Party Like a Marketer Podcast
Episode 22: Opportunities for Cannabis Marketers for Paid Advertising
Lisa Buffo, Founder, and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association sat down with Carl Izzi, Founder & Managing Director at ARSENL Digital Agency Miami, to discuss the opportunities for cannabis marketers for paid advertising.
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Read the Transcript
Lisa Buffo 00:13
Hi everyone, welcome to party like a marketer, the podcast dedicated to cannabis marketing, public relations and authentic storytelling. I’m your host Lisa Buffo, founder and CEO of the cannabis Marketing Association. And you can connect with me on Instagram at leap off and Twitter at leap off 21. Today’s conversation features Carl is he the founder and managing director of Arsenal, a born digital media and marketing agency focused on health, wellness and leisure plans. Carl has over 20 years experience in marketing services leadership roles for globally recognized brands including Jeep, Citibank, White Castle, Walmart and the US Navy. In his current role, Carl plays a hands on role in driving the growth of Arsenal and in shaping strategy for the agency’s clients, including brands and retailers in the cannabis space. Previously, Carl was the Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at Zimmerman Omni comms powerhouse retail agency and lead all digital marketing and social media efforts for brands including Office Depot, Party City, White Castle and auto nation. Prior to joining Zimmerman, Carl held leadership roles at Detroit based global hue and Boston based digits. During his tenure at global hue, Carl served in various roles, including EVP and lead on the agency’s largest client, Chrysler Group, founder and president of the company’s digital agency energy and a member of the five person agency operating team. In these roles, Carl drove strategy and integrated campaign development across all of the agency’s key clients. During his tenure, he played a key role in growing the firm’s revenue exponentially and moving the company into the clear leadership position in his category. Carl earned a BA from Loyola University and an MBA from Babson College. He speaks English and Spanish and lives in western Florida. Welcome, everybody to today’s episode of Party like a marketer. The cannabis Marketing Podcast produced by the cannabis Marketing Association focused on cannabis marketing, PR and authentic storytelling. Today’s guest is Carl Izzy, the founder and president of Arsenal, cannabis marketing agency based in Miami, Florida. Carl, welcome. And thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Carl Izzi 02:35
Thanks. Great to be here. Appreciate you having me.
Lisa Buffo 02:38
of course. So let’s get started and jump right into it. So tell our guests you know who’s Carl, Izzy, what is arsenal? And what do you do and how did you get involved in cannabis?
Carl Izzi 02:49
Sure. So I’m founder and managing director of Arsenal. We’re a six year old Miami based agency focused on b2c We really focus with work with brands and retailers selling to consumers. We are digital focused. So that means content production, and our core competency, which is paid media in the digital space. We work with cannabis companies as well as health and wellness, food and beverage and other consumer companies that sell both online and offline.
Lisa Buffo 03:21
And how so? And how long have you been in cannabis? And what other verticals? Do you work in? Are you exclusively cannabis or do you work in some other spaces too?
Carl Izzi 03:32
Sure. We’ve been in the cannabis space since just about when the farm bill passed in late 2018. We started to work with some great brands like Mary’s nutritional’s and Mary’s medicinal at the beginning of 2019 and continue to work with both cannabis retailers and brands, both on the hemp and the marijuana side. today. We do also work with businesses outside of the cannabis space, health and wellness, fan care, food and beverage, little bit of tourism and a lot of E commerce.
Lisa Buffo 04:04
And tell me a bit about your personal career background. Have you always been in the agency marketing space? You know, how did you get there and what led you to found arsenal?
Carl Izzi 04:16
I’ve been in the agency space for most of my professional career. I’ve worked with some really large agencies IPG held agencies in Omnicom called agencies Zimmerman digits global Whew. And worked with automotive retailers like press your Jeep Dodge and divisions of General Motors as well as Subway Walmart rising in some really great companies. I did that for a long time. Took a lot of away a lot of understanding of how to work with organizations that are really segment leaders or challengers to become segment leaders. And I found it Arsenal because I really wanted to take my own path to be very focused Digital and to help companies that are small to mid size grow to enterprise.
Lisa Buffo 05:06
And are you from Miami originally? Is this your hometown?
Carl Izzi 05:10
Originally from Boston? I did spend a lot of time in Detroit working on automotive business. And I’ve been with my family here in Miami for about 10 years.
