July 2018: Plaid Cannabiz Marketing
Lisa Hansen, Vice President
Plaid Cannabiz Marketing
Tell us about Plaid Cannabiz Marketing?
"Plaid Cannabiz Marketing is a Santa Cruz based agency specializing in branding, package design and all aspects of B2B and B2C marketing. This is a new(er) division of our agency McDill Associates that has been in business for over 30 years serving the agriculture industry, among others. We believe that the experience we bring building brands in the agriculture and consumer packaged goods categories gives us a unique perspective. It’s still a nascent market but there are exciting opportunities for companies to carve out niches. Our role is to guide our clients down a path that establishes their points of difference and creates successful brands, products and campaigns around them."
What was your very first introduction to the cannabis industry?
"We had an agriculture client who had developed a traceability solution for the fresh industry. When competition edged him out of the market, he brought the concept to cannabis (long before track-and-trace was a thing). We started with him on a few projects and soon enough it led to a sizeable client who believed in building a brand before compliancy forced the issue. At that point we saw the opportunity to position ourselves as an experienced group of marketers who are collaboratively learning the nuances of the cannabis industry."
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you’ve been in the industry?
"Our biggest lesson learned so far (and there have been many!) is to be flexible in our solutions. In an environment where there are so many barriers to market, being flexible is critical to ensuring our clients’ budgets are best spent. This could not be more true with the challenge of meeting the packaging requirements now in place."
What has been your biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? "When we first launched Plaid, we participated in a web-based talk show called To Put It Bluntly. The idea was candid talk about cannabis from professional women with unique perspectives. Not entirely realizing it was going to be covered by our local news, our CEO was “outed” before we had a chance to really think it through. This was risky in the sense that our sister agency has a few clients that may not have entirely understood our diversification into cannabis. And she’s on the board of a local non-profit. So what was meant to be a calculated move was much like what happens in cannabis – a bit organically. It all worked out though!"
What is your proudest moment since you’ve started down the path as a cannabis entrepreneur? "Plaid recently received not one but two distinguished design awards for our client Gooey Cannabis. It was very significant for us to be recognized for our first comprehensive cannabis branding project."
10 years ago, what did you think you’d be doing now?
"As an agency, 10 years ago we pictured ourselves continuing to diversify out of agriculture and into the new natural foods category. We’ve also always believed in organics. So, opening up Plaid and applying what we’ve learned in those industries to this one feels very full circle."
How would you describe the cannabis industry in Monterey County?
"As founding members of GreenTrade, which is essentially similar to MCCIA but focused on issues in Santa Cruz—we see a lot of progress made in Monterey County. While it is still an incredible challenge for many businesses, recent moves seem to show continued progress which is exciting for us to see. We hope to hear about more collaboration with the agriculture industry, particularly in areas like food safety and supply chain efficiencies."
From your experience, are there similar traits that those working in the cannabis industry share?
"Tenacity is the common trait we see in the cannabis industry. Much like traditional farming, there is a real passion behind the product which we love. It takes a strong will and an ability to find calm in the storm. It’s admirable what so many of these businesses have endured to get to this place."
How do you think people in the cannabis industry should think about the value of marketing and where should they focus their marketing budget?
"It is always a bit painful when we know our clients invest heavily in their operations, but not in their marketing. Of course we understand that without a solid operation, there is no potential for marketing—but it’s an investment that needs to be planned for. In terms of focusing budget, it really depends on the business model but in most cases we always recommend the hierarchy of 1) messaging, branding and packaging, 2) B2B outreach and 3) B2C marketing. Without a compelling brand story and package, it’s tough to get the eyes and ears of cannasumers. Retail relationships are what lead to end consumers so developing materials and promotions that support them are really important. Once we know we’ve got product on the shelf, consumer marketing gets the big push." What is your advice for hopeful cannabis entrepreneurs?
"With big business looming overhead, it’s more critical than ever for cannabis entrepreneurs to be very clear about their objectives and point of difference. Being targeted and focused on an audience is a wise play right now. Your focus can evolve over time (as can your branding) – but start somewhere specific."