Tag Archive for: social media advertising

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.

5 PR Trends CMOs Need to Watch for 2022

[6 minute reading time]
There’s no shortage of uncertainty in marketing and PR planning for 2021. But there are some trends happening that are sure to impact PR and Marketing in 2021. At Avaans PR, CMO’s love us because we know consumer trends impact where our target audience will be, the frame of mind they’ll be in and what journalists will write about.  On a tactical level, trends impact our content creation, journalist relationships, and campaign recommendations we’re making now and in the next year. We’re ready for 2021 to require agility, but we’ve found that even agility requires forward-looking and yes, some planning. These are 5 of the marketing and PR trends for 2021 we’re watching on behalf of our consumer-forward brands.

PR Trend #1: Techlash Continues

From a PR trend perspective, this has a tremendous impact. Now is the time to reimagine how you’ll use social and digital media in 2022, from both a marketing and PR perspective.

The sting of social media won’t soon to be forgotten by consumers, regardless of political affiliation. During 2020, in particular, during the pandemic, social media took on outsized importance, but also affected consumers in new ways, and not all of them positive.

Yes, consumers continue to spend time and even buy on social media, but they are spending more and more time in micro-groups of their own on platforms like Slack or Messenger, or in like-minded platforms. This means brands will have to be extremely smart about their placements and presence in 2021. The separation also requires brands to be exceptionally clear about who their customers really are.

Further, the coveted 25-55 college-educated, earning $100,000 or more per year are using social media for customer service. This coveted group will not support companies who don’t support customer care. If 2020 was the year of pandemic-related customer acquisition for your brand, 2021 will most definitely need to be about keeping them happy and engaged. Part of that will most definitely be a branding effort to existing customers, ensuring your values align with theirs (more on purpose-driven initiatives below).

But it’s not just customer service affecting social media in 2021.  e-Marketer reported:

We have increased our forecast on mobile messaging and now believe time spent by US adults will grow by 4 minutes in 2020, to 24 minutes per day, not only due to the pandemic but also data showing strong engagement on messaging services like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Apple iMessage.

 

PR Trend #2: Work With Media in New Ways

Whether it’s TV, programmatic, or print, all media outlets are bracing for reduced advertising revenue in 2021. This will have very real implications for public relations initiatives.

First, according to Edelman, trust in media actually increased in 2020. This means you should absolutely be leveraging the trust of other outlets, particularly in lieu of the distrust around social media. However, you should do so with earned media and branded content.

Expect to see more “branded content,” in 2021. Well done branded content can be very effective in both PR and branding, so consider these options carefully. Branded content is better received than traditional ads, in fact, Second Street Lab reported in June that branded content through premium publishers sees a 50% brand lift.

Further, outlets will need to keep eyeballs on their content, to help drive ad revenue, brands with media relations campaigns should be looking at ways to support outlets who support them. At Avaans PR we are actively doing this for our clients already and seeing great brand lift and also enhanced journalist relations.

 

PR Trend #3: Purpose-Driven Buyers

Trusted brands saw huge increases during the pandemic, up to 50% growth, according to McKinsey. This is due to an unprecedented shift in brand loyalty during the pandemic.

Even pre-pandemic, affinity for brands who take a stand and align with consumer’s values were seeing real ROI on purpose-driven initiatives. As Americans slog through the pandemic, they are consistently re-evaluating priorities, this is especially true for Millenials and GenZ.

PR trends for 2021, include self-love and body positivity will be a purpose for many buyers, especially those who emerge from isolation hibernation with a few extra pounds. GenZ is feeling stressed. While some are still below the age of 18, they remember the great recession. Right now, self-care and home comfort are top of their list. Pre-pandemic, GenZ was actually returning to malls, but the pandemic has left this generation feeling a bit powerless and reconsidering purchasing behavior, at least for now. But 51% of GenZ’ers say they will return to in-store shopping. But when GenZ returns to stores, according to Retail Dive, they’ll do so with the expectation of safety and a frictionless environment that mirrors the ease of online shopping.   GenZ is also moving towards “thoughtful consumption,” especially those brands with responsible sourcing, environmentally friendly policies or support social issues. Local businesses and minority-owned businesses are also on their radar in a whole new way.

As for Millenials, the eldest of whom are in their 40’s already, are leading the way, followed by the often forgotten GenX, to continue online shopping across almost all verticals from essentials to alcohol, according to McKinsey.

Plus, record low-interest rates have created a whole host of new home buyers. In September 2020, 60% of U.S. homebuyers were Millenials, they’re likely to spend an increasing amount of time at home, items that allow them to spend more quality time with friends and family will be attractive, so delivery and home-based products will take a new focus for that generation.

PR Trend #5: The New Corporation

The media loves cultural changes and the radical changes to corporate America as a result of the COVID pandemic are monumental. From new work structures resulting from work from home to updated DEI hiring practices, diverse executives, and the great resignation, the media is covering companies through a very different lens today.

Technology is a considerable sub-topic here. If your brand is using technology or inventing technology to address these radical changes, there are considerable thought leadership opportunities for you.

