Oregon Business Broadcast: How to sell cannabis in Oregon’s saturated market

As the cannabis industry struggles with oversupply, creative marketing offers a path forward. 

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Ep. 05: Oregon is growing too much weed, and cannabis companies have to figure out how to sell it. Ryan Michael, CEO of cannabis marketing agency KindTyme, says the answer lies in creative niche marketing. We talk with Michael about fielding demands for free weed from social media influencers, why LinkedIn is the only social network that hasn’t shut down his cannabis posts and why Oregonians might want to watch out for big corporate weed from Colorado.

Oregon Business: When you advise cannabis companies, you caution them against repeating tired cannabis tropes, like tie dye and rasta colors. How can brands take their marketing in a new direction?

Michael: If you look at computers, you have Apple and Alienware. Alienware is techy, meant for the gamer. Apple is meant for the creative business professional. There’s a very different approach. You have to take that into account in cannabis. Serra Cannabis here in Portland has a very clean blue on flat white aesthetic. On the flip side of that we have Sera’s partner company, Electric Lettuce. If you look at their social media feed, it’s all these ’60s and ’70s big bubble letters. Lots of bright colors. That’s a totally different way to go. But it’s very tastefully done.

While creative marketing is the way to survive in today’s market, dispensaries need to be careful. Unrestrained marketing had led to the promotion of thousands of fake strains that aren’t backed up by science. How do brands keep their marketing authentic and focused?

Focus is the best word I heard you use there. If you try to grow 1,000 strains, you’re probably going to grow 1,000 mediocre ones. Grow five or six  great ones instead. Any grower at this point cross breeds a couple plants and just throws another name on it. We probably do need to slow down here. We’ve got a lot of time to go, a lot of room to grow.

Another challenge is navigating the strict state and federal regulations on cannabis marketing. In Oregon, you can’t show anyone actually using product, and you have to prove 30% of your audience is under the age of 21. If an ad is visible on a national scale, the publisher or broadcaster could face felony charges. I imagine that makes social media influencer marketing, a more subtle approach that’s gaining traction in other industries as well, an effective strategy for cannabis. Do you get approach by a lot of wannabe influencers asking for free weed?  

We get asked for free weed all the time. Probably 20 people a day on Instagram. I think with influencer marketing, a lot of people say, well, it’s $50. I’ll throw $50 at 20 profiles and hope they bring something back. Influencer marketing is huge in this industry. If you’re going to use an influencer, don’t just look at how many people are following them. You can buy followers; you can buy views. We see a lot of companies or influencers with 70,000 followers, but they’ll get 13 or 14 likes on a post.  Look at the actual engagement they’re receiving on each post.

Related Story: Cannabis Industry Tackles Oversupply with Creative Marketing

What other social media trends in cannabis marketing have caught your eye?

Social media has been opening up. I started out in this four years ago. Back then people’s Instagram accounts were getting shut down left and right. You can post your pictures now, and as long as you don’t try to push your product too much or sell directly you’ll be okay. Google has relaxed a little more. They’re letting the adwords campaigns get a little more adventurous.

A lot of traditional media are becoming more open to it as well. Magazines and newspapers are taking more of an interest. That’s great that they want to bring it out into the light a bit more and help it grow.

Related Story: Cannabis Industry Faces New Regulatory Pressures

What other industry trends are we going to see in cannabis in the coming year?

Companies are getting enough funding and support from their home states they’re migrating out and setting up plants in other states. The companies that are getting huge in Colorado are coming here or going to Washington. If you’re not doing everything you can to brand and market to compete against these big guys, they’re going to roll in and crush everyone. That’s what we need to watch out for.

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