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.


  1. Joe, you are right that there is a big stigma attached. I joke that I want to go buy some, but to be honest haven't done it in years. As you sell to the dispensaries it's important to start educating the public on different brands and strains. I am sure it's the same transition that occurred with alcohol as now they have to advertise different brands, etc. It's fascinating to see what's going on and you have so much opportunity here. My biggest concern with the whole business to be honest is how it'll effect our children. The edibles bring a whole scary part for me as last year as I sat drinking with friends at a bar, a woman starting passing around what looked like raspberry hard candies - she didn't even tell people they were edibles until they already had them in their mouths. This cannot be tolerated and is scary behavior. I'll look forward to how you plan to educate the public and deal with all of that. Thanks for sharing your perspective as it's so interesting!

    1. Hey Karen-Thanks so much for the note. And yes, you are 100% correct. It all lies in education (and a little bit of time), But, there is also a tremendous amount of personal responsibility we all have to take here. So, the example of that woman you mentioned--totally unacceptable. Any more so that you spike someone's punch without them knowing. As for the kids and edibles--we, as an industry and as a state, have set certain regulation around child proof packaging etc, but much like guns for example, we have a responsibility to be safe with the product. THere should be more public education for sure, and thats something I hope to be involved with directly/personally. But, we also have to be cognizant that if we choose to have an edible product in our house, or near kids--we have to keep them safe. Personal freedom, for anything (guns, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana) comes with a level of responsibility.

  2. Joe -

    I now think of you every time I drive by a dispensary with a line. The market is vast however and I think your acknowledgement of the difference is timely. Having recruited and placed physicians into this market it is interesting to hear about the changes from their perspectives as well.
    The weight of responsibility to ensure we are sending educational messages that also promotes the industry is a huge burden but well placed upon your shoulders.
    Life will continue to be interesting for you for a long time into the future for you.

    1. Thanks Alicia. I would love to hear you thoughts from the physician side. As for the burden--i welcome it. Thats part of what appealed to me. Better to be on the inside making change rather than on the outside wishing we had.
      See you soon.