How to create a cannabis brand from scratch? How do you build and market a brand that will attract loyal customers?
The industry is full of exciting opportunities for marketers and creatives – as long as one can navigate the nuances and pitfalls.
It was an engaging conversation full of important advice that all cannabis businesses will want to know.
For the full speech, watch the video above. For highlights, check out the article below.
When Graziani began researching the cannabis industry, he noticed a sort of obsession with cannabis cultivation and the cannabis plant.
“Let’s call it the first wave of cannabis branding, this old-school approach that’s very important and necessary, but doesn’t necessarily show the full picture of the cannabis consumer these days,” he says.
“So my mission with Fluent was to create a brand that was prepared for the future, encompassing all of these different demographics that were rushing in.”
For Graziani, this was the perfect challenge given her background in storytelling and developing content for different demographics.
And while his background has served him well in the cannabis business, that doesn’t mean success has come easily.
Graziani quickly realized that he would not be able to fully rely on many of the tools he previously used to engage in the market. Cannabis Social Media Restrictions are a great example.
“I basically felt like I lost all of my superpowers. All the things I did to build audiences and create connections were completely gone,” he notes.
“And we were fighting this shadow battle prohibiting censorship, and basically a huge gray area of not understanding where the rules are, which was a big challenge.”
Marketing challenges like this in cannabis require extra creativity, the ability to pivot and find other ways to connect with consumers.
Part of the solution here is to go back to the basics, like email and text. And consumers appreciate that direct connection, where there’s no middle man filtering everything, says Graziani.
“Having said that, it’s still complicated… we’re part of this huge transition with cannabis, and it’s becoming normal. It will take time, but we are moving in the right direction.
The cannabis industry is currently experiencing increased demand for brand building, marketing and storytelling, but why now?
Graziani offers a perfect analogy to illustrate change.
If you walk into a gas station to make a purchase, there is very little brand loyalty. You are looking for a basic product, and the most important factors are location and price.
The cannabis industry started there, says Graziani, and the average consumer’s buying decisions weren’t that sophisticated.
But it evolved quickly.
“Now it’s more like the automotive industry where you have different price ranges, needs, colors, you know,” he says, pointing out that branding, positioning and finding your market is become a critical point for cannabis operators.
“For anyone who is a creative developer or someone who is obsessed with branding, packaging, messaging, this is a huge opportunity,” says Graziani.
As the cannabis industry continues to experience rapid growth, this demand for creative developers will only continue to increase.
“I see it in my team. My team started with me and one other person four years ago, and now we’re over 10 people, just a marketing department doing marketing,” he adds.
One of the common mistakes Graziani has seen in the cannabis industry is worth noting.
“A good brand can only survive with inventory and consistency of its products and availability,” he advises.
“You see all these brands that are amazing, and you go to California looking for them and it’s almost like a quest; it is impossible to find them.
These brands do a better job of showing that the brand exists than actually making the product.
“Successful companies in the industry are those that solve production and inventory first and use them as a platform to build brands,” says Graziani.
“If you do it the other way, you’re going to fail. The main player in this industry is the product. It’s about having a product and trying to build a brand around it.
One of the biggest challenges in cannabis marketing today: building customer loyalty.
“Internally, we talk about it so much,” Graziani reveals. “When you have the quality of the product and a good price, they will come. The community is very good at finding its place on social networks, you know, Weedmaps or Leafly.
It’s that second visit, he says, where you know you can build rapport with the customer.
“So we’re very focused on building an ecosystem, with a loyalty program, customer service, product availability, so many things, but retention is one of the most important things.”
The other complicated challenge, especially for multi-state operators, is variable regulation from state to state.
“It’s a different planet,” he says of the regulations. “You have all these incredible, even contradictory rules. You basically have to set up your brain for each market you play in, and they are completely different.
It impacts everyone, marketing teams, production teams, retail – an amazing set of challenges that don’t exist for other industries.
“For cannabis, that makes it incredibly difficult to mine. But you know, that’s part of the reality of the industry right now,” he says.
The demographics of cannabis users have grown incredibly over the past 20-30 years.
“The image of the cannabis consumer right now is incredibly diverse, not just for gender, identity or age. Cannabis is medicine and that’s a very important part,” says Graziani.
“It’s more than cultural, it’s a tool that can make you a better version of yourself. And that applies to anything you want to be. If you are someone who suffers from chronic pain, cannabis will make you a better version of yourself because it will help you deal with this problem.
Ditto for anxiety or insomnia, or if you are a creative person and need inspiration.
“So it’s across all demographics, it expands the pool incredibly, and that’s where branding becomes important,” Graziani says.
Women, for example, are a huge demographic in cannabis. “But then when you go and see the branding for women in cannabis, you start to see more and more of it, but it’s definitely not balanced yet. It’s not even close. There’s has a huge gap there.”
Elders are another excellent example. “We see that here in Florida. They are embracing cannabis for the right reasons and the numbers are amazing. And their stories are absolutely brilliant. Yet very few brands and companies think about it.
Many brands instead focus on the cultural side of cannabis, which is also important. “Brands like Cookies and Jungle Boys are the biggest driver of the industry right now, which is also hugely important.”
In states like Florida, where cannabis operators are required to vertically integrate (growing, processing, manufacturing, and packaging everything in-house), it doesn’t always make sense to nestle like that.
It really depends on the size of your license.
“Fluent is a company of over 400 employees. When you’re so big… you can’t afford to tackle just one niche, you have to aim big, you have to think of everyone,” says Graziani.
“At FLUENT, we’re building brands for all of those demographics that we think are extremely valuable, you know, from heavy users to classic flower users, to consumers who are looking for volume more than quality, people who are looking for concentrates or edibles and then gender-based marketing, you know, there’s a lot of that out there.
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