Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Talk about a crazy first week

I want to start with the word "WOW!" but it just feels so insufficient to express what my first week was like. I really do want this blog to be on-going, so, I feel inclined to stretch out my stories rather than indulging my instinct to cram everything I experienced into each and every blog.  And since this is really meant to be a peek not only into the industry, but into marketing for the industry, I thought I would start with a few of this past week's observations about audiences and public opinion. I will simply gloss over the fact that the marijuana industry is a PR feeding frenzy right now. That in the span of a week I have been in contact with or conducted interviews with major local, national and international media that includes the likes of HBO, German national television, NYTimes, etc. That seems par for the course.

But back to audiences and public opinion. One thing that has been a topic at the forefront of my mind and that I have seen reinforced by my experiences this past week is--who is the audience and for which products? I have learned, quickly, that its not simply a matter of smoking it or eating it. This industry has grown immensely and continues to evolve rapidly. The variety of edibles (Dixie of course leading that space) is immense, but you also have variations of THC products I had never even heard of--dabs, vapes, concentrates, shatter, bubble hash, dust..and the list goes on. All derived from THC, but all offering a different user experience and therefore appealing to different audiences.

And then there are the dispensaries themselves. I visited two in my first week--and they couldnt have been more different. One was much more urban with a guy at the door with a gun, checking IDs. The budtenders (thats the term) were, lets just say, highly expert at their craft. I watched customers come and go...mostly male.. and I spoke to the guys behind the counter who told me that their customers gravitated toward the product that provided the most bang for their buck. No thought about brand, or value or quality, or consistency. In contrast, I then went to Lodo Wellness Center  and it was the opposite end of the spectrum. No gun. It felt like I was in a pottery barn catalog. Couches. Hardwood tables. Nice accents everywhere. It is owned by a super nice husband/wife and also run with their daughter. And again, I watched the crowd...which was constant (the door rings every time someone walks in, and it didnt stop ringing for more than 2-3 seconds at a time). There was this great mix of suits, younger people, older people, men, women, hippies, professionals, athletes, stoners...It was fascinating to watch.

Which leads me back to audience and public opinion. It has long been my belief that there are many who have had a relationship with this product long before it was legal, and now they feel slightly more emboldened to come out of the shadows. But, there is still a stigma attached. People still whisper about it. Stoner jokes and references are still made. Its incongruous with all the activity taking place. So, I have become very cognizant about how we, as a brand, must walk the line between appealing to the "core" while still being inviting and accessible to those who arent quite ready to come out of the shadows, or who are curious but havent ratcheted up the courage to go into a dispensary (which is our only direct interaction with the consumer as we wholesale to dispensaries).

So, just curious then--what are your thoughts? Intimidating? Not interested at all? Proud frequenter of all things marijuana? What turns you off or turns you on about what you are seeing out there right now and where do you think stigma, and audience segmentation, is heading? As a marketer with limited means to reach people (due to heavy regulation), this is important stuff.

Next week I think my plan is to focus on the kids--how do we get the right message across and what was the experience I went through sharing my new job with my own kids. I will tell you something...Ive become a lot more cognizant of the messages we send around alcohol, since I began to more closely consider the messages about cannabis.  So, stay tuned...And thanks for letting me share this amazing experience.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Dawn of a New Adventure (and a long, long, blog post)

So, if you have landed here…its 99% likely that its due to either a post on one of my social channels, or directly from an email I sent. Which means there is a good chance you are a friend, colleague, acquaintance or family member and I somehow managed to entice you into finding out what my grand new adventure is. Well, here’s the payoff—starting tomorrow (Monday, Jan. 13), I will become the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Dixie Elixirs.

Your next question might be—what is an elixir? Or for that matter, why should I care? Well, Dixie is the future of cannabis, and we make cannabis infused edible products. Because guess what? Its legal in Colorado, will soon be recreationally available in Washington, and is medically legal in about 19 other states.
A blog post may seem a little self important, but, there was so much I wanted to share about this new direction I am taking, and so much that went into the decision making process, that I felt it was ok to indulge myself a little. I couldn't fit it all into 140 characters. If you don't want to read it all, please feel free to jump to the end and post a comment because I would love to hear what you think.
This was not a decision I entered into on a whim. I have known the folks at Dixie for almost four years. They came to my former agency, Vladimir Jones, because they were looking for both research on the medical marijuana space (who is the customer, what motivates them, etc.) as well as some new branding…which became the iconic Dixie logo below..

That initial introduction to the Company shoved this newly forming industry to the forefront of my consciousness. Don’t get me wrong—marijuana had always been there—whether through my own personal experiences, or friends, or my fondness for stoner flicks (and yes, it still feels a little odd to admit, on a blog post, that I have indulged). But I began to see how exciting it can/would be, as a marketer, to be involved in developing a brand for a market that didn't really exist five years ago (at least above ground), and that is now being touted in terms of multi-billions of dollars.
As I kept in touch with the charismatic CEO of the Company, Tripp Keber and got to know his incredibly smart business partner Chuck Smith (it's never too early to kiss ass, right?), it became clear that this wasn't just a novel product they were producing for short term gains. They were smart businessmen and they had a vision for where Dixie and the industry could go.
Fast forward a few years and adult use legalization was passed with Amendment 64 here in Colorado; a gallup poll showed that 58% (that's a majority for those of use who aren't strong in math) of Americans favor legalization;  and among many other developments far too numerous to mention….the future of cannabis was becoming a reality. 
But there was so much to consider. How do you measure a risk/reward scenario when the product is still federally illegal? What about my family (I plan to write a later blog post on my kids’ reaction)? How do I feel about it ethically? What about the stigma (which is rapidly fading here in CO)? What do i answer at a cocktail party when Dr. Goldenbergerstein says to me “So Joe…what do you do?” How do i market a product that has incredibly unfair, yet very real restrictions on how, when, where and to whom you can market the product?

All of these questions, and many more, rolled through my mind non-stop as I also weighed all the good stuff. The opportunity to actually create a market that doesn’t exist. The number of “firsts” that can be accomplished. The challenge of building a national brand. The fact that there are a bunch of 21 year olds around the world, right now, thinking that a job marketing weed would be the coolest job ever. Going to work for a company with a strong vision and partnering with guys who are smart enough to create what could become the first nationally recognized cannabis brand.  Just to name a few.
And so, here I am, on the precipice of what will undoubtedly be the wildest ride of my career. I plan to document everything that takes place via this blog on going, so check back here if you want to see the latest and greatest on the development of marketing on the “other” green side. But in the meantime, I ask two final things of you (if you have made it this far along and are actually still reading). 1) Share with me your comments/thoughts on this move, on Dixie, on the industry. I would love to hear what you think. 2) If you are one of a number of very special people who helped me in this process, please know how much I appreciate all the calls, discussions, hand-wringing etc. that it took to get me here. I got tired of hearing myself talk about it, and Im sure you did too! Hopefully, I've already thanked you. But if not:
Thanks for reading my post. Again—would love to hear your thoughts. I look forward to some lively dialogue. Never would have seen this one coming….