(This post is part one of a two-part series on marketing cannabis companies in 2018. This first post will focus on defining a target audience and building a cannabis-related brand. Part 2 will focus on acquiring and retaining customers to increase revenues and margins by optimizing marketing programs and increasing customer Lifetime Value.)
Our Entry into the Cannabis Marketing Field
Hewson Group has been engaging the market and developing brands and businesses in the cannabis space since 2013. We’ve kept our engagement in this burgeoning field quiet due to many clients’ biases when it comes to marijuana as a legal consumer product. However, with the rapid changes to this plant’s legality and perception in the Northeast, we are now actively pursuing cannabis as a practice specialization in our marketing company
We recently met with a large state-licensed cannabis grow and medical marijuana retail operation in Massachusetts to discuss their marketing in preparation for legal adult use sales of cannabis in MA. We went in with great optimism due to our extensive knowledge and tenure marketing both cannabis and general consumer products and brands, including specific experience relating to retailing. An early medical cannabis license holder, the client is on the cusp of explosive growth with the launch of “recreational” cannabis sales legalization. A perfect situation for us as an agency looking to penetrate this new market.
A Dispensary Discounts the Power of Marketing
As it turned out, what we heard was anything but optimistic, and was in fact quite discouraging. As in many states, supply is outstripping demand due to slim medical marijuana approved patient counts. The company’s reaction has been to de-prioritize marketing investment until they overcome their distribution challenges. Their brand is undifferentiated. They have low marketplace awareness. Competition is coming in fast. Price wars have begun between competing dispensaries.
We believe they’re putting themselves at risk by not investing more in marketing now, while they have a competitive advantage: an early licensee, they own a large swath of geography with little competition yet. Their grow operation is top-notch, and their team is in place and operating well. But their brand is generic and their plans for customer communication and interaction is disorganized.
With over 150 new adult-use stores seeking licences in MA and looking to open in this relatively small state, marketing is essential for growth and frankly, survival in what will prove to be a hyper-competitive retail market within the next few years. As other nearby states consider adult-use retail themselves (NY, CT, RI, VT, ME, NH), the competition will only get fiercer as time goes on.
Your Cannabis Dispensary Needs A Smart Marketing Approach.
Based on this experience, we thought it might be helpful to share our insights with other cannabis operations. We hope you’re that professional and that this is meaningful to your strategic planning.
There are four key components to any smart marketing plan that every dispensary, retailer, grower or product manufacturer needs to take into account as they plan, build and grow their legal consumer-facing cannabis business. Ths blog post will focus on the first two components: Target Audience and Brand definition.
General Marketing Strategy Framework
STEP 1: It All Starts By Defining Your Target Audience
Target Audience? What the heck to you mean target audience? You mean, people who want to buy weed, right? Well, yes, but that’s just the beginning of the decision making you’ll need to undertake. For instance, we’ve identified at least 5 different broad categories of psychographic segments in the cannabis market place:
These groups, defined by their perception of cannabis and how it plays a role in their life, is only the beginning. Age, gender, income, proximity, consumption preferences, all play a role in determining how you should be marketing your consumer products. Consider the differences:
Unbiased Upscale Enthusiast
Make sure that you do your homework regarding your patient and customer base. If you’re in an upscale suburban location, how would your strategy differ from a dense urban population center? Does your business philosophy tend towards helping the truly ill, or selling at your greatest volume potential with more recreationally focused consumers? How can you differentiate yourself in the market to attract just the kind of customer you want to grow? The answer to questions like these will help you determine key aspects of your overall business strategy. Premium or mass-appeal pricing? Medical/Health & Wellness or “Fun, Excitement and Pleasure”? Flower or infused products focus? Retail or Wholesale? The list is endless. But it all has to start with determining your priority customer segments and designing your business to suit their needs.
Step 2: Your Brand Is Your Promise, Fulfilled (or not)
What is a brand? From your perspective as a business owner, it’s your promise. Your promise to your customers, your partners, your employees, and your community. How you define that promise and how you articulate it will help define your business for years to come. Choosing how to brand yourself, aligned with the target market you have strategically determined is your focus, is the most important “marketing” decision you will make as a cannabis business leader.
But it’s not just your promise. It’s also your perception from your customer perspective. Your position among your competitors. The expression of your business model. It’s what gives you competitive differentiation in a soon-to-be hyper-competitive product and retail space. Your brand is ultimately a summation of the customer’s experience with you directly. Pricing. Selection. Availability. Customer Service. Recognition.
What your brand will be most influenced by is your customer’s actual experience with your company. What’s their first experience getting to know you? Likely, it’s either a visit to your website combined with a visit to your store. What they experience in these interactions will form their views on your business and its ability to meet their needs.
Defining Your Cannabis Brand: Your view vs. The customer
Once you’ve chosen your target audience(s) and created your brand promise and matching customer experiences, you be ready for today’s legal cannabis market.
COMING SOON: PART 2 of this post will focus on Acquisition and Retention of a marijuana company’s customer base.
ABOUT HEWSON GROUP:
In business since 2012, Hewson Group was founded on the belief that all businesses deserve to benefit from the most sophisticated marketing tools & methods available. We apply our big business marketing knowledge & skills on behalf of smaller companies, leading to higher marketing ROI. We build brands and drive sales growth for companies by creating unique customer experiences and messages. Contact us today to learn how we can help you develop your brand and increase your business results affordably and with expertise in the cannabis marketplace.