Party Like a Marketer Podcast
Episode 39: Growing Your Cannabis Brand Through Networking
Lisa Buffo, Founder, and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association sat down with Luna Stower, Chief Impact Officer at Ispire, to discuss Growing Your Cannabis Brand Through Networking.
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Read the Transcript
Lisa Buffo 00:12
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 cannabis Marketing Association. You can connect with me on Instagram @Libuff and on Twitter @Libuff21, I’d love to hear from you. Today’s conversation features Luna Stower, chief impact officer at Ispire vape technology with a master’s from USF and a BA from UC Santa Cruz and nearly two decades of cannabis experience. She’s known for her role in launching several California legacy brands like Jetty extracts, an internationally recognized industry expert, Luna is featured on b2b panels, podcasts, summits and consumer expos and was named cannabis culture Advocate of the Year in 2021 by the cannabis Chamber of Commerce as a renowned thought leader in drug policy. Luna blends her knowledge of consumer markets with the passion for social and plant medicine justice, and has been instrumental to local decriminalization measures. And first of its kind social equity initiatives. She serves as a judge for the esteemed Emerald Cup awards, Mila the hash Queens dabba doo, global hash competition, and H cues, masters of rosin Spannabis cups. Learn more about her at Lunastower.com. Luna, thank you so much for being here today.
Luna Stower 01:37
Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor and a pleasure.
Lisa Buffo 01:40
So I’ve known you for several years now. And we’ve had lots of conversations about cannabis marketing, The good, the bad, the ugly in the industry. I’ve known, we’ve known both. I’ve known you, you’ve known me through a few different roles. And we’ve seen marketing evolve in our local markets and nationally for a very long time now. So I’m excited to have this conversation with you and talk about the state of cannabis marketing, and get into some insights for our audience as well. But first, can you introduce yourself, tell the audience a little bit about Luna, who you are, how you got started, and then Ispire as well and what the role of chief impact officer is.
Luna Stower 02:20
Yeah, so I’m really lucky to work at a company like Ispire that really values, you know, social justice and environmental initiatives. It’s something that’s really important to our hearts personally. And in an industry, where we’re using electronics and a lot of disposables and things like that we really need to be conscious of that. So as impacts officer, I’m doing initiatives like trying to launch right now in Oklahoma, we’re working on a recycling program for cartridges and disposables, and I go around the world on panels from Germany and Spain to just got back from Atlantic City and Oklahoma City. You know, speaking on everything from consumption, education, to equity, and social justice in the space to advocacy of plant medicine, decriminalization, policy and compliance, all the way down to just good old fashioned history of cannabis legalization in California and how we got here. So I’m really lucky to be able to have moved, you know, I was VP of Business Development moved into this role. And really, I’m able to embody all the things that I really care about are sacred to me in representation of this plant in the mainstream.
Lisa Buffo 03:25
And when did you get started in cannabis?
Luna Stower 03:28
Well, I’ve been I’d like to say that I was in middle school, because that’s when we were smoking it and selling it, everyone around us was growing it. So you know, 1996, I was in sixth grade. And we just had access to, you know, the brownies and the stuff from the clubs that was coming from older brothers and sisters that were picking it up. And it was never considered a drug in our community. It was always just something that was around just like anything else we saw alcohol is way more harmful. And so I was really lucky to go to UC Santa Cruz and get involved in Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and got into the drug war consciousness through the ACLU, in different activities, working in prisons, worked in several different prisons around the Bay Area and in Santa Cruz in jails, really working on pre and post reliefs, release services. And it really made me realize that the youth is where we need to go for these interventions. So I got into public school teaching, and I taught for about a decade in middle school and high school, English and Spanish and really got to, you know, see firsthand the impact of the war on drugs on the communities and on the children’s and the schools and the system. So, you know, that was in the Bay Area. Yeah. So Berkeley and Hayward were the main places that I was teaching at that time. So very, you know, these are urban areas with a lot of immigrant students, low income students, and, you know, single parent homes and lack of generational wealth and things like that. So, as we say, in Oakland, there’s million dollar blocks where the government spending a million dollars to incarcerate people, but if they had spent a million dollars on programming for everyone on that block that we’d be in a much better place. So yeah, it got me to Ready extracts in 2014, they hit me up, they know saw me at different clubs with different I was repping for different brands, and they asked me to come on. So I ran sales for them for five years, I did a little bit of marketing and then decided to leave and do my own thing and started a marketing business myself, which I think you guys are the first panel ever sat on in Oakland, the CMAS it was really, really nice to kind of be in a room of other marketers who understood how important storytelling was around this plant and the kind of stigma that we have to deal with. And all the stuff that all the hurdles that we have to jump over and, and loops, we have to move poles we have to find to just do basic business. So through that experience, I learned everything about retail manufacturing, oil making hash testing, and ended up at ICE fire, which really allows you know, folks to have access to good hardware to put their oil. And so it’s been a wild ride. But really the through line is you know, plant medicine advocacy, and really pushing the needle on normalization and removing the stigma so that we could treat this like a medicine just like everything else.
