Branding and marketing cannabis in a recession

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marijuana branding, Branding and marketing cannabis in a recession

When the economy nosedives and consumers slash their spending, a sage marketing strategy can help maintain existing customers, expand target audiences or even result in a complete makeover.

“Now, more than ever, branding and being an authentic brand is so important,” said Olivia Mannix, president of Cannabrand, a marijuana-focused branding and marketing firm based in Denver.

Maintain Existing Customers

Because of the tough economic times exacerbated by stay-at-home orders across the United States, consumers are “seeking more personal connection, human interaction,” said Tye Heckler of Seattle-based Heckler Branding, whose mainstream clients include Starbucks, New Balance and Panera as well as cannabis companies such as Privateer subsidiaries Tilray and Marley Natural.

“There’s a great opportunity to communicate and strengthen the personal bond with your existing customer base. Reach out to people on a personal level and remind them why the brand is important to them and why it should be part of their daily lives,” Heckler said. “Now is the time to nurture the relationship with who you already have a relationship with.”

It’s also a good time to try new ways to reward your existing customers, whether it be with special offers or continuity programs.

“A lot of it’s just to amplify the nature of your message that you’ve had already with your existing customers,” Heckler said.


Capitalize on ‘Essential’ Status

It’s also a good time to take advantage of the “essential” designation that cannabis has received in many states, according to experts.

“I think it’s definitely an opportunity to try and reach people that have been hesitant to try cannabis,” Mannix said.

The fact that so many state governments declared cannabis essential could be the incentive that pushes potential consumers into becoming existing consumers, Mannix explained. She added that many cannabis brands already are using the #essentialbusiness hashtag in their social media posts.

Mannix also believes the essential designation is one reason Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels have cut back on hiding and deleting cannabis business pages.

“I believe it has gotten less regulated than in the past,” Mannix said. “I haven’t heard about as many accounts getting shut down as before.”

That’s important, she said, because when marketing budgets are tight, social media is an effective and inexpensive way to get your business’ name in front of the public, she said.

“I cannot even express how important social media is for brands. It’s your voice,” she said.

While Facebook and other social media platforms might have become less canna-phobic in recent months, marijuana businesses still must follow basic guidelines to avoid being banned. According to Mannix, these include:

  • Ensuring your posts are more educational and informative than sales-related.
  • Never marketing to the younger-than-21 demographic.
  • Avoiding slang terms such as “weed.”

Another way to take advantage of the essential designation, Heckler said, is to tell personal stories through customers—the veteran, the cancer patient, the stressed parent—about why cannabis is indispensable to them.

“Give those individuals an opportunity to tell their story,” he said. “The common denominator is trying to find a personal connection.”

He added: “It’s important to do something to acknowledge the fact that things are different right now. … If you don’t address anything, then you end up looking irrelevant, like you’re not involved,” Heckler said. “Then address the future. Give them some insights on what you’re planning to do … and what your goals are. Show that you’re not stagnant.” This could be done with short videos, newsletters and other ways your business communicates with customers.

Mannix agreed. “It’s a really good time, if you haven’t already, to refresh your brand a little bit and just make sure your messaging is in line and current with the new times we’re in. Just showing your customers that you’re practicing safe guidelines.”


Consider a Brand Makeover

If you aren’t satisfied with your business’ name, logo or other brand attributes, a recession can be a good time to make a change. While changing names and other brand components sounds daunting, the longer you wait, the harder it gets, Heckler said.

“It’s stepping back and saying, ‘What does our brand look like? Did we actually name our company in a fashion that’s going to help us long term to build a brand identity effectively?’” he said.

For example, consider your logo and design. Should the existing logo be tweaked or replaced entirely?

A name change is also a great opportunity to talk about your business with your customers.

“You have an excuse as a company to talk about yourself and why you’re awesome without sounding like you’re bragging. You have to tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve changed our name to X because of XYZ.’ This gives you a chance to reinforce your brand’s attributes and your values as a company and as a brand,” Heckler explained.


Weigh Discounts, Cheaper Products

Recessions are also opportunities, especially for premium brands, to offer discounts that they usually can’t afford because of their premium status. It also may be a good time to roll out less expensive products that appeal to new customers without damaging your brand’s premium credentials.

“There’re a lot of premium brands that are very sensitive to offering discounts. It’s just not part of their premium brand position. It’s kind of an opportunity to do it and get away with it without damaging the premium nature of the brand. People understand it’s just a different time,” Heckler explained.

It’s also a good time—especially if you’re a premium cannabis brand—to consider coming out with a more broadly accessible and affordable product line.

“It’s tailored to a broader audience. It’s more approachable from a price perspective. It’s good quality but not top tier. That’s a good offering to have to broaden your market and still keep the high brand equity, halo-quality position of the parent brand.”

Not all companies have the capital to do this, Heckler warned, and if you can’t afford it, fall back on the strategy of strengthening your brand’s bonds with existing customers.

“It’s a great time to do that stuff right now so that you can get yourself squared away and enhance your presentation in your marketing communications. And then, when things open back up, you’re positioned in a way that’s going to take advantage.”


NEXT: Keeping A Lid On Labor Costs