“When we build brands that are secure and positioned securely and have meaning, they have a lot of opportunities to go into new places… We've got to show up in certain ways and participate in certain ways.” - Elizabeth Hogan
Welcome back to the To Be Blunt podcast! In this episode, Shayda Torabi welcomes Elizabeth Hogan of Willies Reserve as she shares her experience of working with the legendary cannabis advocate, Willie Nelson. Her insights reflect the value of collaboration and artistry in pursuit of establishing a noteworthy brand presence.
[00:01 – 10:46] Shayda shares the magic of South by Southwest Experience
[10:47– 21:41] Working with Willie Nelson and Establishing Effective Brand Presence
[21:42 – 32:27] The Creative Inspiration of Bringing the Brand to Life through CPG
[32:28 – 48:09] Social Media and the Heroic Fight for Cannabis Freedom
[48:08 – 59:38] The Power of Collaborations and Partnerships through Art
[59:39 – 51:59] Food for Thought: How do you want your brand to be represented?
Elizabeth Hogan, a multi-talented brand strategist, consumer researcher, and cannabis pioneer, brings extensive experience in highly regulated industries as well as day-one experience in the recreational cannabis industry to her role as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Long Play. As one of the founders of the organization that would become Long Play, Elizabeth has used her business and branding acumen to guide the company through numerous phases, from the original development of the Willie Nelson product line—including Willie’s Reserve and Willie’s Remedy—to rapid commercialization, licensing and multi-state expansion. Through her direct efforts, the Willie Nelson line of products has become one of the most recognizable, most trusted cannabis brands on the market. Elizabeth has been named to the High Times 100 Most Influential People in Cannabis List, the High Times Female 50 List, and is a sought-after speaker at industry and marketing conferences worldwide. She regularly appears as a guest on podcasts and is frequently profiled in industry and mainstream publications alike. When she’s not developing award-winning cannabis products, you can find Elizabeth enjoying live music and, of course, Willie’s legendary stash.
Connect with Elizabeth
Visit https://williesreserve.com/ and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn @williesreserveofficial
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
“When we started off, we had one set of standards and priorities, and over time, not because we're changing our priorities, but because the industry is evolving, and we're learning more and our product line changes, some of that stuff has changed.” - Elizabeth Hogan
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Elizabeth Hogan 0:00
All that sense of making something together and doing something together, I think is really as marketers, a great way to move beyond just like talking at people about your product which is necessary. But when you're trying to include folks and build community and build consumer relationships that lasts beyond a transaction, but are really about come back and check on us in a month and or in a week or tell your friends about us, which all of this is like what hearts and minds is all about. Then giving folks something that's more than just your product is key. And for Willie's that more than really is about collaboration and community and music and art. And so it's worked well to get to include all of that and then have the brand and the music have some fun feeding off each other.
You're listening to to be blunt, be podcast for cannabis marketers, where 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 1:25
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. And we are officially in the countdown to South by Southwest y'all kicking off on March 11 and going until March 20. This is an internationally recognized event where people from all over the world flock to my hometown, Austin, Texas to be a part of this event. So today is a very special episode for a myriad of reasons. But I want to kick things off by taking you on a brief personal journey through my South by Southwest experience. For those of you who don't know what the hell South by Southwest is, it is a music film and interactive festival held in Austin, Texas that quite literally takes over the whole downtown area. By the way South by Southwest was founded in 1987. And locals like myself like to refer to it as South By. So as someone who grew up in Austin, I've been attending South by for the last 15 years and honestly have lost track of just how many times I've been because it's something I've always participated in for as long as I can remember, there are the quote unquote, official events, panels and discussions and lots of parties and activations. And then there are unofficial events to it can be a bit overwhelming to navigate South by but just show up and point yourself in any direction and I promise you will end up somewhere magical. It's why this episode and intro is so special to me. South by was the place I started to test my interview skills out. Y'all may not know this tidbit about me. But I used to have a music blog. And it's how I got started creating content all those years ago. And I started by interviewing bands at South by Southwest for my blog. Now over the years, I've started to get involved in different ways. Lots of major brands come to Austin for this two week event from YouTube and Spotify to TV shows like on HBO and effects. We have musical performances from people like Willie Nelson and Lizzo. There are celebrities, politicians, brands, big names, small names, everybody who just wants to come be a part of what is going on. And there are just so many crazy brand activations happening and nonstop during the event. So as a local content creator, I've gotten to participate and witness some pretty amazing things. A few years ago, South by actually introduced a cannabis Summit, where industry professionals from all over would come and contribute to the national cannabis conversation, doing panels after parties, the whole nine yards. And it was happening right here in my backyard. In fact, I remember one year getting to go to a dosed cannabis dinner. Not that that was legal, but it was a fun experience to have and see going on right here in Austin, Texas. Clearly, I'm excited and there is definitely some build up to this but it's just so special to me how my life and my paths have coerce me to this very moment and I couldn't be more honored to share what I'm about to share. This year the sponsor of the cannabis summit at South by is none other than weed maps. And weed Maps has been a big conversation starter over the years, but especially recently with their Brock Ali, a Superbowl commercial about cannabis censorship. And I am happy, thrilled and overjoyed to share that my very first official South by Southwest speaking appearance has been confirmed. And I will be the moderator of a panel called rewriting cannabis drug testing policies, featuring Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals and sports businessman, rich Kleinman, who is the co founder of 35 adventures along with basketball superstar Kevin Durant. Honestly, someone pinch me. This is such an important conversation, especially in the wake of the recent Tokyo Olympics, where athletes like Shikari Richardson, who was penalized for cannabis in her system was not allowed to compete, as well as so many other sports professionals with similar stories from the NFL to the NBA, where alternatives to pain management and relief like opioids are applauded, but a plant, a plant that is gaining more traction nationally, is causing so much controversy. Not to mention as states legalize, there are still employers who are struggling navigating drug testing policies and we've even seen full spectrum CBD show up positive for THC in a drug test causing people to lose their jobs. It is a very important topic that I'm looking forward to unpacking. You will need a badge to attend that panel. It will be taking place March 14 at 11:30am Central time at the Four Seasons. But truthfully, honestly from the bottom of my heart, I am just so very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this conversation in the capacity that I am able to contribute. And if you can make it to the event in Austin, I promise you it will be a great discussion. Which brings me to today's guest Elizabeth Hogan. She is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at long play, which is the parent company of Willie Nelson's cannabis brands. Willie's reserve and Willie's remedy again as a Texan, Willie Nelson is not just my hometown hero, but as a cannabis consumer. He's been advocating for this plant any which way he can for his whole life. And Willie Nelson has a long seated history with Austin and South by Southwest. In fact, I have very fond memories of attending secret pop up concerts where he was a surprise guest to even being able to attend his famed luck reunion which happens on his ranch outside of Austin. Every year during the South by Southwest festival. He brings a who's who of his musical guest friends to share the stage for a fun party at his property. And because he loves cannabis, there are even some cannabis activations by his personal brands set up during the infamous event.
