CPG Lifestyle Case Study

TO ENHANCE PARTNERSHIP & INVESTOR OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH EARNED MEDIA COVERAGE

THE CHALLENGE

An ambitious CPG brand, previously unknown outside its local area, aims to secure expansion investment and distribution partnerships.

THE KUDOS

“Exactly what we were looking for in PR representation…smart, tough, persistent, and well connected… Consistently able to pitch us to the right outlets at the right times to get the coverage we were hoping for. Tara and her team are great and she came up with multiple really creative ways for us to stand out from the masses. I would highly recommend Tara and I would happily work with her again in the future.”


Ryan H.,
Marketing VP
CPG Marketing | Product Innovation | Lifestyle Branding

THE SOLUTION

Engage business, lifestyle, and vertical journalists on a weekly basis with timely, newsworthy storylines, tied in with announcements, conferences, and media calendars. Storylines encompassed purpose-driven, product-forward, and executive thought leadership,  Ensure national reputation management with media monitoring and on-going strategic counsel. Ensure key messaging consistency through internal training and on-going media training. Develop owned media assets, including video, press kit, and investor deck to stand out from the pack.

NATIONAL REPUTATION MANAGEMENT


Our national brand, competitor and category monitoring informs corporate decisions including partnerships, product development, and U.S. trends in the lifestyle and wellness category. We’re able to zero in on emerging trends before they happen and activate with strategic pitching.

ON-GOING COAST-TO-COAST MEDIA ENGAGEMENT


Activate media calendars with personalized review opportunities for selected journalists quarterly, which increased journalistic coverage as well as word of mouth.

OWNED CONTENT DEVELOPMENT


On-brand owned media, including branded video and regularly updated press kits and investor decks.

EXECUTIVE BRANDING


Reinforce executive thought leadership through media profiles, speaking engagements, and custom content development including paid, earned, and owned content.

WORD OF MOUTH CONFERENCE & TRADESHOW ACTIVATIONS


Ensure on-site coverage with journalists through activations of on-site journalists and sponsorships through engaging experiences and access.

AGENCY & PARTNER COLLABORATION


Work hand in hand with a branding firm to ensure consistent key messaging and partner PR agencies to ensure joint announcements are mutually beneficial.

THE RESULTS


Magazine cover featuring brand name and CEO

846 


Unique media mentions in 12 months.

10


Expansion to 10 additional U.S. states and 1 international destination

$7.4 million


Earned media value in 12 months

1


Clio nominated branded video

9% 


Share of voice against 5 aspirational, better funded, more established, national brands.

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Cannabis PR Agency California
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b-corp public relations

B-corps are uniquely positioned to be storytellers. But how does PR differ for B-Corps?

Is purpose all it takes to thrive?

 

You started your company to make a difference in the world. You know it, your team knows it, and your loyal clients and customers know and believe in your product and your mission. So, how do you expand your reach? How can others find you in an increasingly crowded B-corp marketplace? Does PR play a role in successful B-corps?

This is an issue no matter what industry you’re in; the audience for your product or service may be larger than ever, and there may be more ways to reach them, but there are also more competitors out there looking to connect with that same audience. This is where a focused and strategic public relations campaign can help.

Expanding your awareness beyond traditional marketing campaigns is especially vital for companies who aren’t focused solely on profits and want to make a positive impact on the world. Becoming a certified B-Corporation isn’t easy, as it requires meeting exacting standards regarding accountability, transparency, and social and environmental impact. After going through the rigorous certification process to obtain B-Corporation status, it’s deeply discouraging if you can’t get your message out to those who want to hear it.

Should B-Corps Leverage PR Over Other Channels?

So, what are your options if you’re a B-Corporation looking to expand your reach? You could try the traditional tools: TV advertising, ads on social media, content marketing, direct mail, and so on. But these tools require significant resources that not all companies have, and worse still, there are signs that they are increasingly ineffective. One study showed that 86 percent of people skip or ignore TV advertisements, 44 percent of direct mail is never opened, and 91 percent of email users end up unsubscribing from company email lists they had previously opted into. These tools may work if you have the resources for a large, prolonged campaign, but they’re not feasible for many organizations.

A better approach for B-Corporations is to let other brands tell their story for them through a strategic public relations campaign. This may seem a bit counterintuitive; after all, you’re giving up control of your message when you use PR instead of more direct marketing or advertising tools. But for many people and businesses, getting a story from a brand they trust is more impactful than when companies try to engage them directly.

Is there any research that proves this theory? In fact, there’s quite a bit of it. A study from the Content Marketing Institute showed that 80 percent of business decision makers and 70 percent of customers prefer to get information on a company from articles rather than ads.

Is PR More Effective for B-Corps?

Why is it that so many people seem to prefer reading about a company in an article rather than seeing an ad from the company directly? For one thing, advertisements can be very pushy, and they have a way of inserting themselves when you’re trying to do something else. If a businessperson or customer comes across an engaging article about a company, however, they can choose to read it when and how they want, on their own terms.

The other reason people prefer to read about a company in articles is the issue of trust. Savvy decision makers and cynical consumers are often skeptical of the messages they receive through advertisements, social media posts, and other types of marketing with a more direct approach. They know that they’re being marketed to, and they’re suspicious that the message and information they’re receiving may be untrue or misleading.

On the other hand, if they get that same information from an outlet that they already know and trust, they’re more likely to be receptive to the message and believe it. This is particularly true for the Millennial generation; research shows that Millennials are 247 percent more likely to be influenced by blogs and social media sites than are older generations. Similarly, 96 percent of B2B buyers are looking to read more content from industry thought leaders, and 93 percent of B2B buyers begin their buying process with an online search. If you can get articles in well-known, respected publications, you’ll rank highly in online search results — and there’s an eager group of businesses who are waiting to hear from you.

