On the Scene: Cannabis industry tackles oversupply with creative marketing

The annual Cannabis Collaborative Conference at the Portland Expo Center

In an oversaturated market, cannabis growers focus on branding.

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Differentiate or die. Retailers and growers heard that message loud and clear at the 2018 Cannabis Collaborative Conference, held yesteray at the Portland Expo Center.

Even though Oregon is growing too much weed, the OLCC continues to receive thousands of licensing applications from new businesses. As a result, the average price per gram in Oregon dropped 8% in the past year, economists said.

Despite the decline, OLCC director Steve Marks said caps on production don’t make sense. 

Watch: A grower and wholesaler discuss industry challenges

Instead, creative branding is the best way to stay competitive. 

“Times have never been more uncertain. We are in perilous shape,” said David Rheins, founder of the Marijuana Business Association, a national cannabis business development and networking organization. “If you want to be in business a year from now, you need to differentiate with branding.” 

Compared to other states, Oregon brands look good. The price of Oregon weed has dropped at a slower rate than the price in Colorado or Washington, a trend Director of BDS Analytics Liz Stahura attributed to the Oregon industry’s strong promotional campaigns.

IMG 0873Three Finger Farms growers display their cannabis strains

IMG E0872A variety of cannabis strains with varying THC and CBD content 

Yet traditional advertising proves difficult in the cannabis industry, which is subject to strict regulation. The FDA still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning a cannabis business can’t take out a paid ad on a blog or news site without committing a federal crime. Instead, successful brands rely on social media influencers, earned media, distributing merchandise at music festivals and other, more subtle marketing strategies.

“Show them your people; show some emotion on social,” said Ryan Michael, CEO of KindTyme, a cannabis marketing agency, during a marketing breakout session. “Make them feel something every day.”

Another panelist, Stephen Gold, described his success getting homegrown brands in front of consumers with his site, the Daily Leaf, which he describes as “groupon for cannabis.”

IMG E0870A cannabis-infused chocolate retailer

IMG E0861LED lamps are part of a push toward energy efficiency in the cannabis industry

Successful brands — the panelists named Nectar, Chalice, and Bend-based Oregrown as standouts — shy away from traditional weed stereotypes, rasta colors and Bob Marley t-shirts. Instead, they style themselves more like vinyards or breweries. 

“Six years ago everything was rasta colors,” Michael said. “Stop being the stereotypical 70s stoner.” 

IMG E0871An array of organic fertilizers for cannabis farming

IMG E0860A high-tech extractor on display at the conference

IMG E0877More cutting-edge cannabis tech

A genomics expert at the conference did sound a contrarian note by highlighting the confusion some cannabis marketing can cause.

Retailers promote strains like “Sour Diesel and “Girl Scout Cookies” as unique products with different THC and CBD content. But Alisha Holloway, director of bioinformatics at Phylos Bioscience, said these strains have no scientific basis and vary widely among retailers — the customer never knows what they’re going to get. Holloway promoted her DNA sequencing, Phylos’ core offering, as a more accurate way to gauge product differences.