Last year with South by on hiatus due to COVID Willie Nelson's team at luck did a virtual event that took place in April called luck summit planting the seed which drew attention specifically to cannabis education here in Texas, but it was broadcasted virtually, and I was asked to moderate three panels for his team ranging from him education to talking about cannabis terms like indica, sativa and hybrid and even terpenes. So to be able to see SXSW coming back again this year, the team at luck are also back to regular programming, hosting a handful of events at luck reunion. So if you are keen to party with Willie Nelson and friends, check out luck presents.com. And wow, my life is coming full circle here at South by Southwest this year, which just means that I've been working really hard and making things happen. And I couldn't do that without you guys. So thank you all so much for tuning in and keeping this podcast growing. And for all the connections and opportunities that have come from it and will continue to come from it. Elizabeth is a powerhouse in her own regard. Not only is she one of the masterminds behind bringing Willie's cannabis brand to market, she has been recognized by High Times as one of 100 most influential people in cannabis, as well as the High Times female 50 list. She is a multitalented brand strategist, consumer researcher and cannabis pioneer. To that end, she works hand in hand with teams across the entire organization to inform and shape growth oriented decisions. about brands, products and product development within the long play portfolio, she both personally and at the organizational level also continues her creative and industry leading efforts to normalize cannabis consumption, and help consumers integrate it into wellness and recreational routines in meaningful, sustainable ways. Through her direct efforts, the Willie Nelson line of products has become one of the most recognizable most trusted cannabis brands on the market. I am so very excited to invite you into my conversation with Elizabeth and learn more about what it takes to make a trusted cannabis brand. So with that said, let's get to the episode. Please join me by lining one up. And let's welcome Elizabeth to the show.
Unknown Speaker 10:47
My name is Elizabeth Hogan and I lead brand development for a company that's now called long play. But I've had the great honor and privilege of getting to work with Willie Nelson to build his two cannabis brands Willie's reserve for the recreational and medical cannabis markets. And then Willie's remedy for the hemp CBD market. And I have a, I have quite a story about how I got into this. But prior to getting involved in the cannabis industry in 2014, that's when we had our first meeting with Willie, I actually did brand consulting work for a lot of different types of clients around the world. And I was fortunate then to get to work on a wide variety of portfolio projects. So managing brands within a portfolio and making consumer oriented recommendations about how portfolios of brands could best meet the needs of the markets they were targeting. So in that job, I started off early in my career doing consumer insights. So moderating focus groups, and designing research projects to get quantitative understanding of how people were thinking and feeling about different aspects that maybe influenced their shopping choices. And from there, we would make brand recommendations, or how the brands could be best positioned, what types of themes to communicate, what types of products, how to show up all the things that really add up to a brand presence. So I had fun doing that, and worked on a lot of different types of things. And it's funny, I've been working in cannabis for seven years now. And it's wild how much actually we get to touch working in cannabis. So even though it's just the one lane and one product and one brand for the last couple of years, it touches such a wide variety of different industries. It's great.
Shayda Torabi 12:31
Yeah, I'm really truthfully excited. I know, before we were recording, I was mentioning and my listeners certainly know that I'm a Texan and Willie Nelson reigns supreme in our home state. So it's been a great privilege. I think of mine just to watch not only his career develop as just like the country music superstar that he is, but knowing that he's been such a big advocate of cannabis. And so it's just been really fun and cool to see that advancement, especially as he's gone and built this brand into new markets and knowing that you've been a big driving factor behind that. And so you are the VP of Marketing at long play and knowing that Willys brands are at the forefront of that. Can you go into what it's been like working with Willie Nelson and really like taking this celebrity status, where he's been so public about his cannabis consumption and cannabis use? I mean, you mentioned 2014, that was right around the time that Colorado legalized. So what was the first I guess, brand or product that he really went to market with? And what is the breadth of his enterprises presently?
Unknown Speaker 13:37
Well know what it's like working with Willie Nelson is probably in many ways, incomparable. I don't think that there are very many human beings like Willie, artists like Willie, cannabis advocates, with his been so ahead of the conversation about cannabis for so long, that it's hard to compare him to almost anyone else. So in the beginning, it's funny to look back, we showed up with a PowerPoint presentation to talk with Willie Nelson, which I can really laugh at myself about now. And we took all of the same sort of practices and approaches that we used in other consumer markets, like for shoes, or for health care or technology, and thought, how would we apply that to cannabis. And so we showed up to tell him about it, which was great. And he was very interested and engaged. And then he told us about it. And that was a much better conversation, because Willie was able to outline in pretty succinct fashion, a couple of areas that mattered to him his points of view on it, and then we got down to having some fun about what that would be. So the product that probably most reflects Willie's inspiration, I guess is our line of flower when he were 50 years he traveled around the country playing music, and everywhere he showed up on stage, folks showed up backstage with their pockets full of gifts from their garden. And so the legend of smoking on the bus with Willie was really all about getting your hands on whatever they want. stuff from the town before might have been. So from the beginning took a really similar approach with Willie's reserve and worked with a lot of different types of farmers in our network. That's a necessity because of state to state regulation. But it's also a great fun aspect of building in the cannabis brand. And I think a lot of brands would say that working with a variety of different folks in a supply chain is part of what makes New Cannabis feel just like old cannabis and a good way. So the flower products definitely represent that. And you know, Willie tells a great story about when he decided to quit smoking cigarettes, he rolled up 20 joints, and put them in his box, in a cigarette box in his shirt pocket. And every time he went to smoke a cigarette, he would instead pull out a joint and smoke it. So when he tells the story, he refers to them as ready rolls. And that's what we call joints in our product, line two, we call ready rolls.
