What’s it take to brand a dispensary — especially in a saturated market like Southern Oregon?
Turns out, you not only need good products, but you need to provide them consistently to your customer base. Dispensary owners must be clear on the experience they want to create for their consumers and realize, while their location might be to their benefit, cannabis marketing experts say it won’t be enough to keep people coming through the doors.
“Dispensaries are the slowest businesses to adopt branded marketing. They don’t typically have a large marketing budget; most of what they are taking in goes to the employees or the business,” says Bridget Renee, co-founder and marketing director of KindTyme, a Portland-based marketing firm that helped design the website for Ohana Canna (http://ohanacanna.com/), a craft cannabis farm in the Illinois Valley near Cave Junction.
“They rely on their location in order to make business work. Visual branding is very important to those dispensaries.”
That said, don’t be surprised if you see more upscale dispensaries nixing large marijuana leaves or the green crosses outside their locations.
“That’s what a lot of stores think they have to do,” says Aviv Hadar, founder of Oregrown, a farm-to-table cannabis company, about the aesthetic that seems to go along with “stoner-based” culture. “You really have to be authentic and be who you claim to be. This is Oregon, and we don’t fall for B.S. out here, and that’s a fairly known thing.”
Oregrown is a lifestyle brand — an athletic one at that — with almost 44,000 Instagram followers and growing. Its flagship store is in Bend, and it partners with several farms and dispensaries in Southern Oregon, including Madrone Farms in Ashland and House of Leaves in Medford.
“We have decided that to brand our lifestyle we are going to brand ourselves and brand what we are doing on a daily basis,” Hadar says. “Secondary to that is cannabis. We skate and ski and we also smoke cannabis. We have one of the most outperforming dispensaries in the state, and it’s because people don’t want it right in their face. They want a classier approach to the situation, so we focus on experience. We know that we are a lot of people’s first Oregon cannabis experience, so we make sure we represent cannabis well.”
Jacques Habra, chief strategy officer of Grown Rogue, agrees on the importance of the consumer experience in dispensaries. Grown Rogue is a fully licensed seed-to-sale cannabis company with two outdoor facilities and a warehouse with nine flower rooms all based in Medford. Its product goes in more than 100 dispensaries throughout the state.
“It really comes down to the experience,” Habra says. “The conventional, traditional dispensary experience was very intimidating for the average consumer. Even for the avid consumer of cannabis, there is a sort of sense that if you didn’t know a good amount about the strains you were considering or the products behind the shelves, that you were out of the loop. That makes people feel awkward.”
As a result, Grown Rogue has simplified its products by classifying them by effect to make it easier for consumers to choose what’s right for them. So it’s less about the particular strain and more about the vibe the consumer is after — whether that’s to relax, optimize, groove, uplift or energize.
“There’s obviously a major price compression issue in Oregon — Oregon is a producer state. There are a lot of farms, there are a lot of people in the market,” Habra says. “Everyone is trying to get the lowest-price cannabis from the farmers and producers who are willing to lower the price. Dispensaries need to not just play the volume game, they have to be choosy. Premium products are better. You can see the difference, you can taste it, you can smell it. There are some consumers who don’t care and are just looking for the highest level of THC for the lowest amount of money. If you build your brand around that, my expectation is that you won’t be in business for 18 months.”
The products dispensaries provide do matter, and while many will continue to advertise sales on inexpensive flower, it’s not necessarily the way to go to attract the best customers.
“Southern Oregon is the epicenter of the outdoor grow, so there are huge growers growing such vast quantities of B+ grade cannabis, which is mid-shelf in a lot of dispensaries,” says Sean Lucas, vice president of Nug Digital Marketing in Portland. “There is so much of it that being able to differentiate yourself and offer other products and bring in novelty into what you sell is really going to help you.”
Lucas points to the shift in CBD because of the medical aspect and how it is trending across the country. He foresees a huge CBD push and says he’d like to see Southern Oregon provide most of the country’s CBD supply.
“Vertical integration is key,” Lucas says. “Moving forward, growers down in Southern Oregon are going to have to diversify into an emerging and popular market, which is CBD. You can sell it nationwide and they are equipped to grow it, so why not?”
But when it comes to dispensaries, Lucas agrees you have to cater to your customers by having a great selection and good prices, but with an atmosphere that is comfortable and evokes trust. He’s also seeing an explosion of delivery clients at his firm, which is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to get cannabis.
“It is coming, in a big way,” Lucas says, adding that dispensaries that make sure they have the same craft brand and strain of cannabis consistently will build brand awareness and trust, which helps keep customers coming back.
“Being able to order online is legal, you can preorder it, or you can order it for delivery and you can set it up and do it in-house. Look at the way we consume food: Lyft brings you food now, it’s everywhere, and the same thing is going to happen with cannabis. Why have a brick-and-mortar store when you can have a warehouse?”
You can follow Liz Gold on Twitter/Instagram @lizstacygold or read her blog at www.14karatliving.com.