4 things to remember when marketing CBD and THC-based products
The cannabis market is booming, and everybody is reaching in for a piece of the action. White-labeling companies specializing in marketing cannabis compounds are more than established, and it’s possible to find cannabis-based products in stores across the continent. But how do you ensure that your product is the one that customers choose amongst all those options?
Businesses and start-ups across the globe are developing their own marketing strategies to win over their cannabis customer base, and the same question is on every marketing manager’s lips: Should we be marketing CBD and THC products in the same way, or do they deserve their own unique approaches to branding, advertising, and selling?
1. Prison is not fun
Cannabis laws remain confusing even in countries that have been consuming in public for decades. There are many theories for the continued restriction of the plant, ranging from cotton, paper and tobacco industry lobbyists to racism and hidden government agendas. One thing is clear – there is now a wealth of evidence that illustrates the various benefits available from regular cannabis treatments. There remains only a matter of time before governments are forced to clarify their positions.
However, that’s no help to those who are trying to sell the plant now. In America, it still depends on which state you’re in as to whether you can sell and consume the whole plant, just CBD, or regulated quantities of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. US federal law still holds cannabis use and possession as a crime under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, further complicating matters. This means that it doesn’t really matter if your state government say cannabis is legal because you can still technically be arrested for breaking federal law.
This hasn’t stopped the many different start-ups across California, Colorado and other ‘legal’ states from launching their various cannabis products, with many experiencing substantial success. Across the border in Canada, the situation remains equally confusing. The Canadian government and cannabis vendors have been entering legal battles regarding the sale of edibles, and more recently the growth of online dispensaries, which avoid the cannabis taxes set by the government. In Europe, changes to laws in Amsterdam forced the closure of some of the longest established ‘coffee shops’ in the city, whilst Barcelona’s cannabis tourism market grows exponentially under similarly restrictive laws.
Wherever you are, be sure that your product respects the laws of the land. Marketing and selling illegal products will land you hefty fines and lengthy prison sentences.
2. Unexpected psychoactive responses are also unpleasant
CBD is significantly less psychoactive than THC, and many believe that it is not psychoactive at all. At the very least, CBD interacts with the brain very differently to THC, and the stereotypical ‘high’ associated with cannabis consumption comes from THC, not CBD. With this in mind, it makes sense that each product should be marketed to different audiences. One assumes that CBD, with its well-documented medicinal qualities, would be best marketed at patients and sufferers of various diseases and ailments. Following this, THC, with its reputation of stoners and munchies and fits of laughter, should be marketed towards recreational users.
However, the situation becomes more complicated when one realizes that THC comes with its own set of health benefits and symptom relief. Further adding to the mystery of how to honestly and effectively market cannabis is the entourage effect. The entourage effect allows for whole-plant extracts and products to offer stronger and longer-lasting effects, the cannabinoids and terpenes working together to complement each other. Marketing for both major cannabinoids can, therefore, be directed towards medicinal users, but more care should be taken with THC due to its recreational reputation.
Medicinal users are far more likely to be wary of cannabis products and treatments, and much less likely to be interested in the quality of any high achieved. When marketing towards recreational users, be aware that there is a lot of competition on the market when it comes to packaging design. Bright, colorful and unique artwork is common across the market, with brands referencing pop culture, strains and cannabis slang/terminology in their logos and names. There are, of course, a great many users who consume cannabis both recreationally and medicinally. These users may enjoy attractive designs but will still appreciate detailed information on the product and its cannabinoid and terpene profile.
3. CBD and THC are different cannabinoids with different effects
Make sure to educate your sellers and buyers about the potential effects of cannabis so you can fulfill their expectations
There are over one hundred different cannabinoids so far discovered, all of which interact uniquely with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a relatively recently discovered system within the body (it was discovered in 1992). It works with and affects the appetite, movement, sleep, memory, and the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. Cannabis products should be marketed as exactly that – cannabis products. However, companies must be careful to include whatever information is available regarding the individual cannabinoid profiles of each product sold.
The importance of this can be found in the relationship THC and CBD each have with appetite. THC is an appetite stimulant and makes us want to eat more, whereas CBD simply does not possess this quality. A prospective customer suffering from an eating disorder, or other illness-related appetite problems, would, therefore, benefit far more from a product containing more THC than CBD. The different qualities and effects of each cannabinoid should be researched, the information made available and accessible to your customers and staff.
Those selling your products should be experts on its benefits and effects, and those buying them should finish the experience with knowledge of their application as well as the products themselves. Try to maintain a balance between marketing your cannabis product as exactly that – a cannabis product, whilst also being clear on which cannabinoids are present and what they each do. Some of the major cannabinoids that have the most research behind them include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (cannabidiol), CBG (cannabigerol), CBN (cannabinol) and CBC (cannabichromene).
4. Stigma still exists
People still have a negative perception of marijuana, especially when it comes to THC
Marketing cannabis is difficult because of the stigma still attached to the plant, its users, and its effects. For many years a media war on the drug has used misinformation and scare tactics to misguide the general public. Long associated with ‘hippies’, long hair and often extreme left-wing ideals, the modern-day is witnessing a massive change to the average cannabis user. More and more clinical research is being published which supports users’ claims that cannabis helps with their chronic pain, muscular spasms, seizures, and anxiety, amongst many other symptoms. The average age of cannabis consumers is rising rapidly, due for the most part to the fact that the older we get, the more aches and pains we suffer from. Working professionals are using it as a means to relax and unwind after their shift, and those too old to work are using it to stay mobile, social, or both.
But whilst all of this is the case and is all very positive news, there remain some people who are firmly against the plant. Calls for further investigation into its negative and long-term effects have slowed the decriminalization and legalization process (in spite of the well-known negative side-effects of its legal and licensed counterpart, alcohol). Bear this in mind as you design and plan your company’s advertising campaigns, exposition stalls, and promotional events. CBD, given its reported non-psychoactive effects, is considered significantly more palatable than THC, and in many states and countries, you will only be allowed to sell CBD cannabis products. However, laws are relaxing even as you read this, and soon enough you will need to think of a marketing strategy to make customers trust THC-containing cannabis products as much as they trust the CBD ones.
Of course, nobody needs to pretend that CBD and THC don’t come from the same plant! Celebrate their mutual origin in cannabis whilst also being clear about the two cannabinoids’ differences in use and practice. Offering customers an entire cannabinoid profile of your product (rather than focusing on just one) is clearly the best strategy, but also comes at a cost. Cannabinoid profiling tests are expensive, and for smaller start-ups completely impossible to factor into a budget. If you are controlled by the law in which cannabinoids you sell, be aware that the laws are changing, and in no time at all you’ll find yourself swamped in the market by first-time opportunists. Ensure that you have marketing strategies for all legal possibilities and enact them as soon as they become relevant.