Marketing beyond “canna” – making a case for normalization
August will mark my twelfth year working in the cannabis space. In that time cannabis normalization has taken hold, I have seen dispensaries transition from budtenders shouting to customers through thick bulletproof glass (shout out to the Bay’s own Mr. Nice Guy on Valencia) to elevated retail spaces with interactive features. Growers have gone from operating in the shadows up on the hill to regularly posting on LinkedIn.
This evolution is changing how the world sees cannabis, but the plant still exists outside of spaces where it could be integrated organically. Let’s take the apothecary, for example. I buy my herbs for tea, homemade balms, and other spells in bulk from our local apothecary. Cannabis, in my opinion, should be right between the burdock and the chamomile—but prohibition separated the cannabis plant from its natural environment. As many seek to normalize consumption, cultivation, and the plant in general, they’re swift to slap a “canna” on brand names, storefronts, groups, and other experiences.
Moms who smoke cannabis? Canna-moms. Athletes who use cannabis to recover after a hard training day? Canna-athletes. Businesses operating in the cannabis space? Canna-businesses. You get it. In the industry’s early days, adding “canna” felt necessary. Brands wanted to be explicit about the inclusion of a regulated substance in their products. But now, the average consumer is more familiar with cannabis products—regulatory labels are enough of an indication. At this point in the legalization movement, slapping “canna” onto the front of everything may be doing a disservice to normalization efforts.
By now, the market has carved out space for itself. Cannabis commerce is here to stay.. Branding no longer needs to shout: “THERE’S WEED IN HERE” by including a giant pot leaf or naming something using the formula “canna + noun.”
In my opinion, now is where the fun starts. Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z are all legally able to buy cannabis products. With four generations in the mix, consumer segments are differentiating. In the past, people interested in the plant were lumped together as the “cannabis consumer.” Now, products, stores, and experiences can serve people of different ages, incomes, and interests. Rather than cast a wide net to all cannabis consumers, a cannabis company can create a notable experience catered to specific demographics. A mall has Hollister as well as Chico’s; both stores sell clothing but to completely different customers.
There was a time when a quippy “canna” name was one of the few ways to indicate that cannabis was available. But now, as society grapples with integrating cannabis after years of prohibition and propaganda, differentiating from traditional industry standards may work against normalization efforts. Puns are fun, but they usually end with a giggle, and maybe in order to normalize, people need to stop seeing the industry as a joke.
Now is the time for true innovation as the emerging cannabis industry finds its legs. Not only are consumer segments differentiating, but it takes creative marketing strategies to stand out in what has become a saturated market. Instead of taking the easy road, it could serve cannabis entities to brand beyond the “canna” method. This marketing tactic might capture curious consumers alongside cannabis evangelists.