on the desired effect. Budtenders are incredibly knowledgeable about the products, what's new and worth a try, and often times are responsible for establishing brand loyalty with the consumer. But as more and more products hit the market, will the cannabis industry follow in the footsteps of the pharmaceutical industry which transitioned from physician recommendation to the advertising tagline: "Ask your doctor about (insert brand here)..."?
My Prediction: The next wave of recreational marijuana consumers will ask for products by name. (NOTE: The Budtenders' opinions and recommendations will still be valuable, but the "guinea pig" new consumer will be curious to try products based on how they are marketed.)
How do you make your brand top-of-mind?
Here are some suggestions highlighted during Day 1 at Weed Week PDX 2016, with STILETTO's recommendations baked in, on how to achieve your marketing and branding goals so your product is top-of-mind for consumers (which can also be applied to nearly every other business):
- Brand Creative Brief
- Define your brand's core competencies and identify your target consumer
- This will determine the direction for branding and all facets of your marketing/advertising campaigns
- Invest in high quality branding and packaging
- This will not only appeal to your consumer, but the Budtenders and retail locations are more likely to promote a polished brand
- Use a creative agency that is familiar with the industry to make packaging and design recommendations, which may also expedite the production process
- Invest in high quality branding and packaging
- Social Media Marketing
- Social media platforms are currently the most flexible and least restricted marketing mediums
- Develop a social media plan with multiple content buckets
- Identify where your target consumers are spending time and reviewing content (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), then prioritize accordingly.
- Leverage your branding and creative brief to determine the tone of your social media content
- Digital, Social Media, and Celebrity Influencers
- Mix it up: Industry-specific influencers to maintain your current customer base and target consumers most likely to be in a "buying stage", but also broaden your reach by working with similar lifestyle influencers that can attract NEW consumers
- Identify appropriate influencers and analyze their audience demographic and engagement
- Content Marketing
- "Content is King" - It's not just content, it must also entertain. Whether it's on social media or another medium, consumers know when they are being marketed to so be sure entertain them to earn their business and remain top-of-mind.
- Make sure the content is in-line with your brand and current strategy
- Entertainment-based Content Marketing* (which will become more widespread once recreational marijuana is legal nationwide)
- Event Sponsorships - Similar to alcohol, event sponsorships offer excellent PR & media coverage, social media assets, interaction with talent and influencers, and provide the unique opportunity to reach consumers and influencers through experiential onsite activation and sampling.
- Music Video Integration - Again, similar to alcohol and e-cigs, this is a less expensive method to reach millions of potential customers and receive an "implied endorsement" from top celebrity talent. Exposure and usage is agreed upon prior to production to make sure your brand messaging is shared with the viewer.
*Depending on other brands participating, this could also increase your brand's reach and value in terms of association with other recognizable brands.
STILETTO can assist with each of these components to ensure your brand receives maximum exposure with each activation.
Stay tuned for a recap of Day 2 and feel free to reach out to STILETTO directly with questions.