Lisa Buffo 05:19
Well, I’m from I’m from Cleveland. So I know the the Rust Belt auto vibe as well. So, yes.
Carl Izzi 05:28
A lot away from it. I have nothing but great things to say about Detroit, the Midwest.
Lisa Buffo 05:33
Yeah. Awesome, fellow Midwestern, er in the wild, both Glad to have you on the show.
Lisa Buffo 05:39
Alright, so let’s get started. So our audience is really focused cannabis marketers, we have experienced marketers in the audience, we’ve got folks who have an extensive background like yourself, as well as entrepreneurs who might be new in this space, starting up their own brands, and getting started. And part of why we founded CMA. And why we do this podcast is we want to make information accessible to those who can’t maybe afford a big agency who are just getting started with their cannabis knowledge, who are or who know what they’re doing, and are just looking to better expand, you know, what’s out there. So we’ll get to some of those insights in a minute. And I’m definitely interested in diving a bit more into your entrepreneurial story, because I think that you’re marketing and entrepreneur intersection is so closely tied in this space, whether you actually run your own agency or company, or you’re working within an organization and simply trying to figure it out and take those types of risks in order to move the cannabis companies forward. So, let’s start with some lessons you’ve learned in the cannabis marketing space, like what are some big takeaways that you’ve learned over your time working with these businesses since the farm bill that maybe you thought, hey, and this was part of my story, like I worked in tech before, and I tried to come into cannabis with my tech playbook. And it didn’t work. I had to modify it and adjust it. So, what are some lessons you’ve learned from your history working with these big, you know, big four brands as well into cannabis that maybe unique or different to this space?
Carl Izzi 07:13
Sure, it may sound antithetical coming from a digital guy. But I really do think it’s all about branding. And under First step begins with really understanding your audience. If you look at the CBD space, which is where we started after the Farm Bill, really the CBD space at that time, and the brands who were working on was being driven by people looking for pain relief, medication, and, or pain relief assistance. And really, that’s skewed a little bit older and female, if you look at the portion of the CBD space that’s really socially active, and driven by millennials, conversations around people looking for relief for anxiety. So I do think that there, there’s a real need to know your audience. And if you’re on the retailer side, that’s important as well, for our dispensaries that are handling clients in the in medically approved states, the audience tends to be middle aged in both male and female as it gets into recreational excuse younger. So I think brands coming into this space at young brands are often founded by a founder with a vision who has some personal experience. And the dangerous aspect of that is to end up being a focus group of one, it’s really important to clearly understand your audience and align what you’re saying to that audience. And certainly in this space, which is fragmenting very quickly. I think the other piece is that brand really matters. We’re in a business where really there is no quantity over quality in the marketing and advertising story, were shut off on a lot of platforms or at least curtailed from doing the things that some brands might do in terms of a very aggressive growth strategy. And that means to focus is on your brand and on your content. So having the alignment of your website, what you look like in social your brand voice your packaging, is exceptionally important in a business that’s growing in quality over quantity. And I think the last piece is really about that content piece. We often talk at my shop about the fact that our customers in our clients in more established verticals. Some of those who’ve had to make the jump from really being product centric sellers, to sellers and environments where the bar is higher. Consumers are looking for added value and that comes in patient education. It comes in talking to educating patients about the category and products and also the sustainability story and the origins of national natural products. Some businesses have had to learn that in cannabis. It’s inherent. So not only are we selling products, but our brands are being built around selling those what is considered added value, but it’s our core benefits in the cannabis industry.
Lisa Buffo 09:56
Yeah, I think that’s a really great point and branding and Cannabis is, you know, your brand is your emotional tie to your customers. And everyone in cannabis who’s using it cannabis or on the CBD side is looking for a desired effect. So that emotional and many people do have that personal story, like you mentioned. So that emotional tie is very important to bridge that gap maybe more in a way more so than CPG. If you’re selling toilet paper or Kleenex, perhaps. So having that cohesiveness of that brand voice, that consistency and clarity of communication, I think is not only important in this space, but will help you stand apart from the competition if you’re really thoughtful about it.
Carl Izzi 10:39
Lisa Buffo 10:41
Awesome. And I also wanted to ask, so you mentioned both medical and adult use. Do you work with both sets of companies in cannabis? And have you noticed any specific differences in the approach? Sort of the marketing and branding approach between those two? If you do?
