The ‘Trick’ and ‘Treat’ of Marketing Cannabis During a Pandemic

The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for Bhang Corp. The leading adult-use edibles company had spent upwards of $100k and months of planning every detail of their rebrand, scheduled to roll out in March. With the company’s 10th anniversary approaching in August, it would give the team enough time to introduce Bhang’s new look and communicate the brand messaging to licensees in California, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Canada.

When COVID-19 made its way to the U.S. and executive stay-at-home orders were issued in March, Bhang found themselves in a similar position to many businesses: They had to pivot quickly and make big decisions without much information.

We’ll pause here to say that this isn’t Bhang’s glamorous rebrand story (it’s 2020, people). But while the updated brand launch wasn’t exactly what they planned and hoped for, lessons were learned, silver linings were recognized, and the team remained grateful.

When resources are dwindling and revenue plummets, spending dollars on marketing may not seem like such a smart idea. But Bhang shares their story with the hope that you will learn to pivot and reimagine, rather than halt your marketing.

Not Business as Usual

During the U.S. shut down, licensed cannabis businesses were deemed essential services in most states. But this didn’t mean “business as usual” for Bhang – in fact, far from it. In anticipation of the rebrand, Bhang had stopped production as they waited for products with old packaging to sell out before stocking shelves with the new packaging. Even though dispensaries were open, Bhang was unsure if they would be able to get products on shelves due to production challenges resulting from COVID-19.

“We had to make sure we had supply chains set up, guaranteed and secured so that we could get products in new packaging and on shelves in a time when we had no clue what was going to be happening,” recounted Nicole Hanratty, Bhang’s Global Director of Marketing.

This meant some hard, in-the-moment decisions were in order for Samantha Collins, Bhang’s Chief Marketing Officer. “She was instrumental in making sure we didn’t go without product on shelves,” Hanratty said.

With disruptions initially happening in China, Collins explains that they started exploring domestic producers. “But then the pandemic moved on-shore, and our domestic producers were struggling too,” she said. “Ultimately, we had to revise our timelines for production in the short-term as well as order much higher levels of dry goods to ensure we could meet demand and keep our products on shelves.”

However, decisions weren’t only made from a financial perspective. Although Bhang had heavily invested in the rebrand, they wanted to be sensitive to how the country and the world were feeling during such an unprecedented time.

“So much preparing went into this rollout, yet we needed to be really mindful of the current climate,” Hanratty explained. “While we really wanted to celebrate the introduction of our new brand (we also turned ten in August), we had to be mindful that the country is not in a celebratory mood.”

Beyond the initial production challenges, Bhang’s biggest hurdle has been pressing pause on experiential marketing – the launch parties, tradeshows and trainings.

“I really miss the ability to share and educate people on the brand face-to-face,” Hanratty said.

Despite the change in plans that came with 2020, Hanratty continually mentions how appreciative they are for the essential workers who are helping both businesses and consumers.

“We have been very grateful that our business has been considered essential. We know our industry owes those people a debt of gratitude.”

While spending money on marketing may feel scary to smaller companies, Hanratty reiterates how important it is. She offers tips on how to modify strategy in a smart, cost-effective way so retailers and consumers are supported, and business can keep growing.  

MARKETING DURING A PANDEMIC

Nicole Hanratty, Bhang’s Global Director of Marketing, speaks to what she calls the “trick” and the “treat” of marketing during a global pandemic (and just in time for Halloween!)

The Trick

–    Pivoting without panic.
–    Making deliberate decisions.

The Treat

–    Feeling the love from consumers.
–    Hearing back from consumers about how the product improves and enhances their lives, especially in 2020.

For companies on a limited budget, look to creating content and building engagement with social media channels. There’s no substitute for having a compelling brand story that connects with consumers, and if you take the time to build an authentic brand that serves the consumer’s needs, you will ultimately win in the marketplace.

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