To Be Blunt: The Professional Cannabis Business Podcast

087 Connecting Brand Values and Vision to the Consumer Journey with Allison Disney of Receptor Brands

February 14, 2022 Shayda Torabi Season 3 Episode 87
To Be Blunt: The Professional Cannabis Business Podcast
087 Connecting Brand Values and Vision to the Consumer Journey with Allison Disney of Receptor Brands
Show Notes Transcript

“A brand has always been so much more than a logo… It's really about, how are you connecting your values and your vision as a brand and a company with your consumer’s values? How do you mirror them? Or how are you finding the right core audience? And then how are you making them feel about your brand, ultimately? And that comes through all the different touchpoints in a brand experience.” - Allison Disney

Welcome back to the To Be Blunt podcast! In this episode, Shayda Torabi welcomes Allison Disney of Receptor Brands, as she discusses the role of marketing agencies in professionally elevating brands. She points out that although regulations in the cannabis space are constantly changing, what cannot be regulated is your vision for your brand.


[00:01 – 07:31] Shayda shares Upcoming Cannabis Events and Business Updates

[07:32 – 12:14] The Emerging Cannabis Industry on Branding and Marketing

[12:15 – 18:40] Agencies Filling the Gap for Optimal Execution

[18:41 – 30:24] Mirroring Consumer’s Values and Core Benefit in Branding

[30:25 – 47:13] Keeping Up with the Constant Changes in Regulations

[47:14 – 56:19] Best Practices in Curating the Asset Library

[56:20 – 57:41] Food for Thought: What do you think of working with marketing agencies?


Before Co-Founding Receptor Brands, Allison spent more than a decade at creative agencies creating award-winning advertising and marketing campaigns for some of our most beloved brands, including M& Ms, Bacardi, Ziploc, Johnson & Johnson, and YouTube. As Business Strategist at Receptor Brands, Allison helps define the field of opportunity for her clients’ businesses. She credits her experience working on regulated global industries for preparing her for the unique suite of complexities in the cannabis industry. Allison earned her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and her BA in Communications from Michigan State University. She is also an officer on the Marketing and Advertising Committee of the National Cannabis Industry Association. Allison lives in Chicago with her botanist husband, Ryan, and her tiny boss, Maxine.

Connect with Allison

Visit and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn @receptor_brands


Shayda Torabi has been called one of the most influential Women in WordPress and now she’s one of the women leading the cannabis reformation conversation building one of Texas’ premier CBD brands. She's currently the CEO and Co-Founder of RESTART CBD, a female-run education first CBD wellness brand. And has formerly held marketing positions at WP Engine and WebDevStudios. Shayda is the host of a podcast for cannabis marketers called To Be Blunt, where she interviews top cannabis brands on their most successful marketing initiatives. When Shayda's not building her cannabiz in Texas, you can find her on the road exploring the best hikes and spots for vegan ice cream. Follow Shayda at @theshaydatorabi

Key Quote:

“Sometimes, you have a great product that you've created, but you need to find the right audience for it. You need to make sure that you are setting people's expectations for what this product experience is going to be like so that it's, you know, satisfactory when they try it.” - Allison Disney

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Allison Disney  0:00  
One of the first things that I appreciate, particularly in the fantastic client partners that we work with is starting with an understanding of the role marketing can play and brands play in that customer journey and that there is one, I think, coming from the Midwest and working with a lot of Midwest and East Coast clients, we see a lot of new markets legalizing and there's sort of this life cycle of like, cannabis still sells itself, you know, in a newly legalized market or something like that. Or you know, we have invested in a sales team that building that early distribution is critically important. But marketing and sales always work really hand in glove with one another to help build a sustainable business. And to us a brand has always been so much more than a logo and don't get me wrong, we'd love to design beautiful logos and fantastic brand identities for brands. But for us it's really about how are you connecting your values and your vision as a brand and a company with your consumers values?

Announcer  1:06  
You're listening to to be blunt, be podcast for cannabis marketers. Were your host Shayda Torabi and her guests are trailblazing the path to marketing, educating and professionalizing cannabis light one up and listen up. Here's your host Shayda Torabi.

