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The Cannabis Conundrum Continues

By November 16, 2019 No Comments

By Dan Parcon, VP of Operations, SoapBoxSample

With the US cannabis industry expected to reach $13.6 billion in sales in 2019 and a whopping $66.3 billion by the end of 2025 (Forrester Research, 2019), the growth and adoption of cannabis is laden with challenges at every point in the seed to sale ecosystem. It’s fair to say at this point, the surface has only been scratched.

The rapid growth of the cannabis industry is evidenced by the number of cannabis business events that take place every year across the United States. In maturing markets, gatherings like these are crucial to the evolution of the marketplace. By learning from each other, cannabis business leaders can then draw upon the shared experiences of the community to help them navigate the new era of cannabis. Last month, cannabis thought leaders, business owners, investors, and experts gathered at the National Cannabis Industry Association event in Long Beach, CA. The chatter ranged from legislation to supply-and-demand to branding.

Brands and Dispensaries Face Big Hurdles in Earning Consumer Trust

As expected, there was endless conversation around the vaping controversy. A mishap in an emerging market like cannabis can have immediate and direct implications, and the industry may remain on high alert for the long term. With the real-time and rapid spread of news, and having little control over the narrative, those in the industry have a delicate balancing act to maintain.

“Our research has shown time and again that while consumers are insatiably curious about cannabis products, brands still have a lot of work to do in gaining consumer trust. The current vape crisis is a major setback for the industry, that is likely to impact consumers’ attitudes and behaviors for years to come,” said Jacqueline Rosales, COO of SoapBoxSample.

The idea that bootleg or “backyard” vapes are making their way to consumers, tainting things for those who do things right, puts stakeholders at risk. Lindsay Robinson Executive Director, California Cannabis Industry Association, stated “Counterfeit cartridges with very prominent names are being sold in illicit stores, often times people have a very hard time figuring out what is real and what isn’t real.”

The problem of consumers being distrustful of cannabis products extends beyond vapes and vape cartridges. Cannabis consumers are also wary of accurate labeling of other products, including the flower itself. Recent finding from SoapBoxSample’s CANNApinion poll, a bi-monthly survey of 1,000 US cannabis consumers, revealed that 28% of cannabis consumers say they are not very or not at all confident that the strains they purchase in dispensaries are accurately labeled. Dispensaries and brands face a big challenge in gaining the public’s trust. To move forward as an industry, companies need to assure their customers that their products are safe, legitimate, and accurately labeled.

Dispensaries Should Focus on the Shopping Experience to Build Loyalty

Experience plays a big role in the success of a dispensary. Jennifer Whetzel, Founder of Ladyjane Branding, said, “I’ve talked to a number of people who turned away from going to dispensaries due to their shopping experience.”

In more mature markets, the consumer has choices and can go elsewhere or leverage a delivery from their home. The great number of cannabis considerers account for much of the expected growth in the market. While they seek info online, they also rely on the expertise of those in the dispensary. A negative experience may not just lead the customer away from the specific dispensary, but away from even considering cannabis – whether it be for medical or recreational use. Perhaps of even more concern is budtenders and dispensary workers making uninformed recommendations resulting in negative experiences for the users.

SoapBoxSample’s recent CANNApinion Poll revealed that 57% of cannabis consumers say a consistent budtender is extremely or very important while only 30 % say they trust the advice of a budtender when researching products.

Brands and dispensaries must understand the products being sold, what products are trending, and more importantly, what their target audience is searching for. Many times consumers are looking for education and information, and most (66%) feel that they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision (CANNApinion Poll, August, 2019).

Marketing Messages Must Match the Consumer Wants and Needs

“Sometimes our message (of fun) gets a little lost, as being advocates we like to talk about core benefits. Sometimes these products are better for a fun and recreational use and there is no reason to shy away from that as long as we are targeting responsibly.” – Taylor West, Partner Heart and Mind Media.

There are some brands and markets solely focused on the medicinal benefits. Others market to recreational users. In some marketing, there is no delineation. With many scurrying to be first or at least quick to market, it seems traditional business practices around marketing, branding and adverting are being lost.

While there is acknowledgement within the industry about the need to adopt more sophisticated business practices, change is slow. One year ago (October 2018), at the USCC (US Cannabis Conference) in Phoenix, AZ, thought leaders discussed the role consumer research can play in the development of new cannabis products. Kaila Strong, Director of Marketing at Jupiter Research, had this advice for cannabis marketers — “When we’re dealing with wholesalers all the time I think we lose that connection with the consumer. You probably consume, but you shouldn’t assume that you are your consumer.”

The business challenges being discussed at NCIA all boiled down to one constituent – the consumer. There is no “one” cannabis consumer and therefore there is no “one” marketing strategy. Brands must have clarity on why they exist and who they want to sell to – and then hone in on the why to buy. Without direct feedback and insight in the whats and whys cannabis businesses are playing a dangerous game of guts and guesses. While cannabis companies are focused on staying afloat through the current political and regulatory climate, customer experience and consumer trust is everyone’s responsibility across the full ecosystem – from seed-to-sale.

As a consumer insights company committed to helping cannabis brands grow, we’re proud to be a sponsoring member of the NCIA. Our goal is to keep the cannabis industry moving forward through data and insights. To learn more, please visit https://www.soapboxsample.com/cannabis/.