The cannabis industry is growing rapidly, but so too are the complexities surrounding marketing in this space. Just like any industry that skyrockets onto the scene, competition has ramped up quickly. Many brands are struggling to make a name for themselves, a common conundrum when trying to develop brand identity and stand out.
It’s clear that the industry explosion isn’t poised to slow down any time soon, so how can your cannabis brand capitalize on this projected growth and ensure brand recognition? One answer could be through experiential marketing.
You already know that marketing is an essential part of building your brand. This can mean old-school outbound efforts — direct mailing, sales calls, print, radio and TV ads — or the newfangled world of inbound marketing, in which brands invest time to know and understand their customer and then market directly in the spaces they frequent.
HBO’s “High Maintenance” activation: To celebrate the premiere of the third season of High Maintenance, Grandesign teamed up with HBO to deliver CBD drip coffee and lattes on the West Coast and the East Coast — from Venice boardwalk beach-goers in California to Brooklyn commuters in New York. Fans encountered dozens of brand ambassadors dressed up as “The Guy,” delivering free, caffeinated cups from a fully wrapped High Maintenance coffee truck. Both events saw tremendous success, and there was even with a special appearance from actor Ben Sinclair, who plays The Guy.
Warner Brother’s “IT” house: Constructed at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles, the Neibolt House was a hyper-viral destination designed by Grandesign to promote the release of New Line Cinema’s adaptation of the Stephen King classic, “IT.” The house was open daily to the public from August through September 2017, when it was moved to the Warner Bros. lot through October. From the moment the activation was announced, the demand for the experience exceeded all expectations. More than 30,000 fans entered the two-story IT house replica. They were guided by the doomed Georgie and ventured room-by-room through immersive, film-inspired scenes complete with authentic film props.
Experiential marketing offers a third layer, if you will, because building a modern brand, especially in an industry like cannabis, takes more than the traditional methods of marketing.
Experiential marketing, also known as engagement marketing, is based on engaging experiences. Experiential marketing creates deep personal connections through fun, exciting, memorable and generally live events and experiences.
The relatively new, legal cannabis industry is enjoying instant appeal and popularity. But history repeats itself. Just like other new and in-demand products with insane surges in growth (and a ton of legal compliance complexities to boot), it’s all-too-common for mainstream brands to struggle when navigating how to market themselves properly.
At the end of Prohibition, alcohol brands had to forge a new way to market to the masses. At first, they largely relied on word of mouth, as the infrastructure supporting the marketing efforts of the spirits industry simply wasn’t there. It took many years for spirits brands to develop any semblance of brand loyalty.
Today, a holistic and engaging approach reaches consumers. Celebrity endorsements, developing and promoting a brand story, a large and active social presence, loyalty programs and, yes, experiential marketing are all a big part of this.
The parallels between the alcohol and cannabis industries are striking. But further complicating matters on the cannabis side of things are the many legal discrepancies at the state and federal levels that add to the complexity of successful marketing.
On the outside, the concept of experiential marketing is very simple: create engaging and meaningful experiences for your consumer so they remember (and care about) your brand.
The end goal is to create an immersive, memorable experience that’s more likely to result in brand loyalty. It delivers an authentic message to target consumers, allowing them to see, hear, touch and feel, and it works because it gives consumers a direct interaction with brands via experiences. Consumers want to share these experiences, both directly with their circle of friends and, even more so, with their larger community via social media, extending the reach of the experience well beyond the initial participants.
Examples where experiential marketing can work brilliantly are conferences, film festivals, conventions, pop-up events, tours, festivals, digital billboards and more.
Marketing cannabis is inherently controversial. As the industry continues to grow in legality, it also must fight to find mainstream acceptance and ways to legitimize its place in the market. For example, outrage over cannabis billboards in California forced new legislation now prohibiting them within 1,000 feet of schools.
Over time, just as societal acceptance gradually grew for alcohol post-Prohibition, laws will likely change and cannabis brands will have more room to market freely.
The cannabis market has seen impressive success using experiential marketing tactics, because cannabis brands can’t just buy a billboard, slap together a marketing campaign or exhibit at a festival and call it a day. They need more.
While special events like festivals, trade shows and conventions can give you some exposure, historically these events are most successful at promoting cannabis in general, rather than giving any individual brand an uptick in brand awareness.
Working with someone who has the skill and know-how to implement crafted, defined, engaging experiences can catapult your cannabis brand front and center.
With the broad spectrum of cannabis, from recreational THC products to skincare products containing CBD, the possibilities are endless. For example, offering free branded shuttles to and from festivals and concerts will allow fans to partake in cannabis products while providing a safe transportation option. This type of experience is sure to build invaluable brand recognition and loyalty with consumers. “Instagramable” photo ops constructed at the pick-up and drop-off locations will promote social sharing, giving the cannabis company the ability to advertise on social media through likes and views.
It’s hard to deny the obvious: experiential marketing in the cannabis industry may break as many boundaries as the industry itself.
Amanda Omahen is an account manager for Grandesign Experiential, a leading experiential marketing company headquartered in San Diego with offices in New York City and Sacramento. The company is known for its award-winning creative vision and experience bringing innovative concepts to reality for top-tier brands including Universal, Warner Bros., TBS, HBO, Disney Company, Adult Swim and more.