Shayda Torabi  1:30  
Hello and welcome back to a new episode of The to be blunt podcast. I'm your host Shayda Torabi, cannabis business owner and brand marketer, y'all, I cannot believe we are flying through February. And if I'm being honest with South by Southwest being such a big focus here in Austin, my mind is already focused on March and beyond, which for anyone who is local to Austin or traveling in for South by Southwest, South by as US locals love to call it is of course an internationally recognized conference that happens here in Central Texas every year during spring break. And in past years, they've had cannabis tracks. And so for this year, they will be bringing it back. And I'm looking forward to the panel discussions and networking and just general industry buzz that will happen for our industry during South By. So if you'll be around, please reach out because I would love to connect, I would love to meet you guys at events and of course, contribute to the conversation and I'm building out my South by Southwest calendar now. So let's please touch base on that if that is something of interest to you. I also wanted to mention that I will be in New Mexico later this month, I will be speaking at Lucky Leaf which is a cannabis conference taking place February 25 and 26th in Albuquerque, so if you are from New Mexico, or you are living in New Mexico or you know any new Mexican and cannabis brands that you can connect me to, Truthfully speaking, I know little to nothing about the new Mexican market, but I'm genuinely excited to go speak and learn more from their community. As y'all know, I love learning about those insights of different states as they're coming online and being able to bring that information back to you guys here in the podcast. So for sure, I'll be reporting back on how that goes and what we can learn from their state legalizing, if I can recall, New Mexico will be going adult use legal as soon as April 1 of this year. So unfortunately, I won't be able to get the full experience just due to the timing of when the conferences and when they legalized. But I suppose part of the conference is set up to anticipate the state going online shortly after so either way, I'm excited to contribute to the conversation and connect with the New Mexico cannabis community. And specifically, I will be speaking on seed to strategy, how to get the sale, and other news and updates. I feel like I have some exciting things coming my way in terms of the podcasts and other opportunities. Specifically, I'll be relaunching my website soon and reopening up consulting, which I've taken on a few projects here and there for some clients, but I want to just put it out there that my focus is going to be on the consumer packaged space. And so if you're a brand looking for insight or feedback on branding, packaging, your go to market strategy as it relates to market analysis, social media and my personal favorite, your branded website. I'll be putting those packages on my site and we'd love to work with you and connect with you if there is ever an interest in reviewing some of the things that might be roadblocks for you or things that you are stuck at. So definitely reach out if that is something that is resonating. I'll also be building an AI referral net work. So if you do any services, I would love to learn more. So connect with me if you want to be added to my referral list, I get asked a lot about banking solutions, payment solutions, web designers, and honestly, the list is ongoing. And I love nothing more than connecting people to resources. So if this resonates with you, let's please connect and make some magic happen this year and grow our networks together. I'm sure more to come but that's what's going on currently. Which segues nicely into today's guest episode which features Alison Disney. Alison is a partner and co founder at receptor brands, which is based out of Chicago, Illinois, and her focus is on business strategy and helping create cannabis brands that fascinate people and improve lives. Before co founding receptor brands, Allison spent more than a decade at creative agencies creating award winning advertising and marketing campaigns. For some of our most well known brands, including m&ms, Bacardi, Ziploc Johnson and Johnson and YouTube. As business strategist at receptor brands, Alison helps define the field of opportunity for her clients businesses. She credits her experience working on regulating global industries for preparing her for the unique suite of complexities in the cannabis industry. Alison earned her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, and she has a BA in communications from Michigan State University. And she's also an officer on the marketing and advertising Committee of the National Cannabis Industry Association. And I think today's conversation is important to highlight what working with an agency or consultant or really anyone outside of yourself can really do to empower you to take your brand to the next level. There's so much opportunity and at the same time, it's so much noise we have to cut through whether it's creativity or navigating regulations. And so when we partner with people who can provide new perspective, it can really help connect your brand to a more refined strategy that allows your brand to stand apart from the competition. But most importantly, it connects your brand to your target

customer. So certainly lots to cover in today's conversation. Like I mentioned lots of opportunity to connect with both me as well as Alison I know that her brand receptor brands is actively taking on new clients as we speak. And so with that said, let's get straight to the episode. Please join me by lining one up and let's welcome Allison to the show.

Unknown Speaker  7:32  
Hi, my name is Alison Disney. I am a partner and business strategist at receptor brands. We are strategic marketing consultancy out of Chicago that specializes in cannabis. And my background includes mainly traditional agency work, I spent a lot of time in the Omni comm network of agencies primarily BBDO. And most recently in their Chicago office energy BBDO. And then in their London office at AMV BBDO. And the majority of my career has been sort of in the Midwest market. And then later on a lot of global regulated businesses, which has, surprisingly or maybe not, so surprisingly, come into play a lot as I've entered the cannabis space, when you think about how the US particularly is set up for my cannabis landscape. But I had spent the majority of my time on consumer packaged goods retail had also spent some time on tech and some different digital brands over that time. But you know, a lot of whole household brands that you would have heard of coming out of the Midwest, you know, a lot of SC Johnson, Johnson and Johnson all the Johnsons in addition to beer and spirits and some other regulated categories like smoking cessation, and things like that. So that whole path and consumer packaged goods and working on global regulated industry is sort of what led me to the opportunity in cannabis or at least consideration of how I thought maybe my skill set could help this industry and its brands move forward. But it was really my husband that first introduced the idea that there might be a professional leap for me to take into cannabis. He is a plant biologist and botanist and we were actually living in London at the time when I was working in AMV. And he was given an opportunity to work for an outdoor cultivator in southwest Michigan, which was sort of unique at the time Michigan's market sort of started with the indoor cultivation market. So he convinced me that it was sort of this once in a lifetime opportunity. This was a few years back now when Michigan had just started their medical program. So we packed up our family moved back to Chicago, and obviously it was hugely exciting is sort of his first professional experience in cannabis. And that dinner table conversation just to evolve until I started inquire more about like, what are the brands look like in this business? What is your brand look like in this industry? What's you know, the Michigan landscape look like is relative to Illinois. And the next thing you know, I was doing some consulting work for a small gripper brands that with a couple of other contractors, and we started to look around and realize there's really a need for this emerging in cannabis, you know, as more states legalize, and markets start to become more competitive from a brand perspective, across, you know, vertical integration or the retailer, the wholesale side, we just realized that there was a lot of value, we could lend to operators who might be less familiar with marking as well, in some cases, but know that there's a need. So here we are, that early group and myself created receptor brands, and yeah, now it's cannabis brands all day, every day.

Shayda Torabi  10:37  
I really appreciate that, I think it's, again, really important to kind of understand the different sometimes people are anticipating on being in the cannabis industry, or sometimes they know that that might be like an end goal or a way to like transfer their skills. And so it's, you know, great to hear how your husband's influence and just kind of like, thought process of, hey, you know, this is an emerging industry. And I think that with your background and skill set, you can really apply into this equally, you know, crazy but also exciting industry that has, which is where I think you can provide a lot of value for this conversation for my listeners of just, there's so much stuff that I think does translate over just in general, like creating campaigns marketing work in general, like every brand needs to understand, maybe they don't have the budget to go full on like maybe a fortune 500 Or a Johnson and Johnson or I saw you'd work with like m&ms as well. Those are like huge brands, I can't imagine like their budget for investing in marketing is something that we can only dream of, but, you know, kind of having that dialogue to understand, okay, we'll just because this is cannabis, we still want to make it professional, we still want to normalize it. And I love that you also highlighted your CPG background as well, because that's a conversation that I have a lot on the podcast, just kind of trying to remind and frame the conversation for the listeners, like yes, there's legacy market, yes, there's still going to be people who love that culture of cannabis. But as we start to see more money being poured into the industry, you are seeing the professionalization and the influence of these more traditional aspects as well as agency's influence into the cannabis industry. So kind of with that said, again, before we were recording, I mentioned, you know, prior to getting in the cannabis industry, myself, I used to work for a tech company. And we worked with agencies a lot. And then I left that tech company and I actually worked for a digital agency, specifically on the E commerce side. But I don't think a lot of people and kind of going off of what I initially was sharing, a lot of people really understand what an agency is. And I know that there's a lot of variation when it comes to agencies, you know, just different types of agencies and different scopes of work. And so I'm just curious, from your perspective to kind of give us a definition of what an agency is. And then also, how is an agency defined by receptor brands? And what kind of work does your agency specifically focus on and produce?

