Tag Archive for: cannabis industry pr

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Some have said that the fastest-growing sector in cannabis is cannabis technology. While cannabis technology companies often serve very specific regulatory needs, even after the DEA rescheduled cannabis, and enter the marketplace in a tech-mature world (as opposed to those during the initial dot-com era), cannabis tech companies with hyper-growth ambitions can learn from the Silicon Zalley tech failures of the past.

Think Ahead, But Not Too Far

Many emerging industry companies have gone bust because they were simply too progressive. From the dot-com era, WebVan and Kozmo were two delivery companies with considerable capital that both went bust, only to see companies like Amazon eventually optimize the services they both introduced. Not every first mover gets first-mover advantage. There’s a lot to be said for meeting the customer or client where they’re at.

But moving people ahead is completely possible. Cannabis tech companies can think through the future of their business by planning past a regulatory world and creating brand loyalty well before any necessary pivots.

Setting an agenda to change the narrative and create demand is a long-term play, but consumers DO change behaviors and in the wake of COVID, there is still an opportunity to maximize the massive mind-shift happening. Cannabis itself is an outstanding example of changing the narrative. In fact, changing the narrative is an excellent competitive strategy and a way to differentiate yourself.

How Cannabis Tech Can Prepare for Bigger and Better Funded

As cannabis becomes a bigger part of the economy in more states, there will be more entrances into the marketplace.

Cannabis tech only has to look at what happened to the CBD space after the Farm Act passed to see a more recent cannabis example of this. From a tech perspective, a good example of this is the Pebble Smart Watch, which raised $10.3 million on Kickstarter (the most successful Kickstarter ever at the time). But of course, they struggled to compete with competitors like Apple Watch.

B2B cannabis tech companies are vulnerable to this as Silicon Valley continues to double down on cannabis tech from companies and founders with no experience in cannabis, but more funding. Dutchie is an example of this. Dutchie’s model is less cannabis and more tech as they model their services to something more akin to GrubHub. Silicon Valley likes companies that reinvent proven scale models.

Cannabis tech companies, whether they serve B2B or B2C should leverage both advertising and PR, together to secure market share AND trust simultaneously. Align your cannabis advertising and PR campaigns and messaging. Don’t isolate your advertising data from PR. Together they can be stronger. Branding dominance and brand value is the way to secure marketplace valuation; had Pebble done that, they would have stood a better chance of survival or at the very least gotten closer to the original offer of $740 million (which they got in 2015), as opposed to the sell to Fitbit for less than $40 million in 2016.

Cannabis technology companies should also be prepared to tell stories that aren’t technology-oriented. Whether those be founder stories, or purpose, there is also more to talk about, so prepare yourself and get those corporate stories in place.

And when there are lulls in cannabis tech VC funding, that’s a great time to prepare for the future and focus your energies on the most important initiatives to help you stand out when the funding cycle returns.

Watch Consumer Tech Trends

Media consumption on the biggest social media platforms may well have peaked already. 2021 was the first year Facebook reported a decline in users. So what’s happening to those consumers? They certainly haven’t left the internet, they’ve simply shifted platforms.

Consumer communication with a cannabis niche or cannabis advertising platforms can learn so many lessons from the failures of social media platforms, in particular Facebook. These platforms need to evaluable the trust equation and invest in it immediately. Whether the customer is B2B or B2C, there is a broader techlash going on.

Leveraging the trust of third-party media outlets is imperative now. And unlike plant-touching brands, cannabis tech companies have a wide-open playing field about the media outlets who will write about them. We always say that “trust is an inside out job,” and that means PR can only clean up so much if you’re abusing trust; if you’re the Theanos of cannabis tech, PR won’t be your biggest spend.

 

Cannabis tech is sure to be a competitive and thriving sector with massive ups and downs, but those who reach hyper-growth will have taken a page out of the successes and failures of past Silicon Valley darlings.  Check out our PR Case Studies and Results for more ideas about how to stand out in cannabis tech.

