By Fred Dreier
The increasing popularity of marijuana-specific awards shows and industry competitions has given cannabis entrepreneurs an expanding platform to advertise and promote their products.
In addition to the Cannabis Cup – the granddaddy of cannabis competitions – a host of other groups dole out awards to growers, infused products makers and dispensaries as well. Additional awards shows in Spain, the Netherlands and even South American present other opportunities.
Winning an award can propel a product or company from obscurity to the limelight, solidify a market leader’s position in the industry and boost sales dramatically. But capitalizing on awards effectively requires savvy marketing – and some cannabis business owners say the costs and time involved in entering competitions can offset any gains.
Marijuana Business Daily spoke with a handful of cannabis professionals about the value of awards and how businesses can make the most of a win.
Start Promoting Immediately via Social Media
Marijuana competitions often generate a following of their own on Twitter and Facebook from fans who cannot attend. Companies that win an award at the show can reach these followers by employing a smart social media strategy.
Aaron Justis, owner of the Buds and Roses Collective in Los Angeles, said he now brings a staff member to awards shows to act as a photographer and social media manager. Buds and Roses has won several Cannabis Cup awards, and Justis said the company updates its social media immediately if it wins.
Justis then follows up with an email to his customers explaining the significance of the award and which specific marijuana strain or product won.
“Always show the product. Include a photo and the name,” Justis said. “This [award] can be seen as free advertising and earned media but you want to get things posted that day.”
Use Official Trademarks if Possible
Competitions in other industries often require winners to use the official trademarks or logos when promoting a win. The Great American Beer Festival, for example, stipulates that winners must include the year, the category and the type of award given in all of their promotional material.
Nancy Johnson, event director for the Brewer’s Association, said the trademarking requirement benefits the brewers as well as the competition.
“The consumer will recognize it and value it if there is [an official trademark] on the label,” Johnson said. “They associate it with the integrity of the competition.”
Cannabis companies should therefore inquire about whether official logos or trademarks can (or are required to) be used.
Promote at Point of Sale
It is common for dispensary owners to display trophies and awards in the waiting room to catch the eyes of customers. These businesses should also think about promoting product-specific awards at the point of sale, such as the counter of the cash register.
Todd Ellison, owner of the Denver-based company Marijuana Marketing, said companies often fail to call attention to award-winning strains or products in the precious few minutes when a customer is contemplating a sale. Elliott said owners should create some type of visible sign or literature that features the name of the award as well as the product.
Ellison recently launched his own industry award, called the Weed Cup. He said every category winner received certificates with the specifics of the award-winning product, which can be display on the wall or near the counter.
“Anyone who posted our stuff has definitely seen a response,” Ellison said. “It’s self explanatory: who, when, and why it won.”
Stock Up Before the Award Show
Cannabis entrepreneurs usually select their top strains or best products to enter into an awards show. Unfortunately, this often means that the products or plants come from a small batch or are tied to an exotic, hard-to-find strain.
Justis said this dichotomy can create inventory problems if a product wins an award. The victory can lead to a rush of customers, however there sometimes isn’t enough on hand to meet demand. He said entrepreneurs should stock up on products that they’ve entered into an awards show, just in case it wins.
“You have to make that commitment even though it is a roll of the dice and can be expensive,” Justis said. “You don’t want to run out of [a strain] and miss that opportunity.”
Choose Your Competition
Entrepreneurs should target competitions and awards that cater to their business needs. Larger, more competitive competitions may entice many entrepreneurs to enter, though the chances of winning are slim. Smaller brands can easily fade into the background at these events.
For business that are just starting out, a smaller, regional competition may be a better bet. There is still promotional value from these smaller competitions: Even minor awards can resonate with customers.
For large and mid-sized companies, the national or state competitions and awards can galvanize a firm’s reputation and solidify its place in the market.
Awards Shows Aren’t for Everybody
Marijuana Business Daily spoke with several marijuana entrepreneurs who said they do not value these awards at all. Some believed that awards only resonate with a small segment of customers, and that the competitions have questionable judging methods.
Ellison said he believes the industry could be nearing a saturation point with awards and competitions, which could lead companies to back off on promotion.
Justis said the high cost of entering competitions has chased some entrepreneurs away. Entrants in the Cannabis Cup, for example, must submit a $1,000 fee and 40 grams of product per strain. Advertising a winning strain only ads to the cost.
Still, Justis believes that all competitions – even the small, regional ones – have promotional value.
“You should promote all awards you win,” he said. “Even if it is small, it will resonate with a certain group of people.”
Photo: Elemental Wellness in San Jose proudly displays its Cannabis Cup awards in its lobby. Image taken by Fred Dreier