Unknown Speaker  12:59  
Sure. So I think when you think about a marketing or an advertising agency, it's typically someone you're contracting for service that is going to help fill a gap in those services in terms of what your company already is executing on their own. In the more traditional sense, there might be a complete marketing team within a company, but they typically hire an agency, for example, with an expertise in either advertising or maybe digital marketing, or something that helps increase the capacity of their existing team to execute and some specialists to sort of ways receptor brands has tried to invent but have a different agency model. I think most of our team has come from more of the traditional agency, big brands, global brands that you might think of. And we really set out not only because we felt like this was an existing need within cannabis, but because we had seen a need within the agency model as well to create something that is really focused on helping businesses scale and grow their business, whether you're a startup in cannabis and brand brand new or even, you know, a larger player, there is a speed and an orientation around, you know, business outcomes that I think is unique to this industry relative to others. So we really our specialty in this case is is cannabis and our understanding of it. You know, I would never say that we are experts because I think anyone who comes into cannabis and says they're an expert probably hasn't been in it very long. Because the industry and the category is changing at such a rapid pace. But we do consider ourselves specialists. We work solely with cannabis operators, both licensed and non licensed. So we also work with a lot of ancillary services as well. And then also, you know, other cannabinoids, obviously, like CBD brands and such, but in terms of our services, it's really end to end in order to create a really comprehensive brand experience. So we approach everything in terms of, you know, sort of what's the human what's the strategic problem to solve, whether you do want to create a very tactic whole creative campaign to bring your brand or a product to market all the way to some real business modeling and consulting to in those early days when you're trying to figure out who is your core consumer, how do I position this brand, and then what's the right sort of business model pricing structure distribution plan to support that idea and that vision, all the way through to product experience. So whether we're creating a digital product for a client and more of a, you know, a traditional marketing context, or a physical consumer package, good, you know, I think makes receptor brands a little bit unique, because we have, you know, food and beverage engineers on the team, because we feel like that your marketing that you that might be consumer facing is really setting an expectation ultimately that that product experience has to deliver, right, and vice versa. Sometimes you have a great product that you've created, but you need to find the right audience for it, you need to make sure that you are setting people's expectations for what this product experience is going to be like so that it's you know, satisfactory when, when they try it. So we really do consider ourselves a comprehensive brand experience group. That's very strategy first, but here to serve the cannabis industry.

Shayda Torabi  16:10  
Now, that makes a lot of clarity for I'm sure everybody listening because, again, I think you articulated it so great, too. There are different stages of businesses, and there's different ways to engage with an agency. And so it's at what point in your business, whether it's, you know, just starting up, and you're thinking, Well, how do I maybe understand the market that I'm going into, and how do I begin to dig into, you know, customer market and segmentation and competition, you know, competitive intelligence, competitive analysis all the way through then to, okay, well, how do I actually, you know, want to bring this idea to life? What does that look like? What does that brand what is that formula, and kind of everything that goes in between from that idea to ultimately being, you know, on a shelf, or ultimately in someone's shopping cart. And so kind of on that note, you know, I was doing some research before our interview, and I found in a press release, you were quoted saying, our marketing approach is rooted in the belief that if you can fit meaningfully into people's lives, you'll find your way into their shopping carts. And I'm just really curious for you to go a little bit deeper and provide some insight into how you see receptor brands, and how you help essentially, these clients of yours actually make make it into people's shopping carts, because I think, you know, for us to not act like money isn't a major driver is kind of like ignorance. And I appreciate brands that are like very altruistic, altruistic, and they're like, oh, I want to, you know, save the planet, or I want to save the world, or I want to help my community like, absolutely, I think that more than ever, in 2022, you know, that is a major emphasis for brands needing to have some sort of social component to it. But the reality is, if you don't make sales, you're not going to be in business, for the most part, right? And I think that quote, speaks to something much larger, right? It's like, man, and now my product is out, and where am I going to sell it? And how am I going to sell and ultimately, how am I going to make it into someone's shopping cart, and hopefully, people also, you know, at least from my perspective, you don't want to just make that one sale, you want to make a repeat sale, you want to have that person coming back to your brand. And so that especially stuck out to me, too, when you're using the word like, meaningful, like, you don't just want to be somebody or a brand that is just here for today and gone tomorrow, you really want to build something that lasts, at least as long as we can survive whatever is happening in the cannabis industry, because it is so unstable sometimes. But kind of with all that kind of shared, I'm just again, curious, from your perspective, what kind of goes into that end result of like, someone's product ending up in a shopping cart, and everything that goes behind it from receptor brands, you know, point of view?