Shayda Torabi 15:54
I love that story. I think that captures the spirit perfectly of kind of like I think what the projection of who Willie Nelson is as a cannabis consumer. And I was curious, that was a question I was going to ask later, but you addressed it. So I'll kind of pull on that thread a little bit more, I was curious to understand why the approach of working with these independent or like farms from state to state, which that makes sense, when you are going to launch a product and multi states, you have to essentially have and recreate kind of that operation state to state because you can't pass those products through state lines. But understanding that a lot of brands really tout the vertical integration model. It's not that one's right or wrong. And it sounds like this is what really resonates and works best for the operation and kind of like the allowance of the scalability for the brand. But how do you I guess what goes into determining? Like, if I'm a farmer, let's say what do I need to qualify for to be considered from yalls? Perspective? Like, what are you looking for? When it comes to the cultivation? Is it the variety of strains? Is it the quality? Are you looking for percentages? Is it the you know, they've got to have a Willie Nelson posted in their gross somewhere? Like what are kind of those factors that you look for when you're trying to determine what makes a quality product that you can brand and put his stamp of you know, approval on so to speak?
Unknown Speaker 17:17
Yep. Yep. That's a great question. And I'll be honest, it's changed over time. So when we started off, we had one set of standards and priorities, and over time, not because we're changing our priorities, but because the industry is evolving, and we're learning more and our product line changes, some of that stuff has changed. But we definitely, because of the regulations, it really is a wide variety of relationships that we have to bring the products to market. And in some places, that is a vertical integration model. And that's fantastic, right? Where those are operating well, that goes really well for us too. We do look for a certain kind of array of strains, we want to be able to satisfy a lot of different tastes and appetites. It's really fun to do a weed tasting with Willie, but he won't choose a favorite like it's all great. So we aren't necessarily looking for winners and losers out there we're looking for breath in for variety. And for great expression of the characteristics of the plants. We've learned a lot from our partners about what good farming methods really can be. And that can really range quite a bit. In California, we work with mostly outdoor farmers, a lot of whom have been growing for a really long time. Some of them are heritage farmers who have been out there cultivating under a variety of different licenses and not licenses over the last 30 or 40 years. And then contrasting that in Colorado, a good deal of our supply chain is vertically integrated. And that works out really well so that we can keep up with the demand for our products. One of the challenges of working with a variety, like a varied supply chain is making sure you can meet the needs of the stores who are calling for more. And so for different places, in different reasons, we've done that. It's interesting, Willie just certainly is known for the smoking joints, but these days when you catch him smoking, it's usually that he's vaping. And that's one of them. That's how that's how you get away with it forever. I
Shayda Torabi 19:09
think he's just transitioning, he's okay, I can't maybe smoke forever. But if I can vape I can like a wean myself off or into the next you know, iteration of consumption. That's right, and saying yes,
Unknown Speaker 19:19
and just a different way. But, but it touches on one of those questions about products as well. So for as much fun as it is to do a strain selection and work with farmers and find things that are interesting, you know, almost Farmers Market feel. It's also great to have some stuff that's more standardized. And our vape product is one of the places where we're able to do that where you know, the hardware that we sourced is super high quality and very very reliable. It's exactly I mean it's really is what Willie is smoking somewhere right now. And then we can work with our partners with very exacting standards about what goes into that. So by having a combination of products in our lineup, just like I mean I for one choose across As the entire lineup, we're able to do both right, like work in the way that that cannabis is produce, but then also have some products that are consistent, reliable and will be pretty darn similar from place to place.
Shayda Torabi 20:13
No, that's super helpful. And I think for me just like reframe it for the listeners, too, it's not that there's one approach that is right or wrong, it really comes down to what's going to work best for that brand or that business and being able to scale that business in the direction that you want to grow your business. So yeah, no right or wrong answer was just super curious. And it kind of you know, validates to I love that little story that you shared of just whatever he got in the town before was you know what the next town was like, oh, what's the best in that stash? So it kind of creates more, I think, on that brand level, that excitement of just like, Oh, it doesn't always have to be this particular strain. It's just, you know, what is the cool next new thing this month that we're able to consume, which, in cannabis, I feel like there's always something new and interesting to consume. But since your background is marketing, and this is a marketing podcast, I'm really eager to understand in as much detail as you will share. How do you bring the brand that is Willie Nelson to life in a consumer packaged good, especially in the cannabis space? So from the branding to I mean, you talked about obviously, like what's in the product itself, but I'm thinking more just like the look and feel of Willie Nelson as this celebrity in and of its own right, bringing that into like the cannabis space. And to kind of further like, emphasize, there is a little bit of you know, I think, concern or caution around celebrity brands, right, like, oh, is a celebrity just like putting their name on this. So knowing that he is such a big pillar in the cannabis conversation, and now he has his own brand. What is that experience? Like when you're like, Okay, how do I take who Willie Nelson is, and bring it to life in these consumer packaged goods?
