Focusing on Mindset. An Ex-beer Marketer’s Approach to Winning the Recreational Cannabis Market.

Flowr Cannabis

Why don’t we start off with some introductions and letting us know a little bit about your background and what your plans are for crafting the Flowr brand?

I spent the first eight years of my career with Molson Coors, starting with a sales role right after graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University and then progressed through various marketing roles and brands. Gaining both sales and marketing experience early on allowed me to learn the full commercial side of the business, and Molson gave me the opportunity to learn so much about building brands, some of which are among the biggest and (in my opinion) best brands in the industry. From working on 360 marketing campaigns to launching innovative products, I’m truly thankful for all of the opportunities Molson gave me.  

When I knew I was ready for my next challenge, I thought a lot about what I was hoping to get out of my next role. The opportunity at Flowr came up organically. I was really excited about not only getting into the cannabis market at such an interesting time, but with Flowr being a strong cultivator, there was still a huge opportunity to build the brand from the ground up. What was and continues to be really important to me when building Flowr is taking it from a product to a brand that resonates with consumers, while maintaining the authenticity of why and how Flowr started in the first place. To that extent, it was just as important to get to know the people that make up Flowr as it was to get to know the product.

In such a new industry, it must be quite a challenge to decide who to target?  There are those that already consider themselves experts and are extremely picky about what ‘flower’ supplier they want and respect, and then there’s the newbies who are experimenting and might prove fickle about what they buy and who they buy from.  If you target one group, you lose the other, no? 

I think the challenging part stems from the lack of hard consumer data combined with a lot of pre-conceived notions about who the consumer is.

When I think about the traditional brand building process there are so many inputs from segmentation to trends, months of research, white space identification, etc. before building a brand. With limited access to any of this early on, a number of the brands we see today were built based on personal experiences versus having a true consumer base in mind.

When we kicked off the brand building journey for Flowr, our agency was highly instrumental in pushing research, which allowed us to test potential brand territories with our consumer target and assess the strength of each territory with factual information. I believe that this was key in identifying the richest possible territory that truly spoke to the mindset of the consumer we identified.

Iconic brands like Harley-Davidson have won the dedication of customers year-over-year by understanding the importance of mindset. What’s the secret to finding a niche and then winning them over?

The idea of targeting mindset over demographic is something that we have really embraced while building this brand. No one is only ‘one person’ all of the time, so our niche wasn’t a specific persona or audience, but rather, a mindset that can exist within anyone.

We absolutely built this brand with the cannabis enthusiast in mind. A lot of people confuse this user with the traditional ‘stoner’ stigma, but this is not our target. A cannabis enthusiast can come in all shapes and sizes, from a professional who uses cannabis after work to unwind or a creative who uses cannabis as a tool for inspiration throughout the day. There are many differences between them on the outside, but what unites them is a mindset. And for Flowr that mindset is the (legal aged) ‘Balanced Achiever’ – those who use cannabis as a tool to support their ambitions, not as a distraction from them. Winning them over is about building a brand that this consumer can truly identify with.

Given restrictive regulations, what marketing tools seem best suited to warming potential cannabis customers to a brand? Is it really worthwhile to spend big money enticing ‘influencers’ like Snoop Dog?  Or are there more subtle ways to win over the loyalty consumers?

It could have been so easy for me to pick up my beer marketer playbook and press go, but this has really pushed me as a marketer; encouraging me to think differently about the way in which we should go to market, and in my mind that is really exciting. The regulations also level the playing field to an extent. It’s often so simple to spend a lot of money on mass media to essentially buy awareness – the regulations reward creativity.

Flowr’s authenticity comes from our history and because of this we don’t need to rely on an external source for credibility at this stage.

If you get your product quality right and you get your brand values right, I believe your biggest ‘influencer’ group is actually the Budtenders.

These are the people interacting with your brand and your potential consumers day in and day out. Retailers also play a role as they too are building experiences for consumers. Building relationships, sharing your brand story and gaining the loyalty of this community and showing up with the right retailers can go a long way to winning over your consumer.