This isn’t to say that PR can’t function in conjunction with other tools to help your business grow. In fact, that’s exactly how PR should work. By getting information about your company into relevant and respected publications, consumers and other businesses can learn more about what you do. From there, you can direct them from the articles to your business’ website, social media pages, and other venues where you can engage them more directly.

 

How To Use B-Corp PR with Other Channels

That’s exactly what we do at Avaans Media. We are experts at harnessing traditional PR tools as well as newer marketing strategies, to help purpose-driven brands find success in the marketplace. No matter what you do or what your goals are, we will help you grow and thrive by crafting a strategy uniquely tailored to your strengths.

Here’s one example of how we can use PR to help your business. Our client was looking to break into the consumer packaged goods industry with a range of hemp-based products. Despite the differences between hemp and marijuana, many consumers were unfamiliar with these kinds of products or had negative views of them. We knew we needed purpose-driven campaigns.

To help our client reach their goals, we took a multi-pronged approach that increased their brand awareness and shaped their public image in a positive direction. We celebrated purpose throughout our campaigns, from health and wellness to global sustainability.  We leveraged our media contacts to generate more than 200 articles about the company over three years, averaging five articles per month. These articles generated more than 10 billion earned media impressions over those three years, with an estimated value of over $5 million dollars. By the time the client was ready for their initial public offering, the company’s share price had risen by more than 300 percent, and much of that increase can be attributed to our campaign.

 

Contact Us To Get Started

social media ads during COVID-19 case studies
successful social media influencer campaigns

Successful Influencer Campaigns Aren’t Unicorns

PR has a number of tools in its tool belt, one of them is successful influencer campaigns & partnerships.

In consumer goods, influencer marketing is establishing a significant place in the mix. When we see some of these campaigns, a little part of our PR soul dies. Frankly, some of them are brand-damaging and unlikely to have an influence on sales. When working with influencers, you’re already taking a risk that there’s a past or future PR fiasco that could affect your brand reputation.  Influencer marketing should be considered paid media and owned media and just like you wouldn’t put out an ad or other content that damages your brand, nor should you execute an influencer campaign without consideration. Some people seem to think so long as you’re getting your product in someone’s IG story that’s all that matters, we disagree.

We believe all consumer goods PR should be executed with strategy and thought. While influencer campaigns aren’t exactly the same as ads, we take insight from advertising research to inform our recommendations. 

On average, it takes 21 brand exposures to bring someone to the purchase phase.
5-9 brand exposures to create brand awareness
more than 10 exposures during the consideration phase

While influencer campaigns are a paid opportunity (influencer rate range from product exchange to $1 million per post), there are public relations and brand opportunities and implications as well. While you might not be able to spend $1,500 per post, you should seriously balance the PR and brand implications.

 

Working with an influencer is NOT the same as placing an ad, so we also wanted to share our best practices for a  influencer campaign.

Get Crystal Clear on Your KPIs BEFORE Reaching Out to Influencers

If your consumer goods influencer campaign objective is SEO value as opposed to brand awareness, those are actually very different campaigns. They are both relevant.  Who you work with will be different. The number of influencers you work with will be different. How you CHOOSE the influencers might be different.  But even if you’re doing an influencer campaign for SEO value, we beg you to consider the brand implications.

For many CPG brands, their brand may be their most valuable asset, so treating the brand with long-term implications in mind is essential to the longevity or value of the brand. From a brand building and cannabis PR perspective, for MOST brands, our perspective is to go deep, rather than wide with cannabis social media influencers.  The biggest reason this is our typical approach is because of the importance of repeated exposure. This is PARTICULARLY important to emerging CPG brands whose other marketing initiatives are constrained.

Influencer Campaign Success #1:  Choose Your  Influencer Partners Carefully

No matter what strategy you apply to your influencer campaign, align with influencers who align with your brand. If you’re a wellness brand, maybe partnering with an influencer whose feed is about their last party isn’t natural synergy, the influencer’s audience may not receive your product well.

Why is a wellness driven product doing an influencer campaign with influencers aligned with party culture? Why not align with a nurse, a yogi, and a marathon runner? It’s jarring for customers to see inconsistent messages and creates brand confusion. Getting brand awareness is hard enough to do when you act with brand clarity, why make it harder on yourself?

Instead of looking at followers, look at engagement & reply rates. But dig a little deeper on those engagement rates, they should be consistent with typical engagement. If your influencer has 10,000 followers and 3,000 likes and 1,500 comments, that’s a red flag and suggests automation. On the other hand, if your influencer has 700 posts and 35 million followers, that’s disjointed as well. For context, as of this writing Kylie Jenner has 42M U.S. followers (164M globally), of which 1.2M are evaluated as authentic U.S. engagers, according to HypeAuditor.   Is it POSSIBLE that they reached 35 million followers over 700 posts? Yes, but there must have been a viral trigger, so look to see what that could be.

Take a careful look at the other brands the influencer has worked with and see how they align with you. Have they worked with your competitors? Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

Since this is likely a paid relationship, you should also be evaluating their overall professionalism. How thoughtful and eye-catching is the content, how professional is their response to your inquiry?

Ruthlessly review their past content for any red flags that could cause your brand problems, and also consider ways to mutually separate in case of a brand clash in the future.

If you follow the other steps below, this stage is incredibly important.

Build a Relationship with the Influencer Before Your Influencer Campaign

Note I keep referring to social media influencers as partners. Treat them as such, treat them as humans. Social media influencers will have an emotional response to how they are treated and no matter how professional they are, how you treat them impacts the outcome. That’s because the POWER of influencers is in the PERSONAL.

Why undermine the most valuable part of the partnership? Why not turn that influencer into an actual advocate?