Unknown Speaker 21:55
For the first time ever? I'm gonna answer this question in a different way. Because it's you. And because you're sitting in Austin, Texas, because this is the this is the right thing. So Willie's amazing. And I have a lot more to say about Willie Nelson the person and how all of how we try and amplify aspects of his renown into things that are meaningful for consumers. But from a look and feel and lifestyle point of view. Shameless plug. It's luck reunion that happens out at Willie Nelson's house. That really was the source of a lot of the creative inspiration for how to go from Willie Nelson is cool. Texas is cool. There's sort of an Americana Austin lifestyle thing that people try to tap into. How can we bring that as a fresh perspective into cannabis? And that I think has been from the beginning, a wonderful sort of touchstone for us, Willie, if for your listeners who don't know, Willie Nelson's
Shayda Torabi 22:49
house, please explain to them Yes, what is
Unknown Speaker 22:54
Willie Nelson's house just right outside of Austin has the movie set on it from a movies that he made and it's now it gets each year reactivated and a very special way during South by Southwest during that time period as the luck reunion and I will plug because I know it's all happening again this year. But this year in March, its luck reunion is celebrating 10 years. So isn't it? Well, it's amazing and they're doing all kinds of cool stuff. And you should definitely check them out. But the what they've been able to do in terms of bringing the more current Austin lifestyle out to that very vintage spot and kind of tie together the hippie theme with the country and western theme. And an outspoken big attitude on top of it all has been a really effective way for us to talk about cannabis in a visual and lifestyle way that stands out in the cannabis landscape because all types of people love pot, and all types of people love Austin and Austin lifestyle and culture. And when we combine some of that stuff together like it takes the positioning that we think about which is outside it's access to the legendary stash. It's like our three word mantra about what Willie's reserve stands for. And it's all about like getting to smoke with Willie not actually getting to smoke with Willie not everyone but that feeling of like kind of touching a legend carrying it forward of putting on that like attitude that he taught us and taking it out into the world. So anyway, that has actually been like one of the most fun and inspirational parts of how the brand takes Willie Nelson and brings it to life for everyone.
Shayda Torabi 24:34
I really appreciate you being as transparent as you were as you were with that story and especially just like the I guess like a specialty aspect of it I mean because yeah like as a Texan as an austenite I've had the pleasure of getting to go to lock and getting to go to luck reunion and I mean you're talking about like, I personally have not smoked with Willie ever dream of mine one day we'll see maybe but what you're explaining of like I remember going to let a couple of years ago and just Being on the property and you're like, this is like Willie Nelson's place and and then y'all were assembling a couple of his I think hemp products at like a booth. And then there were some patches and it was just like, I gotta get patches because I'm like at Willie's property. And of course, I had my own personal stash, because what Texan doesn't, you know, bring their own with them. So it was just, it was cool to be on the property to get the feeling of the culture that Willie has created. And I'll take it a step further to kind of twist it a little bit, which I'm sure you're very aware of. But again, kind of for the listeners perspective, what I've kind of observed celebrities opportunity in cannabis is obviously tapping into a market that maybe would have otherwise not really considered cannabis, as much or as directly. And I'm gonna say it not every celebrity cannabis brand executes that really well, but but Willie really does. And I think it's just something that I've gotten to witness personally, just by being in Austin, and you just see the excitement around when he shows up on stage. And when people hear his song Come on, and whether you like cannabis or not, you're like, oh, it's Willie Nelson, like, that's good. Like, I'll go to his concert. And then the cannabis aspect, obviously, for those of us who like to partake, were reinforced because it's who he is. And so it's just been a cool brand to watch, evolve, and also kind of reflect that Texas attitudes. So again, I appreciate the highlight and the connection of some of those things that are really staple for us as Texans who are we're unfortunately a little late to the cannabis game compared to some other states. So it's cool to see such a big brand kind of championing that conversation and going as public with it as as he has over the years. So follow up question as the industry continues to evolve, and you emerge into more markets because I was trying to write out all the states that the products are in from a recreational cannabis perspective, not just the hemp products, but you're in California, you're in Arizona and Nevada, Colorado, of course, what is your approach to taking a brand national? And do you find because it has Willie's name on it that it sells itself? Or is the industry again, more critical of that celebrity cannabis brand? And kind of like a, an addendum to that is like, you know, you have these newer states that are coming online, like Michigan or Massachusetts. And it's not that Willie isn't a nationally known brand, but do you find that the brand doesn't resonate in certain markets? And are you strategic, I'm sure about which market to pursue just based on what has become legal versus where you're the brand might succeed. And I'll kind of introduce a little history too. I was just in Oklahoma, and I saw a very large national brand, which I'm not going to necessarily mention, but I saw them in Oklahoma and I'm like, does that brand do well here because there's their packaging is just so crisp and clean. And and it just to me was just a perplexing positioning of that brand. Being there. I heard the brand's ending I'm doing pretty well in Oklahoma. But again, from a branding perspective, just because you have a brand you want to go national, not every market is the same. Yeah, our industry. So that was a lot.
