WATCH: The Secrets of Cannabis Branding & Marketing

Cannabis Branding with Oswaldo Graziani | The Edge presented by The Bluntness
Cannabis Branding with Oswaldo Graziani | The Edge presented by The Bluntness / Bluntness Media

How to create a cannabis brand from scratch? How to build and market a brand that will attract loyal customers?

The industry is full of exciting opportunities for marketers and creatives – as long as one can navigate the nuances and pitfalls.

The Bluntness recently sat down with Oswaldo Graziani, Creative Marketing Director at Fluent for a crash course in cannabis branding and marketing.

It was a riveting talk full of important tips that every cannabis business will want to know.

For the full talk, check out the video above. For the highlights, check out the article below.

The New Wave of Cannabis Branding & Marketing

When Graziani first started researching the cannabis industry, he noticed a kind of obsession with cannabis culture and the cannabis plant.

“Let’s call it the first wave of cannabis branding, this old-school approach that is completely important and necessary, but it does not necessarily show the full picture of the cannabis consumer nowadays,” he says.

“So my mission with Fluent was to create a brand that was prepared for the future, embracing all these different demographics that were jumping in.”

For Graziani, this has been the perfect challenge given his background in storytelling and content development for different demographics.

And although his experience has served him well in cannabis, that doesn’t mean success has come easy.

“I felt that I lost all my superpowers.”

Graziani quickly learned that he wouldn’t be able to fully rely on a lot of the tools he’d previously used to engage the market. Social media restrictions against cannabis are a great example.

“I basically felt that I lost all my superpowers. All the things I did to build audiences and to create connections were completely gone,” he notes.

“And we were fighting this battle of shadow banning censorship, and basically, a huge gray area of not understanding where the rules are, which has been a big challenge.”

Marketing challenges like this in cannabis require extra creativity, the ability to pivot and find alternative ways to connect with consumers.

Part of the solution here involves going back to the basics, like email and texting. And consumers appreciate this direct connection, where there’s no middleman filtering everything, Graziani says.

“Having said that, it’s still complicated…we’re part of this huge transition with cannabis, and it’s becoming normal. It will take a while, but we are moving in the right direction.”

The Blank Canvas of Cannabis Branding & Marketing

The cannabis industry is currently seeing more demand for brand creation, marketing, and storytelling, but why now?

Graziani offers a perfect analogy to illustrate the shift.

If you walk into a gas station to make a purchase, there is very little brand loyalty. You’re looking for a basic commodity, and the biggest factors are location and pricing.

The cannabis industry started there, Graziani explains, and the average consumer’s purchasing decisions weren’t that sophisticated.

But it has evolved fast.

“Now it’s becoming more like the auto industry where you have different ranges of prices, needs, colors, you know,” he says, emphasizing that branding, positioning, and finding your market has become a critical focus point for cannabis operators.

“For anybody that is a creative developer or somebody that's obsessed with branding, packaging, messaging, it is a huge opportunity,” Graziani says.

As the cannabis industry continues to experience rapid growth, this demand for creative developers will only continue to rise.

“I see it on my team. My team started out as me and another person four years ago, and now we're more than 10 people, just a marketing department doing marketing stuff,” he adds.

Before You Start Branding and Marketing Your Cannabiz

One of the common mistakes Graziani has observed in the cannabis industry is worth noting.

“A good brand can only survive with inventory and consistency on their product and availability,” he advises.

“You see all these brands that are amazing, and you go to California looking for them and it’s almost like a quest; it’s impossible to find them.”

These brands are doing a better job showing that the brand exists than actually making the product.

“Successful companies in the industry are the ones solving production and inventory first and using that as a platform to build brands,” Graziani says.

“If you do it the other way around, you're going to fail. The main actor in this industry is the product. It's all about having product and trying to build a brand around that.”

Key Challenges for Cannabis Brands

One of the biggest challenges in cannabis marketing today: establishing customer loyalty.

“Internally, we’ve talking about it so much,” Graziani reveals. “When you have the product quality and good pricing, they will come. The community is very good at finding their places on social media, you know, Weedmaps or Leafly.”

It’s that second visit, he says, where you know you can build a relationship with the customer.

“So we're focusing heavily on building an ecosystem, with a loyalty program, customer service, product availability, so many, many things, but retention is one of the most important things.”

The other complicated challenge, especially for multistate operators, is the varying regulations from one state to the next.

“It's a different planet,” he says of the regulations. “You have all these incredible, even contradictory rules. You have to basically set up your brain to every market you're playing in, and they are completely different.”

This impacts everybody, marketing teams, production teams, retail – an extraordinary set of challenges that don’t exist for other industries.

“For cannabis, this makes it incredibly difficult to operate. But you know, it's part of the reality of the industry right now,” he says.

The Growing Demographics of Cannabis

The demographics of the cannabis consumer have expanded incredibly over the past 20 to 30 years.

“The picture of the cannabis consumer right now is incredibly diverse, not only for gender, identity, or age. Cannabis is medicine and that’s a very important part,” Graziani says.

“It’s much more than cultural, it’s a tool that can make you a better version of yourself. And that applies to whatever you want to be. If you are a person that has chronic pain, cannabis is going to make you a better version of yourself because it’s going to help you with that issue.”

Same for anxiety or insomnia, or if you’re a creative person and need some inspiration.

“So that talks to all demographics, it expands the pool incredibly, and that's where branding becomes important,” Graziani says.

Women, for example, are a huge demographic in cannabis. “But then when you go and see branding for women in cannabis, you're starting to see more and more, but it's definitely not balanced yet. It's not even close. There's a huge gap there.”

Seniors are another great example. “We see that here in Florida. They are embracing cannabis for the right reasons and the numbers are incredible. And their stories are absolutely awesome. Yet, there are very few brands and companies thinking about that.”

A lot of brands instead focus on the culture side of cannabis, which is important, too. “Brands like Cookies and Jungle Boys, they’re the main engine right now in the industry, so that is incredibly important as well.”

In states like Florida, where cannabis operators are required to vertically integrate (growing, processing, manufacturing, and packaging everything in-house) that it doesn’t always make sense to niche down like this.

It really depends on the size of your license.

“Fluent is an operation of 400+ employee. When you’re that big … you can’t afford to tackle one niche, you have to go big, you have to think about everybody,” Graziani says.

“In FLUENT we’re creating brands for all these demographics that we think are incredibly valuable, you know, from heavy users, to classic flower users, to value consumers that are looking more for volume than for quality, people who are looking for concentrates or edibles, and then gender-based marketing, you know, there's a lot there.”

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