This is the year that hippie cannabis dies. Woodstock is 50, and has just licensed its name to mega-retailer MedMen. Hemp is newly de-scheduled and igniting the imaginations of farmers and investors excited about the global opportunity. Pot Culture has become Pop Culture as legalization has spread coast-to-coast and pushed marijuana into the mainstream.
For grassroots marketers who have been playing in our fragmented American marketplace — where no two states share identical regulations or standards — things have gotten tough in the last year as legal competition from Big Pharma, Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco, Big Consumer Package Goods and Big Agriculture have transformed the playing field.
“As our nascent industry rockets from grassroots to global, it’s Differentiate or Die time for independent companies hoping to stay relevant in an increasingly noisy landscape.” MJBA Founder and veteran marketer David Rheins told MJNews Network.
“You must be able to stand out from the cacophony. My advice for the licensed cannabis business and ancillary provider alike, is to focus on defining your brand differentiation. Find a niche, fill a niche. Your competition moving forward is Big Industry, which has the money, the technology and the wherewithal to take a product from field or factory to shelf better than the little guy ever will.”
His advice: Build your brand authority. “Big Industry doesn’t understand emerging markets – who the consumer are, their buying preferences and psychographics,” Rheins said. “As a small business, you are part of the community. You are making a market — defining the industry and your space in it. No one understands its needs and attitudes of the new market better than the grassroots marketer. Build your brand around your values, and the values of your customers and your community. Establish brand loyalty and authority — with your vendors, and your customers, wether you are b2b or b2c — by lending value.”
Rheins suggests that the New Year is a good time for all marketers to do a brand review. As an exercise, he encourages his clients to ask their investors, employees, vendors and customers to answer a couple of questions:
1) Describe our brand value — what do we stand for — in one sentence.
2) What products/services do we offer.
3) What is our unique selling proposition (USP) — what do we do better than other brands?
“You’d be surprised how much intelligence you’ll gain just by analyzing these questions,” Rheins said. “It only goes to reinforce that today marketing is not simply an exercise of spending money on paid advertising. Advertising — particularly targeted placements — can be effective, but savvy marketers today depend on an integrated strategy that includes owned media (your company websites and newsletters) and earned media — social media engagement on public platforms with business communities and groups on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit.
In this dynamic environment, Rheins advises businesses to stay engaged and stay fresh.
Take An Annual Brand Checkup
1) Do A Brand Review: How well do your customers understand your Brand Values and USP? How well do you understand your customer segments?
2) Website Audit: How fresh is your content? Are you SEO optimized? Are you using your website to gather customer feedback?
3) Social Media Audit: How visible is your brand on key social media platforms? How often do you post content? How quickly do you respond to queries or brand mentions? Who in your company is responsible for social media?
4) Community Check Up: How engaged is your brand in your community — not just your cannabis community but your local community? Do you sponsor local events? Do you give to local charities? How well liked is your brand on Main Street?