Unknown Speaker 28:20
I love it. I'll take a lot. When it comes back to something I was thinking before when you were talking about like, you know, different types of people love Willie. One of the ways that as marketers we can use that is that they're all They're all these different, like occasions for cannabis consumption. Right. And just like for anything like for like way back, we talked about it for coffee or for beer. But there are occasions that bring you to cannabis or bring you to the counter to buy cannabis. And one of the things that Willie's Reserve does well that we're glad and does well because we meant to is it creates a shared occasion for people who might not otherwise be able to partake together. So you know, Dad and Sam can smoke Willie's reserved together. And for some reason, that's more okay. Or you can take your mom to the weed store and direct her toward a Willie's reserve one to one vape product and because of who he is, and all of these things that that enables the conversation, and hopefully other celebrity brands, and we've seen some do really, really well enable that kind of conversation where because this because this third party is involved, it's embedded, you know, this works for these occasions. And so I think that's true market to market as well. So as we while there are, you know, very different regulations that might govern how things products come to market in the States. And then there's the unknown, you know, there's the cultural aspect. So East Coast culture versus West Coast culture or North versus south or whatever. They're also similarities and those same occasions that happen for consumers everywhere. And so I think in a lot of ways the opportunity for Willie's reserving for many cannabis brands is wherever they can find the momentum. And that's certainly Part of how we make our choices. In addition to the states you named, we've also are in Ohio, and Maryland. And so those are two medical markets where we've actually adapted the brand a little bit to speak in a slightly different voice to address patients who are part of a system where voters said, this is okay from as medicine. And so, because of that, you know, we take our products to market there with a slightly different attitude, a little less outspoken and a little bit more focused on benefits, because then we know that the people shopping in those channels are navigating a slightly different need than the folks coming in to get something before they go skiing. So long winded way of saying, I think when we build brands that are secure and positioned securely and have meaning, they have a lot of opportunity to go into new places or to adjust for those market conditions. And state to state definitely requires it like we find in Nevada, that certain things are required, like we've got to show up in certain ways and participate in certain ways. And we love it. But those things wouldn't necessarily be appropriate in our Ohio market, where we really want to reduce how much celebrity type noise we're making, and instead stay focused on plant oriented noise.
Shayda Torabi 31:09
No, that totally makes sense. And I appreciate the candor of just kind of laying it out. From your perspective. Again, I don't think there's like a right or wrong, obviously approach. And some brands really want to go all in in their state. And some brands also want to be you know, in multiple states and how you go navigate and kind of go state to state, there does have to be I think some consideration. And when you have a celebrity attached to it, obviously it does make certain aspects of that conversation, like you were saying these kind of like shared moments, be a little bit more easier to I guess, market or absorb as a consumer, versus if it wasn't Willie Nelson's brand, and then you're going into a new market. Countries stuff like in the northeast, they're like, I don't know, I don't that doesn't relate to me, or that doesn't speak to me. So it's something that I can observe works, given the just like brand that you've built versus the product or what's in the packaging, but a kind of follow up question to that. I'm curious, because I observed, every state that you're operating in, has a different Instagram, and you touched on it a little bit. So I'm wondering if it's because every state, you might have like slightly different products that you're promoting or a different tone that you're promoting. But some brands choose to just have one Instagram, whether they are in multiple states or not. And so from that approach, you know, how do you look at social media with such diversity of just like the amount of states you're in, and the amount of kind of like product skews that you're trying to keep up and ultimately market and bring to consumers?
Unknown Speaker 32:41
Right? You know, it's funny that you mentioned that we have our primary account Willie's reserve official is our Instagram account. And all of the state accounts I think we created in order to hold the space and be ready in the event that we need them. Because you're spot on that like that, because we do have all these different channels. It might be by one ready, roll, get one half off in this state. And meanwhile, it's bait vape vape. Over in Colorado, right, like so we do have very, like different calendars and different promotions going on social media, and cannabis is like the worst.
Shayda Torabi 33:16
So we say last, right?
Unknown Speaker 33:19
So we really look at it as community and more so than anything else, where we can go where like people can come to find us and shout out and like find each other and have some fun. We've certainly had the challenges that a lot of cannabis brands experience with online accounts, we've been shut down. We've had our posts removed, we get flagged like all those things. It's interesting to walk that line, I guess it's like required for participation in the universe these days. Actually, thank you for having me on today because I'm so grateful for opportunities like this for us to have a conversation that is not the social media conversation, right? Like it's I know people can
Shayda Torabi 33:55
do censorship putting here.
Unknown Speaker 33:58
It's so challenging. And anyway, if we could write a prescription for how to fix that I know we all would
Shayda Torabi 34:07
oh my gosh, well let's put Willie in charge of that and send him to you know, Facebook and Instagram and be like, come on, you gotta let this guy be on social media. So in return on social media No, I hear you and I couldn't help but also notice and just like poke a bear and it's mostly my bear to you have a Willie's reserve, Texas and I was like, What is this? I was like, when is this happening? Like come on Texas. So I'm just curious, a little selfishly, to with your breadth of understanding in cannabis at a national level as well as representing a Texan who is very proudly a Texan. Kind of what is been yalls take on what's happening with cannabis in Texas and what is the if you could predict you know, what do you think the future of cannabis in Texas is going to look like if it's happening anytime soon. I'm curious.
Unknown Speaker 34:59
I I'm also from Texas. I'm from Dallas. Right? This is what I'd love to move back to Texas. And as soon as Texas legalized with cannabis and one or two other important issues, maybe I will
Shayda Torabi 35:13
just like fix all of these at the same time, just like people would be happy to be here.
Unknown Speaker 35:17
On this show, I'll go ahead and say frustrating to watch because that some of the smartest most engaged advocates that I've met in cannabis world are in working in Texas, the struggle is real, and the fight is heroic. And the opportunity for cannabis to be an issue that changes minds and sways voters and organizes people is huge. And there are so many groups in Texas doing such a good job with it, and grassroots and very organized both. So I actually do think that when it happens in Texas, because it will it will Texas is going to be in a position to very quickly go from zero to super successful in terms of program implementation. because Texas is a wonderful state for business and is getting its stuff together on a bunch of social policy, and is super organized like people in Texas no matter what they believe, are pretty well in touch with each other and what they're working on. So my prediction is a super successful cannabis market, I hope soon enough to be in a leadership position nationally. And also I'm saying that to poke the bear Come on
Shayda Torabi 36:38
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 cbd.com and use code to be blunt for $5 off your next purchase. Thanks and let's go back to the show. I hope they're listening at least somebody somewhere has to like have some sort of control. And I think that's the unfortunate duality to all of this that I've observed just getting put more and more in a leadership position in Texas, which I will like fully admit like didn't ever plan on like I'm gonna go testify at the capitol today on like, why you should like legalized cannabis. But I think those of us who are business owners and locals, obviously whether we live here or not, we want to see cannabis legalized. And so it's, for me, it was the acknowledgement of well, I can't just wait for other people to go to the advocacy work like it's requires me stepping up and having those conversations too. But once you start getting in those rooms, you realize how politics work, unfortunately, and it's been two steps forward, maybe three steps to the side, and we inch and we're kind of dancing, maybe doing a little Texas Two Step here and there. But we're moving, which is the exciting part. So the I look forward to the day that Texas is open officially. And y'all as brands get to live out that you know, brand identity truthfully and wholeheartedly as this Texas culture that we've created here. So yeah, I was just curious, because obviously, Willie's home is here. So I just imagine eventually, like the ranch will be growing cannabis plants, and we'll be able to go pick them and you know, have the whole experience but kind of on that vein, and you talked about just you know, the importance of, of these different aspects of wanting to further the cannabis policy. And so I was reading an article and it had laid out four principles that I think Willie brought to the company that y'all have now incorporated, and they are personal freedom, medical efficacy, social justice and sustainability. So can you please explain in more detail, one, I think it's important to highlight and learn from you what is the importance of establishing these company pillars? And then to what are some actions or activities and ways that the company maintains them presently.
