At the time of this publishing, advertising cannabis is essentially prohibited in Canada. And while recreational pot rules are expected to be less stringent, the federal government has proposed strict restrictions, akin to those imposed on tobacco.
This affects not only ad buys, but branded packaging and endorsements. The regulations proposed by Health Canada would require packaging for cannabis products to have a single, uniform colour with a standardized font style. The Consumer Choice Centre said Health Canada’s packaging regulations would threaten consumer knowledge and their ability to make choices, thus emboldening the black market. Unlike in the tobacco industry, growers and marijuana entrepreneurs don’t have half a century of the promotional blitz cigarettes enjoyed to set their brand in the minds of the consumer before regulatory restrictions arrived.
The challenge becomes: how do you sell products, develop a brand identity, and find your niche in the marketplace without traditional advertising.
Related Article: The State of Canadian Cannabis Branding
The Cannabis Branding Solution
There are two hemispheres you should prioritize, to market successfully without obvious branding and advertising: deliver compelling content, and activate your brand community. Think of it as breaking down the barriers between you and your consumers.
The first two options are similar in that they both focus on people: influencer marketing, and tokenized word of mouth advertising. There are no laws about people talking about your brand, even if they’re getting something in return. Influencer marketing may sound familiar; essentially it means users/customers on social media who have large a following of fans who will promote your product/service/brand, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee. This often depends on the size of the following, and is particularly useful for fashion and lifestyle brands. While there currently exist some notable Canadian cannabis influencers, you can expect this community to grow now that pot is legal.
This same tactic applies to regular consumers: encouraging word-of-mouth advertising. Similar to how some brands will encourage people to share their statuses to enter a contest, you can similarly tokenize people sharing your brand organically with contests, giveaways, or incentive packages. Instead of pouring money into traditional advertising campaigns, invest in community development, consumer outreach, and developing campaigns to get your brand community to build buzz. This will be especially useful during the expansion of the cannabis market as people are looking for brands they can trust along with the validation of people they know who are endorsing it.
The third tactic works with the first two: compelling content. Aside from organic promotions, how are you building these communities? How are you drawing people in? Content is not only how you grow your community, but how you build your brand identity. Instead of creating commercials, you should be figuring out how to tell stories to engage people as quickly as possible. What content would be ideal for a cannabis startup? The first piece would be a compelling brand featurette. If you had to pick one piece of content to establish your brand personality, brand story, and points of differentiation, that would be it. It’s the single greatest storytelling medium we currently have at our disposal, and it is the content format your audience will likely prefer.
The advanced version of this tactic is developing an entire platform of authoritative content branded by you, similar to the Bell Wellness site, Pfizer’s GetOld.com content hub, or our very own Brand Edge blog. This is how you can achieve top-of-mind awareness by creating an entire content hub that is the first and last resource for your niche. If, for example, you want your cannabis brand to be the authority on creativity and artistry, you can create an entire site of articles, reviews, videos, and media, extolling the virtues of that niche and aligning your name to that authority.
The future of brand storytelling is currently being written by people like the creative minds at Blade Branding. So think of this as an opportunity rather than a handicap. Forget breaking down barriers; without old models, you’re now free to do some real groundbreaking shit.