How the Cannabis and CBD Industry Is Adjusting Its Marketing (Again)

3 leaders in the space discuss how they're keeping business going during the pandemic

Elevate: Cannabis and CBD virtual panel
Adweek brand reporter Ryan Barwick talks marketing with leaders in the cannabis and CBD industry. Adweek
Headshot of Paul Hiebert

Companies in the cannabis and CBD space are no strangers to dealing with a constantly shifting marketplace—changes in consumer sentiment, adjustments in regulation, new competition backed by big-name investor money. In a sense, the need to pivot their approach to marketing during the pandemic is something they’re prepared for because they’ve never stopped pivoting.

In conversation with Adweek brand reporter Ryan Barwick during today’s live virtual event Elevate: Cannabis and CBD, a panel of leading marketers in the industry explained three ways they’re approaching the present moment.

Focus more on digital

California-based cannabis retailer Harborside bases a lot of its marketing efforts on experiential programs tied to 4/20 (the April 20 weed holiday) and music festivals such Coachella, originally scheduled for mid-April. With social distancing during the pandemic putting a pause on these pursuits, the company has put more resources into building its website.

“Historically, we’ve done a lot regarding experiential marketing events—that tends to be a lot of our bread and butter, especially in the retail space,” said Alexis Mora, head of marketing at Harborside. “And that all had to kind of transform into more of a digital space.”

Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of the cannabis online marketplace Jane Technologies, noted that the industry has stepped into a new digital world almost overnight. Similar to how digital platforms such as Amazon and Netflix curate unique experiences for individual customers, the cannabis industry is also learning through ecommerce which products complement other products or serve as adequate substitutes.

“Very similar to when you go on Spotify and listen to a track, you’re getting recommended new songs that are similar. This is what we’re able to unlock for our dispensary partners,” Rosenfeld said. “For brands, now that they have ecommerce that can live on their site in partnership and in harmony with the dispensaries. Now they get to understand who their customers are on a lot more meaningful level.”

Education as brand marketing

“I hate to use this term, but especially during these times, self care is really important,” said Andrew Lincoln, associate director of integrated marketing at Charlotte’s Web, a CBD company. “There’s a lot of things that we can do to help people.”

During the pandemic, Charlotte’s Web debuted the education series “Searching for Answers,” which explores the many questions surrounding CBD, such as where it comes from and how it differs from marijuana.

“We really leaned into content creation with this series,” said Lincoln, who noted that educational content can function well as brand advertising.

To Mora, the “secret sauce” is finding a way to educate consumers about cannabis while also introducing details that make their brand unique.

Be the best storyteller

The cannabis market isn’t saturated with household names, making it hard for individual companies to separate themselves from the crowd. The best way to do so, however, is through superior storytelling.

“The way we show our brand and talk about our brand is a lot through storytelling, and it’s very important,” said Lincoln, who noted companies need to create a why behind their existence to appeal to customers. “It’s really about what you stand for and how you talk about your mission and how you live that mission.”

Lincoln mentioned Patagonia, which donated $10 million in tax cuts to environmental groups in 2018, as a good example of this.


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@hiebertpaul paul.hiebert@adweek.com Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.
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