Lisa Buffo 06:01
And you’re from California?
Luna Stower 06:03
Yeah born and raised right here in the East Bay Area in California.
Lisa Buffo 06:07
And jetties a California brand. So your your lens, as far as how you were brought up in this space is California but more specifically East Bay.
Luna Stower 06:16
Absolutely. Yeah. So we’re based icebar is based on on Venice Beach, in Los Angeles. So I get to have a little bit more of that insight now to of how things run down there because it really is like a different state altogether from Northern California, culturally, financially and everything.
Lisa Buffo 06:32
That’s very true. So and you’ve transitioned recently from business development, and Ispire to Chief impact officer. So tell me a little bit about some of the you said the through line there’s around plant medicine and storytelling. Can you explore that a little bit more for me as far as what that means for marketers and how that impacts the industry? Like, what what would be the number one piece of advice you would tell cannabis marketers based on your experience and everything you’ve learned between jetty and ice fire and in these various different roles.
Luna Stower 07:06
It’s kind of a holistic approach. It’s like you know, have a really strong Why believe in it, have people on your team that believe in it don’t just patchwork together something that you think would work for cannabis, you have to have real roots people real suits people coming together and figuring out kind of how to professionalize. So the core and the DNA of your story and of your brand and of your service or whatever value proposition you have, needs to be really solid to its core, where if something happens, then there’s bad weather, everyone’s still grounded, too. We work for this mission in this this vision. And then from there a lot of transparency and authenticity through how you roll that out how you show up, that you have high integrity, that you make good relationships, that you’re not just utilizing certain kind of FAD marketing to try to get some clicks, and then not really following through that authenticity and transparency around how you operate really builds trust. And we’re seeing that, you know, a lack of trust in the marketplace is and lack of loyalty is harming brands. So I would say that’s a, you know, that’s a big part, you know, moving through that. And then to close it up, you know, really making sure that as you’re moving through the space, and you do have a name that you hold that responsibility very highly. We had a case yesterday of a hash brand, with almost half a million followers, probably a million followers between their multiple pages, posting a really demeaning photograph of a woman or being used as as an object in context of an advertisement for this for this ad with, you know, just off color caption, and then defending it in the comments when people were saying they were offended that this was misogynistic, sexist marketing. A lot of upstanding women in the industry were really offended by it. And there was a lack of accountability and maturity and the response, which, you know, the cannabis industry is really good at calling people out, but then calling people back in saying that this is something we don’t like, but we recognize that we’re all in this together. We’re all a cannabis community. Let’s see if you could do better. And then when people continue to double down on really bad behavior and really offensive, you know, kind of visual harassment when it comes to when you’re on your feet and you’re following a company that’s otherwise considered a somewhat respected brand in this space. It really prevents people from feeling safe who are in this space, this could be an off color. I mean, that same brand, you know, repurposed a civil rights leader speech to compare it to cannabis rights. And a lot of people were concerned about the belittling of the African American experience and things like that. So when there’s a pattern or you’re getting feedback, or you’re trying to push the edge on certain things, read the room. It’s 2022 using sex to sell Mima fIying things that are insensitive. I’m not trying to be the PC police or like the cannabis Karen but at the end of the day, we’re really tired as women in the space seeing very low vibration or content used to uplift our voices or supposedly uplift this plant in our voices. It’s not, it’s not a healthy representation. So I’m really grateful that you know it Ispire, we have a lot of women on staff, we have a lot of folks of color on staff, we have people in positions of power and decision making that have, you know, a good heart and a good sense and are coming from a good place and want to make a positive impact, and not use bullying or, you know, kind of schoolyard humor to get likes and clout. Because in this space, we really are very sensitive to that. And you will get, you know, kind of blacklisted in some ways from working with people if they feel like it’s a liability, a cultural liability and a business liability to be associated with a brand who is ended up having to delete that post. And I’m sure that that social media manager no longer has a job, because the insensitivity around that kind of stuff can really harm your brand and in irreparable way. And we really need to be careful about the devil being in the details with some of these things that we’re doing. Because we are an activist space, we are a gatekeeper space, and we are very sensitive to being abused and misunderstood. And so we’re watching.
