It's no secret that marketing in the cannabis industry is a challenge.
Not only is the industry ever-changing, but it carries a negative stigma, as it used to be an illegal industry.
Finding ways to increase brand awareness, drive sales and establish a loyal customer base within the emerging cannabis industry can be difficult. David Farris, vice president of sales and marketing at Planet 13, a vertically integrated cannabis company headquartered in Nevada, shares his insight on adapting to the new cannabis culture and finding breakthrough marketing techniques.
Analyze Your Market
When expanding into a new territory or growing an existing business, it is crucial for operators to understand the market or markets they're in and discover what surrounding brands are doing that's successful, Farris said.
One example he shared is during Planet 13's recent expansion to Orange County, Farris and his team set up introductory calls and meetings to help maximize their knowledge of brands surrounding their new location.
"I go into every possible meeting where we are purchasing and bringing on products and … if I'm not available, someone from the marketing team has to sit in on those," he said. "Because whether we decide to ultimately bring on those products or not, it's important to understand what's successful about the brand, how they got that success, and just [get] a feel for the market."
"You'll find that you have a lot of resources within the market that you're going to be in or that you are in, and [you should ask,] ‘How can you work together to maximize that success from a retail perspective?’" he added. "From a retail perspective, if a brand in our store is successful, then we're successful, and I think it's just maximizing that knowledge in a new location [as well]."
For example, Farris said the marketing style in Nevada is a lot different compared to California. So, instead of Planet 13 trying to reinvent the wheel in a new market, Farris said they would continue building new relationships with brands and figuring out ways to maximize their potential together.
Build a ‘Foundation Customer Base’
While he doesn't define it as a straight “marketing tool,” Farris said it's essential for brands to establish a “foundation customer base.”
"I think it's crucial for us to have a customer that's here year-round that is interested in our daily text messages, our daily incentives, or any promotions that we have going on," he said.
Businesses should market to a loyal customer base, where no matter the month or day of the year, that customer is always someone they can rely on, he said.
"Once you build that foundation, I think it gives you that flexibility that you need to really put yourself out there and try different techniques because you feel comfortable no matter what, that you still have that foundation customer."
Increase Customer Retention Strategies
Creating a customer loyalty program is one thing, but it's another thing to find creative ways to retain and keep that loyal customer base.
"I think in today's era of cannabis, it's kind of adopting this retail model that we see in the retail industry of 'let's get them on a loyalty program,'" he said. "And it's easy to just put in a loyalty program, but how does it truly benefit that customer? How does it keep them coming? How does it keep them staying as a customer long term?"
The Planet 13 team uses a hybrid model, where they not only offer loyalty points for a percentage of the customers' purchase, but they also give those customers access to different promotions and deals that a typical customer wouldn't have, he said.
"They're glued to their phone, and every morning we send a new texting email blast out," Farris said. "And if we ever don't do it for a day, for whatever reason, we have customers calling in our store saying, 'What happened? 'What's going on with the promotions?' So, we have our customers really engaged and bought in to look forward to that every morning and see if there is something that piques their interest."
When creating a loyalty problem, Farris suggests businesses should not only make it “deal focused.” Instead, Planet 13 gives those customers access to VIP products, new launches or activations that is private access only for them.
"It's something that I think is a work in progress, and we can always do better, but it's just finding a creative way to win that customer over your competitor," he said. "I think it's one thing to get them to come into the store once, but to get them to come in weekly and monthly is a different challenge."
Generate Word of Mouth Marketing
Farris said that finding ways to maximize the customer's in-store experience is one way to help generate word of mouth marketing.
"I think a lot of times we think of marketing as advertising, but what we've been able to create here is a way for our store to market itself," he said. "I've been super hands-on and involved with how the store's laid out and how we can maximize that customer experience and that customer journey to where they feel open and invited to take their phone out, take photos and spread it through word-of-mouth."
In the past, dispensaries were typically underground, private or discreet, he said. But as the industry evolves and more states continue to legalize adult-use cannabis, the stigma changes, causing businesses to create a whole new in-store experience.
"There's not a lot of times where people go into a dispensary and have the ability to show some really awesome photos, post them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and say, 'I just had one of the coolest experiences buying weed,'" he said. "And I think that's something that has really transformed over the past three years, where now people within their retail store are building out photo moments and encouraging people to share that experience. And it's really important to adapt to that and stay ahead of that curve."
Learn From Your Mistakes
There are many moving parts in the cannabis industry, and mistakes are bound to happen.
"One thing that it's applicable in our industry that's not in others is there are so many hands in the pot and so many moving products that it's really easy to mix things up or not put the right test results or not put the right SKUs [on the packaging]," he said. "And that really turns into customer frustration and makes it hard on the marketing team, whether it's through reviews or just through customer feedback. So, it can really ruin the experience."
Farris said one thing Planet 13 always tells its team is to live their mistakes, maximize the positive things and make sure when they see a product online that it's vibrant, available in-store and has an accurate description.
"We've been able to adjust some of our systems, where we have real-time inventory on our menus with exact test results," he said. "And it's been a huge game-changer for our store where there's not this mysterious confusion of, 'Hey, I saw this strain available on the menu, but you didn't have it in-store.' So, I think technology has caught up to us and has lent a helping hand. And I look at our menus and that visual stuff as marketing as well."