Carl Izzi 11:01
I think we do. And the marketing is fairly consistent when you are approaching it from a social and content standpoint, obviously, businesses that are in markets, if you’re retailing in a market where recreational is involved, there’s much more opportunity for paid advertising at the state and local level. So out of home comes into the mix. And more, I’d say more programmatic than we see in markets where we’re typically doing with medicinal.
Lisa Buffo 11:27
Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. And since you brought it up, let’s talk about that a little bit. What are the paid options available to cannabis companies? I speak with a lot of folks who actually think that that programmatic and digital side is close to them, where they don’t fully understand that there are options available. Can Can you just speak a little bit to that side as far as what is available, what they can leverage and how accessible it may be?
Carl Izzi 11:54
Well, we’re in an environment, I think there. First of all, there’s a lot of opportunities for paid advertising for cannabis marketers. The two platforms that typically get the lion’s share north of 60% of ad spends are Google and Facebook ads, which also covers Instagram. And those are relatively speaking close to cannabis marketers. There are certainly exceptions. And in some cases, we’ve been very successful marketing on those platforms, but in very limited circumstances with large brands and with the partnership of the platform’s themselves. Aside from those platforms, it’s really a wide open game. So on the programmatic side, and programmatic is really what we like to tell our clients, it’s advertising to any device with a screen on any platform that’s really not Twitter, Facebook, or Google. So that means putting an ad on the New York times.com. For example, display ad, which is served through a programmatic ad stack is really the technology that we use to serve ads. But programmatic can be really a television spot served on connected TV, or Ott, which is the Roku device and the content that you’re watching that you’re streaming through the internet. It can be a display banner, or a video on New York, times.com or yahoo.com, or any other publisher that’s willing to take cannabis advertising, and there are lots of them. So that is really a great option for marketers who are looking to generate awareness of their brand, and is certainly accessible to cannabis marketers in many, many states.
Lisa Buffo 13:33
And we are seeing more publishers start to accept these ads. I think what was happening earlier in our cannabis marketing history was those were not as open. So even if we didn’t have programmatic available, it was a little bit limited as far as who which of these sites and publishers were showing ads. But to me, it seems particularly over the last few years, that number has increased. So the options and the ability to reach audiences through programmatic is continuing to grow.
Carl Izzi 14:05
I totally agree with that. When we first started in the business, there were specific programmatic publisher networks that were forming to take this type of advertising and put it out to a certain segment. It’s much broader. Now you have premium tier, top tier publishers, you know, Huff Post, New York Times it will take this type of advertising. And I think the the tools that we use are have also been shaped by the rollout of this industry. In Canada, for example, we work a lot with programmatic providers that began their their existence in the Canadian markets and brought that skill set and technology to the US when the markets opened up here and they come with a lot more publisher relationships.
Lisa Buffo 14:49
Yeah, yes, our neighbors to the north have fully legalized for their people. So we’re hopefully we’ll get there soon, but I’m glad you I’m glad you brought Canada So I would like to talk a little bit about retail store marketing. I know this is something you’re specialized in as well. And as we’re seeing more and more states come online, and more licenses being distributed, this is going to continue to be an area to talk about. And I like talking about retail in particular with cannabis, because to me, it’s one of the few places where I still go into the store, right, like everything else I can buy online on an Amazon type platform. But cannabis, you can’t do that yet. So we have to go into retail, we have to have that conversation with the budtender and have that experience fairly frequently if you’re a regular consumer. So can you talk a little bit about how you approach retail store marketing, and the importance of it?
Carl Izzi 15:47
Yes, I think you talked about more and more dispensaries. And I think the importance of it lies there, from the standpoint that the markets are becoming increasingly competitive. When we look at my home state of Florida, for example, and we see plant 13 coming into the market, they have really an unlimited ability to open new dispensaries. So the retail environment is getting more competitive. And what that means is that retailers like in any business need a way to stand out and grab consumers attention, and have really good alignment with who their core audiences. And I think just as we spoke about the importance of knowing your audience, if you’re a brand, it’s the same as when you if you’re a retailer. So what we’re trying to work with our clients on is really making sure that there’s a cohesive brand experience, and that what consumers are seeing online, which is really the storefront of the brand for a lot of retailers and on the website is very similar to the experience that they’re getting in being brand with when they get in store. So signage, the install, look and feel the website in the social presence all in alignment makes for a good brandable experience for a consumer and it sets the tone for what that dispensary is all about. So I think that’s the basis for what we’re seeing in the marketing today is good dispensaries are paying attention to what their brands are. And even though they’re a retailer, they’re trying to expand that through their social presence and old their touchpoints with consumers.