Lisa Buffo 11:09
And I think it ties in nicely with what you said about having that core mission. And that sets the culture in the tone to is when you have that core mission, when you have those core values in the company, therefore you’re hiring accordingly. And the that messaging is what the brand puts out who you’re hiring, who you’re bringing on can be more consistent because it is rooted in a culture and a mission that is aligned that if these basically reduces the chances of these things happening, and if they do, they would be considered outliers. But there’s a lot that you can do before that happens. And that is rooted at the top at leadership and the way they set the tone through how they communicate brand, mission, culture and values, which then does translate to marketing and marketing messaging product decide. So what are some of the ways that brands can do better in this space? Like how do you? How do you take a mission, strengthen it and make it make sure that your team knows and that your marketing team understands that message so that it can be communicated? Or if you don’t have one? How do you start? Like, what would be your advice to brands that are just getting started? Or maybe haven’t flushed that out in our growing where it is important to consider these culture aspects now?
Luna Stower 12:30
So my question is always, you know, what brings you to cannabis. Because if you don’t really have a story, I haven’t seen many people succeed in the space who don’t have a story because this space is too volatile, to not be extremely passionate about and want to give your entire life to this is a mix of a passion project, a hobby, our social lives, our financial security, our career path, this is not just a gob or vocation, this is something that we you and I know for a fact and most people watching here in the cannabis industry spend, you know, 50 to 70 hours a week focusing on this and really just going to sleep and eating in between we don’t ever sleep and don’t don’t take a break from this. So if there if you haven’t flushed out a why I would seriously reconsider being in this space, we have a lot of brilliant people who you can work for and with, you know, who have a good story that resonates with you as you build your own story that hasn’t come yet. But I think that for people who really want to have their own brand and have a brand voice, really having people at the table that are stakeholders. So if your brand is oriented towards young men, and you only have, you know, older men, on staff on, you know, have a younger person on se, it’s geared towards middle, you know, middle aged women, and there’s no middle aged women on staff, make sure that these people are kind of in the room helping make decisions so that when things do come up, and something is kind of off color or doesn’t resonate, you’ll hear in a safe space from someone who’s your internal colleague and say, You know what, I have some friends that I don’t think would like that very much, or Oh, that reminds me of an ad from someone else that really like upset a bunch of people and I you know, I don’t feel comfortable being behind that. Or, Oh, I have a someone that I know who does PR she’s another woman in the industry that I’ve worked with and bringing in other brilliance through having these networks that are not just the good old boys club that continues to bring in people that look like people that are already in the space, I think that that’s the most important thing that we can do is really hire decision makers that have skin in the game that had been a part of this movement in this culture since before it was an industry. And if you’re not doing that you’re really leaving a big part of it behind.
