No one calls it “marijuana” anymore. According to Canopy Growth, everyone uses “cannabis” or “flower” to describe the potent plant these days.

Cannabis marketing was a hot topic at last month’s Collision tech conference (dubbed “North America’s fastest-growing tech conference), and the discussions weren’t just around semantics. Canada has legalized some forms of cannabis for consumer and medical use, representing a growing market that a number of tech investors are engaged with. The Collision conference attracts an audience of over 25,000, making it an ideal opportunity for startups to secure funding for their budding businesses.

The cannabis industry is in a nascent stage of regulation–because rules differ between states and countries, cannabis companies have to interpret guidelines to inform their marketing and positioning. Lack of regulation poses challenges in this interim stage, knowing that additional regulation is coming down the pipeline. Despite these challenges, many Collision sessions focused on a few key themes related to cannabis marketing, which can be applied more broadly to other types of regulated industries.

Theme 1: Design emotion-driven marketing tactics

The highest profile cannabis-related session at Collision was an interview with Seth Rogen (yes, the Seth Rogen of Pineapple Express and Superbad fame). Rogen recently started his own cannabis company, Houseplant, which currently operates solely in British Columbia with future expansion plans.

During his interview, Rogen was joined by business partner, Evan Goldberg. The interview traversed many topics, including the work they did to navigate Canadian marketing guidelines. Rogen stated, in a phrase many marketers on MLR teams can relate to, “In a world where there are marketing regulations, you need to get creative.”

Rogen spoke with pride on Houseplant’s branding solution, explaining that they sought to create a brand that was accessible and created emotions of reverence or elevation. To accomplish this, they focused on naming and packaging. Each strain sold by Houseplant is branded with its own color palette and logo, carried through from the website to the packaging. The result? A retro-inspired brand experience featuring modern typography.

Josh Lyon, VP of Marketing at Canopy Growth, also brought up emotion-driven marketing is his workshop, “Higher learning: Cannabis–the new disruptor.” Canopy Growth, the first cannabis company in North America to be publicly traded, has in recent years gone through a series of acquisitions, including Tokyo Smoke in 2018. Similar to Houseplant, Lyon described that Tokyo Smoke had also created unique naming, a color palette and packaging for each strain. They chose to name their products with emotions a consumer may expect to experience such as “Go,” “Rise,” “Ease,” “Pause,” and Equalize.” Packaging and products were designed as something consumers would want to display, instead of hide away.

While Tokyo Smoke and Houseplant are clearly catering to consumer’s emotions (or desired emotions), both brands also recognize the importance of educating the public on what those potential effects might mean for their individual consumers.

Theme 2: Prioritize educational marketing tactics

Both Houseplant and Tokyo Smoke are big on educational marketing. Rogen spoke very passionately about education as a key component of Houseplant’s marketing strategy. As cannabis effects can vary both by the type of cannabis grown and the consumer (different people can feel different effects of the same strain), he described the strong need for consumer-facing educational content. For example, Houseplant created a portion control video as educational content, which can be viewed on the Houseplant website.

Lyon also spoke in great depth about educational tactics. He described the approach that Tokyo Smoke employed to create a lifestyle brand, including creating experiences that welcomed a community to engage with their brand. Their website also includes an entire section of educational content, featuring “A guide to responsible cannabis consumption,” among other topics.

As the Canadian cannabis market is still in its infancy, emerging brands are highlighting the crucial importance of educational marketing content to inform an audience, many of whom are new to this category, about the complexities of cannabis. It also makes sense that emotion-driven marketing is ruling this space. As the effects of cannabis itself can be so closely linked to a human’s emotions, emotion-driven marketing is a solid approach to achieving relevance with consumers.

Theme 3: They’re looking for more marketers

In the final session I attended on cannabis, “Growing your cannabis company,” I heard from a panel including Adam Miron of HEXO, Karson Humiston of Vangst, and Bharat Vasan of PAX Labs.

Miron spoke of the biggest challenges growing cannabis companies face. In his opinion, the first challenge is the barrier of entry. The second is the license. The third is capital. Following that is the space to grow and a method of hiring to grow.

The panel agreed that finding employees is challenging. The panel commentary focused on the fact that people don’t often think about joining a cannabis company–yet the jobs are in demand, including marketing roles. Additionally, there are often parallels between roles at cannabis companies and those at pharmaceutical companies–individuals who have worked in pharma often have relevant experience that would make them an asset at a growing cannabis company.

Bonus advice for those interested in cannabis careers: Vasan pointed out that by joining a cannabis company, you end up taking on an educator role with your friends and family. Whether you are a marketer, lawyer, regulatory affairs, or compliance professional, if you decide to join a cannabis company, you will need to welcome educational conversations into your daily life.

Staying compliant in a sea of governing bodies

It’s well-known that cannabis companies face compliance considerations unique to location and governing body. In Canada alone, there are 13 governing bodies.

When I asked Josh Lyon at Canopy Growth to talk about their process for review and approval of marketing materials, he noted that because Bill C-45 is not specific in its wording, their legal team is left to interpret if marketing messages are compliant with regulation. They then conduct a business risk assessment based on legal’s point-of-view. In his words, “Legal is involved in everything we do.”

At Vodori, we understand these challenges. For over 13 years, we’ve worked with companies who have similar needs to Canadian cannabis companies. Our customers seek to:

  • Tell a brand story in an impactful way, while staying compliant
  • Move with the speed of the market, if not faster
  • Collaborate across specialized job roles, such as marketing, legal, medical, and regulatory

We believe in enabling teams, whether they be from pharma, medical device, or cannabis organizations, to improve their processes despite these unique compliance regulations. As more cannabis regulations are formed, process efficiencies will shift from being a luxury to an absolute necessity–that’s why we’ve built products such as Pepper Flow Commercial. To learn more about how Pepper Flow Commercial could streamline your process, contact us at hello@vodori.com.