Lisa Buffo 17:19
That makes sense. And I think one of the things we saw with COVID, too, and the, you know, certainly the beginning of the pandemic, when we were doing curbside pickup and that sort of in store, retail experience became a lot more limited. Retailers were really focusing on connecting with their customers online, whether it was through social newsletter, their website, these owned channels to keep that relationship going until, you know, things have progressed. And now we’re back in store again, more so. But keeping the cohesiveness like you said, if the brand voice, that brand image across all of those channels, and the store does help deepen that relationship and does help, you know, convey to the customer that this brand knows what they’re doing, and that they’re speaking to you in consistent ways across these different mediums, whether it’s in store, or digitally.
Carl Izzi 18:09
I think that’s right. And so we are seeing more effort on the part of our clients to make that alignment. But also to really make sure that in store experience is really premium as people are coming back into the stores. And I think the other thing that we always take into consideration with retail marketing, just as we do with branding are the compliance needs. We are retailers, and we’d love to go out and say we’re on sale. But the reality is, in the social networks, where we’re putting up a lot of organic content, we need to be very careful not to suggest that there’s a huge retail element to what we’re doing.
Lisa Buffo 18:41
Yeah, yeah, it’s a very tight line to walk. And the gray area is very real in this space. So yeah, very much so. So to that point, I, I would like to talk about any adversity you faced or lessons you have learned. I know part of why I founded cannabis Marketing Association is I I’m a former cannabis CMO, and I tried to take my tech playbook and use it in cannabis. And it just didn’t quite work. Granted, this was in 2015. So things have changed a bit since then. But I think a lot of us share the experience of trial by fire. It’s sort of learning as we go and trying different things, seeing what works and what doesn’t. So are there any lessons or stories you want to share of adversity you faced as far as it being a cannabis marketer or an entrepreneur that may be helpful to the audience?
Carl Izzi 19:33
Well, I think the adversity that I face as an entrepreneur is very similar to in the I think the approach you have to bring to your business as an entrepreneur is the same as you do as in the cannabis space. And really, that’s about persevering and being able to shift gears very quickly. I know in my business, we’ve gone through iterations and lifetimes of our business already in our five or six years of existence. To adapt to a very changing marketing environment in the cannabis space, that’s really on steroids. The environment we are in now in terms of CD marketing is fundamentally different than it was three years ago. And we didn’t have the retailer options that we do now, on the really, you know, as wide as they are in terms of the number of states on the retail marijuana side. So I think being able to persevere being able to adapt to the changes is incredibly important. And we’ve had to learn as an agency to do that, we came into this space with a core competency and paid digital media, it’s the core of what we deliver for many clients in the Health and Beauty and FEM care space, for example. And in this space, we’ve had to learn that that’s not an approach that fits every business, we’ve become much more conservative in terms of where we’re applying digital media. And we’ve learned to grow a lot of other skill sets to be able to serve brands and retailers well in the space content creation. And certainly the delivery of that in social is now a core fundamental service that we offer. And we didn’t start out as an agency that played that way. So I think it’s very interesting space, it moves very quickly, like marketing does in general, I think we’ve learned a lot from it and become much more creative in how we’ve used channels to drive impact. And every business is different in the cannabis space. And a lot of it has to do with how long the brands have been in business. In some of our more established clients that came in with large email databases of consumers that they had developed relationships with as almost as very empathetic and caring brand voices, those businesses were able to approach e commerce for differently than brands that were just starting out that were looking for traction. And so we try to take a very unique look at those brands and find a way to help them through. But as a company, we’ve had to adapt to the cannabis space by really vary our service offering within the space to to account for the fact that you need a lot of channels to work well together to be successful in cannabis.
Lisa Buffo 22:17
Yes, I appreciate you sharing that because I speak with a lot of folks who in their first steps in the space feel like they’re totally doing it wrong. And I think that’s part of the learning curve in the beginning when you take that step into cannabis marketing, and the ability to adapt and persevere is, like you said very real and on steroids. So thank you for sharing that. So, um, what is one thing you wish you knew about the industry before you got started? Like, while we’re on this reflective aspect of the podcast? What’s one thing you you have with that 2020 hindsight that you’ve perhaps learned along your journey?
