It used to be that cannabis companies could give away free samples as part of a purchase incentive, but doing that today could get your business shut down. Brand ambassadors are having to go into local dispensaries with empty product boxes when trying to sell products to local budtenders. Needless to say, it’s pretty hard to bring your brand to life when you can’t even show it.
These were some of the challenges discussed during the Cannabis Marketing Summit in Los Angeles, put on by the LA Chapter of the American Marketing Association. The question of “How to Influence Perception of Cannabis to Consumers” was put to a panel that included Canndescent’s Head of Experiential Cheyne Nadeau, Merry Jane Media VP of Corporate Relations Jim Baudino and CEO & Co-Founder of LA Cannabis News Brian Weiss, moderated by Alice Moon, PR Director at Paragon.
The discussion emphasized how cannabis companies today need to be extra creative when it comes to finding ways to educate consumers about cannabis. Cheyne Nadeau said Canndescent uses private events as a way to offer education in ways that help build brand affinity and generate demand back to the dispensaries, which is where the sales take place.
“We do a lot of private brand activations where we’re bringing either in top dispensaries or consumers. We hand pick all of the top dispensaries, top influencers and top customers in each market. For example, we just a big launch event with Chelsea Handler and that was a private invite-only event, so as you can imagine it’s about making the biggest impact you can, while staying below the radar at the same time.”
The panel also talked about working with Instagram influencers, and the challenges that come when working with a group that is very reluctant about working with a high-risk industry. For those who have built their livelihood on Instagram, the risk of getting their account shut down is just not worth it. Even though more and more influencers are opening up to working with cannabis brands, it’s still a difficult marketing channel to conquer. Product samples can’t be sent through the mail– so marketers need to hand deliver each gift.
Understand that every market is different. Work closely with your sales reps to understand the market. Sacramento is very different from San Diego. A lot of the budtenders you’ll work with started out as weed fanatics that wanted to get a job in cannabis, and now they are becoming the gatekeepers of the industry. So the more you can align them with your brand, the better your sales will be.
Most importantly, Jim Baudino of Merry Jane Media said, do something unique and tell a story that captures people’s hearts and minds. “PR is extremely important,” he said. “Give your PR person the tools to reach out with your story. Know who your customers are and know who you are targeting.”
Francesca Vavala is co-founder of Delaware-based Alias-Cann, and is an informed and inspired cannabis entrepreneur, advocate, and speaker. She shares out-of-the-box sales strategies and best practices with other cannabis businesses to help them and others grow their business and share the power of cannabis.