By inspiring your cannabis influencer, you can bet they’ll have an easier time inspiring their followers and creating content that’s consistent for both brands. Meet with the influencer if you can, engage with them as they’re experiencing the product for the first time.

Explain your favorite aspects of the product/brand and discuss your brand values and vision, so the influencer can align their value systems and genuinely connect with the brand.

This more personal relationship approach is something 90% of influencer campaigns lack, and it shows.

Another reason to build a relationship with a brand influencer is to review how you’ll mutually handle it if the account is shut down during the campaign or afterward.

Allow The Influencer Creative Freedom & Voice

Effective  influencers have their own style of content and voice, you’re likely attracted to that style and voice – let then keep it. Influencers are master content creators, they see the world through a lens that sparks enthusiasm by their followers. A great influencer will happily develop content ideas that meet your objectives, while also reinforcing both brands. This content will put a fresh spin on your brand.

Collaboration magic happens when two brands align in such a way that it seems absolutely natural. Collaborating WITH the  influencer on content as opposed to directing or scripting the content enables to you leverage the influencer’s own brand while also enhancing yours.

Know FTC Guidelines

Make sure to review FTC guidelines on disclosure. This is especially important because it’s almost always the brand who the FTC investigates. The brand has more skin in the game, so the brand needs to be the enforcer.

 

Cannabis CEOs have challenging jobs. You’re in the fast-moving cannabis business, so you’re also in the business of understanding trends and our industry. For that reason, we put together a shortlist of our favorite cannabis Twitter accounts, tailored for the time-constrained cannabis CEO and C-suite.

Twitter is an extremely useful listening tool, so we’ve curated the list intentionally for listening and we did throw in a few personal favorites as well because even cannabis CEOs need a breather now and then.  But overall, the list we’ve put together is highly curated and designed to give you what you need at the moment without overwhelming executives with chatter and nonsense. Hey, we love the nonsense too, but the point of a Twitter list is to create a curated experience and that’s what we’ve done.

We love Twitter because it’s such a great place to glean insights. We’ve already written about how we utilize Twitter for media relations. While we certainly use Twitter to engage our entire community, we do much more listening on Twitter than we do posting – and that’s intentional. With that perspective in mind, when we developed this Twitter List for cannabis CEOs, we thought about the Twitter uses who stay on topic, talk business, and keep chaos to a minimum. At it’s best, Twitter is a feed of quick snippets of insight, and we think these Twitter feeds embody that perspective.

Make things easy on yourself by subscribing to our Twitter list. In no particular order, here are our inclusions for 2020. 

 

Cannabis Journalists & News Twitter Accounts


Jeremy Berke @jberke

One of the first national business writers to cover the cannabis space from Business Insider, Jeremy’s feed is straightforward and no bull. From his Twitter profile, you can also subscribe to his weekly email newsletter which is a must-read of the week’s news.

Alan Brochstein, CFO @invest420
If industry analysis is what you crave, Alan Brochstein and his site, New Cannabis Ventures are on it. As the industry has changed, so has NCV. Today the NCV focuses mostly on cannabis’ publically traded businesses. But since so many of the industry cues and trends start there, it’s a great feed to watch. Alan’s distinct mix of business trends and insights are unbeatable. From his Twitter, you can also subscribe to his weekly newsletter, which is filled with investor insight and cannabis industry predictions. 

David George-Cosh @itsdgc
David primarily covers Canada’s legal cannabis market, which means he covers some of the world’s largest publically traded cannabis companies. Hailing from the Wall Street Journal, David gets to the heart of the matter with pertinent business issues from unionization to M&A.

AxisWire @axiswire
AxisWire is a newswire dedicated to the cannabis industry. It’s an easy to digest spot to catch up on the industry, by zeroing in on the latest press releases, from product announcements to industry events, it’s a good at-a-glance feed. 

WeedWeek @Weedweeknews
Hosted by Alex Halperin, a long-time cannabis journalist and Donny Alexander of public radio and ESPN, these two have a knack for being early adopters to industry trends, with a keen eye on what it means to consumers. Cannabis CEO and C-Suite executives will enjoy the thoughtful, no-drama approach of Halperin and Alexander while benefitting from their insightful guests. 

Cannabis Business & Thought Leader Twitter Accounts

By sparking your imagination, but these accounts are must-follows for cannabis industry CEOs for their broad perspectives on the overall health of the industry.

 

Andrew DeAngelo @Andrew_DeAngelo
Andrew might not be as well known as his brother, Steve, but these days he’s coming out from behind his operational role at the pioneering Oakland-based dispensary, Harborside, and sharing his opinions with his distinct rebellious flourish. Andrew’s thought-provoking perspective is cannabis industry-focused, with an emphasis on California and its regulatory environment. 

Emily Paxhia @empax1
As a woman in the VC world, Emily is already a notable follow, but as a cannabis VC, watching Emily’s tweets is interesting insight into the headspace of a cannabis VC. As co-founder of Poseidon Asset Management, Emily has been an active investor since 2014. Poseidon has invested in Pax, Juul and Canopy Growth. On Twitter, she’s a positive advocate for the industry, while maintaining a 360-degree view on the cannabis industry’s trends and future, including international expansion and legalization. 

Vangst @vangsttalent 
It’s always interesting to see who is hiring for what. Great CEOs can read between the lines when they see their competitors hiring – or not. Take a gander at the jobs posted and you’ll see a list of who’s growing and who isn’t. 

Cannabis Advocacy & Industry Twitter Accounts

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not finished. Both THC and CBD leaders should keep a close on the announcements from these accounts.

 

Norml @norml
From research to legislative initiatives, NORML is the OG of cannabis advocacy and consumer accessibility.  NORML’s Twitter feed is highly curated and includes information from state chapters too. A quick glance will get you immediately up to speed on today’s THC-related news. 