Unknown Speaker 39:30
Cool. So the origin story of those things was the first meeting that first sit down meeting that we had with William 2014, which was at his kitchen table right outside of Austin. And that power when I when we showed up with PowerPoint, and then he taught us the truth about cannabis. And those were the four things that you know, kind of four takeaway themes that we distilled it down to after that meeting when I was super high. Up to be you know, he wanted to make sure we understood It
Shayda Torabi 40:01
was like, Can you keep up? Can you hang? Okay, these are good people.
Unknown Speaker 40:05
So you know, in the ends, of course, they they come across much more distilled than they were in the conversation. But the first theme about personal freedom was really about the idea that especially for the recreational market, we just have a right to do what we want, like, we just have a right to do what we want with our bodies, for not hurting anybody else. And that was Willie expressed that in a bunch of different ways. But essentially, the idea that, you know, if you're an adult, and you can make this choice, then you should be allowed to make this choice. And obviously, that I think that one comes through loud and clear in terms of what we stand up for today. But it also, all four of these, I think they're simple to understand. And they apply in a wide variety of ways. So one of the ways this one has come to matter to us is that we celebrate the fun of weed, we are not afraid to shy away from the fact that sometimes we do this for fun. I mean, yes, it's medicine, it absolutely is. And many people are using it as medicine throughout the day. And sometimes we do it for a laugh. And sometimes it's just frickin funny. And taking that to heart and acting with that intention, and then demonstrating how to enjoy that. Publicly, it's something we get to do, because we have Willie as part of our message. But it's also been a great way to navigate some situations like making making a joke is sometimes All right. So that's the idea of personal freedom, for social justice, this in a very serious way. Of course, we all want to do well. And we want to have like a company that is successful here. But from the very beginning, Willie reminded us that we were going to set out to do this and hopefully be successful at it. And there were people sitting in jail right now, who were doing pretty much the same thing 10 minutes ago. And cognizance of that impacts a lot of different aspects of business. One is giving people a chance, working with different types of people working with different types of license holders, taking meetings where you know that maybe someone's pitching an idea that isn't feasible, but there's something in there or there's some opportunity, or there's some other way. So that one, you know over the years has taken lots of different expressions in terms of what we're doing and will take even more, I think that the opportunity to like give people a chance to be in business is huge. And getting people out of prison for pot is huge. And those two different things. And they both matter a lot and keep keeping awareness on each of those I think matters quite a bit. The third one that he mentioned, was sustainable. Well, basically the idea that cannabis is a crop. And so just like agricultural crops that we consider in other ways, and Willie, of course, has been an advocate for farmers for almost as long as pot, maybe longer thinking about all of the issues that add up to sustainability when it comes to crops. And so that's not just how much water are you using? Or what pesticides are using, although, of course those things matter. But also, is this a sustainable system for the people who are in it? Is that you know, is the pricing fair? Does everybody get enough to survive? Right now we're facing some real challenges in the California market, just in terms of the some of the structure of the taxation, impacting farmers so much that some of those folks I was mentioning, almost can't afford to stay in business. So being aware that while they're in some markets with where licenses are very limited, there are people making tons and piles of money. And then in other markets where taxation is high, and there are many, many, many licenses, there are folks struggling. So there are a lot of economic factors that go into sustainability as well. And then of course, packaging and impact of you know, moving our wheat all around and all of those things. So keeping awareness on that we are not perfect. I think everybody in the industry is learning more every day about what the impact of our industry really is. Again, as folks with a great big bullhorn, I think about this is how do we just keep keep it as part of the conversation? All right, oh, and then finally, let me just check the file again with there was medical efficacy and advancement. Cannabis is medicine. And we all know it, we all can feel it. And many of us have navigated to it in different ways that were maybe just like you were sharing with me before the before we got started today through experience and through recommendation. But the more that we support the idea that cannabis heals, the more we can help some of our institutions change their mind about that. And just even since we began in 2014, since I got involved in 2014. The amount of progress made in medical research and application of different cannabinoids and different terpenes and different parts aspects of the plant to different conditions has been huge. And the more that we can stand up for that and remember that it is it is fine, but it is also in different application medicine, the more potential there is to discover ways that cannabis can heal.