From a spokesperson perspective, the media is also being more proactive about gathering a multitude of diverse perspectives on almost any topic. If you’re hiring corporate spokespersons or brand representatives, be clear on your objectives, and your audience. Not all spokespersons are useful in PR, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly good spokespersons for things like ads or social media, but they might not get a lot of lift in PR.

Trust is no longer a trend – it’s an imperative. From a public relations standpoint, you’ll want to be thinking about how your brand will differentiate itself in the media and marketing activities. With trust and security taking new precedence, brands will need to think about how they will reinforce those messages in a brand-consistent way.  Now is the time to explore partnerships and the potential activations, which will create the memorable moments consumers are craving.

From tourism to retail to direct-to-consumer products, brands will need to be thinking about how they will be relevant at the right moment.

From content to media relations to events, now is the time to plan, but bake in flexibility. For example, secure your video producers now, and create three original scripts, secure the time and the talent now, so you can move faster than everyone else when the moment is right.

PR Trend #5: Cross Collaboration

This is the year where everything needs alignment. If you haven’t already, tear down the silos between PR, Marketing, and Branding. Get those people together now so they can be more effective together in 2022. Think about how each department can align on digital and in-person initiatives. Think about initiatives that are word-of-mouth worthy, there will be plenty of industry and even national coverage for brands that are thoughtful about how they align.

A unified, personal experience will be an expectation in 2021. So ensure your messaging, your purpose, and your plans are operating together, not just in tandem, but together.

Use your owned, earned, and paid media together in new ways and your brand can benefit from the realignment of brand loyalty happening right now.

 

If you’re ready to use these and other marketing & PR trends for 2021 in a more customized way, let’s talk. 

This article has been updated

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. And of course, if you’re a cannabis brand with a cannabis PR goal, understand the moving target that is social media for cannabis influencers.

Social Media Is Your Partner in Travel Branding

It’s no secret that today more than ever, digital branding in travel and tourism matters.

According to Google, only 9% of travelers know the brand they want to book with when they start their digital travel search.  This is both an opportunity and a challenge for hotels, airlines and even destinations.

Does this mean consumers have no loyalty? Well, yes and no. It’s well documented that increasingly, people want experiences over things and travelers today lead that trend. Today’s travelers need one of at least two things: a unique experience (for which they will usually pay more) and on-demand information about pricing. It’s more important than ever that your brand is front and center during all phases of research. It also means that your brand needs to reinforce the experience using digital.

Social Media Throughout The Customer Travel Experience

Social media is useful in all phases, but especially the exploratory phase. The exploratory phase is where initial budgets expand as experiences cement themselves. For example, a traveler may be thinking of going to Hawaii, and every airline flies there. But what airlines make the journey even more special? What location has the most unusual once-in-a-lifetime experiences? And how are real people experiencing those experiences? Integrating the day-to-day experience of the visitor on social media helps the travel shopper see themselves in the experience.  Moreover, today’s traveler wants to see a blend of “glossy” travel pictures combined with unfiltered real life.

But it’s more than that. Once the experience is over, what is your brand doing to reinforce their experience? Do you have a program in place which allows them to easily share their experience via social media? Do YOU share their experience back to them? That’s the cementing of brand loyalty and word of mouth almost all travel brands miss. How are you engaging your customers using digital while they are on-site? What can you do to turn complaints into delightful experiences? How can you show you’re engaged with their entire experience?

The other reason this is important is that the mobile experience is front and center. eMarketer predicted that in 2017, mobile bookings would surpass 40% of digital travel sales. Mobile is social and social is mobile. According to Expedia, 27% of Millennials have posted a potential trip on social media to canvas opinions before booking! Obviously, your website needs to be mobile-friendly, but how on-par is your social branding and advertising?

Does it provide a direct experience for booking?

Are you using chatbots on social to improve customer service?

How can you radically improve the investigation and booking phases using digital?

Convenience is exceptionally important to today’s traveler, who have embraced single-site travel booking experiences. BUT, today’s traveler is ALSO looking for boutique experiences, something particularly unique and for that, it’s almost better if it isn’t on a single-site because it gives the air of uniqueness. So balancing the booking trends with experience demand is important, and social media leads in this regard, because you have the change to meet the consumer where they are.

Millennials Don’t “Own” Social Media Travel

These technologies, like chatbots and mobile-friendly booking, are no longer for just the largest brands. They accessible and important for today’s traveler of all ages. It’s easy to think only “millennial” travelers are using these tools, but it’s simply not true. Consider that GenX’ers are in their mid-to-late forties already and their perfectly comfortable on Instagram and Facebook as well. According to Nielsen, Adults 35 to 49 were found to spend an average of 6 hours 58 minutes a week on social media networks, compared with 6 hours 19 minutes for the younger group.

If you’re looking to engage your potential and current audience in social media and digital branding for travelers, please contact us. We have ideas and most importantly the resources, to step up your digital travel branding in every phase of the experience.