Lisa Buffo 14:41
Agreed, and so you’re the chief impact officer when we’re talking about brands, brand, values, culture, mission, all of that. Part of that is the partnerships that you make and the way you sort of extend your hand to others in the industry. So can you talk a little bit about really what your role is Chief impact Officer is and what, what it is you do like, what are those partnerships that you’re making? And then how does that? How would why does that benefit marketing teams and the company as a whole?
Luna Stower 15:12
Absolutely. So the most recent thing on my mind is Oklahoma City, and Atlantic City. So one was at an academic conference at a panel or a, there was a panel at an academic conference at Stockton University. They allowed consumption on site, there were deans, provosts, and professors president.
Lisa Buffo 15:29
Luna Stower 15:31
Lisa Buffo 15:31
Like assumption on campus?
Luna Stower 15:33
oh, I’ve consumed on stage at an academic conference, they wanted me to teach about diving. So I did. And we had a full dive bar on the campus. So it’s called Canada mix, I highly recommend it. So that was not being you know, kind of like being around all of these other movers and shakers in New Jersey that haven’t been exposed to dabbing haven’t been exposed to the kind of hardware that we make on the, you know, cartridge and disposable side. So, you know, that always helps. Like, my moderator is a pharmacist who’s also a cannabis business owner who’s opening up a retailer, he was my moderator and being on stage, we get off stage. And he’s like, I would love to carry your stuff, when we open up little things like that, that just helped. You know, and we’re not even doing it from a sales perspective, people just want to work with us. So Oklahoma, as we’re doing these collection boxes for the recycling program, there’s a little branded box that explains the mission, it explains where to find us, if you let allows you to drop it into a locked box to maintain compliance. And there’s a little, you know, a cheat sheet that shows you all the different elements that are inside of a vape pen, how they remove it, how they remediated, upcycle it, recycle it, scrap it, and otherwise responsibly dispose of it. So we’re able to not only do the right thing in that sense, but also educate people on what they don’t know, some people don’t even think about their disposable objects being going into landfills. And so now you’ve made folks aware of something and it sparks a conversation with them in the bud tenders, the buyers are more conscious about the amount of cartridges that they’re selling, the quality of the cartridges they’re selling, maybe brands have to up their cartridge standards, because they want to make sure that the leaks and the failures go down because they’re continuing to see returns, that impacts the brand and the retailer. So really raising the bar on the on the side of you know, making sure that whatever does go out there works all the way through its lifecycle and is able to be dropped off on you know, that’s a promise that I Spire makes as far as you know, cartridges that come from our facilities, but will collect and recycle cartridges and disposables from anywhere. So it really just allows an opportunity for a dialogue around how we’re, you know, responsible for the things that we’re consuming. And I don’t know if that conversation is happening that often. And the response was overwhelming. I mean, I know, in California, we’ve been talking about doing cartridge recycling, since I got into the industry, I’ve been selling carts for almost 10 years now. And it’s been the bane of our existence, anyone who’s socially or environmentally conscious, you know, that, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s not an ideal use and lifecycle for a product. So I think that those are the kinds of conversations or relationships that we’re starting, there’s no other real cartridge hardware brands in the United States that show up at things and have conversations. So people are, they might use some of these other big, big name brands, but they’ve never really met their rep, they’re, you know, they’re overseas, and they don’t have the same hours of the same language. And so to have that bond with legacy farmers and producers and say, Hey, we got you, we’re going to help you, you know, launch this brand and customize everything, or to a retailer, like we got you on really good terms, like really helping equity applicants, with, you know, really strong financial terms and making sure that they could get off the ground and really being friendly and financing things that otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to move forward. So in every possible way that we can, we try to really bring the legacy and the people who brought this industry to the forefront into the fold so that they’re not left behind.
Lisa Buffo 18:53
So impacts can mean a few different things as far as you know, helping out educating in that academic sense, you know, for you in the niche that Ispires in recycling and lifecycles, obviously, big one, as well as encouraging partners and, you know, those you work with to, you know, help along the supply chain and the spectrum effectively and cannabis. I want to talk about the recycling part a little bit what, what is our Ispires mission? Like to what is that core value? What is what is that mission for the company.
