ERICKA PITTMAN
Chief Marketing Officer

Viola CMO on Using Downtime to Engage Cannabis Consumers in Unique Ways

Ericka Pittman was drawn to premium cannabis purveyor Viola because of its purpose-driven DNA and the inspiration behind it. Founded in 2011 by NBA veteran Al Harrington and named after his grandmother, Viola is considered a legacy brand by cannabis industry standards. As the company’s new CMO, Ericka is leveraging her 25-year media and marketing background—from Condé Nast to Combs Enterprises—to educate and engage a new crop of consumers.

What’s one thing that has helped you get to where you are today?

"Marketing is a bit of alchemy mixed with strategy and great timing."

I use a global approach to identifying business solutions that are not simply isolated to marketing, but instead I create solutions that benefit supply chain, customer relations, product efficacy, and of course consumer experience and the bottom line. In order to do this effectively, you must have a general understanding of all parts of the business cycle. Marketing is a bit of alchemy mixed with strategy and great timing. The key to success is to stay informed in all areas of the business to create strategies and campaigns that forward your brand.

How have you adapted your marketing strategies amidst the pandemic?

While we all work to adjust to what has quickly become the new normal, our strategy is to put our employee-customers and consumers first. … Our marketing strategies are currently geared towards awareness and education surrounding the most up-to-date information on where and how to purchase Viola and engage with our customers. In California for instance, there are a number of geo-targeted delivery services that carry Viola making it seamless to secure the product remotely. We also launched our 420 daily discussion series campaign on Instagram hosted by our co-founder and CEO at 4:20 p.m. PT, running April 1-20. … We want to use this downtime to engage our consumers in original ways.

Has the legacy of the brand presented any hurdles for you as chief marketer?

There are very few players in our category—specifically as an African-American founded organization—that can say they have been in the industry this long. But one major hurdle is education around the legacy that Viola has created as a vertical multi-state operator (MSO) in the category. Viola operates in four markets (Ore., Colo., Mich., Calif.) where we cultivate, process, and in some instances, dispense our premium products.

What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in this highly-regulated category?

The biggest and most exciting challenge is the industry is growing and evolving daily. The guidelines and regulations are leveling out as more states become increasingly familiar with the consumer cycle and business model of cannabis. The really exciting part is the new crop of consumers that are beginning to engage the space. As we continue to destigmatize and normalize cannabis, the opportunity to speak to a new audience in a very unique way is quite intriguing. Psychographic data and behavioral science around this category will be increasingly valuable as this new crop of “canna-curious” consumers begins to emerge.

Viola closed $16 million in Series A funding in October 2019 with Gotham Green Partners.

How are you using your brand to destigmatize cannabis as a whole?

I am proud to say we just recently launched Viola Cares, which is our social equity initiative driving education, entrepreneurship/incubation, and expungement opportunities for people of color who have disproportionately been affected by the war on drugs and cannabis-related convictions. Through the program, we’re aiming to create more than 10,000 jobs, hundreds of new business owners and expanded industry diversity by increasing representation, facilitating community building and providing employment opportunities.

While customer acquisition is paramount for DTC brands, how are you thinking about customer retention?

Affinity and salience are the two biggest drivers of customer retention. There are millions of ways you can approach this connection. I’ve found my biggest success rates with customer retention is product quality and experience. Your customer must have an authentic experience with your brand in order for them to want to come back and engage again.

What advice would you give to other marketing pioneers?

"...we have to look towards the future consumer if we want to create legacy brands."

The best advice I have ever received is to never stop learning. As marketers, we have to look towards the future consumer if we want to create legacy brands. Brands that stand the test of time and make it their mission to develop a vision that not only speaks to the current generation but generations long after. In order to effectively identify with future generations such as the burgeoning “Alpha” generation and beyond we have to learn as much as we can about culture, society, technology, and global trends. It is these categories that will dictate the future wants and needs of consumers and the brands that will stand the test of time.