2016! What a memorable year in American politics, culture, et al. Not only will a new president soon emerge, but new life changing policies will likely be revealed with groundbreaking decisions about medical and recreational marijuana, which if passed will usher in a lucrative new market and era for the cannabis industry. In fact, earlier this year, Forbes reported findings from Arcview Market Research that the legal marijuana industry is poised to generate a staggering $7.1 billion in 2016. The potential for this industry is limitless. It’s interesting to bear witness to an entire industry evolving from underground to mainstream. As an Oakland-based PR professional who works in a city that's been at the forefront of medical cannabis, businesses already are gearing up to support this industry. But, I can’t help but wonder how business owners of cannabis goods and services in other states will adjust to potentially reimagining their messaging in response to this changing landscape. Time to seriously cannabis marketing.Here are four areas of opportunity where cannabusinesses should focus as the industry tide changes as quickly as this November.
Seriously Consider Your Marketing
People in the cannabis industry have had plenty on their plates – everything from educating people to advocacy work to simply staying compliant in order to avoid legal troubles. For a marketing strategy to not even be on their radar is understandable, but with the changing industry comes the need to refocus. Thinking about your target market and your brand’s tone of voice may feel foreign and or even indulgent, is actually critical to the growth of your business during these changes. It’s time to decide, particularly for cannabusinesses in states where recreational use is legal, who your customer is, because it can’t be everybody. For example, are you talking to Millennials? Middle-aged women? For whom does your product solve a problem? Figuring out your audience will pave the way towards you finding out how to speak to them and where to your next customer.
Messaging is Key
Who you are as a brand and whom your customer must be reflected consistently in every piece of content you create and distribute. If your recreational cannabis product is perfect for the Millennial festival-goer, it may not make sense to highlight the pain relief benefits for that audience. On the other hand, a brand whose product provides relief to sufferers of menstrual cramps may prefer to be less playful, and positioning itself instead as a source of advice and information. This can be particularly challenging since cannabis has so many use cases, even among each individual. But choosing one focus and delivering to the correct audience is what will make you stand out in a very crowded space.
Don’t Be Afraid to Grow Up
Depending on where you stand on the issue, cannabis may represent any number of stereotypes and stigmas. From a marketing standpoint, there is the medical side, which acknowledges numerous uses for cannabis in the areas of health and wellness. And then there’s the pervasive stoner side, which embraces the psychoactive affects and all that comes with them (like the munchies). With industry changes comes the opportunity to explore outside of these. There’s no reason why a cannabis brand can’t represent itself as sophisticated, adventurous, sexy or empowering. Your market no longer falls into the stoner or patient category, so don’t be afraid to update your brand’s presence even if it means leaving some of the old ways behind.
Where PR Will Count Most
With all of the hard work that companies will be putting into developing brands that respond to the changing cannabis landscape, the hardest part of the journey will be reshaping how we all think about the industry. Whether you like it or not, many more businesses will be entering the marketplace as cannabis becomes more mainstream. East Bay PR efforts will likely be at the forefront helping define and direct deeper understanding about this industry. But the shadow of the past will linger for some time, which is why PR will become critical. You already see more cannabis references in pop culture, which is always a great start. But expanded legality will grant businesses the ability to be finally open about the products they’re developing and brining to market not to mention the partnerships they’re forming and their community work. Cannabusinesses will need to apply strategy to every communication vehicle in order that their social media channels convey relevant messages to their audience. They will also need to update their SEO strategy in order to ensure they’re getting the page ranks that enable customers to find them. All of which will serve not only to legitimize your business, but an entire industry overall.
This is an exciting time for the cannabis industry, but it can also be overwhelming to prepare for the change that’s coming. Whether already in a cannabusiness or looking to start one, take a page from more traditional industries and start seeing where you can fully develop your marketing, refine your messaging, defy the stereotype and get the word out.