The recreational cannabis industry might be new, but in some markets, it is already well saturated. Places like Colorado and Washington have enjoyed adult-use cannabis regulations for more than seven years, which means most consumers in these areas have already developed relationships with their local dispensaries; they understand their favorite retail cannabis store’s values and feel comfortable with their products and services.
So, if a new recreational dispensary opened in Aurora, Colorado, it would need to work especially hard to build a brand that stands out. Here are a few tips for brand-new cannabis retail businesses looking for ways to make a splash in their markets:
As much as any business doesn’t want to limit its potential for profit, it is incredibly important for brands to identify an audience and target those consumers with its marketing messages. Dispensaries cannot possibly address every type of cannabis consumer; the market is too large and varied for that marketing strategy to be successful. More likely, an attempt to please everyone will result in a garbled brand message that is appealing to no one.
Dispensaries might begin with one of two targeting strategies: addressing an underserved audience or providing better solutions for the largest or most lucrative audience. In either case, dispensary operators need to research their audience to gain a crystal-clear picture of the target consumer, perhaps even developing a buyer persona for reference.
Because federal law makes interstate cannabis commerce all but impossible, most dispensaries are home-grown small businesses. Fortunately, consumers love that. Dispensaries should lean into their roots, drawing upon their origins to craft an honest and interesting story that consumers will remember and appreciate. The story can inform the rest of the brand, to include visual elements like logo and color scheme as well as the values and objectives of the brand. It will be useful to have a place where the brand’s story is written out in full, like an About page on the brand website, but elements of the story should be clearly communicated, if vaguer, in all of a brand’s assets.
Current cannabis regulations across the country ensure that every dispensary has a brick-and-mortar store — but this shouldn’t be the only place where a brand interacts with its consumers. Dispensaries should be striving to reach their target audience through a handful of marketing channels, to include search results on Google and Yelp, profiles on weed websites like Weedmaps, social media pages, brand websites and even email and text networks.
This isn’t to say that dispensaries need to be aggressive in their marketing or deluge their audience with marketing messages. Rather, effective brands are available to consumers in a variety of places, so leveraging multiple channels can be important in competitive markets.
Few consumers return to retail stores where they don’t feel welcome. Even fewer consumers return to stores where they are confused or uncomfortable. Especially in an industry like cannabis, which can be strange and off-putting to many newcomers, dispensaries need to work particularly hard to create a positive customer experience that effortlessly guides consumers down the sales funnel.
Different brands will address the issue of customer experience differently. For example, a dispensary that prides itself on cutting-edge services might use touchscreen menu kiosks for self-service checkouts; in contrast, a dispensary focused on consumer education and one-on-one budtender service might eliminate as much tech as possible between staff and customers. Regardless, the customer experience should be one that builds comfort and confidence in consumers.
The most beloved brands do much more than provide useful items to consumers who need them. Retail cannabis spaces can be so much more than shelves of cannabis products — they can be a place for new users to learn about the drug; a place for experienced cannabis users to make new connections; a place for locals and visitors alike to use cannabis products safely; a place for cannabis innovators to showcase cutting-edge cannabis technologies or services and more. Dispensaries that do something for their consumer communities besides sell stuff are much more likely to find success.
The cannabis industry is relatively new, but that doesn’t mean it is easy for a new cannabis business to rise to prominence. It is incredibly important for retail dispensaries to plan their brand strategy, and the best strategies tend to be developed with the above issues in mind.
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