Meet Allison Disney, for Receptor Brands, Allison serves as Partner and Business Strategist for cannabis brands who want to stand out from the “sea of sameness.”
First, a little background about Allison Disney:
I love my job. At Receptor Brands, we transform relationships between cannabis brands and their customers. As Business Strategist, I help define the field of opportunity for my clients’ businesses in this exciting new economy.
I’ve spent almost two decades leading global teams to produce award-winning advertising and marketing campaigns for some of the world’s most beloved brands, including M&Ms, Ziploc, Bacardi, YouTube, Special K, Cheez-It, and Johnson & Johnson.
After working in highly regulated and nuanced markets my entire career, I’m excited by the opportunity to work alongside our client partners and build culturally relevant, attention-getting brands in cannabis.
I live in Chicago with my botanist husband, Ryan, and, tiny boss, Maxine.
When did you first start working in cannabis?
Do you sit on any industry boards or associations that you’d like to mention?
NCIA Marketing Committee – Officer
What lesson did you learn BEFORE cannabis that’s been most valuable in cannabis?
I didn’t expect my experience managing global brands to be as relevant as it has been. Particularly when working with multi-state operators, understanding how to develop strategic brand communications that travel well, while taking into consideration local nuance and regulatory guidance, enables us to deliver more effective solutions more quickly.
Is there a particular cannabis project you’d like to highlight?
One of my favorite projects continues to be the art program we’ve developed for Cresco’s Sunnyside dispensaries. As a creative agency, having the opportunity to collaborate with local artists to create an inclusive and welcoming space for shoppers is a dream assignment.
What’s the biggest misconception cannabis companies have about marketing?
The biggest misconception is that “marketing and advertising aren’t possible in cannabis.” It’s simply not true. Brands must comply with regulations, but there are lots of ways to engage customers if you’re willing to think creatively and be innovative about how.
What were you doing prior to cannabis?
I was an SVP, Client Service Director at Energy BBDO in Chicago, and before that a Client Parter at AMV BBDO in London.
In your view, what is the biggest cannabis marketing challenge facing cannabis companies today?
I see too many cannabis brands getting lost in a “sea of sameness” because they believe, or more often hope, that their product experience will be enough to convince consumers to choose them. The competition in the industry continues to increase and consumers are becoming more familiar with shopping in the regulated market.
As companies look to sustain early business success, the role of their brand and how they connect people with it through marketing and advertising activities is incredibly important.
I applaud every operator who successfully gets their product or service to market; that is a particularly difficult task in cannabis. Getting that product or service into people’s hands, lots of people’s hands, and having them come back to buy or use it again is the next, biggest challenge that will determine the success of cannabis companies.
What will get easier in cannabis marketing? What will get harder?
As cannabis becomes more mainstream, companies will have to do less-and-less to educate people on the positive impact of an increasingly complex industry. It won’t be a fast change, but the need to explain the benefits of cannabis to consumers, the positive impact to regulators and the opportunity for potential business partners should get easier. Although, I acknowledge, the [cannabis] industry will inherently become more complex as it grows.
Increased competition will make it harder for companies operating in the industry. Obviously, the struggle for investment capital, the retention of talent, and the fight for customer attention all get harder with increased competition.
What can companies do to ease their cannabis branding challenges?
Get help from capable agency partners, specifically those with cannabis experience and a commitment to staying on top of the rapid changes within the industry. Faster, more creative, and more effective solutions are much more likely when your agency partners are actively engaged in the industry every day.
In your view, what is the most under-rated tool in the brand marketing toolbox for cannabis companies?
Talking to consumers. Cannabis companies are finally getting access to a meaningful volume of consumer data, but purchase data is a backward-looking view of WHAT people do.
Understanding WHY people do what they do is important for building brand strategy, marketing plans, and advertising or PR campaigns. If you’re searching for ways to create a more innovative product, attention-grabbing campaign, or compelling promotion, meet with your core customers and listen to why and how they use this category.
In your view, what is the most over-rated tool in the branding toolbox for cannabis companies?
A brand logo. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a well-designed visual identity, but what good is a fantastic brand mark if no one ever sees it, remembers it, or has any attachment to it? Building a great brand takes more than choosing a great name and designing a beautiful logo.
What’s the BEST piece of advice you give everyone you work with?
Choose good partners. Nothing will be more costly to your business than time, energy, and capital spent with a poor-fitting partner.
What’s your advice for people who want to get into cannabis brand marketing?
Be clear about why you want to work in the cannabis industry. There are a lot of opportunities to work in marketing and advertising at incredible companies where you can get a much more structured introduction to the field. While there are many advantages to working in cannabis, you won’t find a playbook for how to do your job. If you’re not clear why you’ve chosen to work at a cannabis company, you may get lost in the ambiguity that is inherent in the industry.
How can someone contact you, Allison?
Thanks for sharing your cannabis branding insights with us today, Allison.