On the surface, it might seem that purpose-driven companies differ vastly from hyper-growth companies or emerging industries, but nothing could be further from the truth. Purpose-driven perspectives for hyper-growth and emerging industries is actually imperative to future success. Fast-growing brands and purpose overlap in critical phases in a company’s or industry’s growth. Because fast-growing companies and emerging industries are closer to their customers and in the earlier phases of culture-building, purpose is more clear, and it’s actually the perfect time to codify purpose so as scale occurs, the purpose isn’t lost.

 

What Do Fast-Growing Companies and Purpose-Driven Initiatives Have in Common?

Reaching for a bigger idea, for a better way, and for bold innovation is something ambitious and hyper-growth companies and purpose-driven initiatives share. The most ambitious entrepreneurs are driven by something bigger than themselves, or even riches. They’re driven to change the world with a big idea. Big ideas require a special blend of inspiration and persuasion to inspire early adopters.  It doesn’t matter whether the company is B2B or B2C, early adopters are critical, and so is an inspiration. Purpose-driven initiatives inspire and engage as well.

Purpose-driven approaches and ambitious companies also share the need to inspire trust, and that’s what PR does better than any other medium. PR is the tool the world’s most trusted brands lean on to improve their reputations and create a connection with their customers. PR lasts longer than a commercial, it’s more trusted, and it gives ambitious brands the opportunity to tell nuanced and deeper stories.

Isn’t Social Impact too Expensive for Growth?

While fast-growing companies have certain cultural requirements: creativity, flexibility, and drive, none limit purpose. This very question assumes that growth only happens when hustle culture dominates. We have many clients thriving in purpose without the debilitating effects of hustle culture. But even if your company is incubating a hustle culture mentality, when the stakes are higher than ever, people need a higher purpose that inspires them. So it’s important for companies in the growth stage to double down on brand and product purpose. In fact, purpose may be a matter of survival, and not just PR for hypergrowth companies. At least according to Larry Fink at Blackrock who has for years been advocating for brands to implement purpose in order to grow.

Further, purpose is an expectation of GenZ and Millenials, that companies embrace their social, cultural, and environmental responsibilities. Further, employees are increasingly choosing employers based on the company’s beliefs and values. So, recruiting the best talent will if not now, eventually, require companies and industries to double down on purpose.

One example of this is the emerging vertical of the cannabis industry. The cannabis industry is founded in activism, but when the industry codified as states legalized THC, the industry doubled down on purpose, taking on the social injustice of cannabis prisoners in the Last Prisoners Project. And the cannabis industry is exploding, so there’s a clear precedent for growth and purpose. Brands who take on purpose and a higher power super charge their hyper-growth.

Another example is cleantech an emerging industry with an inherent social impact. From a corporate storytelling perspective, the biggest issue cleantech companies face isn’t whether to incorporate social impact messaging, but rather, how to differentiate themselves from competitors who are also tapping into social impact.

Finally – according to the Fortune Return on Leadership survey, the world’s biggest companies experience productivity and profitability benefits by incorporating purpose and impact.

 

Do Hypergrowth Companies Use Storytelling for Purpose-Driven Initiatives?

All purpose-driven initiatives require a value system, and a solid value system often leads to effective storytelling. But purpose-driven initiatives are not only about storytelling.  Purpose comes from the inside out, so hypergrowth companies with successful stories can generally improve their purpose-driven initiatives. Further, because of the risks of purpose-driven storytelling and social impact, it’s important that any initiatives align throughout the organization. Ironically, this is actually easier to do in hypergrowth companies, because the teams are more tightly knit and smaller, so implementing and living up to brand values isn’t as complicated.

When Do Hyper-Growth Companies Need to Define Purpose?