Unknown Speaker  18:55  
Sure, well, I guess I would say there are so many things, you know, along the customer journey that help get your product into someone's shopping cart brand, being a really critical, you know, brand and sort of the very holistic definition being a big part of them. And I'd also caveat by saying that, you know, it's not easy, and especially so in in cannabis. And so, you know, one of the first things that I appreciate, particularly in the fantastic client partners, you know, that we work with is starting with an understanding of the role marketing can play and brands play in that customer journey, and that there is one coming from the Midwest and working with a lot of Midwest and East Coast clients. We see a lot of new markets legalizing and they're sort of this life cycle of like, cannabis still sells itself, you know, in a newly legalized market or something like that, or you know, we have invested in a sales team that building that early distribution is critically important, but marketing and sales always work really hand in glove with one another, to help build a sustainable business. And to us a brand has always been so much more than a logo and And don't get me wrong, we love to design beautiful logos and fantastic brand identities for brands. But for us, it's really about how are you connecting your values and your vision as a brand and a company with your consumers values? How do you mirror them? Or how are you finding the right core audience? And then how are you making them feel about your brand, ultimately. And that comes through all the different touch points in a brand experience? So one thing we always start with no matter where we are sort of in the continuum of marketing services is, do you have a sense for who your core consumer is? Certainly we know that you want as many people to try your product as you possibly can within your distribution, different dispensaries. But do you have a sense for who this product is really for? I think there's a lot of great innovators, great r&d folks out there who are like, we can make a consumable, you know, or, you know, cultivate, we've worked with a lot of cultivators that are like, supplying biomass into the industry and want to make a product and it's like, alright, well, who's your product going to be for, you know, from a consumer perspective. And that's not to say that, you know, consumers will ever use your product exactly as you intended to be used. But having an idea for who that person is, and beyond just a demographic profile, write really, what are their values? what's meaningful to them? What are they doing when they're not in the category? Right? What what do they look like in their life, we'll help you get a better understanding of how to position your product to them how to focus in on what that real core benefit is to choosing your brand, or your product over all the other exciting things that are at shelf, so that people have a really clear idea of what they're getting, and what the value is for them in trying your offering or someone else's. And certainly there's a lot of tactical things throughout the customer journey to help reinforce sort of that brand positioning and the direction and the benefit that you're trying to communicate. But I think starting with some of those core pieces of like who your core consumer is, and what value you're going to bring to them is sort of the fundamentals of having a successful brand, and ultimately making sure that you get that purchase.

Shayda Torabi  22:07  
Yeah, it's such great advice. And it's something I feel like I say so frequently, and like have my guests reinforced so frequently on the podcast, but it sounds really rudimentary, right? Like figuring out who your customer is like understanding your go to market strategy. But I'm sure you experience it time and time again, I know I experienced it just in, you know, the conversations that I'm in with even just people observing, oh, you know, I could do that I could be in the cannabis industry. I'm like, you can but it's not just, and I think, especially to when you're talking about emerging markets, there's like that duality, right? It's, well, it's gonna sell because there's an opportunity, and we want to, you know, maybe get in to be one of the first players in the space. But then the other side of that coin is, well, if you don't know how you're going to actually get your brand to market and who you're actually selling to. It's not a guarantee, right. And so I think I've just witnessed that personally, with just, you know, the industry here in Texas, and have been fortunate to kind of get to go, you know, peek over at, you know, what Oklahoma is doing with their new emerging market as well. And it's really fascinating, you hear some, unfortunately, heartbreaking stories of people who really had good intention, or really, you know, are growing a great cultivation, but they don't really think of well, after I grew it, well, now, what do I do with it, and people are just gonna buy it, right? And I'm like, No, you have to have a plan, who are you selling to whether it's biomass, or you're extracting it and turning it into your own products. And so I appreciate you just reinforcing that and sharing that kind of tip. As rudimentary as it is, I want the listeners to really emphasize, you know, if you don't have that understanding down, that is probably somewhere for you to start investing your time and focus. And if not, you being able to obviously, you know, work with agencies work without source to help to kind of help guide you to get to that point.

Unknown Speaker  23:53  
Yeah, sorry, I was I was just gonna build on that, too. It's particularly pleasing. You know, it's particularly challenging for wholesale brands as well, because you have two customers, right, because you're also trying to sell into into retail. So you've got a retail customer as well. And they don't always look the same as your end user. But having an idea of both and how you're going to drive traffic among the end user is really important as you're building that distribution as well. And, you know, had we've been referring to this data point a lot recently, because it really resonated with me, the headset recently put out a stat that I think 80% of sales are driven by roughly 30 35% of the brands on shelf across the country in all legal markets. I mean, there's some variability there. But I think it really speaks to the fact that there's a lot of inventory out there and dispensaries but there's only, you know, a small percentage of the operators that are really driving that continuous volume of sales and driving that sort of repeat purchase that you're talking about. And, you know, it's not without effort and marketing certainly plays a huge part in that and your relationship with your retailer. Certainly.

Shayda Torabi  24:56  
Yeah, no, I'm glad you added that to just because I gain. I think it's not that if you're selling to white label or as just like distributor kind of in that capacity where you're just selling biomass, like sometimes people assume like, oh, well, there's gonna be a buyer and I don't need to have a brand around it. It's like yes and no, maybe you don't need to go have a YouTube channel and your Instagram setup. But thinking again, of how you're going to get your product in front of who your target customer is, whether it's b2b or b2c is something to not neglect in the process of trying to I think, not only just like exist, right, but like Master and really survive being in the cannabis industry, because I think that's what I really observed is, there is no safety net, like there is no guarantee that your brand is going to stay around. I mean, just kind of reflecting on what Texas is going through. By the time this episode airs. I'm sure some of this information might change, but kind of presently speaking, Texas is in the middle of a Delta eight ban, which they have been going back and forth. And they just recently took it to the Supreme Court here. And so not that, you know, I see a lot of brands who are delta eight only, but you certainly see the people who saw the opportunity to just go to market and that particular category, and it's like, okay, well, if that category goes away, well, what are you going to do next? Like, how are you going to pivot and then I think another thing that we're really facing, which is a much bigger challenge, in my opinion, is smokeable. So Texas, has had a lot of issues around smokable hemp in particular, and obviously smokeable is is the cartridges, the pre rolls, but the loose, but as well, you can get creative on marketing and how you you know, quote, unquote, label, not for sale or not for smokeable, as I should say, but those are heartaches, that if your whole business is to go to market as a cartridge company or a pre roll company, and then this law changes three years into our hemp legality? Well, you're Sol, and you either have to, you know, shut down business because you don't have operation anymore, because it's not legal, or you have to pivot. And so it's just nothing is really guaranteed. And I think the best brands are the brands that despite the challenges, at least put some pen to paper of trying to understand, well, in this circumstance, how can I go to market? What are the different components that I need to build my brand up so that I can stand out and be competitive? And just kind of go from there? But

