Why Cannabis Entrepreneurs Should Start Calling Marijuana Its Rightful Name
I'm not saying all consumers should stop using the long-standing, underground, street nicknames for cannabis. I am partial to calling the plant "Trees" or "Green" -- my not-so-subtle way to communicate with fellow users in the past. However, nicknames are generally only used with family and close friends. And I would argue that the general population is not a "friend" to cannabis; at least not yet. For most people, the plant is still that homegirl you only hang out with on the low because you know your other friends will pass judgment on you. We know she's cool, but rumors and stigma have prevented people from really getting to know her. To overcome this, we need a re-introduction of cannabis to mainstream consumers and it's definitely not, “What’s up my name is Reefer".
Reefer madness was a racially-fueled propaganda campaign designed to scare the general population and criminalize marijuana. These are examples of the marketing tactics used nearly 100 years ago still contributing to our current fear and guilt surrounding marijuana usage in the United States.
It's time for brands to come correct and respect the genus and medicinal power she possesses. And, in case respect isn't compelling enough, here are 3 reasons why doing so will help improve your competitive positioning in this budding industry:
#1 -- Education leads to Evangelism and Activism -- both of which Cannabis brands need! Familiar terminology, such as weed or marijuana, describes the aspect of the plant that is associated with being "negative" and "illegal". So, when we use these slang words in marketing materials, we are perpetuating negative depictions before one has even tried the product. By not making the formal introduction of the plant to consumers, you leave newbies unarmed and defenseless to critics and largely ignorant to the glorious, indigenous benefits of cannabis. One way that brand marketers can educate consumers about the plant is by creating or sharing content that highlights the health and wellness benefits of cannabinoids beyond THC. There are a few great resources for legitimate, fact-based content, such as Greenflower Media, but beware of sharing misinformation based on “Bro” science.
Cannabusinesses should also provide content that stimulates the consumer’s desire to learn more, while pushing them to advocate for the plant and allowing them to relax, relate & release the guilt associated with consuming a "negative" and/or "illicit" drug. Train your consumers to ask the right questions and become better Cannabis buyers. Educated consumers will become your key market influencers, driving trial and retention by way of brand evangelism and Cannabis activism.
#2--Social Media Prefers the Term Cannabis Over Weed or Pot --- All social media algorithms seem to prefer "Cannabis" as the descriptive word for marijuana in digital advertisements. If you are doing social media in this industry, then you know how challenging the wall of "Ad Approval" can be. Since cannabis is still a federally illegal, Schedule I substance, marijuana brand platforms and pages run the risk of being shut down due to shady complaints from users, or they are denied access to paid advertising altogether. Social media platforms will tolerate cannabis content until someone reports it and you wake up the next morning to an empty account with blocked access. cannabis brands can improve chances of survival by offering top-notch educational and activist content along with reducing commonly used slang terms in copy and hashtags (i.e #weed, #marijuana, #reefer, etc.). Everyone in this industry should have a back-up source for digital and social media content in the event they are reported and shut down since there will be no way of retrieving content or recreating engagement after the profile is removed.
Another reason to use proper terminology for cannabis relates to the web crawlers or “bots” that scan digital copy, which are responsible for web indexing and how search engines find your page, product or article. For the cannabis industry, brands have to play the game of knowing what words to use in order to get maximum exposure. The ironic point here is that if you use proper names in social copy, ad approval rates are improved because these words can slide under the radar. Web crawlers are largely still primarily programmed to look for the common nicknames to flag or block since those are the terms that the mainstream media or consumer knows. If you absolutely MUST have all of your content filed under #weedporn (as an example), you can always create 2 copies of the post -- one for organic use, filled with whatever hashtags you choose to build or piggy-back on, and one for paid use using the proper cannabis terms, edited to sneak past bots crawling the platform. This is especially the case for Facebook and Instagram.
#3--The Big People are Watching --- Big Brother. Big Pharma. Big Ag. Big CPG. Corporations that bring a new meaning to "leveraging economies of scale"; experts of pushing everyone around in the interest of the bottom line -- especially consumers. The minute cannabis is no longer a federally illegal drug -- the floodgates will open for these mega-corporations to enter into a comparatively tiny, but fast-growing industry, and take over. Everything that impacts the consumer experience -- from dosing, testing, naming, labeling and packaging -- will be moved to completely new levels of compliance and requirements. Particularly, as we think about strategic marketing for medicinal cannabis brands, there needs to be more emphasis on showcasing this product with dignity, education and dosing accuracy. It means providing medicine with a lab report that identifies important molecular components and potency vs. a hand-written sticker with "Somebody's Loud Kush" on the container. All this starts with respecting, claiming and re-branding Cannabis before any "Big" has the desire to do it.
While pioneer entrepreneurs do the tough work of advocacy and legalization, big corporations monitor the areas of opportunity -- of which mainstream marketing is one of them.
Every brand and person in this emerging industry has a responsibility to uphold Cannabis sativa as the scientific genus it is. The basic consumer is known to digest what is given to them through marketing and advertising without doing the due-diligence of researching products for themselves. Let us be the ones to make sure they are knowledgeable about the plant, the effects and the industry. Starting with one simple rule, the name in which you call it. And let’s start today by reintroducing her to the world as cannabis.
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