Growth stage companies have an advantage: history doesnt’ hinder them. Existing companies often have to go through an intense reorganization to discover and fulfill purpose. For hyper-growth companies or emerging industries, the time to determine purpose is now. Elevating your company’s biggest aspirations in alignment with today’s social, cultural, and environmental challenges is a key growth strategy. Both private and institutional investors are analyzing a company’s social impact before they ever commit to investing, and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Larry Fink, CEO and chairperson of the multinational investment firm BlackRock, created a tectonic shift in 2018 when he said, “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it contributes positively to society.” In his 2021 letter to CEOs, he said, “It is clear that being connected to stakeholders — establishing trust with them and acting with purpose — enables a company to understand and respond to the changes happening in the world. Companies ignore stakeholders at their peril — companies that do not earn this trust will find it harder and harder to attract customers and talent, especially as young people increasingly expect companies to reflect their values.”

Defining, developing and implementing purpose is step one to ensuring a company’s strategic growth.

How Does Purpose-Driven PR Help Companies in Hyper-Growth?

A challenge many fast-growing businesses, especially those in emerging industries, face is brand building. Purpose is a considerable portion of a brand and while it gives internal and external stakeholders corporate structure, it also lends itself to authentic storytelling, which greatly aids in securing media coverage. For many companies in competitive emerging industries, PR is an important differentiator for those with industry-leading aspirations from brand domination to IPO.

 

With all the advantages of purpose-driven initiatives for fast-growing companies. The question is reall- can fast-growing companies afford NOT to define a greater purpose? We’ve been working shoulder to shoulder with our clients on purpose-driven communications and PR since 2008. From movements to politics to social impact, our success stories speak for themselves. Contact us today to get started.

Even the savviest woman cannabis entrepreneurs need fresh publicity ideas.

Women in cannabis. In the early days, there was a lot of media attention around the entrepreneurship opportunities in cannabis, and even more about how the cannabis industry was going to break through the “green ceiling.” This 2015 Inc. magazine article titled “Why Women Founders Are Ruling Legal Marijuana” didn’t age so well. In 2021, Business Insider reported 70% of top cannabis executives were white men. And in the fall of 2021, High Times reported that nationally, only 19% of plant-touching cannabis businesses were women-owned. While female cannabis entrepreneur pieces still pop up once in a while, these days it’s pretty rare to see profiles on women business leaders about something besides bad news for women cannabis entrepreneurs.

Even though women cannabis entrepreneurship is the exception to the rule, being a woman founder isn’t newsworthy enough to garner coverage on its own; women founders still have to find creative ways to break through the noise if they want media coverage. The key for women cannabis entrepreneurs to secure press is to lean into the ways we’re different; lean into your strengths with these publicity ideas for women cannabis entrepreneurs

 

Find Purpose in Female Leadership

Social impact and female entrepreneurship are both trends. The search term “purpose-driven leadership,” is up 300% on Google, and “Social Impact Leadership” searches are up 40%. I’ve always found Google trends a splendid piece of information to drop into a pitch because publishers love eyeballs AND they love it when you do some homework for them. From DEI to the Last Prisoner Project, cannabis leaders are taking a stand. In fact, the entire cannabis industry is a leader in social impact and purpose. Consider your purpose – why you started the company and how you can support that purpose in an authentic, but female-oriented way.

Los Angeles cannabis dispensary GorillaRX received feature coverage for incorporating “compassion” into their business mode. Spanx founder Sara Blakely recently made headlines by declaring she “ran the business from intuition, vulnerability, and empathy.”

Turning the good ole boy’s network on its head by bucking the trend is a great example of finding purpose in female leadership. Taking a distinct stand on how you run your business with purpose can create media opportunities over and over.

And the purpose isn’t just for PR, HBR found “companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 57%-7% a year.”

Go Gurl-illa with the Ladies

Developing a guerilla campaign – or any kind of PR campaign – around days that celebrate women is a great way to use the mundane with the novel. Marketing activations and publicity stunts get a lot of coverage in cannabis and beyond. Neither of those has to be inherently expensive, but because of cannabis advertising limitations, going guerilla can present a great PR opportunity.