Luna Stower 19:26
So ours is to bring premium life experiences to people so we didn’t want to limit it to cannabis. There’s a lot of other interesting things that are being vaped in the world that we might want to get into. And so really, it’s just about raising the bar. That’s why our whole new brand is or our brand statement is this way up. It’s aspirational. It’s looking to the next thing we’ve always been innovators our founder, who started at Aspire vape was the first to patent the vertical coil vape pen in 2009. We have over 2000 global patents and really created the best Asus for the sub ohm coil which creates the large, vaporized smoke in or that vapors that you’ve seen in the e cig space. So we always consider ourselves innovators and pushing the line and disruptive tech. So for us that could look like anything. So it’s gone into the induction DAB tools, it’s gone into the hardware side and the batteries and the way that we ensure that there’s there’s really smart devices, we’re moving into authentication and verification, where there’s actually RFID chips on each one that says the ideal heating temperature, and really making sure that everything from seed to sale is really responsible, you know, GMP certified, ISO certified, you know, manufacturing spaces to make sure that there’s no you know, problems with manufacture dust, or, you know, metal heavy metals coming into when people are doing their CoA is we’re really looking at safety and everything that we’re using from the packaging and the packaging, and the lightest footprint with with logistics as well. So, really, it’s kind of something that we overlay on to every part of our business. When we talk about customer service, how we answer our DMS, we have a voice that we use, we use like a, you know, like a common but you know, it’s like we’re the warm hearted rebel with a cause that’s, that’s what that’s our voice. And so we we have a little bit of edginess, we’re fun because we’re into dabbing and vaping and we’re in the cannabis space. So there’s that kind of there’s that that plug life that nod to the to the yes, we are selling a controlled substance. But then there’s that really like that patient educational, not demeaning, not holier than now, because that’s how it could be in the in the dabbing space. It’s very kind of top down. Broly like if you know, you know, kind of like the more obscure things, the better. There’s like a little bit of elitism because we have seen a lot of harm in that space, people trying to come in and sell snake oil. So I think that that’s the biggest thing is really reading on how are we making an impact in every single element, even just the way we treat internal employees, the way that we celebrate each other, the way that we support each other. I mean, I start every sales call every week with deep breathing exercises and a meditation and we focus on one of the four agreements that we want to think about that week for ourselves. For folks who don’t know the Four Agreements are just kind of agreements to live by around you know, not taking things personally always doing your best being impeccable with your word. And you know, these are things that we’re trying to do personally as humans in our company and for the industry and for the world. So going back to that concept of what are you baking into that DNA of your company? How do you guys talk to each other? How do you communicate with each other by you know, written communication? You know, how are you celebrating each other’s wins? How are you supporting each other through through through downfalls This is a very roller coaster industry with a lot of sad stories so they’ll people that are the closest to each other they have the strongest connections within the company that really shines through when there’s when there’s a dis disconnect internally, the voice gets watered down there’s not like this beating palpable beating heart of passion behind what’s coming out. That’s what helped us build Jetty extracts we were so passionate about the shelter project and giving away free cannabis to severely ill cancer patients that no matter how crazy the internal politics got we were like we work for this we work for we know what good work we’re doing. Hundreds of patients are getting free medicine this month. We can put all the pettiness you know, disagreements aside, we are doing God’s work, this is an important thing that we’re doing, we have an amazing impact on the world. And it kind of lets us zoom out and remember what the greater is because this is not a normal business. This isn’t just an insurance office that you can go work at another one or, you know, normal water cooler talk like we need to come into this as if we were you know, working in a nursery with babies you know, like you want to have energetic hygiene and you want to treat everything as if it’s precious because we have one shot at doing this right. And we’ve seen so many times how it’s been messed up. So it’s on all of us as marketers to really help clean it up. Because no one knows anything about us if, unless we’re advertising it. We don’t have a PSA or a PR company for the plant. No one’s educating her on on her behalf. It’s the business owners that are doing it the educators are not self at or the consumers are not self educated. They wait for us to do demo days they wait for us to put out podcasts that wait for us to put out movies, we hadn’t ended up being the stewards of plant medicine education, but we happen to be business owners so it’s a big responsibility and with great power comes you know a lot of pressure so don’t mess it up. Yeah, just be conscious. Be conscious, don’t do things unconsciously. Don’t just take whatever you did in your last job and copy it and paste it here. It will not work it’s a different paradigm altogether and you will get rocked some things are good you know best practices from other places. Trust me cannabis needs some best practices from other industries, you know, route organization and data collection and things like that. But you know, you really got to have your head on right and this is not something that’s going to be a get rich, quick exit focus thing if you’re coming in it because you want to make money, this is not the place for you.
