With recreational cannabis legalized in Washington and Colorado, and many more likely to follow, the cannabis scene is starting to look a lot like the gold rush days of the post-Prohibition era. But how should brands proceed when a heavily regulated and potentially volatile product is at the center of the consumer experience?
Rick Kiley is a partner at New York City-based SoHo Experiential with more than a decade of spirits marketing experience, and a studied industry perspective on how the evolution of spirits laws might impact the cannabis market. Here, his top tips and predictions for how to have good clean fun with marijuana marketing.
1. Education is an opportunity for engagement. There’s going to be a huge learning curve for the balance of consumers. Many don’t know the difference between varieties, how potent some brownies might be or how to tell a reputable dispensary from a sketchy shop. Brands who can offer consumers that kind of service will be well ahead of the curve, Kiley says.
2. Compliance will be key. Like with spirits and other controlled products, cannabis will be a lawyer’s delight. Brands will need to make sure that any event strategy accounts for legal compliance in terms of age barriers, sampling rules (if it’s even allowed) and mass market advertising restrictions. Look for a well-heeled lawyer. The firm of Dewey, Smokum and Howe is good, we hear.
3. It won’t be as hard as you expect. The states that legalize want these laws to succeed. They see that they can save big money on enforcement and rake in huge tax revenues from regulation, so all you have to do is toe the line and you’ll be welcome.
4. Influencers will matter. Like with good whiskey or high-end electronics, experts will rise up to recommend the stankiest buds and smoothest hookahs. Food bloggers will have “weedcipies” and brands will want to tap into their audiences. So keep a red eye out for voices coming out of the legal markets and look for your chance to lead the circle.
5. Local will be prime real estate. Kiley says the idea of local and organic product will translate to the cannabis market, much like it does with craft beer, so you brands with a strong local image might have a head start here, but it also might represent an opportunity for brands that want to borrow a bit of the “green” patchouli.
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Photo courtesy: Chas Redmond