2022 was a challenging year as wholesale cannabis prices fell nearly across the board. Industry experts consistently talked of the market bottoming out as prices only continued to decline. Investors have not been happy as another year went by without the “green rush” returns once expected.
While financing may be hard to come by, cannabis consumers are not. 2022 was another year of increased cannabis use among the general population. Millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers reported higher rates of cannabis use* in 2022 than in 2021.
Cannabis consumer insights show use “multiple times per day” is at an all-time high. But even with more frequent use, disposable income will be stretched by inflation. Being the brand consumers reach for even when they are reaching for less cannabis will be key to success in 2023.
New and existing operators need to make their budgets stretch farther than ever before to reach today's cannabis consumers. Even in a down economy, cannabis Brand Health allows operators to use data-backed strategies and make the most out of their brands.
*Respondents are asked, “which of the following have you used in the past six months?”
Expanding During a Recession
Cannabis hasn’t been alone in its financial struggles as the world grapples with COVID-19-era economic fallouts. But even with capital tight, the U.S. cannabis market will continue to expand physically in 2023. Dollars will enter the market through the osmosis of legalization, but operators in these spaces do not have the margin of error other markets enjoyed. New market licensees will need all the resources they can get to acquire new customers, and they cannot afford to flop.
Where can new cannabis operators find resources? Existing, successful brands in mature U.S. cannabis markets. The strategy of brand licensing was around well before the industry faced price compression. Brands with a magnetic appeal or innovative products that consumers rave about in one state could very well see success in another. So, while the wheel is so expensive to invent – why reinvent it?
New Illinois cannabis licensee, The 1937 Group, is building its house of brands with an established leader in California vapes, Bloom. Illinois is a particularly cash-strapped market, as delays forced license applicants to bleed capital during the pandemic. California’s vape market has already seen intense competition, so only the best formulations and hardware have survived. Bloom provides The 1937 Group with the credibility and capital it needs to compete in the MSO-controlled Illinois market.
Tried-and-true brands have a better chance of succeeding in new markets, but how does an operator know which brand to introduce? No guessing needed—brand health and cannabis consumer data reveal the brands already winning among target consumers in mature markets. Look for brands with a track record of converting aware consumers to recent purchasers, like High 90s in the California pre-rolls market.
While the High 90’s awareness is lower than others, 51% of pre-roll consumers aware of High 90’s in California have purchased it in the past six months. The brand’s large format pre-rolls, both infused and not, are perfect for heavy consumers who love high-THC. Its 1990s-inspired name sparks nostalgia for the era. Given the product meets consumer expectations, the branding may be all that’s needed to inspire a millennial or Gen Xer to become loyal customers of High 90s.
Make the Marketing Money Count
For new and existing brands in the space, now is not the time to throw things out there to see what sticks. Brand health data lets brands know who already loves them and who could be their next target. Despite the economic recession, we continue to see more Americans enjoy cannabis products. Knowing this, brands can focus on uncovering who loves them and double down on that demographic to acquire new customers.
Looking at California gummies, Kanha is popular among adults over 55. It is the top brand (shared with Wyld) for intent to repurchase among gummy users 55+. Kanha is likely aware of this skew, as it makes claims distinctly appealing to older individuals. Brightfield Group’s Evergi Consumers survey of the general population reveals adults in their 50s and 60s are looking for products to improve digestive health more than other age groups.
On Kanha’s homepage, it showcases its CBG gummies with the benefits of “improved gut health” and “chronic pain aid.” Strategic marketing efforts that speak to the needs of core consumers will inevitably attract more of the same demographic if and when they decide to try cannabis.
New brands or those with shrinking followings can reposition themselves for new audiences. The pool of cannabis consumers does not look like it did in 2019. Consumers are becoming more frequent and getting familiar with a variety of formats. Understanding today’s consumers is not about knowing their age, gender, and product type used. It’s about understanding how cannabis is integrated into their lives among the many other interests, desires, and passions they have.
This is why we see brands with strong connections to alternative cultures thriving across the U.S. – STIIIZY, and Cookies being two of the best examples. Both of these brands speak to consumers on a level beyond cannabis. For STIIIZY, that looks like celebrating a laid-back California lifestyle, while for Cookies, it’s a connection to rap music and culture.
A brand doesn’t need to be a cultural pioneer like Berner to connect with consumers beyond their love for cannabis. Consumer insights integrated with social listening data reveal the colorful lives and interests of cannabis consumers. They talk about everything from football to fashion, country music to business tech. Find a niche, understand who your customers are, and provide them with products that fit into their lives and speak to their lifestyles.
Do Cannabis Brands Matter?
The industry continues to ask itself – do brands matter in U.S. cannabis? Of course, they do! Critics of this opinion seem to think price, quality, strain, flavor, or distribution are all that matter in cannabis. Whether operators like it or not, all the aforementioned attributes contribute to how consumers are viewing a brand.
In a world where consumers are increasingly looking for convenience, go-to brands help them make quick purchasing decisions without having to worry if it’ll be what they’re expecting. After all, a brand is three things:
- a promise of quality;
- a collection of positive assets and negative liabilities; and
- an emotional perception in the minds of consumers.
Promising quality is about providing a consistent cannabis experience, not swearing that every bud you sell will be the frostiest top-shelf nug on the market. A great example is Old Pal’s Ready-to-Roll ground flower pouches. The brand works with cultivators to ensure its ground flower is as consistent across all the states where it operates. With each state having a different operator growing Old Pal flower, it’s clear it’s the brand – not the physical cannabis itself – that matters here.
A brand’s positive assets and negative liabilities are why consumers will continue to buy the cheapest cannabis brand even if they do not like the company behind it. The positive asset – price – is more important than the negative liability – whether that’s controversial leadership or questionable lobbying efforts. Enough negative liabilities and a brand will lose its consumers to competitors or to the ever-present illicit market.
To stay competitive, a brand needs to be aware of and strengthen its positives. Kiva is a brand built on potency, production, and packaging. Other brands have even gone on to mimic Kiva’s iconic Camino tins and flavors. Along with being family-owned, Kiva has been able to seamlessly communicate these positive attributes to its customers through its products, contributing to the brand’s success across the markets it operates in.
Finally, loyal customers are forged through strong, positive emotional connections with consumers. We can get a glimpse of these perceptions through brand health data. As mentioned previously, knock-out brands like STIIIZY and Cookies do not happen by accident. They connect on a deep, emotional level that can be seen when fans drive miles and wait hours in line for a new store opening in their state.
The moral of this story: Brands do matter! Give consumers a compelling reason to love a brand, and they will love it.
While needing to reach an ever-growing pool of consumers as capital remains stagnant, data helps brands work smarter, not harder. From knowing what brand to partner with to pinning down the best target audience, consumer insights and brand health data allow for strategic decision-making. At a time when a single flop will be a serious setback, data-driven cannabis brands will be the ones that make it past 2023.