Lisa Buffo 25:07
Yeah, so it’s clear, you know, that mission really well that Ispire and that it’s, you know, ingrained in all the things you do. So starting with the core values and those missions and then those partnerships that you’re making and the way in which you handle your relationships with your distributors, all ties into this concept of having good good messaging, good strong branding, but really a knowingness and a why for why you’re doing what you’re doing. And then that can translate into all the content you produce. So whether it’s marketing specific related content, like a social post, or blog post or something internal like your meetings, all of it is tied and related.
Luna Stower 25:51
Lisa Buffo 25:53
Would you like to connect with industry experts like Luna? Join the community at cannabis Marketing Association, and learn from hundreds of experienced cannabis marketing pros CMAs extensive members only content library includes dozens of webinars, tools and downloadable resources for cannabis marketers. Attend twice a month workshops and Masterminds ask questions in the CMA Slack channel and access exclusive member content and networking events all included in your membership. Learn more at the Cannabis marketing association.com or email info at marketing cannabis.org to connect with our team. Awesome. So I want to talk a little bit about some lessons you can take away from any adversity you faced in the industry. So we all know that, yes, it is a hard industry, a lot has changed. And it’s a grind at times. But can you speak to some of those harder times and specifically some lessons that you’ve learned. Because a lot of this is make sense in practice, but it’s not. So you really get your hands in there and start to stumble yourself that you’re like, Okay, now I get it. And I’ve had plenty of those myself, but any like lessons or stories you want to share about either adversity you’ve faced or something you’ve tried and then learn from that has helped inform your approach today.
Luna Stower 27:14
So I’ll start from the lessons and go back kinda to the why be well capitalized lawyer. And by lawyer up, I mean a lawyer that specializes in contracts have a really strong blend of roots and suits on your team. So legacy people who understand the plan and know the people in the industry and people who have really strong skills with you know, pro formas, and financials and spreadsheets and all that things that you know, typically not not always, but typically, you know, Legacy cannabis operators don’t have, you know, that level of training in some of these, you know, financial expertise. So, those are the biggest thing what i’ve what I’ve noticed is that people get into it with with passion, and their passion drives them ahead of being of being realistic, and they put themselves in really precarious situations where they have 100 grand and they invest it all into their packaging. And then the DCC changes the font size from 11 to 11 and a half, and you’re screwed. There’s there’s you know, a million dollars a year being spent by companies just on holding on to a, you know, physical space and location while they’re waiting for the for the for their licenses to be processed. So the kind of marketing spend, insurance spend lawyer legal fees, just to even get a seat at the table to pitch your idea is before your business is even on the ground running and your doors are open and you have product. So I hate to say it, it sounds very prohibitive, there’s obviously some, you know, unique social equity opportunities, but that’s still very hard to get qualified for. And even if you do qualify for it, there’s no capital, there’s usually not that many deferred loans. You know, there’s not that many incentives, also no training on business. So you might be really excited, I find two things I find the overexcited and under prepared and by prepared I mean capitalize having lawyers having a solid business plan that is proof of concept. You know that that piece of it, or you have people that are really well capitalized, have the lawyers have the expertise and have no idea what they’re doing your how they’re going to be here, they they discredit and discount the brilliance that’s already existing in the space, they think that they can come in and do it better, like it’s petroleum or alcohol or tobacco. And they have this really, really strong arrogance around being able to be successful because they’ve done it in other places. So you either have the blind optimist, or just the entitled, you know, well capitalized person that just kind of had, you know, historic success. So you kind of need to have both. You need to have people on your team that can draw in those resources so that you’re not