It all started with one of those “Will you do me a favor?” phone calls. Last November, a client who’s also a good friend made a sizeable personal investment in a medicinal cannabis company largely dedicated to assisting those with severe autoimmune disorders and cancer. Admittedly, I paused.
Having grown up in Nancy Reagan’s “Say No To Drugs” era, years of stigma around marijuana flashed through my mind. Still, I respect this individual and his entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to look into what was being asked of me and why he was so invested — literally. I approached with an open mind, visited the company’s website and began to open my eyes to the power of this plant. What came to light was truly fascinating and I was inspired to dig deeper.
After looking at the positive impact of medicinal cannabis on people’s lives, I expanded my search and learned about Larry, a former police officer and Parkinson’s sufferer. Within minutes of using just a single drop of cannabis oil under his tongue, Larry had controlled his dyskinesia (and spent $40 versus the hundreds of thousands he and his wife had previously paid for pharmaceutical treatments). The more I read and researched, the clearer the benefits of cannabis became. It was my proverbial tipping point.
Just a little more than a year later, as a number of new states are introducing medicinal cannabis use — and some recreational, as well — I’ve decided to plant my marketing feet in an industry that can seemingly help so many. If you’re also looking to apply your marketing skills in a way that can make a difference in the lives of others and are considering marketing cannabis, here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far:
You can make a positive impact.
For most of my career, I’ve been in tech. It’s an industry I’m passionate about because we learn things ahead of the mass consumer and see how technology will change our lives, whether it’s how we communicate or the evolution of how we consume media. Even more significantly, in the case of biotech, those in the industry are able to see what’s being done with the human genome for the treatment of deadly illnesses.
Tech has inspired me because of the positive impact it can have. Yet I always felt like, in order to truly help people, it would have to be done outside of my career. This held true until my immersion into the cannabis field. Here, we have the ability to help people understand and explore the powerful potential of this plant — from aiding seniors with various ailments to young children with epilepsy to insomniacs that are prescribed often dangerous narcotics, or those suffering from anxiety and depression. The list is endless.
There’s (still) so much to learn.
The last year has been one of tremendous learning — working to understand a space that is changing daily, and that differs from state to state. Of the 29 states with medicinal cannabis laws (some scheduled to take effect this year), all are different.
Marketing this plant is very different from marketing a typical consumer product or service — it’s more like Pharma. There are measures in place both related to what you can say and how you can promote it. It’s imperative to stay abreast of these regulations. For example, as AdAge points out in this informative article on how to market your cannabis brand, any marketing that even hints at speaking to minors can land you in hot water.
Since laws are changing constantly, including regulations about how to communicate on this topic, it’s important to spend time educating yourself on the ins-and-outs of the overall industry, the state-level measures and regulations and to learn as much as you can about the product you’re selling. (I’m talking deep-dives.)
Be Prepared To Educate
To be clear, this industry is coming out from the shadows and that comes with some rough edges. Cannabis is not just about “smoking weed,” which is what many people think of when the topic comes up. Rather, it’s how micro-dosing marijuana is a viable form of alternative medicine. Cannabis comes in many forms, much of which produce little to no psychoactive effect or “high.”
Knowing there is a lack of knowledge about the plant’s potential has helped guide me professionally, and equally personally. There’s a lot of educating to be done. You can also expect that, in addition to your office time, some of your personal time and conversations will be spent handling common public misperceptions.
In fact, you may be reading this and have a strong opinion already, be it support or disdain. One thing holds true: Times are certainly changing. More than half of the states in our country are seeing the benefits of medicinal cannabis use and opening doors for research and fact-based science that will help maximize the benefits of this plant in ways we haven’t even discovered yet.
However, it’s not a cure-all for everyone. In the same way that some studies show wine is good for your heart, there are many who can’t touch alcohol in any form for a myriad of reasons. In parallel, cannabis is good for many, but not all.
Marketers entering the space are in for an exciting ride, but it’s not about holding on. It’s about empowering yourself with as much knowledge as you can share, believing in what you’re selling, respecting and abiding by the guidelines set and staying on top of the space. We’ve only just begun.