As Oregon’s legal cannabis industry rapidly expands, the importance of standing out from the crowd is increasingly apparent. In a market quickly becoming saturated with growers, producers, and dispensaries, finding a unique product and an effective way to get it to the consumer is essential for the success of your business. I learned more about branding recently while attended the second annual Potland Marketing Event in Portland, Oregon, hosted by the Portland Advertising Federation. There was a large turnout, and moderator Claire Kaufmann, of rebrandingcannabis.com directed the conversation for the first portion, presenting questions and topics for the panelists to elaborate on, with a Q&A at the end. Each panelist represented a different area of the emerging legal cannabis industry, and it was interesting to see what they agreed on and where their opinions differed. All the panelists were in agreement that the future success of any cannabis related business depends on transparency, education, and compliance with the upcoming Oregon regulations, including those on marketing. Unfortunately, those regulations have not yet been finalized, so no one was able to go into any further detail on specific ways to meet those requirements. However, attorney Jim Underwood, owner of Underwood Medina, did mention that looking at the OLCC alcohol regulations, as well as the existing OMMP regulations for medical dispensaries is a good way to gauge what the cannabis rules will look like. For example, marketing that can be construed as targeting children, or advocating excessive use are things to avoid. Noelle Crombie, reporter for the Oregonian newspaper, spoke about ways Oregon regulators can learn from what has played out in Colorado and Washington, as well as the importance of creating rigorous standards for testing labs.
Brad Zusman, of Canna Daddy Wellness and Busy Bee Distributing gave some insight on successful marketing approaches within medical dispensaries, and his take on the future of successful branding. What struck me most from his comments was the statement that he often tells people “Canna Daddy Wellness Center is powered by Leafly.” He explained how increasing the amount of money he put into advertising with the company significantly increased the amount of revenue he was bringing in, each time. Paul Campbell, the marketing director for Leafly, was able to expand on that statement by explaining different ways the company works with their partners to educate and build trust in the consumers. There are restrictions on the ways cannabis businesses are able to market, similar to the ones placed on alcohol and tobacco companies, but companies like Leafly, and social media app MassRoots are revolutionizing the way cannabis startups are able to build their brand. Leafly’s market analysis has shown some unexpected results on the demographic buying cannabis. While a large percentage of consumers are individuals in their low to mid twenties, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people 65 years and older that are spending money in dispensaries. This data has undoubtedly affected the marketing strategies of many cannabis startups.
There were differing opinions on the likelihood of cannabis products ending up on the shelves of stores like grocery chain Fred Meyer, or even Costco, but Campbell stated that he wouldn’t rule it out. It was exciting to hear someone voice their confidence in the eventual normalization of cannabis use. Perhaps one day in the future all adults will be able to run to a neighborhood store and pick up a package of pre-rolls, or a vape cartridge the same way you would buy cigarettes, or a bottle of wine. When this day comes, the cannabis startups that have maintained consistent quality with their products and built a brand that people can easily recognize will be the ones on the shelves.