Marketing Thru Marijuana: Differentiate or Die

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.”

Differentiate Or Die

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?

 

 

CCTV Expands Footprint, Programming Offerings Via GreenScreens Deal

COLORADO:  GreenScreens, based in Boulder, Colorado, industry leaders for in-store information boards and California-based Cannabis Club TV, the only digital cannabis infotainment network backed by Tommy Chong, have entered into an agreement to combine resources providing cannabis dispensaries with a one-stop shop for digital footprint management.

According to a joint press release, the new partnership features the first and the largest Direct Out Of Home (DOOH) and Over the Top TV (OTTtv) portable broadcast network devoted to the cannabis industry. It provides the customer a visual path to brand awareness, the budtender an opportunity to up-sell, the cannabis brand an outlet to tell its story, and the dispensary a sales lift to the brands in the store.

“Combining our business model with GreenScreens just made sense, Cannabis Club TV is all about providing customers with more choices for great video entertainment integrated with mobile and quality service,” said Danny Keith, Cannabis Club TV CEO. “Providing the dispensary with entertainment and menu boards guide consumers to better purchases and empowers staff with solutions to increase sales.”

The deal will leverage the executive staff and sales teams of both companies to manage the existing 10 states (WA,OR,CA,CO,NV,MI,MD,FL and AZ) and about 350 screens in those markets. The opportunity to expand both networks exponentially will allow this new collaboration to grow to over 700 screens by the end of June 2018.

“It is a perfect synergy!  Coming off our 2017 results, where we’ve opened over 40 stores in Colorado alone.  We are excited to partner and aggressively grow our store base outside of Colorado.  We see this key partnership with CCTV as one important piece of our growth strategy” -Ryan Sterling CEO GreenScreens.

One Love dispensary in Long Beach, CA  owner and COO Jeremy Abrams, a quick adopter of the combined technology play says: “I couldn’t be happier with how beautiful the digital displays and televisions came out. Everything about it was simple. From the Installation to fine tuning, the process and product couldn’t be any better.”

Dispensaries and medical offices providing services to cannabis patients can contact either company to obtain an unparalleled digital experience with no installation costs.

The Cannabrander: Marketing Vs. Branding

By Ben Weinberg

“Build it and they will come,” may sound great as an incorporeal whisper from the far depths of an Iowa corn field, but as a strategy it lacks any obvious utility. You may indeed have built a better mousetrap but, in the absence of any clear branding, how will your potential customers ever find your product and, more importantly, believe that it is the optimal solution?

This is the premiere of my monthly column for MJ News Network on best practices in branding, specifically oriented toward the legal cannabis industry.  If you want a bio it’s HERE, but rather than waste space talking about me let’s get to the subject at hand.

What’s the Difference Between Marketing and Branding?

As described by James Heaton at the Tronvig Group, “…marketing is actively promoting a product or service. It’s a push tactic…Branding should both precede and underlie any marketing effort. Branding is not push, but pull.  Branding is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service.  It is communication of characteristics, values, and attributes that clarify what this particular brand is and is not.”

In this view, “branding is strategic and marketing is tactical.  Marketing may contribute to a brand, but the brand is bigger than any individual marketing effort.  The brand is what remains after the marketing has swept through the room.  It’s what sticks in your mind associated with a product, service, or organization.”

Social Media in Branding

At a recent Cannabis Marketing Association meeting at Cultivated Synergy in Denver, Brett Schklar, CEO and Founder of The Cannabis Creative, said that maximizing the use of social media in a business context hinges on the “Three Cs”: leading your Customers into first becoming Club Members and then graduating to Cult Followers.

Remember Heaton — marketing unearth and activates buyers, but branding is what makes loyal customers, advocates, even evangelists, out of those who buy.  In today’s business world, branding thus inherently involves social media because it is the only way to consistently contact consumers who by affirmative action have shown their affinity for you and your products.

The Best SocMed

During that CMA meeting, Schklar also opined that Facebook and Instagram tend to be the most effective channels for promoting legal cannabis companies, probably because they reach the most people overall, followed by Twitter and Pinterest, which lean heavily toward influencers and a younger demographic.  LinkedIn is good for investor contact but not necessarily general branding and, according to Schklar, everything else lags far behind.  This hierarchy matches my own experience, as well.

Please note that Heaton’s definition of branding (an expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service) requires valuable content that is constantly being refreshed.  This content can be almost anything: information (including dope on the latest products and services), promoting constant engagement, stirring controversy, starting conversations, and even playing games (i.e., gamification).

The Bottom Line

To build your cannabis-related brand via social media you must know your buyers, constantly produce fresh and valuable content, and choose channels accordingly.


Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, the President of Ben Weinberg Consultants, has more than 30 years of experience in harnessing his creativity to tell your company’s story, including strategic and tactical marketing, sales, operational, and administrative consulting for small- and medium-size businesses across diverse industries such as law, medicine, wellness, leisure, and hospitality. Ben has written professionally for many international magazines and newspapers, online and in print, including as a contributing editor and Editor-in-Chief, is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and has won multiple awards for creative writing.  Visit his website HERE and sign up for his newsletter.

The Wink In Weed: Woodstock Nation Goes to Pot

By David Rheins

It’s early for a Saturday in Seattle, but I’m German and so I am the first to arrive. Entering the swanky lobby of the downtown boutique hotel, the vibe is New York City chic, appropriate enough for my introduction to New Yorker Michael Lang – the once and still cherubic face behind Woodstock.

Michael is making the rounds of the cannabis business community, looking for partners for Woodstock-branded weed, and a mutual friend has arranged for us to have coffee.  It is our first meeting, and I’m happy to speak with a generational icon.  What I notice first is his smile – still boyish despite 72 years as a celebrity rock promoter – followed quickly by his still impressive head of hair.  I am reminded of the famous photos, Lang on stage, or riding his BSA Victor motorcycle.

Michael on his BSA

While I’m too young to have partied in the mud at Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York, the album, the Warner Brothers concert film, and the iconic photographs of the event were deeply influential to me growing up, and I tell him so.  There is no brand that resonates more solidly with baby boomers than Woodstock.

Unlike the appeal of Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson and Tommy Chong – the Holy Trinity of stoner celebrity cannabis brands –Woodstock’s cache transcends mere pot celebrity. Not just an historical festival featuring all the hippie heavyweights, Woodstock was the first gathering of the rainbow nation. An “Aquarian Exposition,” a happening, and a coming-out party for America’s disenfranchised long hairs, who came together from all corners of the country to let their freak flags fly during 3 days of peace, music & pot smoke.

Woodstock branded weed is a no brainer – it is hard to imagine a brand with a more canna-friendly image, and initial consumer demand is likely to be high, particularly with the hoopla surrounding the planned 50th anniversary concert in 2019.

I was part of the 1994 Woodstock II celebration.  Spin magazine, where I served as associate publisher, was media sponsor, and we rented a large house next to the festival grounds.  We used our sponsorship as an occasion to demonstrate to our advertising partners the power of music and youth culture.  Woodstock was nostalgic even in 1994, and its mystique had less to do with the music of Jimi Hendrix and Country Joe than it did with the power of community. That experience transcends generations.  The masses of Generation X celebrants, covered in mud, crowd surfing and smoking pot to Metallica we felt the same spirit of tribal communion as the 1969 crowd did, and the photographs of both are almost indistinguishable.

woodstock1994

The Woodstock Nation is now in its 70s, and the quaint marijuana of the 1960s has grown up into a sophisticated consumer marketplace. Today’s cannabis comes in all shapes and sizes, flavors and forms.  Competing with a super market full of canna brands for shelf space and consumer mind share won’t be easy – even for an iconic brand.

Woodstock will likely feature old school strains, and Lang is leaning toward classic 60s strains like Panama Red and Acapulco Gold.  His task now is to find local farmers in each market whose product can live up to expectations for such a legendary brand. To succeed he must create consistent experience worthy of such a pedigreed name, a challenge made more difficult as each state will have its own growers, who’ll operate under unique rules and standards.

Uneven production can quickly diminish the value of an entire franchise.  Other licensees have seen that when you rely on third party producers, product quality and potency can be inconsistent from crop to crop, batch to batch, and certainly state to state.

Now more than ever, the key to success for cannabis producers and processors lies in brand differentiation, a topic I’ll be discussing at CannaCon on Friday, February 17th at 10am. We’ll be examining Marijuana Marketing, and how pot culture is quickly becoming pop culture.

CANCELLED DUE TO SNOWSTORM. Creating and Protecting CannaMarks, NWMJLaw/MJBAPortland Bootcamp Jan 11th

TONIGHT’S MJBAPORTLAND BOOTCAMP CANCELLED DUE TO SNOWSTORM.

BE SAFE.

WE’LL RESCHEDULE!

OREGON: It’s not enough to grow great weed, or create a better edible, in today’s hyper-competitive cannabis market, it’s all about creating — and protecting — your brand, or “CannaMark.”   Leading industry attorneys NWMJ Law have partnered with the Marijuana Business Association (MJBA) to present their first Bootcamp of the year.

The 2 hour bootcamp will take place on Wednesday, January 11th 2017 6:30 – 8:30pm. at the NWMJLaw offices, 220 NW 8th Avenue, Portland, Oregon.   Open to industry pioneers as well as the public with a $10 suggested donation for this networking event. 

