2023 was a hard year for the cannabis industry. Full stop.
First, the good news: More Americans now live in states where cannabis is legalized than where it is prohibited, and the cannabis industry was expected to top $34 billion. But the Great Correction has been hitting operators hard, as the market has continued to descend from its early pandemic heights.
One thing that has become crystal clear during the Great Correction is that when the going gets tough, a lot of cannabis brands take their foot off the marketing and PR gas. We get it—when trimming costs is as paramount as trimming flower, marketing and PR services can feel a little extraneous compared to absolute essentials like fertilizer and payroll.
Even big, well-funded MSOs have been exiting established state markets as sales drop and oversupply remains an issue. Regulators have been cracking down on public consumption even as they drag their heels on greenlighting new market expansion opportunities like cannabis hospitality. It’s hard to find new revenue streams, and harder still to find expenditures that can be cut without reducing already narrow margins.
We don’t need to tell you all this, of course. You’ve been living it and sweating against it. But sometimes the best thing we can do is pause and reflect—and share all the wins you and your team scored against the odds. That reflection is the first step to tackling any challenges at hand strategically. And sometimes with a little time to stop and think, you realize the best strategy is one that feels counterintuitive at first—like maintaining momentum on your brand awareness, even when the market gets low.
Here are five reasons you should maintain the budget for your marketing and PR services through the Great Correction:
- Now is the time to tap the total addressable market. The market may be down, but public opinion of cannabis has never been so high. Dialing in who exactly your brand’s most receptive audience is and how to talk to them could be a better strategy than going quiet and relying on your existing base of regular buyers to spell you through tough times. Are you speaking to cannabis connoisseurs when you could be tuning in entry-level consumers to the notion of everyday luxury? Are you focused on male cannabis shoppers when your products better align with consumption methods preferred by women? Getting real about the cannabis marketing table stakes and the white space where your brand can thrive is essential to making the most of the cannabis industry’s enormous, under-addressed TAM.
- Your competitors might be vacating prime white space. If your closest competitors cut their marketing and cannabis public relations budgets, that leaves you with an enormous advantage if you continue full steam ahead. Proactive PR is always more effective than crisis comms, after all. Ramping up your organic owned and earned media efforts when your competitors trim those budgets is a simple way to increase your market visibility, and even convert customers.
- Marketing and PR are as important for M&A as straight-up sales. If your long-term business goal has shifted from epic expansion to getting acquired, you aren’t alone. As cannabis law firm Bianchi and Brandt noted in their 2023 trend report on the Great Correction, the current hottest M&A targets are emerging markets, cultivation and retail licenses. Cannabis marketing and thought leadership can be key to attracting the best possible investors, who want to see a really beautiful business even in adverse market conditions. A PR and thought leadership campaign that positions your brand’s executive team as experts who know how to craft impeccable SOPs, great company culture and smartly positioned products can be a great investment in your future M&A.
- You can use a fallow season to your advantage. Economic downturns and the quieter quarters of the year before big sales holidays like 4/20 and Green Wednesday are ideal times to step back and recalibrate your branding, messaging and target audiences. If you’re facing a slowdown in sales anyway and might be taking underperforming products offline, that’s the perfect opportunity to recalibrate your messaging and branding to better stand out and resonate going forward. As Jay O’Malley, Vice President of Marketing & Research and Development at MariMed noted in Cannabis Business Times, launching freshly rebranded products or brand new SKUs is a great way to earn media attention in cannabis trades and even mainstream publications.
- Investing in the power of narrative works better long-term than devaluing products with discounts and loyalty rewards. Cannabis shoppers will always factor in prices, whether they’re buying shake or top-of-the-line hash rosin edibles. That’s just the nature of retail and commodities.
But relying too heavily on product pricing to attract customers isn’t a sustainable solution, especially when your balance sheet is already hurting. Sure, you’re pulling the people whose pocketbooks might be lighter than they wish. But you’re also subtly undermining the value of your brand long-term.
Even when the overall economy is down, customers are still willing to spend for quality and a brand story that resonates with their identity. They’re looking for products that solve their problems and brands that really get them. If you put your money into crafting a narrative that says “we see you, we understand you and we’re here to help,” that will be infinitely more memorable than a brand message that’s “we’re what you could afford today.”
Don’t get caught in the race to the bottom—that kind of price-cut standoff is for your competitors. Let them undermine one another while you build your brand to a place of strength and cultivate a genuine foundation of brand loyalty with your ideal target audience.
At Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency, we know that we’re not the perfect fit for everyone, and that’s OK. But, for a lot of cannabis companies, we’re The One. Reach out today and find out how we can help you achieve your marketing goals.