US Hemp Roundtable @HempRoundtable
The US Hemp Roundtable was formed to take a proactive role in hemp normalization and legislation. Many in the hemp industry credit the 2018 Farm Act to the US Hemp Roundtable. If you’re in the business of CBD or hemp, you’ve got to keep your eye on these tweets. 

National Cannabis Industry Association @NCIAorg 
As a cannabis industry representative at the federal legislative level, NCIA has a national presence and state chapters. The feed is filled with legislative updates affecting cannabis business owners as well as events, podcasts and blog posts written by the industry’s leading thought leaders.

Minority Cannabis @MinCannBusAssoc
If you’re looking for an inclusive perspective, and eh-em, you should be, then look no further than Minority Cannabis who share their perspectives and the latest diversity and inclusion news specific to the cannabis industry. As this movement continues within cannabis, this Twitter feed provides considerations and insights CEOs find helpful when developing diversity and inclusion policies and procedures. 

 

Cannabis Industry Branding Expert Patrick Toste Urges Cannabis Brands to Cherish Your Customers and Rethink Instagram

In an ongoing series this year, we’d like you to get to know some of the fantastic companies and people we’ve had a chance to collaborate with over the years. Our first interview is with an incredibly talented branding expert, Patrick Toste, co-founder of Seattle-based cannabis branding agency, Highopes. 

 

First, a little background about you: 

I’m originally from Rhode Island and graduated from California State University Long Beach with a BFA in Graphic Design. I’ve been designing for over 10 years and have had the luxury of working with both large and small brands nationwide. I am the Creative Director and Co-Founder of HIGHOPES Design. We are a creative studio that focuses exclusively on helping cannabis businesses nationwide unlock their potential through branding, packaging, web design, and marketing services. Our client list consists of over 30 cannabis companies that include Have A Heart, VidaCann, and Nuvata.

 

When did you first start working in the cannabis industry?

Upon moving to Seattle and experiencing the recreational cannabis market for the first time, I recognized an opportunity, and established a passion for, helping cannabis businesses build successful brands. I captured a handful of freelance projects with cannabis clients in Washington and California that I completed some branding and packaging work for. From there, I decided it was best to brand myself as a more established business than just a freelancer to provide more growth opportunities for myself and my clients.

 

What were you doing prior to the cannabis industry? 

Before diving into the cannabis industry, I worked as a designer on the in-house branding team at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf which is a nationwide coffee chain based in Southern California. In this position, I gained experienced managing and expanding a large brand through packaging design, digital advertising, in-store marketing, and other similar avenues. 

After moving to Seattle from Southern California, I decided to explore the world of advertising by joining the team at Publicis Seattle as a designer. At Publicis, I was able to work with even larger brands like T-Mobile and assist in a variety of nationwide digital advertising projects. However, my true passion for branding was established there when I led the design team on the rebrand of the locally world-famous radio station, KEXP. 

 

What lesson did you learn BEFORE cannabis that’s been most valuable in cannabis?

I’d say the lesson I learned before I entered the cannabis space that has been most valuable to HIGHOPES and our clients is the importance of knowing and understanding your customers. This methodology was something I gained over the years of working with larger, nationwide brands like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, T-Mobile, and even Under Armour. I was able to realize how these companies were branded and marketing was significantly impacted by what their consumers think, want, need, and feel. 

Something I see all too often in the cannabis industry is a rush to bring a product to the market with the idea of targeting all consumers due to a scarcity mindset. Operationally I understand why these businesses feel this is the right approach, but in hindsight, they realize they do not know who their customer is and what delights them which results in an unfocused and unorganized brand direction. 

 

Is there a particular cannabis branding project you’d like to highlight? 

At HIGHOPES we are extremely proud of all the work we create for all of our clients, but I’d like to highlight the project we did for the California-based vaporizer brand, Nuvata. Nuvata approached our team with only a product and a vision so we assisted in establishing their positioning, messaging, branding, packaging, website, and marketing. Each branding and marketing effort we performed was put through the filter of the established strategy resulting in an immensely focused and concise brand for the market. With the Nuvata team’s help, we were able to identify and understand their target customer and then make every branding and marketing decision with the goal to bring them delight. The end result spoke for itself as within the first year they spread across the entire state of California and gained considerable brand awareness.  


What’s the biggest misconception cannabis companies have about branding? 

I think the biggest misconception about branding in the cannabis industry is that your brand is simply your logo when this could not be farther from the truth. In essence, your brand is actually not controlled by you but rather your customers. A brand is the opinion and feeling a customer has about your company based on a combination of your logo, products, packaging, website, marketing, social media, customer service, and so on. For that reason, cannabis companies can only strive to manipulate the emotional response of their customers with the goal of creating a positively recognized brand. 

 

In your view, what is the biggest branding challenge facing cannabis companies today? 

I think the biggest challenge cannabis companies face today when building a brand is the lack of beneficial advertising and marketing opportunities. As mentioned in my previous response, if your brand is simply the feeling a customer has of your company then it becomes very difficult to establish a positive association with customers when you cannot take advantage of the many ways of influencing their point of view. Additionally, customers cannot begin to create that strong bond with your company when you do not have the ability to raise awareness of your brand through advertising and marketing channels. 

What will be the biggest branding challenge in 2020? 

I believe the biggest branding challenge in 2020 will be establishing and solidifying customer loyalty. Most cannabis markets, both medical and recreational, are seeing a surplus of emerging brands which provides customers with an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. Additionally, product innovation has not kept pace with the number of companies entering the market leaving customers with a plethora of brands essentially selling the same product. These two factors combined prove the importance of understanding your specific customer and catering everything about your brand to what brings them delight. When that emotional bond is created with a customer it creates a sense of loyalty and trust in your brand that becomes invaluable to your success. 