Panelists include NWMJ Law’s Margaret Widlund on Protecting your Brand, NWMJ Law’s Aaron Pelley on Intellectual Property Litigation and KindTyme on Advertising and Marketing.Paneled by visionaries and pioneers in the cannabis industry, these experts will focus on Advertising, Marketing, Trademark, and IP Issues.  This 2-hour event is dedicated to 2017 being the year of brand differentiation.

The MJBA, called the Chamber of Commerce of marijuana by NBC News, focuses on ending prohibition, educating consumers, legitimizing the industry, and expanding the market.  Their partner, NWMJ Law is one of the fastest growing cannabis law firms in the Pacific Northwest and together they work tirelessly to change the face of this growing industry.

Legal Cannabis Marketers Carefully Sell Their Wares

WASHINGTON:  While marketing quality cannabis to eager consumers may seem like simple stuff, licensed cannabis marketers are tasked with operating under strict regulatory guidelines, and must stay diligent or risk the wrath of both federal and state regulators.  The Federal Trade Commission is the overseer of advertising in the US, and that includes Washington State’s I-502 legal cannabis industry, while the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) and the Attorney General are the industry enforcers. Advertising is one of the few areas of regulation that is stricter in Washington State than in other recreational cannabis states.

The WSLCB has increasingly been focusing it’s actions on product packaging and internet marketing, and in response the Marijuana Business Association has invited leading cannabis industry attorneys Aaron Pelley and Anne van Leynseele of NWMJ Law to present ‘the dos and don’ts of marketing, advertising, packaging’ to an audience of producers, processors, retailers, and a diverse group of ancillary business owners at the HOT BOX: The Best in Marijuana Design and Packaging 2016  seminar on June 2nd in Tacoma, Washington.

“We will start with an overview of the constitutional rights; making the important distinction that advertising is not considered free speech so it can be regulated,” Anne van Leynseele told MJNN. “Building the foundation that the principle concepts of advertising and marketing law include truth in advertising and avoiding unfair trade practices. The Constitution is also the basis for Intellectual Property laws and the often misunderstood difference between assets that can be protected and those that cannot.”

NWMJ Law’s featured presentation will include advice that every business marketing cannabis brands on the internet and social media needs to know.  including Encouraging each business owner to carefully assess their compliance with for example: compliant packaging, proper signage on retail premises, displaying their valid license, and including mandatory warnings on ads.an update on the pending changes on labeling, as well the general principles, protective strategies, and our insights about what is happening in this critical and subjective aspect of the cannabis industry.

Advance Tickets on sale here:

High Times And Agency Unite To Sell Marijuana To Mainstream

NEW YORK: Marijuana advocates are teaming up with Madison Avenue to try to make pot palatable to mainstream Americans — and to the advertisers that want to reach them.

High Times, the 42-year-old must-have magazine for the cannabis enthusiast, has collaborated with Sparks & Honey, an Omnicom advertising agency, on a report meant to prompt big-picture thinking in the marijuana industry. The paper, “Rebranding Marijuana,” was released April 20, the unofficial pot holiday.

“Through the slow legal and regulatory processes,” the report noted, “marijuana is opening up opportunities across a variety of industries, most of which have nothing to do with yesterday’s stoner weed.”

The Art Of Marketing Marijuana

How to make pot seem as all-American as an ice-cold beer

In the summer of 2014, The New York Times published its first-ever marijuana ad. The occasion was the enactment of New York’s Compassionate Care Act, which legalized pot for some medical uses. The ad, a congratulatory note from a Seattle start-up, depicted a well-dressed, newspaper-toting man standing on his stoop while a young woman jogged past. Both wore determined expressions; the man, according to the text, consumed marijuana “to relieve his MS symptoms,” and the woman used it “while fighting cancer.” The ad made sense for its time and place. Earlier that year, Colorado and Washington State had begun allowing the sale of recreational pot, and critics were warning that as more states followed suit, profit-motivated corporations could start marketing a lot of pot to a lot of people. Savvy marijuana businesses, worried about confirming this suspicion, stuck to depictions of their most sympathetic users.

Pot’s image problem has since begun to fade, especially in states like Washington and Colorado. Two more states, Oregon and Alaska, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and several others may soon have the opportunity to join them. But the people who sell the drug are facing a predicament. In a legal market, cannabis—the plant from which pot is derived—comes to resemble many other farmed products: One grower’s plant looks and tastes a lot like his neighbor’s. (Some pot connoisseurs with sensitive palates can differentiate among strains of cannabis—and even among brands—but they’re as rare as the coffee drinker who can guess his beans’ origins.) John Kagia, the director of industry analytics at New Frontier, which studies the marijuana business, is convinced that pot is becoming commoditized. In Colorado, the supply of marijuana flower is going up, and its cost down, partly because of technological advancements and larger, more efficient operations—just the kind of forces that have turned other products into commodities.