Unknown Speaker  27:17  
well, you bring up a great point, too, in terms of, you know, the sort of your What are your business objectives, right? And then what is the what are the potential risks with that plan or those objectives you put together? So in addition to obviously, your end user and your consumer understanding? The other piece that we always want to dig into with our clients is, what are your true business objectives? Are you in a newly legalized state? Are you trying to enter an established state? Are you trying to go to market with a one particular format? And you want to steal share from some existing competitors? Are you truly creating something that might live in whitespace? Within the cannabis, is that currently? And how do you approach that problem different? Because, I mean, you brought it up before, not every brand. In fact, most brands, I would say, in this industry have, you know, masaje, Coca Cola size budgets or anything like that. So once you get a better understanding of who you're for, but also what you're trying to achieve as a business, you can help eliminate maybe some of the risk and mistakes or waste within your go to market strategy. But you know, when you talk about delta eight, and you know, other synthetic cannabinoids, and things that we've certainly seen emerge in the marketplace, when you're really trying to get into a segment that feels very new, and you're sort of a pioneer or trying to lead that segment forward. If that's your goal, from a business perspective, then you really need to think about what being a leader in that segment means. Right? So we've also worked a lot with clients, particularly in Michigan and working with state regulators as well from a government relations perspective, right? If there's still so much sort of new territory, even with the air quotes longevity that the cannabis industry has regulated cannabis industry has today, in terms of things that haven't been done by brands before new segments, you know, new ingredients, and there's, I believe there's so much room for innovation in this space. And as these new things enter the regulated category, you really have to think about, you know, beyond just the opportunity around a first mover advantage, and what does it really mean to be a first mover and what's the responsibility as an operator then to help drive the right regulations forward and being a good citizen and trying to create, you know, something entirely new and it's, you know, it's a big commitment. So, again, there's lots of opportunity in cannabis but you know, really understanding what you're trying to do from a business perspective in it will also help guide you in terms of the requirements to be successful and make sure that you know, there's an industry or a segment within the industry, you know, there for you to operate in the future.

Shayda Torabi  29:49  
Yeah, it is so exciting and also very frustrating sometimes when you are met with these different regulation changes, of course, and like I'm only Speaking from someone who's been in the industry going on for years, I can't even imagine like what Colorado or like Californians are like experiencing, and just the feedback and the chatter in the community. It's like, nobody's really safe. And there's been a lot of mistakes that luckily, businesses are not really a surf business, but like states that are coming on. And then businesses as a secondary level to that that are coming on. And these emerging states can kind of learn. So it's been cool to hear different states that have adopted better regulations that I think make it a little bit more accessible and enticing for businesses to go online. But yeah, I mean, there's just so much variation in the market right now, when it comes to just because your state legalized, it's like, well, then what are the laws say, you know, and there's just so much nuances to all these different things, which is why it's been really fun to get to talk to so many people through this podcast to just kind of shed some light on the different avenues that they've personally had to experience or endure through. And so with your experience, specifically, in the Midwest, I am curious, just a little maybe, like, briefly, like, What is that look like? I mean, you mentioned, working with regulators and doing work with Michigan and Illinois, they're very close. But how do you as a agency, kind of take on these new markets? Or as you have a client, like, maybe there's a client who's like, Hey, I'm in Boston, and we want to work with you. And you're like, well, we've never worked with clients in Boston, how do you approach that without really understanding kind of at face value, what the regulation is, but then kind of like the secondary to that is, obviously the regulation is constantly changing? So how do you maintain and stay up with that kind of in the filter of the output is marketing branding, you know, kind of that function of a business? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  31:43  
absolutely. And I think I didn't expect this when I first got into cannabis. But this is where a lot of that global regulatory experience of myself and some of my colleagues have really come into play. I think we just entered this space without sort of that intimidation factor of having to manage different regulations and multiple markets, because in working on a global brand, you know, sometimes you are a new entrant in an emerging market. And other times, you're a leader in a massive market with a lot of a lot of history. So we certainly have legal counsel, we rely on a lot. We also have some different strategic partners that have some different compliance sort of software to help us keep up to date on changes and things in real time. But a big part of it is, I think, acknowledging the regulations and sort of accepting them and appreciating that, you know, there are a lot of creative opportunities and ways to still have a meaningful brand experience that don't face directly in or don't challenge the regulations as they stand. I think there's a lot of what I see in this industry from a branding and marketing standpoint, because of the regulations. And because not everyone has a multi state or a multi market experience is that, you know, they try to emulate what other brands have done successfully, you know, without getting shut down, or having their social media profiles shut down or getting taken off shelves. And it's really I think the copycat approach can be really dangerous in this industry, because just because someone is doing something successfully, and they haven't been challenged yet doesn't mean that they won't. So really understanding what those regulations are looking at them holistically and saying, Okay, here's the box, we have to work within, what are again, what are we trying to do and who are we trying to reach and what's the most creative way we can get to them with our message without having to directly challenge you know, what the regulator's have put in place and, you know, that is particularly kind of exciting, actually, for us in some ways, because, depending on the market, some markets have very little regulation still when it comes to marketing and advertising, while others clearly have very restrictive regulations. But again, I think there's an acceptance of what those things are and then just finding you know, the creative ways to execute within those parameters.

