Marijuana’s Journey To Mainstream in 2017

Jul 07, 2017 Dan O'Mahony

The first half of 2017 was a roller coaster for the marijuana industry. More states are legalizing medicinal and adult (recreational) use, new startups are still popping up and the promise of a billion dollar industry is creeping toward reality. On the flip side: Jeff Sessions. The Attorney General’s comments about marijuana use have been the first dose of doom and gloom the industry has seen in a while.

But the tides are still favoring more marijuana legalization in more states. Knowing that, and knowing that the entrepreneurs and visionaries who got into this space are forward-thinking, the next step we’re seeing is these companies finally transitioning into true lifestyle brands rivaling alcohol, food and consumer packaged good brands.

This means marijuana brands will be focusing on customer experience, unapologetic messaging and broader targeting of different demographics.

Experience As Marketing

Slick design and a great user experience are going to rule the roost in the future for marijuana companies, dispensaries and other services. Take, for example, this recent story in the Denver Post about new dispensaries opening in Colorado:

“The new Clinic location certainly stands apart. The first thing customers will notice in the ID-checking vestibule as well as the store’s open-floor layout is the warm natural light filling the space. A massive skylight is cleverly secured with custom metal millwork designed in the brand’s familiar molecule/honeycomb shapes. The wall along South Colorado Boulevard is all opaque, hurricane-glazed glass – “so it’s essentially unbreakable,” Cook said – that softly filters more natural light during the day.”

And also, recently, a graphic designer wrote a great piece, “How Sophisticated Branding Aims To Make You Rethink Cannabis”. The subhead of the piece says it all:

“As the marijuana industry begins to mature, purveyors recognize the need to separate themselves with distinct branding. The hand-painted signs, bad puns, and Rastafarian flags that once defined the industry are giving way to sophisticated design that abandons aging stoners in favor of more upscale clientele.”

Marijuana brands: take notice. As companies like Apple, Uber and Amazon have proved, a good experience is great marketing. Consumers will pick what’s easy, fun and seamless to use.

Bold(er) Messaging

We all know medicinal marijuana has been used for lifestyle and recreational benefits for some time, not just for serious ailments. But many marijuana dispensaries, product manufacturers and marketplaces aren’t very forthcoming about these lifestyle benefits, instead leaning towards more health and safety-focused messaging to appease regulators, politicians and concerned citizens.

This won’t — and shouldn’t — last long. Sixty percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to a Gallup poll in October. That’s not legalizing medicinal marijuana, that’s legalizing adult marijuana use of any kind.

With widespread acceptance and the need to win consumers, we can expect the successful marijuana brands to be those who chose to be bolder with their messaging.

Moving Past The “Millennial Male”

According to InkHouse client, marijuana delivery startup Eaze, men make up two-thirds of their user base, but women are a faster growing customer base, moving from 25 percent in 2015 to 33 percent in 2016.

Smart brands will recognize that growth opportunity, and create marketing, PR and branding campaigns that appeal to women. Take hmbldt, for example, which recently hosted a hike in Marin County’s Muir Woods and paired it with one of its vape pens. This sort of lifestyle appeal throws aside marijuana’s stoner culture reputation and, instead, makes it mainstream, with an appeal to the industry’s faster growing gender demographic.

Doctors, entrepreneurs and motivated politicians have propelled the marijuana industry forward but now, as the industry hurtles toward mainstream, the everyday consumer will choose the true winners and losers. Companies that think and act like a consumer brand will win.  

Topics: Public Relations, marijuana
Dan O'Mahony

Dan O'Mahony is a senior vice president at InkHouse's San Francisco office. He leads the SF office's B2B technology practice, and its small but growing marijuana practice. Dan works with technology leaders and innovators including Okta, Hired and Eaze, to name just a few. Prior to InkHouse, Dan worked at LaunchSquad and before that he spent five years at Schwartz Communications. He loves a good story and loves a good burrito.

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