I entered the cannabis industry in 2015, back when you still had to explain what CBD was to your parents. I always had a passion for cannabis as a medicine, and truthfully in a recreational setting as well, but I had no idea what I was getting into in shifting my career to “cannabis entrepreneur”. I thought I could easily transfer what I had learned in event and entertainment marketing to the “trending” industry of cannabis. Boy was I wrong. While some of that experience in understanding consumer buying behavior would come in handy, reaching those consumers and educating them enough on a product to make a purchase decision was about as different as it could be. Below are just some quick thoughts on what I wish I had known before getting into the cannabis marketing and communications field.
1. The cannabis industry moves 10x faster than any other industry I have worked in, including events.
Anyone who works in cannabis knows this to be true. The saying always goes “the cannabis industry is like dog years”. The industry is still so new that if you’ve been in it for more than five years, you’re known as a veteran. The speed of evolution of the industry presents both pros and cons. A con is that there are simply not enough hours in a day. One minute you could be launching a new product, the next, the federal government could say something “anti-cannabis”, that now makes that product illegal and your right back where you started. It can be mentally draining to work in such a fluid, fast-paced environment. However, that does lead you to a pro. One pro is the ability to try new and innovative things, and if they don’t work, tomorrow is another day and most likely the entire industry will be different by next month. So take chances!
2. Everyone has an idea that will “change the industry”. Nine times out of 10, the idea is barely thought through and won’t be around in one year.
This was a hard one for me to learn. Especially at conferences and networking events, you’ll constantly be approached by people who have the “billion-dollar idea” and who are going to launch something that changes the industry. It was hard not to get excited. But time and time again, I saw those people struggle to raise money, or even raise the money and then fail at bringing this “groundbreaking idea” to market. With so much excitement around an industry, you’ll see very successful people come from other industries to join the bandwagon, while quickly realizing there is so much more to building a business in an emerging industry such as cannabis than a great idea. And most don’t even have that!
3. People will still laugh when you say you work in cannabis and automatically classify you as a stoner budtender who’s not serious.
This one, I’ve gotten used to. I am confident in the business we have built, how it has changed the world and continues to help people. But in the beginning, watching people smirk when I told them I worked in cannabis like I was lesser than their job in insurance sales, was discouraging. It made me question if I was focusing my career on the right path. I will admit this has somewhat decreased as the industry has become more legitimate but go anywhere in middle America and I am sure you will get, “You do what?”. One time, someone leaned in and whispered, “You work in marijuana right?” I proudly said, “Yes, and we call it cannabis now.” I hope this won’t be an issue too much longer. I mean, we don’t judge people who work for Anheuser-Busch.
4. This is an emerging market. As such, consumer behavior is uncharted territory and changes every day.
This is particularly challenging for marketers in the cannabis industry. We all want to believe that our pretty logos and catchy phrases are pushing cannabis consumers to buy our products but we are still seeing that this is not the case. Even the most in-touch canna-customer walks into a dispensary or orders online with one thing in mind, price. Now that isn’t 100% true, but capturing a large audience to get the sales we need is much harder when consumers are extremely undereducated on what they are buying and depending on either a budtender or budget as their decision driver. Not to mention trying to reach these consumers with your brand or even educational content on your products. With social media giants still locking out cannabis companies, and mainstream advertising out of the question, it is extremely hard to reach a consumer, much less influence their behavior. In my opinion, this is where PR comes in. Read my other blog for thoughts on Why PR is So Important for the Cannabis Industry. [insert link]
5. Although the industry is growing, selling weed is not a “get rich quick” industry. In fact, it may be harder than ever to make money in cannabis.
Even amidst the COVID pandemic, I still hear from people all the time saying, “Well you must be doing well. You’re selling weed, how hard could it be?”. On the contrary. I cannot tell you how many “rich folk” I’ve seen come into the industry and just think they can grow some weed and make a ton of money. FYI to all these people, this is a real industry with real challenges and just jumping in will not make you rich. You’ve got to create something unique, grow something from scratch, and build a consumer base. Not to mention that the industry fell on rough times in late 2019. Investment money dried up, further regulations added additional layers to get products to consumers, and frankly, the corporate elites stopped paying their bills, which crushed smaller ancillary companies. I am not trying to be discouraging about the opportunity that is the cannabis industry, but more realist. That it will take blood, sweat, tears, and more to be successful, not just some seeds and a guy with a green thumb.
All in all, I love my industry. It keeps me on my toes and I wouldn’t change my career path for anything. We get to build something from nothing, which is so much more than many can say for their careers. It can be very challenging, but how could it be fulfilling if it was easy?
Good luck to any current or future industry members! We need one another to build this thing right!