Column by Lance Lambert, VP of Marketing, GreenBroz Inc.
The challenges are greater than ever for today’s cannabis marketers to navigate the evolving landscape of platforms, regulations, and consumer trends while providing engaging, valuable content to the intended target audience.
Success here requires not just expertise in marketing, but also expertise in the industry itself.
I came of age in Northern California’s Marin County, the gateway to the Emerald Triangle, where the Waldos started the 420 movement. This upbringing fostered a keen awareness of just how important it is to be in touch with cannabis culture if you want to deliver an impactful message within this industry.
There is a reverence and respect that goes along with being involved in this industry that a lot of people don’t understand. An understanding of the stereotypes, stigmas, and tabooism is essential in delivering a company’s message while making sure you are not stepping in it.
Your Message Must Be Finely-Tuned
When I first entered the marketing space, it was all still “legacy media.” This included everything from print mailers and newspapers to niche magazines, and even the yellow pages and billboards.
As the marketing and advertising space started evolving rapidly at the turn of the last century, we saw the big move to digital with email marketing, and content media taking center stage. It started with digital display ads (aka banner ads) and then moved into social, programmatic and dynamic targeting.
Many mastered the art of balancing digital and legacy marketing, but they lost touch with the need to educate and entertain. All audiences have grown more savvy, and they have access to a multitude of content coming at them at warp speed.
The ‘one size fits all’ campaign is as outdated as the Motorola 2-way pager. Your message must be finely tuned, or the static wins out.
Following The News Cycle Is A Full-Time Job
Having come out of the early dot-com space, I see the similarities in terms of the need to follow the news cycle in real time. During the free-for-all early years, keeping up with who was doing what, and what new thing might be the next big thing was like running on a treadmill set permanently to the highest setting.
This is not unlike what we are seeing today in the cannabis industry. You have to keep up with the status of the legal markets, those that are in the process of becoming legal, and those that have yet to start the process, but are next in line.
The nuances cannot be overlooked. As of this writing, South Dakota is pending legalization thanks to Amendment A passing with a 54 percent vote – giving them an 'effective date' of July 1, 2021 (let’s hope Gov. Kristi Noem’s lawsuit against the will of the people fails!).
We also saw New Mexico's lawmakers approve two bills on March 31st after the Governor called a special session. They have until April 1, 2022 to legalize production, sales and possession of cannabis in the state. A few more states to approve into law adult-use include Arizona and New York state as well.
Legal status, be it medical only, adult-use or both, does not mean a cannabis marketer is free and clear to promote a product as desired. Each market has specific guidelines and rules around how, who, where, when and what can be promoted, as it pertains to cannabis specifically.
An excellent example can be found in the U.K. While England is home to GW Pharmaceuticals, the largest legal exporter of medical cannabis, promoting any images of the plant is disallowed, and you cannot directly reference cannabis.
Parliament has been slow in rolling out the medical system in the U.K.. While Scotland Yard has taken a much more lax approach on personal consumption and public use of cannabis in London, social clubs and smoke shops are still being called out for their cannabis association.
This unknown or 'grey area' between prohibition and properly framed out legalization status leaves many frustrated and makes it difficult to land on a marketing plan that is both effective and also legal. Staying current and having the most up-to-date information is essential.
Following the top newsletters in the industry can really help give you a snapshot of what’s going on in the industry each week.
Tom Angell’s Marijuana Moment covering law, politics and legalization is an all-important resource. It synthesizes relevant news into a cohesive format, which makes it invaluable to busy marketers.
Prohibition Partners International Cannabis Weekly newsletter breaks down by international market, giving the fastest insight to where things sit with legalization on a global scale.
Another favorite is 420 Intel. They’re a bit different in that they don’t create content, but crawl the web and syndicate stories, saving you a lot of time by having everything current at your fingertips.
Social Media Networks Are The Hub
Recently, we’ve seen the flushing out of which social media networks support cannabis and hemp and which ones are more fickle.
Facebook has made it decisively clear that they do not support the cannabis or hemp industries. At the other end of the spectrum is LinkedIn, which has fully embraced the cannabis sector as not just an industry, but they’ve recognized it to be culturally relevant.