 

What can companies do to alleviate their branding challenges?

When it comes to navigating the regulations around advertising and marketing in the cannabis space companies can look to outside-the-industry partnerships to alleviate these challenges. When a business understands their brand outside the lens of cannabis it allows the possibility of partnering with non-cannabis companies that share the same mission, vision, and values. Through these types of situations, cannabis brands can advertise and market indirectly through their partner to an audience that is similar, if not exactly, their type of customer. For example, Plus Edibles recently partnered with Casper for their line of CBD gummies as both brands can benefit from each other’s audience.

For establishing customer loyalty, cannabis companies simply need to take the time to understand who their target customer base is and either build or shift their branding to align with that audience. The more focused the ideal customer then the easier and more efficiently a brand can market to their wants and needs. Every move a cannabis brand makes should be filtered through the lens of their consumer. 

 

In your view, what is the most under-rated tool in the cannabis branding toolbox for cannabis companies?

I believe the most under-rated tool in the branding toolbox for cannabis companies is their brand website. This goes for cultivators, manufacturers, dispensaries, delivery, and ancillary businesses. With all the regulations surrounding advertising and marketing, your website tends to be the only platform where you can comprehensively communicate to your customer all the details of your brand. Additionally, depending on your business type, it tends to be a major channel in driving sales. For these reasons, the proper investment should be made in creating a website that is aesthetically attractive, engaging with content, and functions as a conversion tool for your business. At the end of the day, no matter who your customer is, people tend to take brands seriously that look like they take themselves seriously and your website is the perfect platform to communicate that. 

 

In your view, what is the most over-rated tool in the cannabis branding toolbox for cannabis companies?

Although still an important cog in a cannabis companies marketing plan, I believe the most over-rated tool in the branding toolbox for cannabis companies is their Instagram profile. Many of the cannabis brands we speak with feel that Instagram will drive a majority of their sales and the data just doesn’t support that theory. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very critical for cannabis brands to have a consistent Instagram presence to communicate credibility to customers but I don’t think it requires a premium-level investment. The customer journey from Instagram to purchase is long and complicated resulting in frequent drop-offs, especially for CPG brands. Additionally, with the algorithm changes in Instagram, it’s most likely that only a small fraction of a cannabis brand’s followers are even getting fed their posts. My recommendation to our cannabis clients is to invest in their Instagram as a way to raise brand awareness but don’t throw all their marketing dollars at it thinking it will drive sales.

 

What’s the BEST piece of cannabis branding expert advice you give everyone you work with?

Focus on a target audience. Your brand doesn’t need to alienate customers, but it needs to understand who is going to hear you the loudest.

6 Free Ways To Maximize Brand Value During a Cannabis Industry Correction

Now is the time to maximize brand value with things that don’t cost extra.

You’ve seen the headlines, the cannabis industry is experiencing its first correction. Consolidations abound. Business closures are making headlines. Capital markets are all but frozen to anyone besides the big guys – and even to them in some cases.  So surviving this time is likely front and center in your mind.

Corrections are quite literally a matter of time – it’s just part of capitalism, and it’s literally just physics. But what is also physics, is that what goes down will also come back up. When it does come back up, it will look different, no doubt about it. Look, the cannabis industry isn’t going away, the market hasn’t even come close to peaking. According to Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics in 2020 alone, we’re projected to be a $16 BILLION dollar industry and next year, in 2021, over a $19 billion dollar industry.

Yes, absolutely, tighten up your books, reduce inventory, keep a tight eye on your cash flow and finances. All those things are 100% legitimate and important. But since we’re a cannabis PR & branding firm, we’d like to suggest ways you can still excel in this market that maximizes brand value.

 

arcview cannabis industry projections 2020

Image from Business Insider’s Cultivate Newsletter. Subscription link at bottom.

What should cannabis businesses do to survive and possibly even flourish during this time?

Those who survive this phase have a great opportunity to emerge even stronger. Certain efforts, particularly in marketing and PR, will actually provide you more ROI than they would have even a year ago because when panic sets in, balls get dropped, budgets get cut.  Branding and PR are inside-out jobs. There is so much more to branding than a sexy logo. Look deep inside your company for opportunities to distinguish your brand-many of these things won’t cost more and could save you millions.

Double Down On Relationships

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Join and Participate in Active Industry Associations

Right now, we need to commit to the industry associations who are actively working to improve and defend our industry on the local level and the national level. When you join, ask how you can more actively support the organization. By supporting the organization, you’ll not only strengthen its mission, you’ll be able to get to know the people better too.  Double down with your time and you’ll find the returns are immeasurable. Take full advantage of the membership benefits, if there are ways to share your point of view, maximize those. As the industry consolidates, people are looking to do work with people they trust and the best way to encourage trust is to be present, participate, show your commitment to the organization, it’s mission and the people who are contributing to the industry At Primo PR, we’re big fans of the way National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) treats its members.

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

If you have to separate from employees or partners, do it with class. Be communicative and as a fair as you can possibly be. Anything you do when severing a relationship, especially when it’s abrupt, will be especially remembered. So take a hard look at what your brand is worth and treat goodbyes with respect and dignity. If you’re letting employees go, be sensitive to timing. If you’re canceling a contract, have a real discussion with your partner about how to do it fairly. It’s easy to feel shame about these conversations, but don’t hide from them.  Yes, these conversations are the worst kind to have, but during the tough times, it’s what you do more than what you say that people will remember.