Shayda Torabi  34:03  
Hello, just want to take a quick moment to thank my sponsor, and full disclosure, my company restart CBD, restart CBD is a brand that I built with my sister. So we are family owned and women owned, we do operate a brick and mortar in Austin. So if you ever find yourself in Central Texas, we'd love for you to come say hi, but we also ship nationwide and we carry a wide range of CBD products. We really care about this plant, we really care about educating our customers, this show would not be possible without their support. So please go check us out at restart and use code to be blunt for $5 off your next purchase. Thanks and let's go back to the show. And now it helps to have that perspective as well which is certainly something that you accuse related over your experience, which is that kind of like Global Insight into this, how other global brands like navigate like regulations or not, which is what I'm trying to emphasize. Regulations are not exclusive to cannabis. Right. And so I think sometimes we feel overwhelmed. I'm saying the collective way, but it's sometimes mostly me who really feels like, oh my gosh, these regulations are so crazy. And I love the humbling of like, no shade. Regulations are crazy everywhere. But like you pointed out, some are more crazy than others. And so it's just kind of having an approach, I think of positivity, which I strained for so frequently, because it's easy to get overwhelmed and like frustrated at kind of all the doors being shut. But you were kind of highlighting, you know, the creative opportunity of okay, well, yes, this door is shot, but how about we try this instead? And so I think that's something that I really want to kind of just like re emphasize is just for people to find the hopefulness in it, because I think it's by pushing the boundaries as well, maybe you, you know, you also mentioned, don't be a copycat, which I think is very good advice, because that happens. So often people like, well, they're doing it, so I'm going to do it, and then their account gets shut down. But maybe the original person's account doesn't get shut down. It's like, Why did my account get shut down? If they're doing it, it's, it's not unfortunately, as copy and paste as it might be for, you know, X, Y, or Z brand they're trying to emulate. But I do think sometimes I look at these brands that are maybe pushing the boundaries, sometimes I put myself in that position of like, you know what, maybe I shouldn't be posting this on Instagram, but come and get me Instagram. And they certainly come and gotten me recently. But you know, I'm back, I'm learning my lesson. I'm also trying to, again, push those boundaries. And so kind of I want to flip the question to reflect a little bit on your experience working with these equally regulated, but non cannabis industries, but very big brands and clients, and maybe what you've learned, that has translated over and maybe some areas, obviously, that have not translated over, just to get kind of a pulse on, you know, when you look at marketing and advertising, those are very generic universal terms, but obviously, how you market and advertise in, you know, skincare, is not going to be the same for a smokeable cannabis product.

Unknown Speaker  37:20  
So sure, well, you know, what I think is great about brands and marketing, particularly when you're looking at having to operate in sort of different markets with different rules is that it is something once you've spent the time and invested in it that can travel somewhat easily, certainly more. So you know, when you're talking about a licensed operator perspective, than the capex, you've had to invest in creating your manufacturing, you know, in multiple states. And, listen, I understand why the regulations are so challenging and frustrating for operators, because you're literally facing different rules for every aspect of your business. Everywhere that you you operate, you know, but when you isolate just the marketing and advertising piece, what can't really be regulated is your vision for your brand, you know, back to our earlier conversation, the insights into your consumer and who you're for. So then it's just about what are the rules and the regulations come into places how you execute that and market, you know, and the different tactics you use to reach those people and engage with them. But what's so great about brands and marketing is that, once you sort of do that work, and you've sort of centralized it within your organization, you don't have to recreate it every time, you know, you decide to move into a new jurisdiction or into another, another state, then there, it's there to be built on organically. And I think that's some of the core principles of working on global businesses that we've always adopted and we continue to adopt for cannabis brands is, what's the tightest smallest set of assets and execution of your brand that can travel well, right. So whether that's visual assets, or some strategic understanding or principles around your brand, once you sort of have those down, as long as those are consistent everywhere you are, then how you bring them to market, you have a little bit of leeway, depending on the rules, right? But you really got to get that core set of assets and understanding around your brand in place so that you don't have to keep revisiting it every time. It also creates a lot more efficiency in your plan. Right? I think what's unique to cannabis, whether you're comparing it to global brands or not, is the just the rate of change in this industry. A lot of those global brands that, you know, I've worked with in the past, one of the biggest challenges for them is once you have made this investment, you know, across this, this wide footprint, the ability to adapt to change are really localized then the experience for consumers. That's sort of where the rub is and cannabis. You know your addressable market, even within a single state can change overnight if you're newly illegal and people are crossing over into the regulated market, if you're a multi state operator, you know, every time a new state comes online, you've got something else to consider. The rate of competition growing in this space is faster than any other category I've ever worked in. And it's impossible not to talk about the regulations, it seems. But the rules can change in a moment. So we also try to adopt the best practices, we're talking about business objectives, and what a brand is trying to do, ultimately, it's really important to have that plan, maybe that 1218 month plan for like, this is my vision for the brand and the business that I want to create. But you really have to have that 6090 Day sort of nimbleness to look around and say, Okay, what's changed and, but if you have that sort of core set of assets and understanding of your brand, that might mean you can't advertise an ad at home the way that you were hoping you would be able to next month, but that doesn't mean that you can't advertise, right? So and it doesn't change the core of your brand, or your business, or your vision for how you want to bring it to life. But it's, it's an executional change, it's a tactical change in your plan. So that nimbleness really is so important in cannabis. And that's also why our team is really oriented ourselves around strategic problem solving, and helping sort of that startup mindset, you know, businesses that are looking to scale in the various stages of their lives, because it's a unique proposition within within cannabis to be able to adapt, I think at that, at that rate of change.

