Who’s driving? How consumers can power the cannabis industry

Photo of person holding jar of cannabis up for someone to smell.

From motor vehicles to makeup—products and services are driven by consumer interest gathered from market research. Through surveys, focus groups, and other data tools, developed industries take stock of what their target consumer wants and deliver it to them. In the emerging cannabis industry, however, consumers have yet to wield their power.

In the first push toward legalization, brands created products already common in the illicit market.

As the industry hits its stride, brands are getting more creative—offering product factors and flavors that are new to the space. In this pivotal time in the industry, if consumers want to see products that they desire on shelves, it’s essential that they key into their power.

Understanding the cannabis chain of command

One reason the industry so often moves independently of consumer feedback could be the chain of command. In my experience working years in cannabis retail, budtenders get the majority of face time with consumers, and sometimes retail managers or buyers (depending on the shop size).

On the other side of the coin, the people who get face time with the cultivation and manufacturers are the delivery staff, who then speaks with the store buyer, manager, or whoever does receiving. Budtenders and sales staff rarely meet delivery workers. If they do, it is short small talk until the receiving employee becomes available.

There is no clear line from the people making products to the consumer, marking a considerable issue in proliferating product lines based on consumer feedback. If customers provide feedback with a budtender on product quality and efficacy, or interest in new product factors chances are slim that the input will reach change makers at the manufacturing facility.

What’s the fix?

Though consumer feedback is valuable, many cultivators and manufacturers are jumping hurdles particular to a nascent industry. For example, industries like motor vehicles don’t have to focus on keeping compliant in the face of exorbitant taxes while also dealing with shrinking profit margins the way that cannabis companies do. These hurdles could divest time and attention that would otherwise be spent proactively connecting with and surveying consumers. There are market research groups in the space, but slim marketing budgets make it hard to deploy these tools. Essentially, there is no easy fix to this communication breakdown.

Despite the challenges, consumers should still speak up at the counter. While the voice of the budtender doesn’t always reach the ear of the cultivator–it is possible. But being loud makes it possible to be heard, meaning that more voices increases the likelihood that feedback makes it to the appropriate party. In addition, sending the store, cultivation, or manufacturer an email can connect consumers to the change maker.

Speaking up to a budtender at the retail counter or through a general email may get traction as cannabis consumers find their feet in the developing space. As cannabis market research catches up, it’s time for the consumer to drive the industry. Don’t be afraid to use your voice.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.