Kyle Borland

Storyteller and strategist at the intersections of cannabis, branding & communications, justice, and Urbanism.

Cannabis Marketing Association

Cannabis Marketing Association

Originally published on Cannabiz Calendar in March 2017.

My phone buzzed as my Lyft made its way down Geary Boulevard, shuffling between the chaos of hurried commuters and fuming MUNI buses. Even in California – the oldest of the nation’s established cannabis markets – events can run into legal barriers.

My notification read: “MUST HAVE A MEDICAL CARD FOR TONIGHT!!!”

We learned the first lesson of the night before arriving at the event: always have your recommendation. Granted, when consuming something the federal government considers illegal, it’s probably best to always have your documentation on you…just in case.

The event, “Building Brand Awareness for Recreational Cannabis in California,” was hosted by the Cannabis Marketing Association at Harvest on Geary in the Richmond District of San Francisco. For those who may be unfamiliar, Harvest Shops are designed to emulate a high-end retail experience, meaning customers are free to interact with the products before they make their ultimate purchase.

The event was held in Harvest’s member lounge where attendees filed in before the panel to network and relax. The night’s moderator, Victor Pinho of the Berkeley Patients Group, called the packed house to order as he introduced the panelists: Anastasia Shannon, Northern California Sales Manager for KIVA Confections; Ben Grambergu of Grambergu Marketing; and Zack Darling, CEO of The Hybrid Creative.

Fittingly, each speaker came from (at least) second generation California farming families, so they were able to share some frontline insight with us. First and foremost, all the panelists stressed avoiding giving any and all legal advice. As marketers, we save our clients’ – and our own – asses by deferring to trusted, competent legal experts. However, even outside the professional necessity, there are personal reasons to foster strong relationships with up-and-coming cannabis law practices (and other auxiliary services).

Zack Darling put it best when he said, “We’re creating a new economy – a new community.”

From heightened Federal oversight to local commercial restrictions, the relationships we are creating now will be instrumental in surviving the coming rush. Most importantly, it will give current players a stronger footing when corporate behemoths on the horizon fully enter the market(s). However, Anastasia Shannon of KIVA Confections – the most successful edibles company on the market – stressed investment in your people and your product, everything else will follow.

“Stories and relationships reach farther than any advertising,” said Shannon. “We emphasize R&D, as well as marketing, because we want to be – top to bottom – a brand you’ll recommend to anyone, even Mom.”

(Side note: I can vouch for this – my Alabaman mother loved KIVA’s Petra mints.)

Darling agreed, noting that a brand’s success was due to its ability or inability to construct an “experiential presence.” Ultimately, when pressed on how much a company should spend on marketing, the panelists’ answers ranged from three to 20 percent. Personally, I have always said 10 percent because, if more is needed, the problem is more than likely your product  – not your marketing.

The final question asked the panelists what cannabis marketers need to focus on going forward. The panelists all agreed that standardization around testing was the next critical step the industry needed to take on its way to total legitimacy. Second, marketers should focus on branding regional identities around the terroir of different growing regions – think Emerald Triangle meets Napa Valley – rather than attempting to brand individual strains.

The overall message of the night was cautiously positive. We understand that if we want the cannabis industry to continue to be the community-driven and locally-oriented business we have come to know it to be, we have to work together. We see the potential roadblocks ahead but, if the people in Harvest that night were any indication, momentum is on our side.

This is How a Cannabis Dispensary Grounded Bay Area Technologist, Angelica Coleman

This is How a Cannabis Dispensary Grounded Bay Area Technologist, Angelica Coleman

McKinley Square Maintained by Volunteers

McKinley Square Maintained by Volunteers