However, while these pioneers know a lot about their product, they often lack the marketing knowledge necessary to expand their customer base. Branding is crucial in any business, but especially in the cannabis business.
A new consumer base wants to try cannabis for the first time, and companies that stand out amid the sea of ubiquitous “High Times” ads will get their attention. A strong brand has the perfect opportunity to build trust and gain loyal customers.
But building a cannabis brand requires more than just doing something different. It carries challenges other industries don’t have to worry about.
Digital platforms (specifically advertisers) are reluctant to work with cannabis because of legal uncertainty and social stigma. Many of these platforms operate at a national level, and any media dollars exchanged are typically regulated nationally. Social acceptance of the industry is still not completely widespread, either — many platforms fear backlash from current or future clients.
Along with these problems, competition grows more intense by the day. Bigger, more established corporate entities like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors, and Heineken are seeking inroads into the industry.
Still, newer companies will have a shot against these Goliaths. How? The industry is still so new that anything could happen. But building a strong brand is the only way to survive.
Strategies and Tactics
A handful of companies in the cannabis industry have spent serious money on marketing, but success isn’t always the result.
Consider the case of MedMen: Most everyone familiar with the industry has heard of this brand, and that’s by design. The company has spent $4 million on marketing, raising brand awareness in the hopes of becoming a household name.
However, that awareness hasn’t converted to loyalty. MedMen is struggling to cover huge losses: High taxes, restrictions, and cheaper, off-the-books competition are all reasons for this poor return. But an even bigger reason could be that MedMen isn’t fulfilling its brand promise.
As a fellow marketer in the cannabis industry, I’ve found there’s a general consensus about MedMen: While the company seems to grow its brand quickly by being everywhere, its end product (both the retail dispensary and its branded products) aren't much to write home about.
MedMen’s brand promise suggests it has elevated cannabis in some way, and yet consumers — and others in the industry — don’t believe it. Admittedly, the company excels in being omnipresent, but it lacks a consumer brand promise it can articulate in market.
Building a brand means being consistent. The most successful cannabis brands are very clear about who they are and deliver accordingly. For example, some brands embrace a sophisticated luxury concept and thrive on their upscale image and product; others emphasize an artisan story by giving tours and experiences in their dispensaries.
Once the aesthetic and story of the brand have been established, marketing strategies and tactics can be used. SEO, in-person outreach, email newsletters, and online community engagement are inexpensive, effective ways to reach customers without hitting the hurdles presented by platform ads.
Influencers and partnerships are essential pieces of strategy, too. Through platforms like TapInfluence and Heartbeat, brands can run influencer marketing campaigns that circumvent rigid social media advertising regulations. Similarly, brands are successfully partnering with known personalities to take shortcuts to brand. While it’s not always ideal, it’s effective.
Through branding, cannabis entrepreneurs and businesses can go from being mom-and-pop shops to a household name.