Shayda Torabi  41:25  
Yeah, I think my observation with cannabis is so much that it's not that you can't be creative and like, employ these marketing and advertising tactics. It's more on the, like, rules. And unfortunately, the regulations are like, Well, how am I going to implement this right. And so I think that is a little bit different compared to other industries where they don't have maybe, like quite the frequency of change or the variance state to state when they're releasing a product. And so it's not that, you know, cannabis brands, like don't have this opportunity to go to market and be creative, and you know, incorporate this, that and the other from other industries. In fact, I love seeing more and more cannabis brands operating like true consumer packaged goods, brands, but I see and observe and describe everything you're sharing. It's like, Y'all exist as an agency, not again, like as you're able to execute and other creative, it's just you really help bring that knowledge of, well, this is the best move we can make, given this is what the law or this is what the state or this is what you know, the timing is of X, Y, or Z. So I think that's really important, too, for businesses who are looking to take that next step. And whether they're doing it internally, or they're bringing on an agency to kind of like, navigate things, it's like, you have to have an understanding which I think when I started this podcast, I was like, I'm going to talk about marketing and branding exclusively. And then I talked about regulation, I feel like so much more. But it's they go hand in hand in our industry, for better or worse. So what I thought those are really great tips.

Unknown Speaker  42:55  
Well, the other reason I love being on the agency side and on the service side, and one of the reasons I got into marketing and advertising, you know, early in my career is we get to look at the industry, the cannabis industry, from all sides, because we have clients, as I mentioned, to our licensed non licensed service operators, and wholesale brands, retailers, multi state, single state, you know, new establish, so we're really looking at the industry all day long from all these different angles, and it helps us stay on top of like what's coming, or what the opportunity spaces. I mean, we really, I think we've talked about it already. But it's not just optimism, it's being able to identify the opportunity in the uncertainty of cannabis to sometimes right if again, operating within the regulations. But being able to say there is so much white space in this industry, often what the other thing we help our clients with is of all the things we could do, what's the thing that we should do, because they're sometimes you know, there's just so many decisions and opportunities that can feel overwhelming in terms of what to capitalize on with within the cannabis space. But the other sort of holistic view, we get to take in terms of marketing and advertising is what is happening in marketing and advertising both within the industry and without, we look to digital a lot when it comes to sort of paid media for brands and advertisers. Because there's more flexibility in terms of the if something does change, you can adapt fairly quickly. You know, you don't have to tear down a billboard and get it reprinted and posted, right? It's more of a click of a mouse. But even when you look at the publishers online that are willing to and are operating compliantly in terms of cannabis marketing, and when you look at some of the different publishers and trade activity and even different media companies and things and some of the changes that they're making within their own policies. There is a lot of mainstream advertising opportunities out there that sometimes as an operator you're just not aware of because it's not your priority every day to be on top of those things. So that is something that I enjoy and that we get to look at this industry. Both Marketing Industry and cannabis from all the different angles, but we're focused on sort of those two sort of segments. And so for us, it's always like who's come up with, you know, a new product, a new advertising product? Or who's come up with a new format? And can we use that for cannabis? And can we use it in an interesting way? So operators have a lot to do this, and they have a lot of priorities. And that's why have a strategic agency partner can be so helpful, because we're keeping an eye on all these other things so that we can bring you the best solutions when you're ready.

Shayda Torabi  45:31  
Absolutely, no, it's something that, again, you either have to take the ownership on yourself, which is to try to stay on top of all these different changes, or you need to create a cohort of people in your circle of influence, who can help you stay on top of it. And especially, which is just like baseline, you want to work with partners and agencies who can present what you're saying to them, I can't stress it enough, there's so many people out there who are going to tell you that they're going to help you achieve this goal. And maybe in their heart of hearts, they really believe that they can, but if they don't have an understanding, in my opinion, have a baseline of this is what's going on in the industry, whether you're a more localized brand, or you are going after something more national, you want to make sure that the people that you're working with have a pulse on the industry. And so it's great to hear that it's such a pillar for your business. And it makes sense, obviously, to provide that value back to your customers and clients who are looking for that insight. Because it can be really overwhelming when you're an operator and you're like, oh my god, I gotta come up for air and pay attention to like this court date or this lawsuit or this, you know, legislation is changing and what's going on. And now I have to change on my packaging. And so the point to about even looking for opportunities that are more flexible versus static. So like a billboard, which has availability, I think I've been seeing a lot more cannabis, types of ads go up on billboards, but you don't have as much like turnaround time to go change if something happens. And that billboard is obviously that investment that you've invested in. And it's kind of up there for all to see sometimes good press, and sometimes bad press, I did want to circle back around you were touching on having like a core set of assets. And in my mind, I have an idea of what that is. But I'm really curious, from your perspective with your clients, what is like a baseline like, you need to have a headshot, like you need to have base product photos, but like what else do you kind of look to as best practice to have in this like core asset library?

Unknown Speaker  47:31  
Sure. I mean, if we focus on like a wholesale brand, or retail brand, for example, right? It's, we always refer to creating your strategic brand story, and then how you tell it and connect people with it, right? So is equally important as those visual assets are, which could be your logo, your word mark, your color palette, your consistent font, maybe you have some secondary assets to kind of bring the personality of your product to life. We feel like that brand narrative as well, sort of how you talk about your company, what's your elevator pitch, what's sort of that sticky, consumer facing expression of your positioning that people can carry around in their minds and associate with when they see you out in the world is is also critically important. And then you know, things are changing. From a media landscape perspective, what you sound like too, we think will continue to be an important piece. As you look at what's happening with voice and audio is having audio is having a renaissance. You know, we're on a podcast right now. So what do you think? You think about what your brand sounds like, not just in terms of ad copy. But you know, is there a pneumonic? Is there a is there a signature sound, if you're making a beverage is there a signature sound to what your poor sounds like versus someone else's, like, there are all these little ownable aspects to your brand, that appeal to all the senses as a consumer, but really making sure that narrative, the visual identity, and then starting to lean into some of those other sort of sensorial things like sound are kind of where we like to start as a baseline.

