The 3 C’s – California, Cannabis and Communication
As the mother of a teenager, it’s impossible to escape the 420 innuendo that circulates en masse each April 20. Widely known as the day to celebrate cannabis, 420 – or 4/20 – has origins dating back to the ‘70s. Last year, airplanes towing 420 banners flew above my son’s middle school (which happens to be in the flight path of two major sports stadiums), Snapchat was awash with 420 filters and, everywhere you turned, songs and memes were espousing its … ahem … virtues.
Fast forward a year, following the passage of Prop 64 legalizing adult-use cannabis in California, and we are primed for a “green rush” with the legal cannabis industry projected to reach nearly $7 billion by 2020 (according to Arcview Market Research). Major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, have created a cannabis editor position and devoted reporters to covering cannabis – from senior citizen access to the best dispensaries and products and how the science of cannabis works. A coalition of 25 California newsrooms introduced a website, The Cannifornian, to report on “The Golden State of Cannabis” and to answer the common questions people have about its expanded legal use in the state.
This past weekend, the New York Times reported on the industrialization of cannabis and, with big industry players entering the picture, California is primed to lead this agricultural sector. According to the Times, with 20 percent of Americans now living in states where adult-use cannabis is legal, experts project that this brave new world is about to go mainstream. And, much like the food and wine industries, there is room for both specialty and mass market brands. Cannabis consumers will vote with their wallets, so if you are entering this market or have already entered, it’s important to build a brand that is unique to your value proposition and key differentiators – regardless of whether you are a boutique or large-scale producer.
1. Research your audience.
Don’t make assumptions about consumers – who they are, what they know or how they choose brands. Conduct research to drill deep into your customer base to create distinct audience profiles. To be successful, focus on your sweet spot in the market, and then target all your marketing efforts at those audience segments with whom your brand most resonates.
2. Build a solid foundation.
No brand can succeed without a solid foundation or platform to build on. The cornerstone of your foundation is a brand promise: the perception of your brand in the minds of consumers. Once you establish your brand promise, construct your brand pillars with proof points. From there, you can set your communications platform. Consistent messaging is critical when building a brand and consumer base.
3. Integrate marketing activities.
Brand expressions such as name, logo, tagline and website should work in concert with all brand communications. When you start taking your message to the public, always do so in an integrated fashion. Today’s consumer is bombarded by advertising and other marketing vehicles, so to grab their attention you’ll have to present your brand consistently across all the media channels relevant to your target audience. Before activating any advertising, make sure you have analytics set up to provide measurable data you can use to develop and refine your digital marketing strategy.
4. Build lasting community relationships.
While many experienced medical cannabis brands sought a model based on their close ties to the community, new industry players may be tempted to take a shortcut and neglect building those relationships. If you want to build a brand that enjoys long-term success, put in the work up front to build bridges of trust and support among your neighbors and community organizations (who could endorse your operation later given this new and potentially incendiary product offering). This goes a long way in the minds of elected officials, business leaders and consumers.
5. Remember the struggle.
The cannabis industry wasn’t created in a vacuum. Legalization is the result of generations of hard-won progress by people who worked tirelessly to bring it about. Respect the pioneers who helped get you here and who continue to struggle in other states and jurisdictions, including at the federal level. While legalization will rapidly expand the consumer base, core customers are aware of the unique cultural history of cannabis. Don’t forget your roots, or you may find yourself shunned as outsiders looking to make a quick buck.
6. Safeguard your brand against crises.
Lacking previous experience or operating in an industry that is still developing regulations and consumer protections is not a valid excuse in a crisis. We have already seen other states issue public health advisories for cannabis products. Consumers are familiar with product recalls in a variety of industries – food, beverages and a range of other products – and they will expect prompt, voluntary action from responsible cannabis brands. The high road is the only road to travel.
7. Stay abreast of industry news and developments.
Remember that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Monitor news coverage of your competitors to learn from situations they’re going through (e.g., recalls, labor and regulatory issues). Identify industry trends and shifting consumer preferences, so you can respond appropriately. Attend industry events to keep up with issues affecting this the blossoming industry. The National Cannabis Industry Association’s annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo is a big one at which EVP Travis Taylor and Chris Raniere, president of 46Mile, our marketing partner are scheduled to speak alongside San Francisco Chronicle cannabis editor, David Downs.
Gone are the Cheech and Chong and Spicoli (Fast Times Ridgemont High) images formerly associated with the cannabis industry. With the green light comes a new, green economy and some sophistication to manage it.