Marketing cannabis and the products that accompany recreational use is set to become one of the biggest industries in the United States. With 29 states promoting legal medical cannabis, 14 with it decriminalized and 8 having legalized it completely, you might be thinking this will be the easiest ad-campaign of all time. Unfortunately, science suggests otherwise.
The Science of Marketing
You heard correctly, marketing is a science, but almost half of what we know about the process cannot be applied to cannabis. Why? Because cannabis lives in the grey area of the American psyche. How do I know this?
In 2015, I completed and published The Safe Haven theory, a socio-demographic linguistic analysis of attitudes toward recreational drug use in the United Kingdom. I won’t bore you with the intricacies of the study, but the findings are important.
The study, using theoretical sociological trends, found that even non-recreational drug users in the United Kingdom favor cannabis legalization. A great number of police jurisdictions have chosen to not longer punish cannabis users, meaning that the law is (mostly) on our side – the side of full legalization and taxation of cannabis as a product for recreational usage, not so dissimilar from alcohol.
In the UK, we could easily put a huge billboard of someone’s grandmother smoking a spliff and make a million on the first day.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be done in the United States.
Advertising law aside, Americans just don’t have the same view of cannabis as Brits. In the last two years, I applied the same framework to a host of American demographics, and – as I hypothesized – localism rules the American market.
If you live in a Red town and you’re a recreational cannabis user, stigma will prevail over the scientific data, and changing that stigma is almost impossible without hard scientific evidence to back-up the marketing campaign.
Qualitative research is key when understanding why people buy into particular industries. This might not be the general belief held by most folks in advertising, as stats and numbers are distinctly easier to work with. However, as last year’s General Election and Brexit vote showed: numbers can lie. Therefore, the best means of understanding what people really want is to actually talk to them – and I mean in-person.
Marketing rules are shifting. More and more, the heads of marketing departments are turning to scientific and scholarly data to assess the current trends in social development, molding their campaigns around this data as a means of showing that they are industry leaders in understanding the phenomena, as well as speaking to target buyers in their own language.
Am I being too wordy? Let me put it simply.
Say your new product is an indoor indica strain with sleep/stress aid properties, this is how you should market it to three specific demographics:
- Californian recreational smoker in the 50+ age demographic with a moderate knowledge of cannabis strains, “Indoor indica, grown locally with minimal chemical input, good as a sleep aid and positive for stress reduction.”
- New York medical user, 30+, business background, “This strain is an excellent sleep aid, can decrease stress without taking off the edge of your day-to-day workload; highly recommended for those employed in a full-time, private sector position.”
- Small town with predominantly low-income demographic employed in blue-collar industry, “affordable means of relaxing after a tough day at work that won’t give you the same cancer risk as tobacco.”
We market the same strain to each of these demographics, but the language used in the campaign is more important than the product itself. In the UK, the same strain would be marketed across the country using something like:
“Dank strain with sleep aid and relaxation properties, best for chilling out at the end of the day – definitely not recommended prior to work!”
What this means for the United States cannabis marketing specialist is simple: you need to invest as much as you can in getting scholarly researchers out into the field and figuring out the local socio-demographic linguistic trends for your target buyers. Luckily, this can be a fairly affordable means of research.
Marketing specialists have two options in uncovering this data:
- Use students currently enrolled in universities and colleges, either offering paid internships or college credit for bulk research.
- Hire an academic consultancy corporation. This is rapidly becoming a norm in for companies looking to expand their marketing by using scientific data, particularly in industries related to sport and the outdoors.
Just like how Pepsi really missed the mark with their latest failed advertising campaign, cannabis companies are at significant risk of ostracizing themselves from a wealth of demographics that would otherwise be open to recreational or medical cannabis use as an alternative to harsh pharmaceuticals, alcohol and even some forms of therapy.
Language is key, and if you can’t talk to your buyers on their level then you’ve already lost your edge over the competition.