Breaking the Stigma in the Cannabis Industry - NewWest Summit 3.0

Last week I attended NewWest Summit 3.0 in Oakland, which is focuses on business, media, and tech within the cannabis industry.  There were countless entrepreneurs there sharing their stories about they overcame hurdles and their tricks to success.  

While at the hotel restaurant a man stopped me and asked if I was part of the "Cannabis Tech Conference" to which he followed up with "What do you guys even talk about", and then a laugh.  Ugh - I get this quite a bit when I explain it to some of my old college friends (slight jab, you know who you are :) ).  I went on to explain the state of the industry, the conversations and sessions taking place, etc. He thanked me for the overview, but I think he was just shocked that there are professionals in the cannabis space and the dedication/attention being paid. 

See, all the panelists and presenters, all the brands in the conference hall with their products on display...these are true entrepreneurs and pioneers of the Cannabis Industry.  They wake up every day with a fire beneath them because they have to fight to keep their businesses alive, overcome hurdles other industries don't have to deal with, spend nights reading up on the latest regulation changes to see how they will impact their business. 

Talk about breaking the stigma.

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What Marketers Can Learn from SXSW 2017

Another SXSW has come and gone, but not without making a splash!  While there were reports of brands reducing their presence at SXSW this year, there were plenty of awesome activations of all sizes and scope.  Here are 3 takeaways that ALL brands can use moving forward with all brand activations:

·       Stick to what you’re good at

·       Focus on the goal, not being ‘the biggest’

·       Collaborate

1.       Stick to what you’re good at

If your brand is not an event-production company that offers PR/media outreach services, don’t take that piece on yourself unless you have an internal team solely dedicated to do just that.  A brand will spend more time, money, and resources taking that piece on than if they sponsored an existing event that is going to handle everything from securing the venue, to PR/media coverage, to VIP/influencer attendees. 

Think about it like you would a wedding.  People try to save money by using a venue they have access to (like their home) or not hiring a wedding planner.  You need to rent tables, chairs, shoot – what if it rains?  Anything require a permit?  Will the HOA freak out over the number of cars parked throughout the neighborhood?  Fast forward to the big day, the amount of time, money, resources, and gray hair…often not a huge savings when all is said and done! 

Sure, a bit different than what brands’ needs are whether producing or participating in an event, but the point is that the brand should focus what they know and leave event-related execution to the professionals.  You’ll be happy with the results and have just as much creative input as you would if you built it from scratch (but without the headache!).

2.       Focus on the goal, not being ‘the biggest’ 

Every activation wants to be the best, but that doesn’t mean the biggest.  Having the most bodies does not guarantee the best experience.  A well-executed event can be just as impactful as the largest event on the block.  Small and intimate can be just as effective, and can even exude a sort of “exclusivity” making it more desirable.

Compare it to your average Friday night.  You might go to the most popular club in town – line out the door, when you finally get in it takes 15+ minutes to get a drink, people everywhere, no available seating, your song never gets played on the jukebox, and someone’s flying elbow just spilled your drink.  As far you’re concerned, the most popular club in town is also THE WORST.  But that establishment down the street – you walk right in, same drink, song actually plays on the jukebox, and you can even snag a pool table or darts.  Same goes for industry events.  If the experience is lackluster or, on the flipside, overpowering, the vibe felt by the attendee is negative.

Focus on the goal – what is the experience you want the attendee to have and how can it be best executed?  And if you don’t know how it can be best executed, work with the event-production teams.  Together you can create the desired experience, keeping the brand’s goals as the main focal point.  The right PR and media plan can amplify the impact of any event and puts your brand in a larger conversation. 

3.       Collaborate

Have an idea, but need more support to make it come to fruition?  Whether it’s bringing on brand partners to take on some of the financial burden or a creative collaboration, strategic partnerships are a great way to focus on what you know best and leverage others’ resources, skill sets, and expertise to execute a top quality activation.                           

A great case study from this year’s SXSW was when Casper, Tesla, and The Standard Hotel teamed up for a unique hospitality activation that also capitalized on #NationalNapDay.  Festivals and conferences can be exhausting.  Whether you needed a place to stay that night or a quick cat nap to recharge for the rest of the day, Casper, Tesla, and The Standard Hotel through the One Night App had your back!  Casper promoted their mattresses, Tesla was the transportation provider in a city where Uber and other rideshare services are not available, and The Standard Hotel booked their newly renovated boutique hotel through the One Night App for last minute bookings (and at an incredible rate, especially when a big festival is taking place!).