Carl Izzi 22:58
I didn’t realize, and I don’t think anyone on my team realized when we first stepped into cannabis, that it was going to be a massive contradictions. Were in a business that largely is driven around, implicitly health benefits. But in a lot of the cases, we really can’t say what those are. We are we’re also in a business that really many of the companies that we’re dealing with have come out of the ground in the last five years. And typically with startups, you would look towards digital media, and in particular, Facebook and Google as low cost low commitment ways to gain traction with new users, for a new company. And for the most part, those are channels that if they aren’t closed, they’re exceptionally narrow for newer companies coming into the business. So I think they’re there. Those are part of the lessons learned in terms of coming into the space. I don’t know that it would have changed our interest in getting into this space. But we certainly have come to appreciate that. It’s a very different business. And maybe what you see from the outside, even if you look at the fact that overall, mid and long term growth rates are very high in the space, even with 2021 bouncing around a little bit. It’s still a very, very good trajectory. But that doesn’t mean that that’s for every segment in cannabis or every state, the tax laws, the regulatory environments have a huge impact on growth. And so anything you think of as a given with a national company doesn’t necessarily apply in cannabis, it means that you have to pick your spots.
Lisa Buffo 24:35
Yep, that’s That’s very true. And something you mentioned earlier about being creative with the channels you have. I like talking about this because in cannabis marketing, we may not have the quantity of channels available, but we do have some and the ones in which we do we do have to be creative about and we do have to be thoughtful, but it does allow more opportunity to to to Take that creativity and communication to the next level into strengthen that bond with your customers that you currently have. And think about how you’re going to reach out to new folks. So along those lines, what are some effective marketing strategies that you see brands utilizing in cannabis? And however you want to answer that digital content?
Carl Izzi 25:18
It’s a big question. I’ll do my best. Yeah. You know, again, I think the it’s so it’s a big industry, it was really interesting, the last two times, I’ve been able to go to mjbizcon. And you really just see the breadth of the industry, whether that’s traditional companies that have come in and cannabis as an adjunct to their business or new brands forming? Well, like every industry, there are a lot of participants in the value chain. So whether you’re selling b2b, or you’re a brand selling CBD products, or you’re a retailer sign marijuana products, there’s really, there’s really, I think, a different approach that’s required, and different opportunities for success within each one. I think the core that we’re seeing is, and again, this is this is perverse coming from somebody who’s really focused on the digital side, is really the growth of great brands, I was really amazed to go to mjbizcon this this past year, and see how good the branding has become in our business, the the bar is much higher than it was even a few years ago. And companies are paying a lot of attention. And I really do think that the building blocks for many companies are here for long term success because of the focus on creating really great indistinct brands. So I do think that that is an important characteristic of the companies that will succeed because businesses continue to fluctuate, there are a lot of competitive pressures. And it’s not an easy business to come into. And really gain traction, particularly if you’re a brand trying to attract a new audience, you really have to work on your distribution, your messaging to be able to bring consumers into the brand. So I think branding is one an exceptionally good use of social, certainly an exceptionally good use of search. I saw data this morning that said, a 38% of consumers in the CBD space, really found out about CBD products through online searches, which is pretty close to the 40% that found out about it through word of mouth. So I really do think that the visibility and taking advantage of the channels that are available, like search is also exceptionally important. And we see a lot of companies that have focused on channels like search over a good period of time and supported with excellent content done the same with social and over time growing a really good following for their consumers. I think the other point is, when consumers get to your website, which is really the storefront for a lot of businesses in our space, they have to have a great experience. So that means fast websites, well branded, excellent use of product, the if you’re in the retail space to curb site options that you talked about, and also content that appeals to people. People still if you look at the searches that people make, it’s still what is CBD? Is it okay, we’ll help me they’re very basic questions. And as our business becomes more complex with different compounds and terpenes. And very specific use cases, being able to educate your patients is important. Whether you are a brand or retailer, pretty much anybody consumer facing in this space. That’s ground zero for successful marketing in it.
