Whether it’s a cannabis-focused arts and music festival, a “garden party” or a tour that guides visitors from cultivation all the way to the sales floor, experts say that creating memories that stick with customers is among the most effective ways to build brand loyalty.
In an industry constrained by regulations that limit cannabis advertising, experiential marketing, also known as engagement marketing, is taking hold.
Experiential marketing engages customers through a hands-on experience that creates a memory of the brand.
Building an experiential campaign to take to a trade show, for example, is a great way to engage potential customers without appearing to do a hard sell to people visiting your booth, said experiential marketing expert Zack Schwartz.
“You can treat it like a sales environment, but we all know how that feels,” added Schwartz, the founder of Chicago-based Abstract Actual, a marketing firm that focuses developing campaigns for its customers that provide consumers an experience.
“We’re beyond the one-way sales strategy of being constantly bombarded by sales and advertising, and we’re more interested in having a connection and finding a mutually beneficial relationship.
“That’s why I’m focused on and really committed to face-to-face in general but also face-to-face marketing.”
The restrictions on advertising are what create the possibility to interact with customers in a more meaningful and creative way, Schwartz said.
“There are barriers and friction everywhere,” Schwartz said. “In my opinion, that is exactly where the opportunity lies.
“Because the industry is so new, it has a chance to model after what other legacy industries are doing. But it also has the opportunity to think differently, to learn from the past and get creative with the constraints that are imposed on them.”
Follow the leaders
More established industries such as craft beer and herbal tea are what spurred Seed & Smith CEO Brooks Lustig to open up his off-the-beaten path vertically integrated cannabis business to tours.
A Boulder, Colorado, native, Lustig had grown up taking visiting family and friends on tours of Celestial Teas, a practice that soon extended to the many craft breweries throughout the region.
When Seed & Smith was founded in 2014, Lustig worried about how people would find the Denver dispensary – located in an industrial area with little foot traffic.
He teamed up with marijuana tour companies that bring customers to see how Seed & Smith operates.
While he knew it was risky to share the company’s processes – consultants and competitors have taken advantage of the opportunity to photograph the dispensary – Lustig said providing the experience to people has been worth it.
“We’re really pushing that cannabis isn’t this scary thing,” he said.
Education is key
Demystifying marijuana is one of the outcomes the women-focused cannabis brand Garden Society has built its marketing program around.
The Cloverdale, California, company, which recently launched a delivery service, is working with its loyal women customers to host “garden parties” – casual gatherings of friends who come to learn about cannabis, get questions answered and purchase products that will be delivered to them.
According to Garden Society co-founder Karli Warner, questions women ask at the garden parties range from “Is cannabis going to make me anxious?” to “What if I get too high?”
“A lot of women are afraid of edibles, so we do a lot of education around dosing,” Warner said.
“We’re really cognizant of talking about not smoking an entire joint at once, and it’s the same with edibles – cut them into quarters. It’s not the scary drug our culture has deemed it to be.
“The fastest-growing segment of cannabis users are baby boomers and women in California. Most are not first-time users, and as they get reintroduced to cannabis, it’s imperative they have a positive experience.”
In addition to serving as educational tools, parties that combine art and music as well as create memories associated with a brand are a good way to build loyalty, said Brittany Hallett, vice president of brands, media and events at Toronto-based Slang Worldwide.
Slang Worldwide, a consumer-packaged-goods company that owns, licenses and markets cannabis brands, recently staged a two-night party – Far Out Factory – in a large warehouse in Denver.
While cannabis consumption was forbidden, a number of Slang’s brands were represented at the party, which featured music, local artists and interactive and participatory installations.
“It takes the intersection of music and art and brings them together,” Hallett said. “We really feel like cannabis has a symbiotic relationship with music and art. It fosters moments for enjoyment and connection.”
Slang brought its space- and exploration-themed brand District Edibles to life through a silent disco that’s intended to make participants feel like they’re in space because the outside world is blocked by music playing through their headphones.
For its wellness supplement brand Pressies, which combines THC with nutraceuticals, Slang created a large-scale Lite-Brite-style board in which partygoers pressed colored pegs to create shapes or convey thoughts.
“In general terms in marketing, we talk about impressions – how many impressions are we able to make through our efforts,” Hallett said. “Far Out Factory is creating a sticky impression.
“It’s not just handing out a coupon that ends up in a trash can a few days later.”
Margaret Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org