Shayda Torabi 44:58
So it was so cool to hear Are you sorry, I cut you off, or you're gonna finish up? I was gonna say that. So that's so cool to hear. Because I think my background is in corporate marketing and technology. And there's always a struggle, this duality of like, I don't want there to be corporations, you know, influence in the cannabis industry. But also I think some of these principles that are applied from a corporate perspective, like having company values, or pillars that you stand behind can be really good filters to I mean, like as little things like you were highlighting, you know, maybe you wouldn't take a meeting with someone otherwise, but because there's a company value, you're going to now take this meeting, where when you're doing an event or something you're going to be more conscious of okay, well, yes, we're going to do this event, but like, how can we actually incorporate some sort of give back? And so I appreciated that insight for the explanation, because yeah, it's just always something that I think this podcast has allowed me the opportunity to highlight the great work that so many different brands are doing, and it's again, not that there's the right or the wrong way to kind of go about going to market. But, you know, the whole point is, how do we learn how long play and Willie's reserve and Willie's remedy are operating? And what can we be inspired by? And so I think that's a really great takeaway for the listeners just to kind of be conscious about what are the important things to them, and respectively, their brands and what can they implement moving forward? But kind of transitioning a little bit I want to pick up you touched on obviously, luck Ranch, you touched on this sustainability and social justice kind of component, which is like how do we you know, be a little bit more involved with this megaphone, knowing that we're like a brand in the space that has a platform. And I've been a part of some of these events that y'all have been able to produce and I know the behind the scenes so I'm trying to weave together like what I observe and what y'all are doing. Right and so when I got to be a part of it was Lux summits. This was last year for for 20, which like coincided with Willie's birthday. Y'all had a big emphasis on wanting to leverage his brand as well as his many friends in the industry at large, not just cannabis, and not just country music, but just who he was connected to, and really put together an event for the community. It wasn't really for the industry. It was for the listeners of Willie's music and Texans really and trying to get a conversation going of how do we talk about sustainability? How do we talk about the future of cannabis in Texas. And so knowing that partnerships and collaborations are huge for really any industry in any business, I think just the power of finally being able to work with other people to level up your voice or your brand. Increase Sales is always good, but I'm curious to learn more from your perspective, you know, the thought process of we're this brand we have this platform we have this megaphone now how do we go create these experiences like luck Summit, like the luck reunion events that are happening and then other collaborations that might come up to like I observe that y'all had done a club with with Tom Petty and it was a CBD t. So again, sometimes their products, sometimes their events, but but just what is collaboration and partnerships mean to y'all? And how do you execute on that
Unknown Speaker 48:16
we're lucky to have the best inspiration there is for Willie Nelson has done music made music made art with such a wide variety of people. And he appeals to so many different people because he is an artist who really wants to meet. My observation is he wants to meet people where they are. So we are fortunate to have that as one inspiration. And Willie has a lot of friends. So since the day that we accidentally announced that we were going to do this thing in the world, you know people have have come to us with ideas and offers for ways to work together. And that's really just been a tenet of everything we've been able to build is let's do it together. In fact, at that first meeting, Willie said let's just let's build a great big tent and invite everyone to get it. You know, his his thought was you know, more is more. And it's true when it comes to adding getting advocates to kind of rally around one thing, and then be powerful for it. The team that luck productions who put together both luck summit and does who do luck reunion each year are just kind of endlessly creative. And it was really their idea to do the online Summit. It was during COVID We were all starved for connection and inspiration and entertainment stuff. And they were able to do something that that gave us a chance to put that Rolodex of cannabis community to work and say y'all want to get together and talk about some stuff. Not to be too hokey. But that really was the idea in many ways. And like you said, it wasn't designed to be like a for the industry event so much as for the community who looks to Willie for signals on we. And there's that's a big community. There's a lot there's a lot of folks in that community. So it was fun to do that. But the other inspiration that we've had since the very beginning is live music and musical collaboration. So You know, when Willie goes out on tour, we're fortunate that we get to bring a little piece of Willie's reserve out there too, we bring our little experience where it with a with pop up Willie Nelson, and you can buy a hat and jump in and take pictures of yourself with Willie Nelson in the field of weed. And well, it's fun, that pictures come out great. And then you know, when he goes out on his big summer outlaw tour, we bring in a slightly bigger experience for that so people can learn. And we invite different advocacy groups to show up alongside that you mentioned getting getting patches at out at lac, that's something we've actually been able to bring to a few dispensaries around, we bring that experience of bringing the seamstress and patches and denim. So people can kind of put together their own look and show off their voice. And all that sense of of making something together and doing something together, I think is really as marketers a great way to move beyond just like talking at people about your product, which is necessary. But when you're trying to include folks and build community and build consumer relationships that lasts beyond a transaction, but are really about come back and check on us in a month and or in a week or tell your friends about us which all of this is like what hearts and minds is all about. Then giving folks something that's more than just your product is key. And for Willie's that more than really is about collaboration and community and music and art. And so it's worked well, to get to include all of that, and then have the brand and the music, have some fun feeding off each other.
Shayda Torabi 51:37
No, it's very hand in hand. And again, I think as someone who's kind of like witnessed it from afar, as well as like being in the crowd of like, a Willie concert and like getting to be on the property. It's something that you sometimes like don't really think through unless you're maybe me or you or you're a brand or you're a marketer, and you're like, Oh, this is like they're creating this experience, like I get to be a part of this. But it's to that consumer who's being able to engage with the brand in a deeper meaningful way that goes beyond just like buying weed or smoking weed or like which it is fun. And like it's awesome. Like I love when I get to go to Colorado, I'm like, You mean I can buy this and I don't have to hide it like that's great. But especially knowing you know, just his legacy and the amount of people that do look up to him both from an industry perspective, as well as a consumer perspective. And so being able to, like, lean into that and have fun and kind of like give something back to that community of cannabis consumers is really special. So it's cool to hear kind of the ethos and inspiration behind it from your perspective, with growth on the horizon for the cannabis industry at large. This specifically like you as Elizabeth, what are some things that you've learned the hard way as you've expanded, not only Willys brands, but like as you're looking to expand long play? What are the things that you've learned the hard way that you're hoping to, you know, maybe overcome moving forward?
