By Abraham Villegas, founder of AV Social Strategies.
As legalization sweeps the world, thousands of cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs are eager to get a bite of the action. With the inundation of new businesses entering the cannabis sphere, there are a few secrets worth noting to cut through the noise and stand out against the competition. Having been in the trenches for about four years now, here are a few secrets to get up to speed for those looking to build a successful brand in the cannabis industry.
Relationships Built On Trust
First and foremost, it is important to realize early on that because this industry was historically born out of the illicit free market, cultivating trust is critical. Because there are notable epidemiological and economic concerns about the safe and responsible use of cannabis by the public, maintaining trust is at the core of every relationship and transaction. This is especially true in the dynamic cannabis space where significant implications on human health, development, and psychology exist.
It is erroneous to believe your canna-business will flourish just because it's there. The notion of "if you build it, they will come," does not aptly apply to the cannabis industry today. In fact, most new entrants in the market may already be finding it difficult to break in, establish rapport and build trust in a time where the current players and brands are so deeply rooted into the industry and communities. Thus as businesses begin to get flooded with offers from those who want to fill a void and gain their business you must offer something that is both unique and actionable.
The Harvard Business Review, in a 2008 article, defined three elements that can improve trustworthiness:
- Credibility: What your business says and how believable it is to others.
- Reliability: The actions your busness takes and how dependable it appears to be.
- Intimacy: How safe people feel sharing with you.
When you consider cannabis is treated both as a medicine and a recreational substance, the gravity becomes clear on just how important building trust is. Customers, patients, and canna-businesses need to feel safe working with you in an industry that is still in legal limbo. There are too many factors to consider in business, but almost none trump the priceless value of trust.
To work your way in as a credible and trustworthy player in this blossoming and potentially lucrative industry, begin by playing a more active and engaging role in the community. You can contribute at local events (both cannabis related or otherwise) and, if possible, through sponsorships. Another great way to become a powerful resource in the industry is to create or collaborate on educational content to establish yourself as a thought leader who cares about cannabis education and patient/customer empowerment.
If you lack credibility or recognition in the space, let those you are interested in working with give you a test trial to see what you bring to the table. Be sure to always surround yourself people who can vouch for you and want you to succeed.
As you repeat and refine this process over time, you will cultivate the social currency necessary to establish yourself and stand out from an incredibly competitive crowd. The real secret to success in the cannabis space, however, is to genuinely care about the people you aim to serve. Indeed, this could take time, so build patience and don't expect instant results. Marketing expert Mark Schaefer, in his book Marketing Rebellion, encapsulates this sentiment perfectly when he eloquently states that, "the most human company wins!"
Cannabis Empowerment: Education Is The Strategy
From an economic perspective, the cannabis boom is a modern phenomenon. However, the utilization of cannabis as medicine is well documented and predates to ancient civilizations. Unfortunately, much of the education made available to the masses in the last century was based on false pretenses of ill-spirited propaganda. Thankfully, science has shown us a wide range of therapeutic properties expressed by the cannabis plant as well as it's immense safety profile; great advances have also been made in better understanding how cannabis affects the mind and body.
By helping dispel the myths and aiding in the research and education about the many different ways cannabis can improve our world and solve many of its problems. Empowering consumers with better information allows them to mindfully and consciously use cannabis in a way that's best for them. Take this once in a lifetime opportunity to use education as a way to start conversations, gauge knowledge levels, consumer needs, and identify opportunities to provide your tribe and audiences with a true added value.
Develop Your Community
Since the beginning, the cannabis plant has been about community and bringing people together. Becoming more involved in your community is a great way to understand the needs of the people around you. People want to belong, and communities of people with likeminded interests are the greatest ways to help them connect, learn, and discover new things together. In addition, developing a community is a great way to establish credibility, authority and thought leadership. In developing a community, however, understand you must be genuine, real, and authentic with your audience because if the intention is received in the wrong way, it can be the fastest way to lose your traction and credibility, or worse, have your community turn against you.
They say character is who you are, reputation is what people think, eventually, the first catches up with the latter, so be as transparent as you can be with your audience and they will embody your cause. Nurture relationships, by engaging daily, or even hourly, and invite people to meet in real life through meetups or social events. Get comfortable communicating with others on the amazing benefits and wonders of cannabis too via different mediums such as audio and video.
Focus On Purpose And Experiences
Other than establishing relationships, building community and educating your audiences, a key variable to real success will be to give your brand a sense of purpose they can rally around. While other brands tend to focus on selling the informational aspects of their products and services, you can apply your resources to crafting the stories that reflect the experience and outcomes people are searching for. And if you do it from a place of shared values and integrity where you place purpose before profits, your supporters will reward you with meaningful attention. The kind that builds long-lasting relationships and businesses.
Some great ways to leave people with a good feeling are to offer customer loyalty specific rewards that actually save people money, hosting targeted appreciation events, or ones that support a social cause of justice. You can also offer random giveaways, trial packages, clearance discounts, and free samples whenever possible. And above all else, ensure excellent customer service is practiced every day.
As an added bonus, make it a point to seek out opportunities to surprise and delight your audience. When someone unexpectedly receives more than expected, and in a meaningful way, they are more likely to appreciate your brand and want to support it in return. The goal, however, is to give for the sake of giving, with no expectation in return. If you learn to truly do this, you will have mastered the secrets to succeeding in the cannabis industry.
Abraham Villegas is the founder of AV Social Strategies and operates The Medical Cannabis Community, a media company focused on expanding access to cannabis through education, community development, and market research.
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