One marketer on the challenges of building a cannabis brand

With cannabis now legal in 29 US states, one marketer talks through the unique challenges of building a weed brand.

There was a time when seeing the headline above was about as likely as reading a Marketing Week story about the Power Rangers. However, over recent years, the tide of opinion around cannabis has changed so dramatically, it’s becoming a subject that’s far more palatable in the UK.

In the US, there are now 29 states that have legalised cannabis (whether for medical or recreational use), with many of these states talking positively about the taxes weed has allowed them to invest back into society and also a reduction in crime by clearing up street dealing. And across this side of the Atlantic, there are now MPs from each of the main political parties calling for legalisation, with some, like Liberal Democrat’s leader Vince Cable, claiming it could be worth up to £6.8bn to the UK economy.

Even if prime minister Theresa May’s stance to not legalise or decriminalise cannabis remains strong – cannabis is currently recognised as a class B drug, which scientists warn can activate conditions such as schizophrenia – the fact ITV’s pro-cannabis ‘Gone to Pot’ series recently aired to a mainstream audience suggests Brits are seriously opening up to the idea.

In Colorado, although a bill was passed allowing medical cannabis to be sold in dispensaries way back in 2000, it has only become legal to sell it for recreational use in 2014. For businesses looking to enter the weed industry, this creates a very unique marketing challenge – how do you build a brand and find customers for an industry that’s like the Wild West?

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Marketing cannabis

Jay Griffin, a 48-year-old entrepreneur (pictured above), is a partner with DANK, a medical and adult use dispensary in Colorado. Opening their doors in 2009, their medical cultivation and dispensary has evolved into a commercial brand and business that now sells recreational weed to members of the public who are over 21.

When Griffin was operating a dispensary, he estimates he was making $2,500 a day. But now people can grow or buy weed to smoke recreationally in Colarado, he says Dank, which has 25 staff, can make “10 times that” on a good day, with average turnover around $14,000 a day.

One day, there will be cannabis adverts running during the Super Bowl; it is only a matter of time.

Jay Griffin, Dank

He says this success has been built on an in-house marketing strategy that targets everyone from the elderly to yoga mums. “We have a ganja yoga retreat, we even have ‘Danksgiving’ parties,” he tells Marketing Week. “Our regular customers are people from every single walk of life.”

However, building the Dank brand has proved difficult, with Griffin’s advertising only allowed to run if the state regulator agrees that at least 70% of the people exposed to it are over 21. This rules out pretty much any outdoor advertising, except for flyers in adult bars, and means Griffin, who is both the founder and marketing director of Dank, must build a brand primarily off word-of-mouth buzz.

He explains: “We can’t advertise our product like a beer brand can, therefore, my marketing plan has had to be more about educational outreach. We’re hooked up with the local medical community and run lunches to educate the locals on safe cannabis use. I believe having the brand stand for something sustainable is very important to our sales.”

Building word-of-mouth buzz

Griffin says Dank has an SEO strategy that targets three societal types – the active Colorado smoker (for obvious reasons), the elderly (who benefit from the pain relief cannabis provides) and music lovers (he says music and weed use go “hand-in-hand”). And this strategy, largely built around social media posts, has attracted a diverse clientele.

The Dank branding and Deadhead OG, one of its more popular strains of cannabis

“The initial perception was only people in their 20s [smoke weed] but I’ve seen all sorts of folks coming out the cannabis closet since it was made legal. We target and promote the yoga lifestyle and wellness to women, with that audience now making up a huge proportion of our sales. We also have customers in their 90s coming to us – cannabis has given them a new lease of life.”

Instagram regularly shuts down the Dank account, but Griffin says the brand wears this like a “badge of honour” and it only validates the quality of its product. He says being a community-led business, amplified by its ‘Be Kind’ branding, has made these types of challenges a lot easier to navigate.

“We give away shirts and swag so when people visit us it creates a word-of-mouth effect, where they tell all of their friends too. We were also one of the first businesses in Colorado to have a clear brand logo on our product and that’s because I saw the opportunity to have a graphic designer in-house. All of this has created an idea within the community that Dank is ‘our place’.”

A ‘business opportunity’

Griffin has international plans as well. He wants to license the Dank brand out so if legalisation was to hit a country such as the UK, shops over here could use it under a franchisee agreement. He says there’s already interested partners in Canada. “I want there to be Dank shops on every single street,” Griffin ambitiously pledges. “We have seven years worth of SEO and brand building so I hope that will be attractive.”

Although red tape still causes hurdles (cannabis, for example, remains illegal at a federal level in the US, which creates tax complications), Griffin says it’s only a matter of time until the industry starts to operate more freely. In the world of marketing, the word ‘disruption’ is often overused, but Griffin is convinced cannabis will soon be the most disruptive force in global retail.

He concludes: “One day, there will be cannabis adverts running during the Super Bowl; it is only a matter of time. Once the medical benefits of cannabis become more well-known, such as CBD oil or the strains that can ease depression, more and more people will come on board and the red tape and laws will relax.

“Any [UK] businessman worth his weight in gold, will already be planning for legalisation as this is a huge retail business opportunity.”

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Comments
  • Pete Austin 29 Nov 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Shame on you. You are probably fine with it, but some other people find cannabis extremely addictive and it can destroy their lives. One problem is that cannabis reduces motivation so people are trapped by their problems and can’t break free.

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