Julia Manoukian

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February 13, 2019

How Cannabis Companies Can Stand Out with Experiential Marketing

Julia Manoukian

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It should come as no surprise that the more we live our lives online, that stronger our desire to seek experiences offline. It can be a shock to remember most of what we consider essential to our mobile, global lifestyles are less than 20 years old.

The popularity of experiential marketing (XM) campaigns, including sidewalk samples, in-store events, customer meet-ups, live performances and awards dinners, have grown exponentially more attractive as people have increasingly become dependent on mobile devices and social media.

We communicate online but we connect in the real world.

Along with the massive societal changes brought about by the legality and availability of high quality cannabis retailers, customers have evinced a cautious hunger to interact with each other and publicly share their new-found freedom.

That’s one of the primary reasons why XM strategies have proven so effective with companies up and down the cannabis supply chain.

Like auto buyers and fintech early adopters, cannabis customers respond better to brands that offer a handful of memorable personal experiences over an ocean of generic digital messages.

Watch our latest webinar, "Event & Experiential Trends in 2018: What Consumer  Experts Are Saying," and learn what major brands are doing to drive engagement  and lift sales.

If you are a cannabis retailer or supplier and you are not currently investing in XM, here are 6 good reasons why you should:

1) Cannabis brands that sponsor XM events stand out in a crowded market

The financial success of states that have legalized medicinal or recreational cannabis is undeniable. There wouldn’t be so many states and municipalities rushing to change their laws without a monetary incentive. At the same time, the rush of companies moving into this nascent industry has created an undifferentiated crowd of retailers and suppliers.

Companies that want to get ahead of their competitors have to engage, attract and retain customers in an original way and make their brands memorable. XM is the path to get there. A market study by Econsultancy concluded that offline channels like XM have become the most important battleground in engaging and holding onto customers.

2) Customers are accustomed to “try before you buy” options

Unlike cars or banking services, cannabis can’t be returned to the seller after it’s been taken for a test drive. Yet in a world where return shipping is normally free and hypercompetion pressures all preferred brands to offer the same level of service, cannabis companies have to meet customer expectations.

The Event Marketing Institute reported that 98 percent of contemporary consumers said they were more likely to make a purchase after a live experience. In other words, XM campaigns, where customers can connect with each other in a safe space and share their experiences, are the next best thing to giving away the store.

3) Relevance always wins out in the war for attention

The term “omnichannel” has come to refer to marketing that is coordinated across traditional outlets like TV and print as well as developing outlets like programmatic, social paid ads and mobile push notifications. In a larger sense, though “omnichannel” indicates how overwhelmed customers actually feel – messages are flying at them from everywhere.

In a recent study on the effects of multi-sensory marketing on brand recall, consumers experienced a 73 percent decline in recall after 2 weeks for normal marketing, compared to just 8 percent decline when the brand added a pleasant smell.

Louder, faster, more won’t reach them. To gain attention share in the mind of the new consumer, you need personalized experiences that connect, reflect, resonate and motivate. Just be sure to have some form of data capture in place. This allows you to continue personalizing by tailoring each experience to their interests, demographics, shopper preferences, etc.

XM is a multi-sensory approach, offering customers simultaneous visual displays, auditory reminders, fascinating smells and occasional tastes of your offerings. These are the kind of experiences that customers want to tell their friends and family about on social networks and in face-to-face meetups.

4) Preferred brands win by following through on their brand promises

Nobody wants to be disappointed, especially after a big buildup. Customers might be wowed by a viral video or a flashy TV ad campaign, but they return to the brands that provide a connected, coherent experience. Make sure your customer-facing marketing strategy matches up with what you deliver in the retail space.

What this really means is that the customer’s perception of your company starts long before they arrive at your next XM event. The first time customers see you respond to fans on social media, or receive an email announcing your event, or download an app for the event schedule, or read about coming attractions on your website, they start to form an idea about what your brand represents. Those who have a consistently positive experience spend 140% more on average, compared to those who came away disappointed.

Your brand message and the entire journey to the XM experience needs to be consistent at every stage along the way. The brands that excel at keeping promises are leading their fields. This includes critical factors like assurances that you will respect the privacy of user data, that their information will be handled securely, and that you can converse with the customer in their preferred language whenever possible.

5) Personalized messages at the right time drive improved conversions

In a cold, digital world, personalized thank you notes after the event, and follow up messages that prove you care about the customer immediately following data submission have been shown to boost both engagement and conversion rates.

Less than one fourth of shoppers are currently happy with the level of personalization by brands. This is one area where a little investment can go a long way in differentiating your brand.

Consider QR codes, redemption codes and the like to entice consumers to your store or to speak with a representative. 66 percent of all buying decisions are made while the consumer is shopping in the store. Bring in the foot traffic and drive up conversions, using automation to personalize the offers.

6) Analyzing live data from XM events helps you better target your audience

Use live data and analytics from XM events, you can make tweaks to your campaign strategy in real time and publish new messaging on the fly. No matter what system you have, make sure data flows to any endpoint that can be customized for new projects and used for other marketing campaigns (digital, social, etc.)

Building an internal system to do the above is costly and time consuming. A much better option is to consider an external tech vendor who can help you deliver all of the above capabilities and higher ROI at your next XM event. You can also use the above as the criteria for evaluating how to improve engagement at your next medicinal cannabis conference or in-store retail event.

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