January 22, 2019
7 minutes

The Future of Cannabis Marketing in Canada

Soon after the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, Crowdlinker was approached with an opportunity to partner with JLM Strategic Marketing to help organize Canada’s first and only Cannabis Marketing Summit, entitled New Heights.

The team at JLM had put together a stacked speaker list of cannabis experts, including authoritative journalists, influential connoisseurs, entrepreneurs with billion-dollar valuations, and legal experts that can expose holes in any given campaign, legal or otherwise, running in the market today.

A ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Opportunity

We simply had to be a part of this momentous event, being the first of its kind in this nascent industry. The collection of talks and panels took place last week in the CN Tower’s Maple Leaf Cinema, a 140-seat venue which made for an intimate setting and candid conversations.

The Summit aimed to spark a dialogue around how cannabis companies can effectively market their offerings to consumers, while legally navigating the current regulatory environment. The agenda featured a wide variety of speakers who provided a wealth of knowledge on the current state of the Canadian cannabis market. These experts also shared their expectations and predictions for the years to come.

Highlights from the 2019 New Heights Cannabis Marketing Summit:

The event started with a fireside chat with JLM Founder, Jennifer Mason, and VP of Sales and Marketing at Westleaf Inc., Adam Coates. The ambitious VP presented his plans for Prairie Records, a retail concept that merges the instinctual tie between recreational cannabis and music.

They believe that cannabis marketing and music go together like ‘boots and bindings’ on a snowboard. Their vision for Prairie Records is a store in Banff, Alberta, where consumers will find a space that is inclusive and welcoming, with curated playlists of both the consumable and auditory kind.

Risking It All to the Black Market

Jennifer Lee, National Cannabis Leader Retail and Customer Analytics at Deloitte Canada discussed the post-legalization trends in her talk, State of a Legal Nation. She expressed that in order for companies to develop a brand and for their cannabis marketing to succeed in this highly regulated environment, companies need to examine and act on direct-to-consumer data.

Deloitte has collected a very impressive array of data on consumer preferences which cannabis companies can leverage. As a simple example, their studies show that cannabis customers desire knowledgeable staff, clearly marked prices and convenient hours out of physical retail stores.

The Data Tells a Story

Jennifer also presented some disconcerting evidence showing that some black market e-commerce cannabis vendors are operating freely online. These illegal websites are pulling in impressive volumes of traffic, some even at par with websites of large Licensed Producers.

In some cases, these illicit providers are delivering user experiences better than what is available through legal e-commerce platforms. This raises an issue, that can be solved by cannabis companies focussing more of their marketing efforts on reducing friction throughout their online consumer education and buying journeys.

This problem can potentially be solved by leveraging data to create better user experiences, constantly testing, iterating and deploying new features. This agile approach to product development can divert market demand away from criminal organizations that are operating blatantly in plain sight.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

CEO of mīhī (pronounced “meehee”) and 30-year banking veteran, Thomas Dyck, shared some words of wisdom in his talk, Retail is Coming. Thomas discussed the importance of offering inclusive retail cannabis experiences. His company is setting out to destigmatize cannabis retail buying, with his store concept looking more like a Pottery Barn than your typical poorly-lit dispensary.

We Still Need to Lift Our Own Weight

The forward-thinking CEO ended his speech with some motivating words that were applicable to everyone in attendance and have stuck with me since, “Each of us has a huge responsibility, and privilege, to shape this industry”.

Taking a Tech-First Approach to Cannabis

In his talk entitled, Intersection Between Cannabis and Everything, Adam Miron, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of HEXO Corp, shared his plans of developing Hexo into a technology-driven cannabis company.

Miron publically acknowledged Hexo’s Director of Marketing Christina Selin, who was the mind behind their well-known Never Jaded campaign. This omnichannel marketing campaign was recently awarded the Adcann Canadian Campaign of the Year in the 2018 Advertising Awards. Never Jaded is widely recognized as one of the few successful content marketing campaigns which have resonated with millennial users on social media platforms such as Snapchat.