If each brand tried to activate this on their own, it would require a large chunk of a marketing budget to execute, but by leveraging partnerships, collaborating, and sharing the load this was a cost-effective activation that required more planning than anything else!  The ROI was through the roof, as the hotel and other services were booked as soon as 3pm struck, but the additional buzz during the conference and with media coverage was the icing on the cake!

SXSW activations are always innovative, but the basics are the foundation that allow for those unique and creative activations to come to life.  Keep them in mind for your next event or marketing plan:

1.       Stick to what you’re good at

2.       Focus on the goal, not being ‘the biggest’

3.       Collaborate

STILETTO has worked with event-production teams for numerous lifestyle events, from New York Fashion Week to Music Festivals to Celebrity-Hosted VIP Events.  Let STILETTO guide you through your next activation.

Week Weed PDX 2016 - 8 Hot Topics

In my professional career, I’ve attended conferences and trade shows across all sorts of brand categories: fitness & health/nutrition, tech, outdoor recreation, consumer food & beverage - you name it, I’ve probably been there!  This past week I attended Weed Week PDX 2016, which is a cannabis industry event where professionals specializing in each aspect of the business get together to share best practices & innovations, industry trends, and network.  While in many ways, the programming was very much like your traditional industry conference, the discussions I participated in allowed me to take a step back to more fully understand how the industry currently functions and see where the industry is headed.

The cannabis industry is in a state of transition and innovation, and on the verge of a big boom with recreational marijuana being legalized in a number of big markets this past election.  In sessions, I spent most of the time listening – listening to the questions of consumer brands, growers, retail owners/operators, etc.  I glanced at the notes of those sitting around me to see what their big takeaways were.  From very green to branding experts, it was clear that with the cannabis industry is still finding its legs to some degree.  Trial and error will be the game for a bit, but the good news is that at this stage there is room for experimentation. 

Here are the top 8 topics of discussion that were of most interest to the contacts I met at Weed Week PDX 2016:  (Please note: Budgets outlined are not quoted by STILETTO, but by other cannabis industry leaders)

·       80:20 Rule (Sales): Highly saturated market with more and more products entering the market, while 80% of the sales are from 20% of the available product.

·       Relationship-Oriented Business: Sales are heavily reliant on the relationships with Budtenders, and the Budtenders’ recommendations to consumers.  Will this shift as the industry grows and brands begin marketing directly to the consumer and if so, how do brand effectively market?  Answer - Yes, but the importance of Budtenders will still be a top priority.  Social Media and PR will play a large role in reaching existing and new consumers.

·       Social Media: Social media is a huge opportunity as it is less regulated and accessible to everyone, but has also created some hurdles since cannabis has been a controversial product in the past (and sometimes, still is). 

o   Brands also have difficulty allocating time to a process that doesn’t have a “proven” ROI in terms of sales or driving foot traffic.

·       Influencers (Digital, Social Media, & Celebrity): Playing a larger part in marketing cannabis than ever, and expected to increase along with the expansion of the industry

·       Consumer & Industry Data: There are services that can provide real-time analytics, such as Headset, there is very little consumer data available since transactions are conducted in cash and few consumers sign up for a “subscription” or “frequent shopper” program. 

o   Current Stats Include*:

- Average $ per Transaction: $33

- Male/Female Purchaser – 2:1 Ratio

- Average Consumer Spend per Year: $1k - $2.5k

- Average Age of Consumer: 37

*Data provided by Headset

·       Cannabis Media/News Outlets & PR: Top Content that is Featured

o   Promoting an industry event

o   Content Marketing - Focus on educating the reader versus selling the product – If the product is innovative, especially in the medical arena or reaching a new demographic, focus on that aspect.  If it feels like an ad, it won’t be included in their content

o   LOVE research/data-driven content – There is a lack of data in the industry, so independent studies that carry weight are likely to be shared.

·       Branding: How important is branding? Answer: VERY. 

o   Investing early in branding materials that align with your brand and price point will help your products stand out in a saturated market, increase Budtender recommendation, and save you from a re-brand after your product is already established and recognized by your consumer.

o   Branding Budget: OMD Agency recommended a minimum budget of $25k for comprehensive branding.

·       Marketing Budget: Recommended Marketing Budget - $3k/mo Minimum*

*May vary by product category and medium/platform.  Also, dependent on tactics utilized (influencers, etc.).

In addition to the above information, in the Day 1 recap, we touched on many marketing tactics that will be leveraged as brands further develop their marketing campaigns and expand their consumer base.

STILETTO will develop and execute marketing strategies that maximize the impact of your budget, as well as secure strategic brand partnerships and PR.

Please contact STILETTO directly for a free consultation to discuss marketing strategies to differentiate your brand.