Treat Your Partners & Vendors Like Gold

When was the last time your CEO made an effort to make budtenders feel special? Now is a great time. Budtenders, like it or not, are the face of your brand to the consumer and trust me, they feel stressed about the cannabis industry’s challenges too. Why not do something no one else will do for the front line during a correction: treat them with respect. Small efforts can go a long, long way right now. I’m not talking about training, I’m talking about thinking of ways to thank budtenders right now, genuinely show your appreciation. It could be as simple as a surprise visit to every dispensary with gift cards. Sure you can go bold and that’s fantastic too, but if you can’t be bold, that’s not an excuse to do nothing. Everyone else will do nothing, do more and get more.

While we’re at it, let’s talk vendors. Sure, go ahead, negotiate good terms – AND uphold your end of the bargain. No one will forget that you drove a hard bargain, but that’s business. But go the extra mile and hold up your end of the deal as if your life was on the line because, from a brand perspective, it is. The last thing you want right now is lackluster partners or partners who don’t really love you, what you want right now is passion, the vendors who are going the extra mile for you-but to do that, you need to treat them well too.  Any partner who will go through the craziness of a correction while looking out for you is worth their weight in gold, treat them that way. Pay on time, acknowledge their efforts and the importance of the relationship. Put a little free-but-important muscle into it and watch how that pays dividends.

Celebrate Your Most Passionate Customers

Customers are the obvious driver of revenue. Now is a great time to make being your customers more fun. Think about what’s REALLY important to your customers. What drives their motivations?  Reward cost-conscious customers with small incentives like purchase cards that can be turned in for promotional products.  If your customers are creative, how can you encourage them to spend their creative energies on their brand commitment? It could be making the inside of your packaging a game, it could be encouraging them to share your brand through social media. And by the way, track your most passionate brand advocates on social media and never forget to celebrate them and acknowledge them. No cannabis brand is too big to thank its customers right now.

 

Don’t Stop, Won’t Stop

“When they go low, we go high,” -Michelle Obama

Emphasize Your Strengths-More

You might not have had the time last year to really see where your best success stories were, but now is the time to look – and celebrate – what worked by actually increasing the heat of what’s doing well. Invest in things that are working well. Increase ROI of the things that are already returning value by committing to them at a whole new level. If your brand is great at social media, keep at it and make it better. Issue a special version of your most popular product line.  Really taking a stand and focus on something you do well will make you stand out from the pack and return more ROI as your competitors struggle to figure out how to manage the dynamics of this marketplace.

Maintain Quality

Consumers know, especially your most passionate consumers, they can tell when you’ve made substitutions and formulation changes. As tempting as it may be to cut corners on the product right now, don’t. Keep your customers happy by maintaining quality while your competitors decrease theirs. Keeping the quality up doesn’t cost extra, but decreasing quality will cost you in the short and long run.

Keep Your Chin Up and Your Numbers Up Too

Incentivize your sales, marketing and PR teams & vendors with trackable KPIs and hold them accountable. Self-serving as this sounds, if you devest cannabis PR, marketing and sales now, you’ll struggle to regain market share when the market starts its inevitable upward tick. Resist the urge to reduce these expenses because the hidden costs are ginormous and tend to extrapolate themselves in silent but deadly ways over years, not months.   I’ve seen this happen over and over again, eliminating these roles, or worse, hiring someone for cheaper, costs companies more. Instead, attend sales, marketing, and PR meetings and show that you’re in touch with the marketplace and work collectively to address issues early. Make sure you’re keeping a close eye on benchmarks and competitors so you have a real idea of how you’re faring in comparison.

In Short

Kindness, professionalism, and time don’t cost extra, but in a cannabis industry correction, they can be the difference-maker.  Now is a great time to really make your brand stronger.

PS: By the way, I grabbed this image from Business Insider’s Cultivated newsletter (link). If you’re not reading it, you should. 

So you want to make your CEO the star? It’s a growing trend and there’s still room for your celebrity cannabis CEO.

The cannabis industry is ready for you, and you can take some tips from outside the cannabis industry to capitalize on the opportunity. From investment opportunities to increased brand value, to policy influence locally and nationally, and even profit increases, there are a lot of reasons why a CEO can be an important brand asset.

We’re seeing celebrity CEOs in the cannabis space, you know who they are. While it might look like those cannabis CEOs became industry household names simply because they’re so brilliant or successful, that’s simply not the case – there are many brilliant AND successful CEOs in cannabis whose names you wouldn’t be able to name. If you look around, you’ll see that cannabis CEOs and even more famous CEOs whose names you know, with very few exceptions, do these things in some combination. Because I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with some fantastic CEOs as well as politicians, I well know the big and little steps creating a celebrity takes.

So how do these CEOs become celebrities? The answer: extreme commitment to repeated exposure in multiple channels. Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither is celebrity CEO.

Close the C-Suite/Consumer Disconnect with Social Media

Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer said the majority of people (63%) believe CEOs should communicate with the public via social media and even more (79%) say knowing a CEO’s personal values is important to building trust, and that they trust spontaneous speakers more than well-delivered speeches. Contrast these statistics with the fact that 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence at all. No wonder there’s a disconnect from the C-suite to the Consumer.

These are interesting statistics for cannabis CEOs, who run businesses in an industry not yet federally recognized.

Increased Industry & Brand Trust

Yet this is EXACTLY the reason cannabis CEOs should be using social media. Even more than most industries, we must create trust with the general public. Summer 2019’s vape crisis did not help the cannabis industry’s reputation with the general public.  Social media offers cannabis brands the opportunity to speak directly and consistently. Because social media offers the opportunity to be spontaneous, here’s the ONE THING you can’t get past with social media: if you’re CEO is tweeting or engaging on LinkedIn, she absolutely must be directly involved and engaged on the platform herself, at least sometimes. And she should be using social media as a listening platform too, it will help her feel more connected and more engaged with her clients.