MariMed’s 850 pound edible in honor of national brownie is a recent example of a guerilla stunt that garnered national news attention, including coverage by Inc. magazine. There are some fantastic women’s holidays and journalists love the ease of tying a piece into a holiday, especially one that provides some cultural justification – you’re unlikely to see a lot of coverage on International Men’s Day.

Use the calendar to your advantage with your cannabis guerilla marketing campaigns to earn publicity rather than buy media coverage.

Create Community Around Female Consumers

There are so many ways to create community. You can support education and networking like the ArcView Women’s Inclusion Network or other cannabis women’s organizations. But when you really think about it, talking directly to women AS women is a powerful way to stand out from the crowd. If I had a nickel for every man-owned brand who told me they wanted to target soccer moms, and then asked me where they could find them, I’d be funding women-owned businesses instead of owning one. As women, we have authenticity on our side; we know the secret handshake and we can speak to each other from a place of respect in a way that men-owned brands sometimes struggle with. 

Empowering points of view like CBD brand Aja who asks “Why are women expected to make excuses for their consumption?” is a great way to tap into the mindset of women customers and activate  loyalty. Whoopie and Maya came into the space with a bang talking about the unique needs of women cannabis users, including the menstrual cycle. It started an entire surge of media coverage on the topic. Cannabis lubrication brand Foria has a female sexual education, empowerment, and cannabis spokesperson and she’s a very strong advocate for many women. These are all interesting distinctions that provide many media opportunities, not to mention opportunities to create content that inspires the target market.

Another great way to create and support female cannabis entrepreneurs is to collab with other women-owned businesses like Buy Weed from Women. These collaborations are unusual enough it’s a great way to puncture the media cycle.

Consider the ways you name your products, how you speak to your women customers, and your unique point of view as a woman when developing products.

Women cannabis entrepreneurs have a unique set of challenges, but securing earned media coverage can be maximized when we turn our differences into our strengths. If you’re a woman cannabis entrepreneur, I’d love to connect with you on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Cannabis trust is today’s most valuable currency.

As a country, the U.S. is experiencing what can best be described as the “age of distrust.” While public distrust in institutions has been escalating for at least a decade, according to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer which has tracked trust in media, governments, businesses, and nonprofits since 2000. Social unrest and a global pandemic have escalated this distrust. Never has the public eyed institutions or businesses with such suspicion.

Meanwhile, in our cannabis industry, the vaping crisis of summer 2019 hit our industry below the belt, aided by some bad actors knowingly flooding the illicit market with products that couldn’t meet stringent state testing. That crisis created a crisis of confidence in the overall cannabis industry-leading it into a bleak period which was only partially buoyed by the declaration that dispensaries were considered “essential businesses” during the COVID-19 pandemic, pro-cannabis outcomes in both voting booths and Congress, many thanks to NCIA’s national and local efforts. By supporting NCIA, you’re signaling cannabis industry commitment and that you value growing trust within the industry.

Now, against the national backdrop of distrust and a COVID-19 vaccine that offers a glimmer of hope, it’s time to evaluate ourselves and our industry’s actions. Never has it been more crucial for all brands, but particularly our cannabis industry, to lean into actions and communications which consistently and powerfully earn the trust of investors and consumers. As an industry, we’re on an important precipice; what we do next will either ensure our credibility or tarnish it for years to come.

Cannabis consumers (and therefore cannabis investors) are looking at brands in a more holistic manner. Trust will be the single most valuable brand attribute.

Trust is defined on two spectrums: competence and ethics. 

For CEOs, CMO’s, and experts in the cannabis industry, the time is now to act and communicate from a place of authentically aligned communications. This alignment will require hyper levels of empathy and a constant pulse on the state of affairs affecting your customers. Consumer behavior is in flux now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumers and now is the time for brands to align. According to the Edelman Barometer special report, Brands Amidst Crisis:

  • The role of brands in reflecting the consumer’s desire to be viewed as a tastemaker or trendsetter has decreased 9%
  • Up 38% is spending time with family
  • 86% of consumers expect brands to solve both societal and personal problems, including proper treatment of employees and making product in a domestic market
  • The only values more important than trust to consumers are price and quality

Because consumer behavior is in flux, it’s never been more important to ensure internal and external values and communications align. Ironically, ensuring alignment supports the flexibility needed to respond quickly to changing behaviors or unexpected upheaval.