Lisa Buffo 28:37
Yeah, and I think the education aspect builds trust, which is core for the what you’ve mentioned, about branding, where if they know how to evaluate these products, and the effects that they’re going to have on their body and their mind and their well being. And that ability comes from content you’ve created, it builds that trust there and are going to be more likely to come back and be a loyal customer. I also think it’s interesting, the how you’ve mentioned a few times to focus on brands, because I was heard another talk recently at a conference where someone said that we haven’t the Google or the Coca Cola of cannabis probably isn’t even here yet. We probably were still so in this industry’s infancy that it might not even be on the market at this point. But at some point, maybe it is as far as who’s going to be that leader. But we are that early in this space. And that not only resources as far as dollars and budget and people will eventually be coming into cannabis and be taking an approach at that level as far as the opportunity to really really grow in this space. So I think for the smaller businesses, focusing on that now and understanding that and knowing that that opportunity and potential is there is really huge as far as following those branding best practices and building that trust in that relationship with the consumer.
Carl Izzi 29:58
I think so too. And, you know, I keep talking about brand, because having a point of distinction is just so important right now you cannot come into the space and be an also ran, you have to have a reason for being. We’re also in a very strong m&a climate in the space. And what it means is the brands that have good brands have distinction doesn’t matter where they are in their growth story. But if they have a good story on who they’re serving and why they’re they’re a target to become an acquisition target in the current climate that we’re in.
Lisa Buffo 30:30
Yeah, definitely. And we’re seeing that pick up more and more every year.
Carl Izzi 30:34
Lisa Buffo 30:35
So, yeah, that’s not, that’s not
Carl Izzi 30:36
It can heal whoever that Coca Cola is, or that Google is that you’re talking about, we’re starting to see some of that emerge. But I think that still the doors wide open for small businesses that come in, and have a reason to be in this space in a singular focus on quality in very strong alignment with branding and consumer requirements.
Lisa Buffo 30:58
And I want to go into your point about figuring out that distinction or unique selling point, because the days so in the early days of the industry, that joke was almost Oh, why do you need cannabis marketing, you know, weed sells itself. And those days, I will argue to say they never existed, but they are definitely gone at this point. So you do as a brand need to have that, that voice, that unique selling point and that differentiation that makes you different from the perhaps dozens of other competitors on the shelf around you when you walk into that retailer. So what are some ways that you approach this? And or bring it out in marketing strategies that would say, Okay, if this is our client as a brand, how do we convey what makes them different from everybody else?
Carl Izzi 31:45
Well, I think it’s understanding why what the brand is about and who their audiences and a lot of times that it’s very hard to look at your own brand and have clarity, we struggle as an agency, we can brand anybody’s brand and do digital marketing for anybody. But when it comes to ourselves more like shoes, I think, you know, our role is to come in. And a lot of times point out the obvious that this is who you’re serving, there’s either an alignment or there’s not, we see that through the digital executions that we’re taking. When we’re writing content, we’re writing it in that brand voice, and we’re writing it with a purpose for a specific audience, pretty much tell if we’re getting traction on it or not, whether that’s delivered through social or it’s becoming part of our SEO strategy, or ad strategy. So I think our role is to come in and help find that alignment, and also find the best, most replicable relationships in it. Brands serve lots of niche audiences, in many cases, for small businesses, our role is to come in and find the best audience and make sure that what we’re doing is aligned to that best audience. I think we always today are Reverend of brand, and understand that retail selling and conversion for companies that are selling online or retail comes from having a strong brand, and a reason for consumers to believe in you to begin with.
Lisa Buffo 33:10
And I’m glad you brought this up. But can you talk a little bit about finding that audience, and I’ll preface it by saying this, there are such potential for these niche, smaller audiences of cannabis consumers? And I get frustrated when I hear folks say things like, we want to market to women? Because to me, that’s it’s so broad, like, Yes, that’s true. But also what age group, what demographic? Where are they located? What are they interested in? There are so many subcategories within something as broad or as specific as gender, if you will. So how do you help brands find who that audience is that core audience? And yeah, let’s start there. How do they find that? How do you assist them with that process?
