How to capitalize on consumer data to personalize marijuana marketing

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Image of a female shopper smelling cannabis in a jar

When it comes to marijuana, men and women approach consumption differently.

Men are more likely to go on binges while women tend to avoid substance-use behaviors, for example.

A 2020 Canadian study also found that men pursue opportunities for intimate interactions with women when using cannabis, while women reported being more selective about sexual partners.

It’s this kind of new information that marijuana companies can use to market their products to men and women, drill down deeper into their wants and needs and build a more effective brand to mesh with those individual wants and needs, according to industry experts and executives.

The result: a more personalized cannabis experience for consumers.

Canadian producer Aurora Cannabis is among the companies digging deeper into data aggregation to dial in its product development.

The Edmonton, Alberta-based company has partnered with Strainprint in Canada, a cannabis-use tracking app for the medical cannabis consumer.

Using the app, patients can report such things as how a certain strain makes them feel, or what symptoms they’re using it for.

“It gives us demographic data as well,” Lana Culley, vice president of innovation and consumer preference at Aurora, told MJBizDaily.

“We’re going to be integrating that (data) into our decision-making process as well and pulling out insights, which I think will be really interesting.

“But it’s still early days,” she said, adding that Aurora itself doesn’t have a lot of robust tools to gather intelligence from consumers and learn about what they think about products.

But what data the company has gathered has helped Aurora in its decision-making.

In April, the company released two new high-THC cannabis flower products in Germany for medical marijuana patients: Pedanios 27/1 FRG CA from the Farm Gas cultivar, with 27% THC, and Pedanios 29/1 SRD CA from the Sourdough cultivar, with 29% THC.

Axel Gille, president of Aurora Europe, said in a news release the “two high-THC products” offer “physicians even more options to provide patients individually tailored treatments.”

Culley, for her part, said the research work Aurora has done has shown that regardless of things such as gender, sex, location or age, the same general attributes of dried cannabis apply.

“THC is still a big driver of purchase,” she said. “That is a focus of our breeding program and will continue to be.

“But where we see segmentation is not around gender, it’s not around age, but it’s around things like what types of aroma do certain people like.”

In describing the Farm Gas cultivar used for Pedanios 27/1 FRG CA, Aurora said it “is known for its complex aromas and fruity undertones.”

Solving health and wellness challenges

Boulder, Colorado-based Wana Brands also is digging into data to understand what drives consumer purchases.

Nancy Whiteman, the company’s CEO, wrote on a recent LinkedIn post that she learned from a BDSA Consumer Insight study that consumers would pay more for a cannabis product that promises to elicit specific benefits such as sleep or lower stress.

Asked about specific products that deliver such benefits, a Wana spokesperson pointed to three recently released products in the company’s Optimal line of gummies: Quick Calm, Fast Asleep and Stay Asleep.

“There’s a big market of people out there who want to use cannabis to solve everyday health and wellness challenges. Let’s make some great products for them,” Whiteman wrote.

New marketing data

Today’s marijuana consumers are in transition, according to industry experts.

They want a more personal experience. They want to be better understood. They want marketers to know the “why” of their cannabis consumption.

And, according to a 2020 Canadian study of cannabis consumers, that is a very different demographic data set that marketers can use.

The study – in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health – examined gender norms, roles and relationships in marijuana-use patterns.

It found that societal rules and expectations played a larger role in behavior such as cannabis consumption that transcend simple age-sex-income demographics.

For example, men consume cannabis as a way to navigate traditional masculinity in paradoxical ways, both for closeness in friendships and in competition.

Women reported more subjective feelings of feeling high than men do on lower amounts of marijuana.

For example, women who consumed cannabis report significantly more dizziness than men, according to 2010 findings in the British Journal of Pharmacology, and are more susceptible to cannabinoid-induced memory impairment. They smoke marijuana mainly when they feel anxious.

In the Canadian study, both men and women reported feeling more in control on marijuana than alcohol but also were quieter and less social.

It’s findings such as these that could be reflected in a new wave of marketing cannabis – lower levels of THC products marketed to women, and THC-heavy marijuana as a catalyst for a bigger party experience for men.

It’s much the same way the beer industry evolved its marketing strategies and created products (low alcohol, no alcohol, low calorie) to connect with the social norms of beer drinkers.

“The study was reporting on the whole business of what sex-related factors are,” Lorraine Greaves, of the Canadian Association for Global Health and one of the authors of the Canadian study, told MJBizDaily.

“That’s the ‘why’ and ‘how’ part. The gender-related factors are more the social pattern.

“The study was us trying to illustrate how both things fit together and work together to actually produce trends or to produce behaviors, or desires even, for things like cannabis.”

Greaves said she and other researchers have been observing cannabis retailers for a while and are beginning to work with some in Ontario to educate retail staff.

“That ‘who’ (in marijuana marketing research) is just descriptive,” Greaves said. “It really doesn’t tell us much at all. It might discuss some sort of marketing preferences, but it doesn’t explain why those preferences exist.

“And also, more importantly, it doesn’t talk about how males and females need to understand that the substance has different impacts on them.

“It’s important for them to understand that males and females have different requirements or limits for the substance. That’s worth knowing.”

Translating data to products

Lisa Buffo, founder and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association, told MJBizDaily that her take on the Canadian study was that there is “a lot to dive into and look at and pick apart.”

Buffo said that one of the main things she has seen with cannabis marketing and consumer research is that consumers are using marijuana for a variety of reasons that largely improve mental health outcomes, including reducing anxiety, improving sleep, increased relaxation and creating more joy.

“I think in today’s world, negative mental health outcomes are tied to how marginalized or struggling varying communities are,” she said.

“This has longer-term impacts on outcomes like education, socioeconomic status and physical health.

“We need to look at issues like gender and its intersection with cannabis and why folks are using. We need to zoom way out and understand how it intersects with how the world currently treats those communities and those identities.”

AI, machine learning to the rescue

Budboard, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, created the Effects Lab to collect data about marijuana, who’s using it, what they’re using it for, how it’s affecting them and what’s in the plant that’s actually being consumed.

The company then takes that data, analyzes it in the Effects Lab and uses it for product development.

Budboard works in partnership with Abstrax, a Tustin, California-based company that studies the production of cannabis and botanically derived terpenes, to develop the first artificial intelligence-driven process to create terpene blends with predictable effects, called the “AI Terp Effects.”

Budboard is moving forward with the launch of some products now derived from machine learning and AI that the company has been working on for seven years.

Joshua Mallett, co-founder of Budboard, commented on some of the findings of the Canadian study, telling MJBizDaily that “in terms of creating a product whose branding is intended to match its target market, that’s absolutely something that’s starting to become considerably more prevalent in the industry.”

Clients come to Budboard with a story about their target market for cannabis, telling Mallett, for example, that there are Gen Z cannabis consumers who particularly like to be active in nature. The clients want an effect that appeals to those customers.

“We’ll have a discussion with them about what that means,” he said.

A product that Budboard currently is working on is one where the client wants to market it for meditation, fishing and similar calming activities.

“We had a long conversation with them,” Mallett said. “What’s the persona of the person that goes on these activities? Why are they doing this?”

“Targeting the ultimate objective is really where we start to mesh the formula to the effect, or what the end goal of a product is.”

He said that there’s absolutely a social nature to cannabis.

“There are strains or products of cannabis that are less social than others from a rather arbitrary standpoint,” Mallett said.

“We would certainly help a company determine what products or what tools they need to use in their formulation in order to achieve more social effects.”