Tag Archive for: cannabis branding tips

The cannabis industry is growing rapidly, and with that growth comes an increasing demand for cannabis conferences and events, like the granddaddy, MJ Biz in Las Vegas. Obtaining media coverage at a crowded conference is almost never an accident. Maximize your event budget with these 3 strategies that will get you PR at MJ Biz.

Think Like a Journalist and Plan Ahead

When you think about your cannabis marketing budget and calendar, you probably think about your needs or your customer’s needs, but for effective press coverage, add journalists and their needs. We’ve helped our clients stand out from the competitive cannabis show floors like MJ Biz with ideas that make the lives of journalists easier. When you think about what the day is like for a journalist who visits the trade show floor, you’ll get some empathy for their jobs. They’re looking for trends readers will click through to read while also looking for a distinctive point of view that will be different from every other journalist’s article. Ultimately, the journalist has the same challenge as you: standing out from the very crowded field.

Look at the trends impacting the cannabis industry and ancillary topics for ideas that will get you ahead of the competition on the expo floor. Think about how these trends are impacting the larger economy or general public and think about how you can talk about that trend in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the conference. A well-oiled cannabis industry expo PR campaign will include social media, direct media outreach, and perhaps even a press release.

Double Down on Expo Activations

From sponsorships to events, to stunts and ambassadors, the reason everyone loves a cannabis conference is there are so many ways to elevate your presence and raise awareness when there’s a captive audience.

While cannabis samples aren’t allowed on trade show floors, many cannabis companies get around this by hosting private events – at MJ Biz in Las Vegas, there are literally 10-30 private cannabis events every night. Given the saturation of these events, many companies look to stand out in other ways.

Think about guerilla marketing campaigns that leave an impression by following the event attendees around the city. This could include everything from subtle cues to flash mobs. A treasure hunt that rewards attendees and drives them to your booth is a good idea. This kind of word of mouth can intrigue cannabis journalists and give them an incentive to learn more.

Invite Cannabis Journalists

Before the MJ Biz Conference in Las Vegas, think about what scheduled activities will happen in your booth. Having a schedule of appearances, activities, or activations at your booth gives everyone an incentive to be there at a certain time, and who doesn’t love a crowd?

Then, give journalists a sneak peek. Reach out to journalists who will be covering MJ Biz and give them the schedule of events, activations, and on-trend topics your company is talking about at MJ Biz so the media knows where to find you and what’s interesting. Consider providing assets like quotes, images, and/or b-roll videos to journalists in advance. Being a resource to journalists is always a great way to make in-roads with media.

MJ Biz is one of the biggest and best-attended cannabis conferences in the U.S., but it certainly isn’t the only one. We keep an updated list of cannabis conferences available for download.

If you’d like more on-brand and tailored ideas that will maximize your cannabis expo investment, contact us directly. But don’t wait – the best campaigns come from thoughtful planning.

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.

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?

2019

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?

receptorbrands.com
Twitter: @apark_disney
Instagram: @allisondisney
LinkedIn: @allisondisney

Thanks for sharing your cannabis branding insights with us today, Allison.

 

The stats are in: cannabis is the next “big” economy. Cannabis sales topped $6.7B in 2016 and by 2020, California’s cannabis market alone will top that number.

Not too long ago, “marketing” to cannabis users was an easy proposition, there were a handful of publications and communities around which dedicated cannabis users gathered, they all had one thing in common: cannabis use. Despite access to cannabis, in some ways, this was the easy days because everyone who was willing to subscribe, opt-in and discuss cannabis was passionate. It was like a small, intimate club where everyone had the same password to get in.

But today’s cannabis user isn’t so easy to categorize. Because of increased availability and acceptance, today’s cannabis user is likely to view cannabis as an adjunct to their life, not a defining characteristic of their self-story. That means the vast majority of the cannabis users of today and tomorrow are only mildly interested in “cannabis culture,” instead, they want to know how cannabis is going to fit into their lives and their cultures. In short, marketing or press targeted towards “cannabis users” is like marketing to a demographic as broad as “women.”

What this means for cannabis business community is in order to execute successful cannabis marketing and PR campaigns, you need to be extremely clear on where and why and for whom your product works. If your product is a product that’s proudly stoner, that’s cool – just realize that Moms aren’t likely to relate to those marketing or public relations stories. Today’s cannabis brands need to put a stake in the ground, define their customer and be proud of how the brand fits into the customer’s life.

Get to know your target market, are they using cannabis publicly or just with close friends? Do they use cannabis to inspire creativity or to get some sleep? How old are your customers are they trendy millennials or are they nostalgic boomers?  As importantly, what are they doing when they aren’t using cannabis?

Understanding what your customer is doing when they aren’t using cannabis is critical, especially now, with advertising and media restrictions still in place.

While the new, huge cannabis market is good for business, it’s time for cannabis brands to double down on branding by being exceptionally clear about the motivations of their customers and that’s harder than it sounds.