Cannabis Marketing Best Practices

Marketing is a fascinating soft science that is more psychology than anything. It’s so interesting to me that I went back to Sonoma State University at age 32 to study it, eventually getting a BA then an MBA with a concentration in marketing. I was always tweaking my branding and marketing efforts, a continuous improvement process usually applied to production. This is some of that:

Marketing Best Practice #1: I put an inch-and-a-half high neon green 7-finger marijuana leaf on a dark purple background and the word HEMP just as big on the shelf of thousands of supermarkets and natural food stores coast-to-coast in both the US and Canada as far back as 25 years ago. Even an Air Force PX. It was HempRella cheese alternative. How does Cannabis get normalized? Like that. We even placed ads in national media for Hickory Smoked HempRella: “When we introduced hemp cheese they said we must be smoking something. We are now.” Don’t be afraid to leverage the stigma.

Marketing Best Practice #2: How did I do it? I used the international sales and supply network I built for previous non-hemp products. Sales to loyal chains and distributors in 2 countries, even Trader Joe’s. By 1994 when I pivoted from soya to hempseed, the network was already 8 years old. Leverage your wheelhouse, not your woodshed.

Marketing Best Practice #3: My HempNut Inc. had a “zero THC” policy, represented by a red slash over the letters THC. Having a visible “zero THC” policy immediately relieved every consumer’s first question: “will this get me high?” And today, with the economic importance of marijuana edibles, the issue is even bigger. (See my Proximity Effect graphic below to see why it’s more crucial for hemp foods than hemp clothes.) The policy was so effective, DEA even mentioned it as to why they decided to legalize hemp foods back in 2001. Do the right thing even though your competitors will hate you for it.

Marketing Best Practice #4: Despite that policy, we still advised people who have to pee in a cup for someone not to eat our hemp foods. Why, if we had a “zero THC” policy? Because I didn’t want our possible momentary lapse of quality cause the customer to lose his/her career, job, family, freedom, or worse. I would rather lose many customers than chance that one-in-a-million catastrophe. Always be an advocate for your customer first.

Marketing Best Practice #5: were we really anti-THC? Oh hell no, my Suite Salons at Expos East and West for years proved that. But I knew I had to calm fearful consumers, and fast. I had only a couple seconds to make the case for a Cannabis food, or lose them forever. It had to appear professional, and not made in some hippie’s kitchen. It had to be regulatory compliant, or the state FDA would be all over me. But it also had a Satisfaction Guarantee, a toll-free 800 number, an email address (in 1994!) an invite to write us, an offer of recipes, a FDA Nutrition Facts, and a bar code. It was decidedly professional, informed by over a hundred previous product labels I did.

Marketing Best Practice #6: what does a “zero THC” policy even mean? Since all hemp products were imported back then, the THC testing protocol of US Customs controlled. Their cut-off was 1 ppm, thus “zero THC = 1 ppm.” Even “non-alcoholic” beer has some alcohol, 0.5% (5,000 ppm) maximum, and “fat-free” foods can legally contain 0.5% fat. DEA tried to legalize hemp products in 2001 and foods would have used that same 1 ppm cut-off, easily attainable by most. The same rule legalized 96% of Hemp products outright no max THC, and for that the fiber group HIA sued to stop it. The hemp food then died for years. Be prepared for your competitors to weaponize your good work against you, especially if you are light-years ahead.

Marketing Best Practice #7: We had a “First One’s Free” Retail promotion to get shelf space, a free fill of 1 case. We hid a hemp leaf on the can of shelled hempseed in order to do a “Find The Leaf” promotion. Authentic Marketing should be fun.

Hulled Hempseed Can

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