There is still a stigma associated with cannabis – what role does branding play in breaking the stigma, and how can Flowr actively work to counteract decades of misinformation. 

Laws don’t change culture. It’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, we are still conditioned to believe cannabis is wrong.

At Flowr we want to break that stigma. We’ve created a premium brand, a quality product and believe that product (cannabis) can play a positive role in the consumers life. For us, that means cannabis is a tool and not a distraction. Because of this, we believe Flowr is a product that they don’t need to hide. If we can play any role in reducing the overall stigma, we’ll be happy.

As consumers get more choice about how they buy and interact with brands, many CPG companies are seeing success in using data for personalization in their marketing and digital engagements – How does this apply to the cannabis market? 

To be honest, I didn’t quite realize what a luxury data was until moving into the cannabis market! But cannabis is no different than any other CPG company and you need to get your hands on any data you can in order to help make sense of things and to support the decisions you are making as a brand and as a company. Gone are the days of spray and pray marketing. With all of the choices that are out there, you need to ensure your brand has a focused approach, and data can really help you dial in and ultimately make the most out of your spend.

Within regulation, we are constantly looking at what data is available for us to get our hands on. A combination of industry data, brand data and sales data can only support us in making more informed decisions when it comes to our social media presence, digital media buys or even product offering.

As a new-to-market cannabis brand, what role does working with an agency that specializes in branding have? How should one go about selecting a branding partner to work with?

At Flowr our people share the core values of being Pioneers, Champions and Students. For us, keeping these values in mind is not only important to consider for internal hires, but external ones as well. As a smaller team, our agency is very much a part of the core of the business, so it is essential our values are aligned. When selecting an agency, we wanted a group of people that were equally as passionate about seeing our brand succeed as we were. I am lucky that we’ve found that partner in Zerotrillion. Not only do they excel when it comes to branding but they are super collaborative and crazy passionate. I’ve often joked that they’re an extension of my left arm! Another really important piece to us was finding an agency that can work at the same pace as we are accustomed to in the cannabis market. The ability to be nimble and adjust on a dime was absolutely essential as we know how quickly things can change. It’s also important that any agency you move forward with is familiar with regulated industries. As I mentioned before, this industry makes us as marketers think differently about the way we bring brands to market and this is just as important for any agency as well. There isn’t always the luxury of time to explain the regulations before or after every ideation session, this needs to be thought of from idea right through to execution.

What tips can you share for setting a cannabis brand up for success today, and in the future?

I’m not going to say I can define success for brands in the cannabis space because I believe all brands are still in their infancy and success hasn’t been proven yet. There are some lead indicators when you look at things like sales performance and brand awareness, but there is still a lot of work to do on a whole.

What I can do is take a step back and reflect on my previous experience building brands. Everything starts with getting the brand foundations right. It is so easy to get sidetracked by the latest shiny object or racing to be first to market, but there is something to be said about being patient.

Patience, while not always easy, is the mindset I’ve taken since joining Flowr. While I recognize we still have our work cut out for us, we have been able to take a step back to re-build the foundations. Identifying our consumer mindset, building out our brand purpose, developing our manifesto and commercializing a strategy that was built from the ground up. It’s still very early, but I truly believe this is the beginning of something great!

What are you most excited about when it comes to the cannabis market this year?

We are still only scratching the surface in terms of what the cannabis industry will be here in Canada. I believe that 2020 is going to be an exciting year for the industry, but I expect we’ll continue to see a number of changes. We all know that this industry hasn’t been without its challenges and I believe this year will be a very telling one. Brands that have been built on the right foundations will have their time and others will be in a challenging spot. While there is still lots to do, I am excited to share Flowr with the cannabis community. As a team we have worked hard on both the cultivation side, to bring a quality product to market that is underpinned by years of experience – and on the brand side, to ensure that we captured the essence of our history in the underground while bringing it into the light of today’s market.