Balance Strategy with Authenticity

Whatever objectives you have to this strategy, there are reasonably straightforward systems that can be employed to overcome them.  Regardless of your strength as CEO, there’s a way for social media to work. Ghostwriters have a place in social media and many executives and celebrities rely on them, but the truest opportunities come when it isn’t exclusively outsourced, where there is a natural balance that remains authentic AND strategic.  Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo does this very well, he uses Instagram to showcase his boundless energy and willingness to engage with the cannabis community. By intelligently committing to a platform he’s comfortable with, he’s able to work it into his daily life. DeAngelo has also been very consistent with his key messages, he comes back to the same topics time and again and he uses social media to reinforce those messages while also adding a sense of fun and celebration to serious industry discussions.

Pick A Format That Celebrates You as CEO

With social media, there are many, many formats and opportunities. For example, you can balance authenticity with strategy with serialized content. Serialized content allows for consistency and systems to be in place while maintaining flexibility enough to jump into action when there’s a particularly timely opportunity. From podcasts to video forums to tweetchats, serialized content offers a direct opportunity for CEOs to showcase their personalities and warmth, which according to Chris Malone of The Human Brand, is an essential factor in increasing trust, “There are two basic dimensions that we judge people on: competence, which is all about how your abilities are perceived, and warmth.” If your CEO is particularly witty or opinionated, live formats offer CEOs an outstanding opportunity for enhanced brand recognition.

Go where your consumers are. What cannabis CEO is going to make waves by being the first to create engaging content on TikToc or even one of the e-sports platform? There are all kinds of digital places where your consumers roam, be there, where you can actively enjoy the people and space.

 

Open the Kimono To The Press

Simply BEING a CEO isn’t enough to develop ongoing coverage. In order to become a celebrity CEO, there’s groundwork to be done.

Prepare Yourself

Show up for the interview on time and prepared. Be clear on what you’ll say, identify a couple of key quotable statements you don’t want to miss and yes, review the journalist’s past articles to get a sense of their voice and depth. When the article is published, be sure to send a thank-you note and make sure your social media outlets share them.  Get yourself ready with a variety of professional headshots and lifestyle shots that showcase how your CEO embodies the brand.

As CEO, you should be ready to share your availability with marketing and PR. When traveling for business, strategize with your team about how you can capitalize on the time your in that city. If you’re traveling for pleasure, stay a day or two extra and give your team ample time to set appointments for you.

Invest in media training, get really good at driving the conversation where you want it to go. Learn how to handle the toughest of questions with elegance and grace. Learn what circumstances produce the best outcomes for you and make yourself available for those oppotunities. For example, some people just don’t do well in person, so pursue opportunities that are over the phone, get comfortable with industry journalists so you can develop some mutual trust. Develop in-person opportunities over time and in settings where you feel comfortable.

Don’t Buy Into Your Own Press

“Fame is other people’s perception of who you are,” said Oprah Winfrey. “In order to remain true to who you are, you have to be aware of it, but you can’t buy into it.”

Stay grounded. For CEOs starting out on the celebrity endeavor, take a step back and treat all journalist opportunities like they are the most important you’ll ever do. Remember that journalists are a tight-knit crowd and if your cannabis CEO isn’t warm or inviting and interesting, word gets out. More importantly, you never know where that journalist will land. Be kind. Be respectful. Be humble.

Lean In on Warmth & Wit

CEOs don’t have to be flashy, they DO have to be open and wise. Linton wasn’t a particularly dynamic speaker, but he always had something interesting to say and he said it with the confidence and authority that left everyone hanging on his every word. He knew his strength and he exercised it.

An excellent example of this is Bruce Linton who was famously ousted from Canopy in July 2019. Linton had been making the speaking circuit and made himself available for comment to press, for the better part of a year, and it seemed no publication or conference was too big or too small for him to share his perspective.

Linton’s availability worked in his favor as his ousting was big news, but Linton wisely got out ahead of the story and used his visibility to tell his side of the story. It’s not just that he got out ahead of it either – he handled the entire situation with class, he was forward-looking and resisted any temptation to slam his former employer.  All this worked out well for his next employer Vireo Health who got a healthy 26% stock bump after naming him CEO.

What’s interesting is a good look at this Google Trends report, which starts in 2016. You can see that Linton was already taking his position as CEO seriously even then, the groundwork was being laid. Even before his firing, you can see that the hard work is starting to pay off. The spike is obviously the news that he was let go, but most interesting is that Linton never took his foot off the gas and searches for him remained high even after his firing:

The Number One Tip for A Celebrity CEO

Planning. Don’t launch a celebrity campaign without using all your resources in marketing and PR. It’s a great idea to have a mix of trusted resources and new people who can see the forest through the trees. By now, CEO, you know who you are, lead your team of advisors by being transparent with them about your strengths and weaknesses. There’s no one who wants you to flop and starting out on the right foot will enable you all to succeed in this very exciting opportunity.

You know it: CBD beauty marketing is competitive.

We’ve all seen it, it’s a thing, especially in the beauty industry: big-name players with big budgets purposely confusing consumers with hemp seed oil to take advantage of the CBD beauty marketing trend. Except for one thing: hemp seed oil, while perfectly wonderful, does not contain CBD.

Want to know why this is so important? Check out Google Trends  .  CBD beauty & CBD skincare leads the pack, but hemp beauty is in the mix and gaining momentum.

Consumers are confused.

You can blunt this confusion with a couple of strategies that we think are really important for the cannabis beauty community to embrace.

Make CBD Your Lead Message

In ads, in content, in every interview, help consumers understand the differences between hemp and CBD. The benefit of this is two-fold. Certainly education, but if you’re smart (and we know you are,) it also gives you a talking point that leads to benefits without making claims.  Use PR to illustrate the story, give the back ground of CBD and address the confusion head-on. Use marketing and branding to highlight CBD, which is increasingly accepted and the reason why beauty marketers are even embracing hemp again.

