It’s 2019 and a new cannabis strain has just hit a dispensary shelf in hopes of sparking customer interest. At least that’s how Tim Cullen, founder of the Colorado Harvest Company dispensary chain, remembers it before the cannabis retail experience went online.
Paying for pot online is still illegal in Colorado, but pre-orders are allowed if payment is made at the dispensary, and a short list of cities, including Aurora and Denver, now allow cannabis delivery with online orders. As the pandemic has pushed online shopping even further, engaging consumer senses through a screen has become a new challenge for dispensaries.
“If you have something exciting, you don’t just put it on your shelf. You have to do the hype all week, let everyone know that this new product is coming and there’s only a limited amount of it,” he says, with an additional caveat: “Once ‘He’ll be on the shelf, he’ll be leaving quickly, so you have to be there.
Following a strategy similar to that of Nike, Supreme, and other sought-after apparel brands, these online campaigns let cannabis consumers know that if they’re not around for the retail debut of a strain, or the “fall”, then they will probably be too late. If the variety sells out quickly, a commercial grower might have a new addition to the regular rotation.
“True cannabis connoisseurs seek out releases of new strains from quality growers the way wine aficionados look to their favorite vintners, or sneakerheads seek out the next [Air] Jordan or Yeezy drop,” says Ralph Laucella, co-owner of the Cherry Colorado cannabis grow.
Partnering with a musician was Cherry’s strategy for greater market exposure: the company enlisted rapper and Drink Champs podcast host NORE to pick and name a cannabis strain, ultimately creating Superthuug, a hybrid of Motorbreah and Sour Zkittlez named after NORE’s 1998 single.
Hiring a celebrity endorser is a proven tactic in legal cannabis that rarely works long termbut Cherry’s one-time collaboration with NORE helped the award-winning culture catch consumers’ attention early on.
Building recognition and trust with customers is increasingly important as people continue to shop from home, but legal cannabis faces advertising restrictions from all levels of government. This left social media as the tool of choice for cannabis media marketing – but the majority of social media platforms have also prohibitions or restrictions on cannabis contentgrassroots efforts are therefore still needed, says Laucella.
“Our advertising is a combination of grassroots, word of mouth, huge push on social media and cross-promotions with our retail partners,” he notes.
Even established growers are experimenting with establishing their brand image as more and more cannabis purchases are made online. Boulder’s Green Dot Labs has helped keep an eye on its flower by creating lines of related strains. Examples include the Froot series, based on fruit flavors from alien planets, as well as a new series named after historical artists including Picasso, Dalí, Monet and Rembrandt.
Green Dot Labs co-founder Dave Malone sees the craft brewing industry’s competitive climate as a writing on the wall for cannabis. If a new brewer just writes “IPA” on a silver can, it doesn’t matter how good it is. “You will never sell a beer,” he says.