There are a multitude of marketing, sales, medical, scientific, and general business-oriented groups on LinkedIn that are of real value to professionals in the industry.
Instagram marketing has worked well for a lot of consumer-focused products, but the seemingly random shutting down of accounts has been a real issue for many brands – and brand ambassadors (aka ‘influencers’).
Many marketers consider Twitter to be the airport rather than the destination, but they too are very cannabis friendly. It pays to keep an eye on this platform to get a sense of whose going where and when. It’s a nice place to track movement in general.
Know Your Audience
Honing in on your target audience is key. Paying attention to the who and the how are important, but it pays not to forget the “why.”
You can’t be everything to everyone.
I have seen this approach fail time and time again. It just waters down the message.
When I first started at Boveda they were really marketing to everyone. I came in and looked at the market opportunity as an insider. This allowed us to work from the inside out versus the outside-in approach the company had been taking.
Once we broke it down, we realized It all starts with the grower. We had to begin our efforts at the source. When a grower adopts best practices, you see that care and attention to detail trickle down through every aspect of the operation and supply chain.
We realized that we had to cater to the specific needs of the smaller cottage growers, as well as the larger Canadian LPs, for example.
Getting back to the ‘why’, we got clear on the reason we were selling these products.
Boveda’s offerings are designed to maintain the quality of your product post-harvest, no matter the size of your operation. Once we started talking to growers and assessing their individual needs everything came together naturally.
As the current VP of Marketing for GreenBroz Inc. I just led an exercise in auditing personas, getting them on-point for marketing efforts going forward. This was viewed as a necessity before updating and launching our new CMS (website) and Ecommerce domain for 2021.
Much of the team including myself has a background tied to the 'traditional' market, giving us an excellent understanding and appreciation for the small-scale grower.
Over time we have learned the evolving needs and growth patterns of the large-scale LPs and concluded that our target audience approach does not need to be a this or that – her or him kind of approach, but rather we can balance our efforts across our different audience segments.
We landed on a three-tiered approach where we speak to small, medium, and large-scale clients giving each segment of our audience the information, products, and services they need.
This segmentation methodology is now delineated on our inbound and outbound marketing efforts, and has worked well for us in reaching the right people with the right message – at the right time.
Cross-Networking Builds Visibility
The benefits of developing strategic partnerships within the space cannot be underestimated. Here is an area where ‘going old school’ still works just fine. Creating alliances with other businesses in the industry that offer complementary products or services is beneficial for everyone.
GreenBroz has partnered with Boveda to offer their quality control products to customers who purchase post-harvest processing equipment.
At CannaCon South in Oklahoma we will be sharing a large space with Dutchpro Nutrients, giving both their customers and ours access to high-quality products for their operation.
Such marketing collaborations give customers easy access to harvest and post-harvest offerings side-by-side. This kind of ‘cross-networking’ effort can easily enlarge your footprint at events that rely on foot traffic and can lead to sales down the road from referrals.
The Only Thing Constant Is Change
The landscape for marketers in the cannabis industry has changed dramatically in the last seven years; I’ve been around it.
We will continue to see changes going forward likely at an increasingly rapid pace, as more states, countries and regions across the globe start to move faster toward embracing the industry as advantageous, from both a health and wellness solution – and a business perspective.
The best advice I can give any marketer is to remember the biggest lesson I learned in the dot-com space: the only thing constant is change.
If you are good at becoming fully involved with the industry you represent, your career as a cannabis industry marketer will be extremely rewarding and successful for years to come.
About Lance Lambert, VP of Marketing, GreenBroz Inc.
Lance has spent years cultivating brands and telling stories, primarily in the mainstream digital media and marketing space prior to making the jump to the [legal] cannabis industry in late 2013. Lance brings his varied knowledge and passion-first attitude to GreenBroz, where he's been tasked with growing the company’s footprint with an eye toward moving into emerging markets around the globe.
As a cancer survivor, and having grown up in Northern California, Lance has seen firsthand the benefits of cannabis, and how it can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Having spent the last few years speaking at expos and conventions around the world, he enjoys connecting with others who are interested in the many different facets of the industry.
Are you still missing out on The Bluntness newsletter? Sign Up today to stay in the loop.