Aligned cannabis communications means we act internally and externally in a consistent and emotionally intelligent manner that earns trust. It’s not just good for our industry, cannabis brand trust has very real bottom-line implications including increased sales, increased investor opportunities, and reduced customer acquisition costs. In fact, according to Edelman Trust Barometer, high trust consumers have 75% more brand loyalty.

Outstanding packaging and even quality products are the minimum expectations for today’s brands. But even those choices come under scrutiny from consumers if they don’t mirror consumer expectations and lifestyle. Therefore, earning trust starts at the very beginning. The earliest choices are powerful signals to consumers about brand values.

It isn’t enough to simply sponsor a campaign or align with a social movement. While those choices can be powerful quivers in your trust arsenal, it feels and sounds hollow when the brand is suddenly thrusting itself into a conversation without looking at itself first. Consumers are increasingly aware of “trust washing.”

92% of employees expect their employer’s CEO to speak up for issues ranging from income inequality to diversity and training for future jobs. An aligned trust-based strategy starts on the inside. Take a solid look at the ethos and ethics within your own company.

What are your company’s values?
What do you stand for?
How do you signal trust internally and how do you reward it?
Does your internal communication stand for your values?

The reason this internal step is critical is no matter what, your brand ethos is distilled into consumer interactions and communication, whether those communications are with dispensary workers or directly to the consumer, the experience will always stay with the brand. Imagine a dispensary worker making recommendations to a new-to-cannabis buyer, naturally, the dispensary worker has an enormous amount of influence on the consumer’s impression of a new brand, and whether the cannabis brand is trusted. And new-to-cannabis buyers are most likely to be loyal to their first brand, assuming the product meets expectations.

Personal experience is the number one way to build trust with consumers. 59% of customers say personal experience matters the most.

What consumer interactions signal trust?
How do you manage poor reviews?
How do you handle customer inquiries?
How does your owned media reflect not only your brand values but those of your customers?

Personal experience is absolutely about product experience and brand interactions. Brand interactions at events will take on more importance in cannabis. Consumers will want to engage experientially with cannabis brands and it won’t be at cannabis events only, consumers will expect to see cannabis brands in all the same places they see alcohol brands, even if sales and sampling aren’t available, which means experiences will need to be multi-sensory and strongly personal. Choose your experiences carefully based on your brand audience and ethos.

Earned media is second only to personal experience incredible trust-building. During the COVID-19 pandemic, trust in publications increased by 7%. Brands should look for opportunities in earned media that reflect their values. Branded content is another area where brands can use the credibility of publications.

Experts are still considered credible sources (52%), and they far surpass celebrities (35%) and influencers (36%). As you consider cannabis brand trust strategies in 2021, take a careful look at who you’re leveraging and what role they play. Choose your cannabis experts carefully and ensure they are fully vetted. NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee is developing an “cannabis experts directory” of carefully vetted industry professionals, this will be a key resource not only to event organizers, but CEOs and CMOs looking for credible, authentic experts.

Our industry has so much to offer consumers; we provide genuine opportunities for cannabis consumers to enhance their lives. The cannabis industry has been active on many social justice fronts from the very beginning. We may come from a historical place of rebellion, but often, even that rebellion came from a place of empathy and not just income. Consumers today are responding to companies who double down on trust and an aligned brand value system. There’s every reason to think the cannabis industry can do this better than anyone. Together, let’s lean into our values and seed trust not just in our companies, but in our industry.

*All statistics come from Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, unless otherwise noted. 

 

This piece originally appeared on the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) website.