The Power of Innovation

The Canadian cannabis landscape is currently made up of a handful of billion-dollar companies all jostling for position. When the industry finally matures, agility and transformation will likely be key characteristics of enduring cannabis businesses. Miron delivered some compelling arguments to justify Hexo’s steady growth and growing interest in the marketplace. When the regulations allow for innovation, Hexo plans to be ready with cutting-edge product development processes already running at full steam.

Intel of Cannabis

Hexo will have the advantage of leveraging ongoing research and development in the science of cannabis extraction and distribution. Upon legalization of concentrates in Canada, part of Hexo’s strategy is to offer superior off-the-shelf solutions to various players in the cannabis space from big pharma to alcohol and CPGs. The young and energetic Co-Founder revealed his company’s intent to become the Intel of the cannabis industry, where the extracts they produce could conceivably be used in all types of applications.

The Higher You Go, The Harder You Fall

Later on in the day, Samantha Slattery of Hub Insurance moderated an enlightening panel discussion named, Knowledge is Power – Managing risk. The panel featured insights from Richard Anderson of Smart Serve, Megan Henderson of The GrowthOp and Matt Maurer of Torkin Manes.

According to the sentiment on the panel, the Canadian government has taken a more passive stance on enforcing the current marketing regulations, only informing companies when they’ve really crossed the line. They believe that regulations will likely be loosened in the future, therefore companies that are currently succeeding will find it much easier once the regulations are revised.

What Cannabis Thought Leaders Look Like

The last panel of the day included trailblazers of the Canadian cannabis industry, with Rachel Colic of YCREATIVE, Josh Lyon of Hiku, Jo Vos of Leafly and Peter Neal of Neal Brothers Foods discussing what has worked for them so far and what has not. Some of the major takeaways from this insightful session include:

  • Establishing yourself as a thought leader in the cannabis space and collaborating with other like-minded companies is the best way to succeed right now.
  • If you try to be everything to everyone you’ll end up nothing to anyone. Establishing a brand and sticking to your style is very important.
  • There is a huge demand for cannabis consumer content, with millions of Canadians searching for things such as “how do I get less high” each month since legalization.
  • The states have provided a great framework for the production and marketing regulations on cannabis edibles and we should hope that the Canadian government takes notice.

Things Got Heated in Our 420-Friendly Feud

As a bronze sponsor, we ran the cannabis-themed gameshow segment, Friendly Feud. The game was hosted by the charismatic and delightful corporate training expert Marilyn Barefoot, of Barefoot Brainstorming. The game application was customized by skilled digital marketing specialist and freelance cannabis writer, Cody Hicks.

The Guzman and Escobar families (playfully named by Marilyn, after the infamous cannabis-cultivating Colombian cartels) battled it out in a game of Friendly Feud trivia, where they answered an assortment of questions related to cannabis culture.

The competition got fierce, with the Guzman family taking the win by a thin margin. Special thanks go out to Neal Brothers Foods, Up Cannabis and Hill Street Beverage Company for providing the amazing prizes!

Ain’t No Party Like a Cannabis Marketing Party

The CMS Cocktail Party took place 1800 feet up at the Lookout Level. We were quite high, to say the least.

We made some great connections at the party, meeting all types of people from an NHL Player Agent to legal experts who volunteer their time for NORML, the original cannabis advocacy group.

Featured cocktails included an assortment of non-alcoholic, non-cannabis-infused (not yet, at least) champagnes, wines and draft beers courtesy of Hill Street Beverage Company. Shoutout to the awesome team at Ethical Image for capturing such great photos of the event.

Overall, we had a great time at the New Heights Cannabis Marketing Summit, meeting with others in the marketing field who share a passion for destigmatizing cannabis. We learned from several industry experts who are currently shaping the future landscape of the cannabis sector and its ancillary industries.

Knowledge sharing is so important in our community and events like this, which unite so many thought leaders, help to ensure that we’re all working towards offering the best possible cannabis experiences to Canadians.

What’s Next?

We’re looking forward to attending the Cannabis Marketing Summit again next year, and in the meantime hope to host more events for cannabis marketing professionals later this year.

Follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn to stay updated on more upcoming events in the field of cannabis marketing!

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