Shayda Torabi  49:03  
I love that I again, I think there's stuff that you kind of, like, perceive what's important as a brand, but until you start to actually break it down into, I mean, the sound of like, when you're popping the top on something, how it's pouring, like you're saying, and even thinking of, which is something that I feel I'm aware of, but like in actuality, it's like, how do you even begin to approach that, but like the tone of your brand, right? So it's not just having your elevator pitch, or you think about like the copy on your website, like, does what your website copy reads as sound like your social media content? Sounds like what your advertising is reading, like, and so those are all subliminal in my opinion, but they're obviously intentional, right? And so maybe the person who is the recipient, that consumer, seeing that ad or listening to that podcast or scrolling through your social media or your website, they aren't thinking, oh my gosh, you know this They they put all this together this all is, you know, advertising to me, but it's that how does that make me feel when I'm engaging with this brand, they're very thoughtful and considerate of all these different touch points, which again, is, I think the mark of a good brand and the mark of good marketing and advertising is when you don't even feel like you're being marketed to. But it's obviously all very intentional. So I really love that I did want to kind of turn to ask you to share if you can, maybe what are because just knowing like the breadth of clients you work with, I don't think we can obviously cover like every single category, but just from this conversation, what maybe has like inspired you the most from the breadth of clients you've been able to work with that comes to mind in terms of some customer case studies, maybe like where the brand kind of started or was and what they kind of came to you with and what you were able to accomplish or execute with them that you felt was really memorable for that brand?

Unknown Speaker  50:57  
Sure. Well, there's a project that we're working on right now with Simon side, which is Cresco is chain of retail dispensaries, and we work with them from a multi state perspective, mostly on the paid media and engagement side. But we've been working on a local mural program with them within the interiors of their dispensaries as they expand into new markets, you know, as an MSO, it's just critically important to also reflect the values of the community that you're in. And it's one of my favorites because it's, you know, it gets into kind of more of that cultural side of cannabis as well that I think we sometimes forget about when we're so focused on, you know, trying to build our businesses. This category facilitates a lot of cultural experience and is wrapped up in a lot of people's affinities for other things and activities that it can enhance and being able to pull together an art program with some really amazing artists like Anthony Llewellyn and Lewis McElwain, Pennsylvania, it's just been a great opportunity to hear from people in art, their relationship with cannabis, how the regulations have impacted their local communities and their state as it legalizes. And then to be working with such an iconic brand like like Sunnyside, to see them embrace that and really want to bring that sense of welcoming and local nuance into their shopping experience has been just super fun to work on. And as a creative agency, you love to work with other artists as well and see how you know, they interpret a brief and manifest an idea. So it's just been super fun. And then one of the other ones kind of on the complete flip side is we work with Spence labs, I mentioned, we work on, you know, non licensed businesses as well. And they're a fin tech startup out of Chicago. And there's a great booming sort of tech startup community in the Chicago industry. And they're helping bring cashless payments to the cannabis industry and a full suite of financial products. And I just think that access to capital and making sure that capital can flow through this industry safely and accessibly is so critically important. But to see that b2b side of the industry as well, and how important it is to cannabis, even though it's not maybe the sexy thing that we all talk about every day in terms of brands, how they're building their business and their brand. And the importance of it to this industry, I think has been really fun and fascinating. And, you know, also fun for us to take something that's super technical and new to the space and make it really easy to understand and consumer friendly and easy to adopt for for users. And Chuck.

Shayda Torabi  53:31  
Yeah, I really value you getting to share that perspective, too. Because I think part of what I hope these podcasts do is really, you know, one make people critically think you need to, you know, really know what you're getting into, right? I never want people to be like, Oh, it's like all rainbows and butterflies. But you need to know like, this is the industry and it is sometimes an uphill battle. But also the second half of that is to inspire them, right. And so there is so much opportunity and creativity and just like passion that exists in the industry. And so getting to kind of weave it together, whether as the brand itself or as an agency who's getting to work with these brands and bring their ideas to life. It's just really cool to get to hear from you about the different projects that you've been a part of as well as the influence that you have both just in the industry as well as what you're able to kind of like reflect through your clients. So I learned so much from you and I shouldn't say thank you, but to kind of like wrap up. Final question. I would love to just hear from you. You know what inspires you presently, like what are you excited about what is like the future of like cannabis from your perspective right now.

Unknown Speaker  54:39  
So I am super excited about innovation and r&d and cannabis. I think coming back to those pesky regulations. I think r&d has really been stifled in cannabis in the regulated era. There are some really interesting sort of pilot programs and stuff happening at the university level and certainly independent operators have the opportunity to do that. their own sort of r&d on site. But I think there's just massive opportunity from an innovation perspective, both all the way from a breeding and cultivation standpoint, all the way through to sort of product formats and proliferation, what's happening in beverages super exciting, but even when you see beverage, you know, there's a lot of tonics out there. And we all know, as consumers, we drink a lot of things all day. You know, there's a variety of formats. I think, consumables in general, we know gummies are such a popular format and a great way for people who are new to enter into the category. But as someone who's worked on Confections in the CPG world, there's a whole universe of confections out there that are super exciting and would take a huge technological leap for people to start to offer to consumers. So that's one reason we like to offer that as well to people in the space from a product development standpoint is we really feel like innovation is just scratched the surface on the wholesale side. And from a consumer standpoint, I think there's just going to continue to be more and more fun and amazing things from a flower or US consumable perspective or concentrate perspective to that people can try so consumers have a lot of choice already in cannabis. But I think there's only going to be more and with that even better things.

Shayda Torabi  56:20  
What are your thoughts on working with creative agencies, I think it's something that even as a creative person myself, I can totally understand the value of working with someone who could provide new insight into the space into my brand into my products, and again, ultimately drive more strategy around how to speak to my target customer and how to get that target customer to add my product to the cart. There are a lot of great free tools and resources out there. But sometimes it helps bring in an expert to guide you along the process and brainstorm with you and prioritize the best approach and plan. If you have questions. Please connect reach out and don't be afraid to ask for help. As always, thanks for keeping it blunt with me. I'll be back next week with another episode of The to be blunt podcast every Monday and encourage you to keep championing cannabis in your community. Thanks and bye y'all.

Announcer  57:14  
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