Incorporate Sourcing Into Your CBD Beauty Ingredients Messaging

Help consumers understand what they should be looking for in CBD beauty products. Explain over and over again in your PR and in your content that appropriately sourced CBD is important and provide ingredient information on your site. Consumers are conditioned to ask about sourcing more and more. Lead the CBD marketing pack by sharing sourcing details for your CBD.

P.S. did you know that products with ingredients listed sell better? Consumers increasingly care about what’s in their skin care products. Big skin care companies know this, that’s why they always feature particular ingredients. But since you’re competing with big budgets on this, go the extra mile and include all your ingredients along with a beautiful description of why they’re included.  This strategy not only engenders consumer trust, it helps consumers understand what to look for when they want CBD beauty products.

Look For People Who Understand The Difference Between Hemp & CBD

When you’re looking for CBD marketing partners or CBD PR partners, make sure they know the differences between hemp and CBD. You’ll find yourself explaining it over and over again otherwise. And if your CBD marketing company or CBD PR firm can’t articulate the difference, how will they understand what makes your brand stand out against both hemp and other CBD beauty brands? As an industry, it’s important that we get our messages right and that we use our considerable opportunity to both educate and define our industry and the special nature of our plant.

As of today, there are 108 cannabis tradeshows and expos around the world listed on our conference resource. It’s near impossible to go to them all and more importantly when you do choose one,  how do you turn an event into a PR opportunity?

 

We’re coming up on the annual big daddy of cannabis conferences: MJ Biz. It’s easily the largest single show in North America. If you’re planning on exhibiting, you might be thinking about how you’ll stand out. Lean on your cannabis pr agency to turn your next conference into a cannabis event marketing opportunity. Since you’re spending significant time, energy and money to be at a tradeshow or conference, it’s really important that you maximize the investment.  The very last thing you want to do is walk away from a tradeshow wondering if it will make any impact on your bottom line. There are multitudes of reasons to go to cannabis events and conferences, not the least of which is the networking (more on that later), but be clear on how why your strategies. Little known tip: I used to be an owner for an industry tradeshow, so I’ve seen how even small companies can become great with some elbow grease and creativity. I’ve seen brand leaders come out of nowhere and suddenly be the toast of the town, by simply being smart about how they leverage a tradeshow.

Let Cannabis PR and Cannabis Event Marketing Work Together:

It’s critical to collaborate with PR on cannabis event marketing. Whether you’re doing CBD marketing or THC marketing, each of these cannabis events has a marketing and PR role to play. Regardless of what size your booth is, think about how you can and will activate on and off the floor. The obvious answer is sponsorships, which you can approach from a brand goal perspective. If your goal is simply awareness and you can afford the branding dollars, a major sponsorship can offer many CBD marketing and THC marketing benefits including SEO, industry perception, and usually, some “insider and VIP” benefits. But even if you can’t afford one of the top-tier sponsorships, there are still a multitude of PR-worthy cannabis event marketing options available to you.

Consider sponsoring a notable speaker (besides yourself) for a session that will drive mentions and press for far less.  Maybe sponsoring a section of the floor makes more sense or work with the conference organizers on an off-the-floor event value-add (who is paying for the champagne at the cocktail reception?). For cannabis event marketing to stand out, it’s not enough to sponsor, be thinking about the value of “word of mouth,” and activations which will be memorable and get people talking. This is where your PR agency can help you develop cannabis event marketing strategies that fit in well with your marketing and PR budget.

Employ Big Fish/Small Pond Cannabis PR & Cannabis Marketing Strategies

What if you need to hit one of the larger shows, but you feel overwhelmed by the multitude of choices that aren’t tier 1 tradeshow or conferences? This is a great time to dig deep and choose another tradeshow or expo which you’d like to own. Owning the conference at a regional conference may well provide more cannabis branding and marketing benefits than being in booth 2067 at the largest conference in the country. Don’t let your FOMO dictate your cannabis marketing and cannabis PR budgets – be strategic about what you’re planning on doing at each conference. Be clear on the objectives and stay laser-focused on supporting those strategies.  Bring together your cannabis marketing and cannabis PR firms (if they’re different) to view each conference through an ROI, press, and word of mouth opportunity and stack rank your options.

Host Your Own Cannabis PR-Worthy Event

The cannabis industry loves to network. We’re tied to one another navigating this wild-wild west and we know: personal connections, trusted collaborators, friends, and partners make all the difference.

You don’t need a celebrity to earn media at your event (it doesn’t hurt though), but you do need to consider creative options. Gone are the days that simply providing THC and CBD samples are enough to pull together a crowd.
What can you do that’s on-brand to activate the space?
Is there a space that’s noteworthy in your area?
Can you partner with a nonprofit?
How can you create synergies between your brand and the press?
What access can you provide the press?
What insider opportunities can you give them and your most engaged customers and clients?

Shhhh…My Most Important Cannabis Marketing & PR Tip:

My most insider tip on how to turn your own cannabis event into a PR worthy opportunity? Take a look around at what everyone else is doing – and do something else. Be the first, the original, the most fun. Be something notable, and it will earn you press for days.  PR agencies are usually particularly great at developing ideas that will capture the imagination of the “been-there-done-that press.” If your existing cannabis pr agency is anything like us – they have a few ideas they’ve been dying to deploy. Here’s a bonus tip: if you don’t have a big budget, don’t make your event do the heavy lifting during major seasonal or industry blow-outs. A great cannabis event marketing strategy is to hold an event during a “down time” in the industry, which will invigorate and inspire your stakeholders, press, and customers.