Adam Bierman: In MMJ Industry, Flying Under the Marketing Radar Rarely Leads to Success

By Adam Bierman

Many different types of businesses currently service the MMJ industry, from storefront dispensaries and manufacturers who create and distribute products to consulting firms that assist these businesses in their daily operations.

In a traditional industry, these businesses would all employ distinct branding and marketing initiatives in an effort to maximize market share. In the MMJ industry, however, these businesses are often completely lost in the mix due to rampant misinformation.

The single biggest directive I hear from decision-makers when it comes to the promotion of their business is that they want to “stay under the radar.” My reaction is always the same: If you wanted to stay under the radar, what were you thinking getting into this industry? Why would you not do everything possible to grow your business? 

I hear from attorneys who say they don’t want to be perceived as “pot lawyers” – rather, they want to be viewed as established professionals who have become experts in the MMJ industry. I also hear from dispensary operators who don’t want everyone to know they exist and therefore have come to rely on word-of-mouth marketing and patient loyalty.

If you run a compliant operation, then you pay taxes and have some type of permit that lists your profession/service. If you operate a dispensary, then the government knows you exist, so why hide from your target market?  If you are an attorney working in the industry, you are probably listed on NORML’s website or other online vendor directories (not to mention court documents), so why not market yourself as someone who specializes in MMJ law?

To market your business, you need to take it seriously and not allow yourself to get pigeonholed by the industry. Unfortunately, many businesses fail in this regard.

I was at the Kush Expo last summer, and it provided a perfect example of what not to do, as it was clear that many companies don’t take their marketing and branding very seriously. The rare exception was TetraLabs, which set themselves apart from the rest of the industry with a professional display that presented the business as a clean, established pharmaceutical company. Some other companies, however, employed bikini-clad models to represent their businesses. What is it with girls in bikinis? It’s like they’ve become the public face of all things marijuana. This strategy doesn’t sit well in the MMJ industry. How many dispensaries in California claim to reduce branding and promotional efforts for fear of becoming too intrusive and upsetting MMJ opponents, but then turn around and use scantily clad women to help promote strains with X-rated names?

I am going to take a crazy leap here and say that there is only one difference between Budweiser using bikini girls to sell beer and a dispensary using a similar tactic to promote marijuana: Budweiser makes no bones about its strategy. If a dispensary decided outright that it would be able to maximize market share with a marketing initiative that included bikini models, I’d actually be for it. But I have a huge problem with dispensary owners who tell me that they don’t want professional signage and prefer to avoid aggressive advertising over fears that they will be offensive, but then turn around and take out an ad in a local magazine with bikini girls.

Here’s the bottom line: Looking legitimate doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie, it means taking what you do seriously and having a real approach to how you present yourself to your market. If you are an attorney dealing with MMJ, create an industry-specific website and proudly stand behind it. Yes, you may have a wider practice. But develop a separate site/section for this industry to present your business in a forthright manner. If you run a dispensary, determine branding and be consistent. Don’t hide. Create real signage like any other legitimate business. What dentist’s office has blacked-out windows and a tiny logo for a sign? What legal firm doesn’t boast about – and highlight – its areas of practice?

If you choose to take advantage of the fact that 18 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws, then seize the opportunity to the fullest. Brand and market your business in a way that gives you an advantage over your competition. At the end of the day, if your business fails or is not as successful as envisioned, you don’t want to kick yourself because your marketing strategy was too timid.

Adam Bierman is co-founder of California-based MedMen, which provides consulting and marketing services to medical cannabis companies.

6 comments on “Adam Bierman: In MMJ Industry, Flying Under the Marketing Radar Rarely Leads to Success
  1. Hempista on

    New subscriber and loving this mmj biz journal and all of the articles here!

    Just a comment: I think a lot of these businesses use the bikinis to attract what they feel is going to be the most profitable demographic, the males, 21-30 “intoxication” demographic. It’s an easy way to get a lot of business without a marketing strategy that requires a lot of effort.

    I agree that it is shortsighted. Of course, there will always be that “natty ice & night train” demographic, but it’s very limited to this one group and there isn’t much growth in it, just a lot of competition.

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  2. smplydi on

    Great article, Adam. I would go so far as to say that sometimes being professional really does mean putting on a suit and tie. Especially when you are speaking to an audience and promoting the legitimacy of the industry. Use the word cannabis rather than the slang terms that carry negative associations. I like your reference to Budweiser but let’s remember that alcohol prohibition has been over for decades and it has “evolved” to this point. In this stage of the cannabis industry we must establish the trust of the masses before we can get edgy with our marketing.

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  3. Jennifer Bailey on

    I understand your points of view as mine are the same. We could join up and start a marketing/advertisement business just for MMJ business owners. We would maintain the integrity of the business while allowing a vast and various marketed target to see the way. I have had alot of ideas for marketing, which involves already established business to market from MMJ as well without being directly involved. If your interested, email me at [email protected]

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Bailey on

    let me rephrase that last comment for better understanding of what I meant. They will be involved obviously, but looked at as professionals who are serious about the potential market of the legalization of marijuana. I don’t think people have quite grasped the idea, but I have.

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  5. Pete on

    While I can see the point in the author’s approach here, I can’t help but think of the glaring oversight that the reason we dispensary owners are gun shy about professional signage and putting on a normal front is that excess attention to our brand sparks all kinds of attention, and not just attention of our target demographic. Concerned parents who don’t want their children to be harmed by “seeing a sign for a pot club” or the city resident who decides he has a moral obligation to rid his city of the “blight” and calls attention to the club after seeing a sign. While yes, we pay taxes and have a legitimate business, this is still federally illegal. It doesn’t matter how much professionalism you bring, at the end of the day Budweiser isn’t concerned about the feds kicking in their doors, stealing their revenue and product and slapping everyone with a bunch of charges. I do agree, however that Tetralabs is leading the charge, or at least in the lead pack on professionalism and creating a very clean brand. It will be nice when the dust finally settles for all of us to get a chance to market our brands with tried a true marketing strategies rather than gimmicky tricks.

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