Mass Marketing the Ultimate Word of Mouth Product
By Rocky Bowles, founder, Raquel Bowles
I am in the cannabis business.
I have been a marketing and sales consultant for B2B and B2C clients in the professional photographer space for most of my career. For the past 18 months, due to changes in the photo industry, I have pivoted my practice to collaborate with companies in the legal cannabis industry, from startups to boutiques to growers and farms. I’ve immersed myself in the industry culture, language and legalese – and while everyone in the business is learning on the job when it comes to evolving regulations, I’ve learned enough to offer sound guidance and strategic insight. I am here to tell you that from a marketing perspective: the cannabis industry is in the process of completing a 180 degree turn from one of the world’s major word-of-mouth product markets to one that may very well be available in convenience stores in just a few years. It’s a head-spinning change that’s going to require the strategic counsel of experienced and trustworthy marketing professionals to navigate.
My personal journey to cannabis isn’t particularly complicated. I’ve been a longtime resource to businesses both large and small, designing and deploying innovative business/marketing/sales strategies and execution plans, whether from the time of launch or during transitional phases. For the majority of that time, I’ve focused on the professional photo industry – a space that, at its core, is about marketing consumer goods (photo books, cards, prints, etc.) while leveraging professional photographers as the reflection of a cool, trendy and attainable lifestyle. What remains unique about the photo industry is that so many of its products are sold through distributors or other channel partners, which means I have spent years creating targeted marketing strategies that have enabled companies at the top of the distribution food chain to sell to an increasingly discerning and demanding audience, especially as competition increases and the cost per good declines as a result.
As the photo industry continued to gradually shrink and consolidate, I took every opportunity to learn about businesses facing growth challenges, and many months ago I had the chance to sit down with the owners of CleenFarms, a cannabis farm with a big heart, big ideas and a limited budget. I began to learn and understand CleenFarms’ needs and they introduced me to partners who are vital to their distribution and packaging efforts. The more companies I spoke with in the emerging, legal cannabis industry, the easier I could draw a straight line from cannabis to pro photo: the unique distribution channel, the mix of both brand-loyal expert consumers and new, wide-eyed beginners, the flood of innovative products and the undeniable penchant for creativity at every level of the industry.
In the past year, I’ve developed tactics that mix both standard marketing & sales best practices, as well as strategies unique to the ever-evolving cannabis industry. I remain confident that businesses who embrace these concepts will have a much greater chance at marketing success than organizations who “wing it” or rely on the tried and true word-of-mouth method that has defined the cannabis industry.
The core themes of my cannabusiness marketing playbook:
- Understanding the Customer Journey
- Channel Strategy
- Distribution/Sales Strategies
- Prototype to Product
- Influencer/Brand Ambassador Programs
- Customer Events
There has never been a more opportune time for organizations to adopt the traditional marketing concepts that will quickly enable cannabis to shed some of its stigma. Companies that fail to implement a more sophisticated marketing & sales strategy, will soon find that this business sure isn’t what it used to be and that everyone in this business will need to work as a collective to establish a legitimate, above ground and thriving cannabis industry.