Carl Izzi 33:56
You know, as you’re asking me this question, I’m thinking of, you know, six experiences that we’ve had in cannabis, and they’ve all been different. And in some cases, those audiences are, are known alignments. I think in the earlier days when we started in the CBD spaces and worked on some large brands that had already developed followings with certain core audiences, because they were just dispensary brands on on the on the marijuana side, were able to bring over our point of view about who their brand was, I think those are those are alignments where you’re walking into a situation and the brand is somewhat established. And your job is to essentially make that alignment better than it is today. So I think that’s one use case. Another use case is a brand that’s coming right out of the ground that has a perspective on who it’s going to serve. And usually those brands are started with a perspective of we’re building this to serve this audience. And in those cases, what our job is, is to find out about that audience and also how we reach them, and some of the things that We’ve seen, we’ve seen good promises for businesses that have come out of the ground like that, and either been very successful because they know how they could reach that audience and also deliver a product or service to them. And then we’ve seen other cannabis brands that have reached the audience. But the audience has known what to what to do, or there’s been some fundamental misalignment in what the distribution is, because we’re in a business that’s challenged, you can’t deliver product everywhere you would like. So our product, our approach has been to really look at the alignment to understand how we can make it better. I wouldn’t say there’s a huge amount of how do I say, I think those alignments are visible to us, typically, when we come in and understand the reach the brand’s reason for being and we can usually find those audiences using digital tools, using the things that we can do to evaluate an audience and seeing the response. And that’s the good thing about digital is, you know, fairly quickly when you put something into market, whether you’re getting a response to it or not. So we use all those tools to try to hone in on who the audiences make a really good alignment. And in many cases, we’re also testing some of those more niche audiences that you talked about, through some of its trial and error. This is a new space. So not everything is laid out for us take a general premise and try to reach an audience and see how we do.
Lisa Buffo 36:22
So it’s about expanding using an expanding the tools in your toolbox and making sure that feedback is going to ways so it’s not just with the company or the founder things like you said, I love that term, one person focus group, that this is who my product is reaching, but also getting that feedback. And having a mechanism for that to be able to get insights and pivot and adjust based on what you’re seeing.
Carl Izzi 36:48
Sure, the tools that are available to us digitally today social listening tools to understand the sentiment that people are engaging with content, looking at Instagram feeds and understanding not only the number of fans and followers, but the engagement rate to see how our content is resonating relative to what our competitors are putting out to their customers, looking at other tools that we have, that are letting us understand how consumers are searching for products today and whether the content we’re putting out and the advertising we’re putting out is well aligned to that. And then on the advertising side, certainly understanding who’s engaging with our content in downstream that that means in the programmatic space, we have phenomenal tools. So that if we’re putting out advertising, we can also track that to store activity. So we know if you’ve been exposed to our ad, and within 30 days of actually walked into a retail environment. We don’t know if you’ve made a purchase, but we know if you’ve actually entered that environment. So there’s lots of ways that we can track the efficacy of what we’re doing, and understand whether we’re reaching the right audience whether we’re seeing the right message, and how that’s resonating.
Lisa Buffo 37:55
That makes sense. Awesome. Well, few more questions before we wrap up. So what are some ways that you believe marketing? And I’ll let you choose to take this one of two directions will either grow the cannabis industry? or slow it down? Like what are some things you’re seeing as a whole that are helping to move this space forward? Or any trends that you see that may be concerning?
Carl Izzi 38:20
Well, I don’t think marketing is I think regulations are are hamper marketing. But I don’t think marketing in itself is a is a drawback in in any situation where it’s applied? Well, I do think, as the business grows, the amount of data that’s available on consumers, both to identify consumer segments, and to reach them is only a net plus. And we’re doing this with really without the participation of the two major platforms in Facebook in Google paid ads. So the the ability for us as marketers to understand who the audience is and how this is growing, and to reach them, I think is growing every year. Despite the iOS 14 changes, which have impacted a little bit of the data that we have on the advertising side. The reality is we have tons of data about who’s going to retail locations who’s been exposed to the ads, who’s taking actions. There’s all kinds of ways we can grow the business as marketing has just gotten smarter and smarter. And I think what’ll end up happening is, I think the pressure on over time on Google and Facebook, from their shareholders and stakeholders. As the cannabis industry grows, we’ll force them to come around and I assume that will take place as national legalization takes place. But I think that will right size, the marketing mix over time and just accelerate how marketing has the ability to impact the space.
Lisa Buffo 39:52
And can you touch a little bit on those iOS 14 changes and what that means for tracking for those audience who may not know.
