The Cannabrander: Studio A64 Case Study: The Local Social Dimensions Of Best-Practice Branding

By Ben Weinberg

COLORADO: Studio A64 is a private, members-only cannabis club in Colorado Springs, Colorado that features a large, open space on the main floor as well as an upstairs lounge.  Studio A64 does not provide cannabis, and Ambur Racek who, along with Wanda Stark, owns and operates the club, wouldn’t have it any other way.  “We’re a social space for marijuana users, so we serve coffee and other drinks.  We also have a real soda fountain where we create awesome milkshakes!”

“We show movies,” says Stark, “have live music and comedy, play bingo, and curate all sorts of other social activities.  We even do ladies nights!”  With close to 2,000 registered members and continued strong membership growth, Studio A64 is a cannabis-focused business that understands the local social dimensions of best-practice branding.

Social vs. Social Media

Social media acts at a distance and can be very effective in raising a company’s profile.  But turning a prospect into a long-term customer generally requires more than just active Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Humans have evolved as social animals, which is why social media works, but our genetics use online activity as a mere proxy for face-to-face interaction, which is why in-person contact is so impactful.

Many of the social cues we normally consider (particularly smells and pheromones) are absent from social media, and thus interaction at a distance is not generally superior to the real thing.  How can a business owner capitalize on the natural dominance of local-area communication to promote her brand?

Being Friendly

Obviously, being social is easiest when there is a physical place of business.  But having a storefront isn’t marketing, and Colorado’s restrictions on legal cannabis mean that Studio A64 can’t advertise through regular channels.  So Racek and Stark have relied on both word of mouth and social media to promote their club.

A big part of Studio A64’s brand involves being picky about the type of person to whom they offer membership.  “We don’t allow just anyone in,” explains Racek, who has a background in the local restaurant scene.  “No large bags or pets, and we don’t show a lot of security but what’s there is always friendly.”

The user’s overall experience while onsite is another basis of the brand, a lesson the owners learned from the original owner, K.C. Stark.  “He really was the captain of the ship,” says Racek.  “K.C. was a pioneer who helped change history by campaigning to end marijuana prohibition once and for all.  UX was very important to him, and we’re just following in his footsteps.”

Stark (no relation) also credits the importance of a welcoming, professional vibe in bringing out targeted blocks of consumers who otherwise wouldn’t go to a cannabis club.  “We have a large contingent of female entrepreneurs, probably in part because they feel so safe here.”  Membership is evenly divided between locals and tourists, with most of the latter category coming specifically because they’ve previously heard about Studio A64 and not just because they’re on vacation in a legal cannabis state.

Franchising plans are already in the works, including to other parts of Colorado, California, Oregon, and Florida.  While navigating multiple jurisdictions in a quickly evolving legal space can be challenging, Stark believes that threading the needle on constantly changing laws requires a cannabis brand to continually branch out into new areas of expertise.  “We’re already almost five years old and the local government keeps trying to shut us down.  But as regulations become more lenient over time, the industry’s transition from medical to retail to social will also trace the evolution of our brand as a safe, social place for our members to consume legal cannabis.”

Being Social in a Virtual World

By partnering with a legal, physical space, a virtual company can add the benefits of one-on-one, in-person interaction to those already inherent in a lean, otherwise online-only operation.  In fact, locations such as Studio A64 are often eager to partner with outside vendors because the synergies are so obvious.

Conclusion

Studio A64, the United States first brick and mortar cannabis club, proudly sets a national standard for the future of the marijuana industry by incorporating the social element of branding into its products and services.  It’s a lesson that other cannabis companies, especially those with access to a physical storefront or other premises, should take very seriously.


About Ben Weinberg

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 and sign up for his newsletter.

Marijuana And Social Media: #YouCantPostThat

WASHINGTON:  If you follow us on Facebook, you probably know about our ongoing saga with the social media giant over its having banned our promoting our page or our posts. Why is Facebook blocking us from promoting content from the Canna Law Blog on its pages? According to the Facebook Advertising Guidelines, and from what we have been told by Facebook representatives via email, “ads may not promote or facilitate the sale or consumption of illegal or recreational drugs, tobacco products, or drug or tobacco paraphernalia.” But neither Canna Law Blog nor our Facebook page has ever promoted or facilitated the sale or consumption of marijuana. In fact, we studiously delete and ban anyone who tries to use our Facebook page as a forum for selling anything, including marijuana. Our only goal is to educate our readers and stimulate discussion about marijuana, marijuana laws, marijuana business, and marijuana legalization.  We do not and will not ever tell anyone to consume as that would be as presumptuous as telling someone that they cannot consume.

In other words, we advocate for the freedom of adults to choose for themselves. That’s all.

Facebook’s blanket anti-drug policy impacts our ability to exercise our political speech rights and that frustrates us (and our readers) on a daily basis.

What about other forms of social media? Is the rest of the Internet equally puritanical when it comes to talking about marijuana? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. For example, in 2013, Instagram banned #weed from its site and it continues to shut down accounts that show cannabis images, whether for medicinal or recreational use, even in those states with legal marijuana. Every day, marijuana political speech is curtailed by social media’s aggressive anti-cannabis speech restrictions.

 

The Brain Behind Seattle Police's Social Media On Marijuana, Twitter, And Doritos

WASHINGTON: Seattle’s Hempfest is the nation’s largest festival celebrating pot culture, especially the decriminalization of marijuana usage. This year’s Hempfest comes after the citizens of Washington voted to decriminalize and regulate pot statewide. Local police, though, are still charged with making sure that people use the substance in a smart way. [Read more…]

The Brain Behind Seattle Police's Social Media On Marijuana, Twitter, And Doritos

WASHINGTON: Seattle’s Hempfest is the nation’s largest festival celebrating pot culture, especially the decriminalization of marijuana usage. This year’s Hempfest comes after the citizens of Washington voted to decriminalize and regulate pot statewide. Local police, though, are still charged with making sure that people use the substance in a smart way. [Read more…]