Given that the cannabis market is new to consumers and policymakers in a regulatory sense, proper marketing will be crucial in building the next Marlboro or Coors as the industry evolves. Cannabis businesses and brands have to create a bonding relationship with novice consumers. But how do you land the largest market share? Is it through campaigns that create trust, education and purpose in the brand? Yes, to all of this.
But are companies executing these pillars in the appropriate way? I’ve often found it difficult to tell what companies’ true intentions are as many cannabis brands market in a way that leaves experts side-eyeing these marketing campaigns. For this article, I’m going to stay away from trust and purpose, and instead dig into the unique nuances that brand leaders should consider when looking to intentionally engage with consumers.
Education through marketing primes the consumer to better understand how your brand’s angle expresses cannabis culture. Thinking about how to align your brand with consumer values is where corporate cannabis brands are missing the boat. I’m not sure if it’s due to a lack of understanding the plant itself or if brands are designing a consumer that fits their desires.
This is where cannabis marketing misses the opportunity to empower people. Cannabis makes everyone feel different, and while certain properties can allow for similar feelings, everyone is unique. Another problem consumers face is identifying the right products that will give them the experience they’re looking for.
With so many new customers, operators are trying to simplify the complex feeling of cannabis into various designations, like “focus,” “sleep” or “recharge” to make it digestible. But knowing that the way cannabis makes you feel is so nuanced to each individual, I’m left asking: Why are we doing it this way? It feels like a step up from Campbell’s soup.
The brand strategists I’ve spoken with say the more simple the framing, the more approachable cannabis is, and the more likely people will give your brand a try. This makes good business sense in theory, but there is so much missed opportunity for the consumer and the business. I believe we should instead use this as an opportunity to help people cultivate a constructive relationship with cannabis, one that not only represents the true essence of the plant but also gives people the keys to a far greater experience.
Are companies trying to empower — or sell as many products as possible?
It’s that familiar question of pop-culture critique: Do American consumers really crave simplified Campbell’s soup-like products, or something greater, richer and with a well-defined purpose?
From my perspective, there’s an opportunity to birth a whole new relationship with cannabis. I have served cannabis to over 3,000 people in intimate settings. I’ve taught people how to intentionally connect with their own archetype and to understand certain organoleptic properties of the plant. Such information empowers people to guide how cannabis can serve their unique experience. Their head cracks open with ideas of how they can use cannabis moving forward. This is what I believe consumers want deep down inside — understanding exactly how cannabis fits in their unique lives.
A specific product may make consumers feel a certain way based on the terpenes, THC, CBD and terroir of the product, but not guiding people to connect with their own mind, body and soul to achieve the feeling they want is denying them of the full experience.
For instance, some people won’t be able to achieve a creative state by a stimulating strain of flower, even if the company markets the product as such. Some artists need a feeling of calm in order to feel connected to their body to create, while a painter may need to be aroused by the “energizing” terpene limonene to get the mind firing. We are all different, and companies shouldn’t assume what someone needs.
The problem with capitalism is that the primary goal is to make as much money as possible, which means we need people to consume, because the more they do, the more money there is. Some companies may even forget that the consumer is an individual with unique usage behaviors, which typically lie outside of habitual usage and mass consumption.
The way I see it, conscious consumption serves the client and makes for a better world. Brand leaders have the opportunity to make this a reality.
Now you might think this is the part of the article where I give you the tips to follow in order to market cannabis in the perfect way. But this is where the beautiful complexity of this plant emerges: There is no perfect way to market cannabis because, in a sense, the plant has a different relationship with everyone. To be empowered consumers, people need to learn to listen to themselves, listen to the plant and understand the qualities that make up cannabis.
If you want guidelines, I will give you this: Position cannabis to serve the world the way its spirit wants to, and embody that within your company and your marketing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the mindset of trying and learning must be present for you to thrive. Act as a guide, not all-knowing, and focus on what cannabis represents and stands for.
Let’s market intentionality, with proper growing practices, proactive advocacy and an emphasis on human individuality. As leaders in this industry, we have the ability to empower and guide consumers to products best suited for their unique needs. Cannabis is so nuanced to each individual person based on their makeup and personal preferences. This is what consumers are hungry for — individualism, not Campbell’s Soup.
Want the largest market share? Then figure out how to empower people through marketing in the truest way, while bettering the planet. Who knows? You could become the Patagonia or Ben and Jerry’s of the cannabis industry — not half, but fully baked into the idea of re-imagining capitalism while still running a profitable business.