Unknown Speaker 53:06
Who? Again, that's a great line. Well, to build on the idea of the collaborative stuff. I think one I remember in the beginning in industry wide, there was a sense of proprietary really mattered. And we were all about proprietary. So proprietary is not probably the answer, I'll just say that I am not not to say that there aren't times when we should be protecting our IP, and diligently protecting our IP. But I do think one thing I've come to understand is that you have to know which part of your which part is valuable, and which part has value for your company, for your consumer or for your partners and be protective of of certain aspects, but also be wide open and share and share and share where that can help everybody get ahead. So I would say that just that sense of collaboration is definitely one. Another one I guess I've learned is in some of this, I don't know if it if it necessarily applies. But like being in the position of being at Willie's reserve, I've had the great opportunity to get a lot of frickin requests, and it's super, and I want them we want them we all want them. But I think one of the things I've learned is that it's okay to say next time and it's okay to say to offer something different and in return so, for instance, you know, people come to us quite a bit asking for like looking for sponsorship and we are very interested in sponsoring things. However, there's a limit to how much how many dollars and out of a marketing budget can go toward sponsoring things in the universe. And so figuring out ways that we can do something else like could we offer a prize for your auction is something I've learned because because often that can that can also go a long way. I don't know if that was a silly thing to be thinking about right? Yeah.
Shayda Torabi 54:50
No, that was actually really helpful and I think just personally like it resonates with me because I think sometimes we operate especially with like the cannabis and industry growing as fast as it's growing this idea of like scarcity, like if I don't do this now, it might not be here tomorrow or next year. And I think any human like, you know, 2022 is setting goals. I'm like I say no more often, you know, sort of like, I got to say yes to more things I'm like, I need to say no to more things. But from a brand perspective, it totally makes sense, because you realistically can't be everywhere at once. And I'll take it a step further to, for the listeners to really kind of, you know, maybe resonate to a little bit more on and maybe not such a, like, respect you guys, I'm never going to be Willie Nelson, I'm just going to put it out there and like probably will never build a brand to the capacity that he's able to do. Because that's that's him. That's his personal brand that he's been able to leverage for the industry. But thinking as as a smaller brand, who's very much operating in the space and aspiring to operate more as the industry opens up. Sometimes I think we want to say yes to things because it is opportunistic, and we think, Oh, this is going to help me move my business further. And realizing, really think through what you're saying yes to just because someone's offering you something doesn't mean you have to say yes to it. But I've certainly learned that the hard way, especially as our you know, market here in Texas is not as fun as other states. But you know, with the hem sigh we certainly have things that we're dabbling with and playing with and, and I said yes to a lot of stuff in the first couple years and my my family members are like maybe you shouldn't have said yes to all those things, because you're really tired. And I don't know, if they had a good return on investment. I'm like, but I need to just say yes, just to be everywhere. So there's a relevant point that I appreciate you bringing that's so
Unknown Speaker 56:33
well said that is, I feel that way so frequently and it actually gets to this other thing, which is the know what your know what you're after. Because that really helps you figure out whether or not you need to say yes, on behalf of your brand on behalf of your own career, on behalf of what you will hope your team can work on this year, whatever that is, I think I'm getting clear about like, you know, what am I trying to achieve and by more or less by when can really help be that filter man is that relevant for right now in January?
Shayda Torabi 57:03
I know you're saying and I'm feeling it I'm like okay, yes Elizabeth like gonna go do all the like, you know, homework that we have this conversation today. But no, like, genuinely really appreciate everything you've been sharing so far. And so just like final question to stump you again, what excites you the most about working in the cannabis industry.
Unknown Speaker 57:22
I mentioned this at the beginning. And I love I'll tell you what I loved being a consultant for hire, essentially getting the chance to have different clients and have the client type be very different, you know, year over year, whatever. But I what we're able to do in cannabis has given me exposure to so many additional industries or so many different other consumer packaged goods or deep inside different aspects of cultivation or extraction or retail Willie's remedy product line is that the flagship product is a coffee. It's a cannabis infused coffee. And it's been it was awesome to get to learn so much about about craft coffee, and what makes an excellent coffee and coffee supply chain, you know, and similarly, like we've our Head of Production helped us shift our packaging to something that was more environmentally friendly for the ready roll joints. And just getting to learn about the cascading impact that that one shift is going to be able to have on our overall impact is just it's just cool to get to learn about so many different aspects of business because cannabis is still an emerging industry even though the plant is a million years old and real industry has been around for hundreds of years. That right now version is still pretty brand new. And so for anyone I think who's interested in exposure to a wide variety forces right now in business and the economy and agriculture and medicine, cannabis is such a great place to be because so many things are converging to move it forward at such a fast speed that no matter like What lights your fire, you're gonna you're probably gonna get to find some of it here. For me personally, as you can tell, I guess that might be novelty. in some regard, I've definitely am enjoying, you know, just just the range of experiences. But as I look ahead, I'm I'm actually you know, there are a few projects that we've got teed up that I can't mention yet but they're super fun. That definitely have me excited. I think our experience bringing Willie's to market has brought together a group of businesses and team that know a really interesting set of how tos so I'm excited to see what we can how to together in the future
Shayda Torabi 59:39
I am so beyond grateful to have had Elizabeth hanging out with us for this podcast episode and extra special moment for this Texas gal to have one of our state's greatest ambassadors for cannabis on a national level be reflected on the podcast. Clearly Willie Nelson loves to share with his friends and through his music. I feel sometimes like We all are his friends. So in a way he is sharing with us and that is represented in the Willie's reserve and remedy products as an extension of the redheaded stranger himself, inviting us all in for a puff of the joint before it gets passed to the next person in line. His brand feels like a bit of Texas and yet transcends across lines from both musical genre to geographical location. So I hope this episode was as fun to listen to as it was for me to interview Elizabeth and I look forward to more experiences dancing and smoking with Willie and team at South by Southwest this year, so hope you'll get to be a part of that too. As always, thank you so much for keeping it blunt with me. I will be back next week with another episode of The to be blunt podcast every Monday and in the meantime, encourage you to keep championing cannabis in your community. By all
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