The cannabis industry is growing at an incredible rate. There are now eleven states and Washington D.C. that have legalized recreational usage, while 33 states have legalized medical usage (often seen as a stepping stone to full recreational legalization). Illinois is the latest state to jump into the fray, passing a legalization law that is sure to be signed by Governor Pritzger. With all this growth, experts are projecting legal marijuana sales to top $16 billion by the end of this year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
With such rapid growth also comes an opportunity for new companies looking to win early position advantage. It’s a small window, though, and the industry is bound to become far more competitive with global brands like Constellation and Anheuser Bush enthusiastically engaging with new positions. That means that cannabis companies (and cannabis marketing companies) need to move quickly to establish their brands, especially online where advertising and promotional regulations are a bit more lax than traditional marketing channels, or specific rules haven’t yet been written.
And to accomplish this, cannabis firms can learn a lot from the spirits, beverage and hospitality industry. There are a lot of similarities about how cannabis can be successfully marketed online, but there are also a few differences. Indeed, it is almost certainly going to be the same government agencies regulating the trade. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my years of experience in the beverage industry that I think can apply to the ‘budding’ cannabis industry.
What cannabis companies can learn from beverage alcohol
In many ways, the cannabis industry is already quite similar to the beverage and hospitality industries. They have a product that has both a core, dedicated audience, and an experience that needs to be branded and delivered online and to some degree in the experiential space.
One thing that restaurants and beverage brands do extremely well is cultivating online experiences that create positive first impressions and drives interest in the brand. People will check out a restaurant or bar’s website and social media presences prior to actually visiting about 45 percent of the time. They want to scope the menu, see what the environment looks like, and understand what to expect from the experience. Cannabis companies should be building similar experiences to help educate and draw customers to their brand. In case you didn’t know, the variety, stimulation effect, and delivery of cannabis products are not dissimilar to the variety of product you can get at a bodega…but with one thing in common.
To that end, another thing that many restaurants, bars, and beverage companies do really well is to visually capture the spirit of their brand. Luckily, cannabis companies have a product that is highly photogenic and like beverage alcohol, is undeniably connected with a lifestyle in the recreational use case. Cannabis users love seeing pictures of marijuana, different strains, paraphernalia, baked goods, and other edibles. Visual marketing should be at the core of any digital marketing efforts a cannabis company does and will go a long way to helping audiences experience the product digitally before they experience it in person. This also paves the way for cannabis influencers—trendsetters who try the latest and greatest products, review them online and engage with potential customers on a brand’s behalf.
For all of the similarities, there are also a few differences. For one, cannabis companies shouldn’t necessarily look at crossover customers, that is, customers who want both a cannabis and beverage experience rolled into one. In fact, the two audiences are possibly very separate. Currently, about 13 percent of Americans self-identify as a “current user,” while over 50 percent of Americans report drinking alcohol within the past month (i.e. recently). To be sure, these numbers will continue to shift, particularly as more states legalize. But it’s a mistake to think that those who want to drink alcohol also want to consume cannabis, at least at the same time. Indeed, Millennials and Generation Z have started to consume less alcohol, indicating this new psychoactive hero is here to disrupt.
That means that cannabis companies at all stages (production/distribution/retail) should be creating online presences that reflect this division.
What’s more, marketing cannabis online isn’t necessarily about users who just want to party. Today’s cannabis users are far more educated about the product, the strains, and they have a wider number of reasons for using cannabis (pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, etc.) and users are going to need representation far beyond the limitations of the stoner images we get from mainstream films like Pineapple Express.
What do you think? Will cannabis use overtake alcohol use? What work have you seen for cannabis marketing? Comment below or hit me up.