Carl Izzi 40:00
In the middle of last year, Facebook or semi Apple put in some changes for what what the default permissions are for tracking people’s behavior on apps. And those Facebook, most people access platforms like Facebook, through an app on their phone. So some of the data that our ad platforms like Facebook were able to collect, that really both lent on insights into consumer behavior about the actions that they took after seeing an ad, some of that’s been curtailed. So it’s had an impact on Facebook marketing, we started to see it between June and August last year. And then companies that we do a lot of advertising work for, it hasn’t made it impossible to advertise on Facebook, Facebook’s getting something like one out of every four digital ad dollars are being spent right now. But it certainly has changed how we use the platform. And the focus that we put on first party data, anybody that’s coming into cannabis or any other space has to look at first party data data that you own, your email lists, the phone numbers of the customers that you have, that’s the most important data to have these days, because that is the basis for reaching your your customer. And as advertising options expand and even programmatic. It’s also the basis for finding people that look and act and purchase like your best customers today. So that hasn’t been impacted by iOS 14. But some of the third party data that we typically ask us to find consumer says.
Lisa Buffo 41:30
Thank you for elaborating on that. And lastly, where do you see the industry going within the next year or five years? What do you see as the future of this space? You can answer that either from a marketing perspective or just in general.
Carl Izzi 41:45
So I’ve kind of answered both both ways. If you look back at 2021, we certainly saw growth. But we also saw uneven growth, there were areas where there have been some pullbacks relative to the the huge peak of the boom when COVID first started in some of the segments within cannabis. And I think we’re likely to see some of that choppiness in the business this year. Other than that, growth is likely to track distribution. We have a handful of states this year that are also legalizing recreational use. And I think the business will continue to expand as the distribution opportunities expand. I think consumer demand is there. And that’s going to drive both the business growth and the marketing growth. We are in a relatively speaking, high growth environment. We’re not selling cars or other businesses that have slowed slow growth rates, we’re in a fast growth rate environment. And what that means for marketing is a continued need to be mindful of the compliance rules and regulations, but also really aggressive. I think we come into this space. And this is something else we’ve learned. If you come into this space with a traditional sort of digital marketers perspective on right sizing your marketing towards return on adspend goals, you’re gonna miss a lot of opportunities, because the growth may be uneven, but it’s it’s high over the medium term, not being aggressively trying to find market share and opportunities for leadership.
Lisa Buffo 43:12
Yeah, that’s that’s a good point, that trajectory is there. So it’s about seeing, seeing the longer term vision and course and sticking with it. Okay, Carl, any other last insights, anything you want to mention or share before we close out that we didn’t have, we didn’t touch on already.
Carl Izzi 43:30
And just love to give a plug to the association, which I think is serving an extremely valuable role in the business to put together podcasts like this and to educate people and also to create a vehicle for marketers and service providers and brands and consumers to come together and understand what’s going on the business. So I appreciate what you do and glad to be a part of it.
Lisa Buffo 43:53
Thank you so much. We really appreciate that and tell everybody how is there any information you want to share about Arsenal website any contact information social so folks can find you?
Carl Izzi 44:04
Sure. We’re here in Miami, Florida, we’re looking for a few good clients and our scope of business is definitely the ability to help craft businesses and get them into market and gain traction with new audiences. You can find me at Carl at Arsenal agency.com spelled funny ARS nl agency.com and look forward to to hear from anybody that would like to have a discussion about health.
Lisa Buffo 44:32
Thank you, Carl, we appreciate you being here today.
Carl Izzi 44:35
Lisa Buffo 44:37
Thank you for joining us for another episode of Party like a marketer. Check us out on Instagram at party like a marketer and on our website, the cannabis marketing association.com Don’t forget to engage with us. We’d love to hear from you. And be sure to join us in person in June 2020 June 8 through 10th for the annual cannabis marketing summit happening in Denver, Colorado. Check out our website for more details and membership information we’ll see you next time
Meet Your Host
LISA BUFFO, Founder and CEO of Cannabis Marketing Association
Lisa Buffo is an award-winning entrepreneur and marketer with a passion for launching companies with experience in both the cannabis and technology industries. Lisa is the Founder & CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association, a membership based organization focused on education and best practices for industry marketers with the vision of rebranding cannabis at the national level. She was named one of 2019’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars in Cannabis by Marijuana Venture Magazine in 2019 and named “The Marketing Guru” by Women & Weed magazine and is a featured speaker and media source in publications like Forbes, The Guardian, and VICE. You can find her on Instagram @libuff and Twitter @libuff21.
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