What should cannabis brands be doing to weather this crisis and better position themselves for the future?

HQ is a collection of experts who have years of experience across all facets of the cannabis industry. We asked them to give us the advice they would give to brands attempting to deal with the coronavirus crisis. Here's what they said:

Anthony Wolch - CCO, Beyond Marketing
There has never been a better time to consider data science. People are spending more time online today than ever before and for obvious reasons. In an age where cannabis brands have gone from illegal to essential, from legalization to normalization, from criminal to medical, stomping out of the shadows directly into the spotlight and then some back into the shadows, one thing is certain; there has never been a better time to utilize the power of data science to actually hear what consumers are looking for - not to listen - rather to hear.

If hearing is the emotional distillation of listening, then it's high time brands started hearing what consumers want and then, responding in kind. This active social & digital 'hearing' will ensure brands emerge from this downturn with greater responsiveness, communication, kindness, sensitivity, product development and in turn sales, than was previously imagined.

It is a time to be very cautiously aggressive, and positively optimistic. Harnessing the inimitable power of data science, the flawless execution of an evolved brand narrative and subsequent marketing ecosystem is the place to start.

Kimberly Dillon - Founder of Plant & Prosper
Think about the product roadmap and think about diversifying the brand proposition among a number of product segments. Between Vapegate and now COVID-19, it would be prudent to innovate around non-inhalants and convenient form factors. Not only do consumers have individual journeys with cannabis, but depending on the situation and the context, your usual pre-roll consumer may want to switch to an edible during cold/flu season.  Data from Headset is suggesting that edibles during both these periods skewed up.  

Engage in two-way conversations. While a lot of people are home this is the perfect time to check in directly with your best customers. Host a zoom/IG call with 20 customers and get direct feedback. Offer up surveys/and other data gathering tools to both capture consumer insight but to further establish a relationship with your customer.

Evaluate and build out your tech stack. This means both on the back end as it relates to the supply chain but also to e-commerce or DTC tools. Consumer adoption of delivery is set to skyrocket during and after this global reset. Take the learnings from this time and set yourself up success to be one of the winners on the other side.

Daniel Abrahami - Founder, Headquarters
There's always opportunity in times of crisis. If I'm a company that is low to the ground and able to weather the storm, I would start by defining what success looks like in the future and how you will take market share. Take a look at your roadmap, it may make sense to bring things in the pipeline forward. Had a digital play slated for end of 2020? Definitely start it now. M&A? This may be the time.

Create "if, then" scenarios to define how you will act moving forward. But, remember to focus on the fundamentals. Just because there are opportunities, it doesn't mean go for a hail mary. Take calculated risks that are focused and are core to the business and your long term goals. There is a new normal and you have to be aware of that. The plans you made in 2019 may not be relevant today and you have to make that adjustment.

We don't know what the future holds, but what we do know is that we believe in the U.S. consumer — it's 68% of US GDP after all — this crisis will be over at some point, and you want to be in a position to hit the ground running.

Cory Jones - Founder, The Statement Group
Invest in your digital brand. While no one's exactly sure when this will end, or how quickly life will trickle its way back to normal, we do know that the social distancing of this crisis will linger much longer than we'd like it to. That means your audience is more likely to build trust and affinity with your brand through a digital experience over the next year. And there are a lot of brands out there vying for the attention of the cannabis consumer. Organic social media audience development, SEO tactics and newsletter database growth take a while, so the sooner you put  resources into build those channels, the better positioned you will be compared to your competitors who may be taking a wait-and-see approach.

There's also a lot of chatter that the economic impact of this crisis may push the federal government to legalize cannabis because it will be looking to unlock any and all industries to drive revenue and employment opportunities. And if cannabis is federally legal, your digital presence will become exponentially more important. The planning and effort your digital brand today can go a long way tomorrow.

Michael Gosney, CEO Cyberset Music and Media
Cannabis companies right now need to be coming from a place of gratitude Even with all the ongoing struggles so many are having with ill-formed policies and regulations, fragmented inter-state commerce, banking limitations etc….  We need to express gratitude to our community for affirming across the nation (and world) that cannabis is indeed medicine and therefore deserves its newfound status as an Essential Business in times of crisis such as this.

People do want cannabis more than ever with troubling change becoming the norm. Why?

We are amazed that this plant can do everything from relieving grandma’s back pain with CBD crème to curing cancer with a high dose, strain-specific custom protocol of whole plant oil.  Cannabis cosmetics are impacting that multi-billion dollar industry.

Hemp milk and seeds as vital protein sources continue to gain in popularity. Industrial hemp is poised to emerge and a generator of whole new product categories, and even industries.

But smoking a joint is the most common use of cannabis, and it offers a range of psychological and physiological benefits that are hard to quantify because the effects vary widely depending on strain and user. But the benefits are clearly real.

One area that is worthy of focus is the disconnect between the cannabis industry and the emergent psychedelic therapy industry. With all the attention on entheogens and psychedelics for psychological work and personal/spiritual work…. Why is cannabis not included in the mix? It is starting to be addressed more in the research community, but our industry could do more to promote cannabis as a beneficial psychological aid, and even fund research.

Cannabis brands can be confident of a receptive market, but one that is going to be more critical of hype vs substance and cavalier tech-start-up company cultures vs. social conscious enterprises.

Headquarters is a strategic advisory studio that specializes in California cannabis. We help brands launch, grow, and scale in the Golden State and beyond.

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