pulling last minute investment from your families that Thanksgiving To make it through to the end of the month to keep your lights on and your payroll going, it is a schedule one drug there is no necessary necessarily plan or timeline for D scheduling or rescheduling it they’re banning, you know, they’re trying to ban or ban minor cannabinoids that are hemp derived like delta eight that are psychoactive, You know, legalization in California was just Tax Control, regulate, and it actually criminalized way more things than we ever had before you can grow less plants in your backyard, an open joint is now considered an open container. The VA is now you know, being more punitive than they ever were. So we’re actually rolling back in a lot of ways in in all these different markets that I’ve been in. Everyone’s saying that we’re going back in time, we’re going back as far as licensing caps that people have access to get licenses, the cronyism and the stuff that’s happening around licenses on the back end. And also, it’s just hard to do business, you can’t bang, you have no to at E, you know, tax deductions for your payroll, you can’t get you in marketing and advertising market. Yeah, anything that even touches the planet view, yeah, because you guys get your checks from marketing from marketing company. So good luck, refinancing your house, like if you are ready to literally be living like an outlaw, and have every single institution from Facebook, to your bank, to the CHP telling you that what you’re doing is wrong, and you could lose everything for it. That’s the kind of stomach that you have to have to be if you’re going to be plant touching. Obviously, as an ancillary company, we have the benefit of not having to deal with that we’ve still had our account shut down for accepting funds, but I can still, you know, operate, we can still operate semi normally, you know, as far as normal, you know, business write offs. So that’s something else you really think about is it’s, you know, if you don’t have that kind of capital get really good at pitching and others reach out to Lisa, we have, you know, we have a lot of resources for helping you guys get a pitch deck together, we can look over your business plans and let you know, you know what’s going on. But I worry, and this is not to discourage anyone this is to save people. They ask people to really contemplate what they’re willing to do to be in this space, because it is a marathon, not a sprint, and the people in your life have to be supportive of it. I have an amazing supportive partner that watch me transition from teaching into cannabis. And he watches the dogs when I’m at trade shows. And he’s you know, has to hear me on calls all day. I’m rarely available for my family because I am on a crusade to legalize and normalize this plant across the world. And it’s a real commitment that you have. And when you’re in cannabis, you get kind of blacklisted from a lot of other industries. Like there’s some people that wouldn’t work with Redman and Snoop Dogg because they use cannabis in their songs and wouldn’t not use it on stage. And they’ve had to say no to a lot of corporate sponsorships and things. So it does harm you in some ways and help you in other ways. Obviously, it’s exciting to be in the space, everyone wants to talk to the person and we’d, you know, just in my 20 year high school reunion, they’re all fascinated by it. They’re all excited by it. But I don’t know if they would necessarily want to drop their kids off at my house. You know what I mean? Even though they trust me, then all the masters and teaching, I’m probably great with kids or something about your adapter. Like there’s this there’s this underlying distrust of people in cannabis, because it’s still considered vise and it’s still illegal. And until we d schedule or reschedule it, we are never going to be anything but the black sheep that have to be looking over our shoulders and making sure we’re really smart and have really tight security culture so we can cover our asses.
Lisa Buffo 33:18
That’s a good point. And so now let’s talk a little bit about adversity. What are some things that you’ve seen work from a marketing advertising or sales perspective to know sales is a little bit more your lens but what are some of the strategies you’ve seen that work that are either unique to cannabis or you’ve seen work from other industries or other verticals.
Luna Stower 33:37
Networking, networking, networking, everyone loves an event everyone loves stoner movie nights at the theater everyone loves weekly clubhouse meetings. Be present own a space be the person who does you know, the you know, we’ve rented out random places you know, mini golf places and motels with pools and thrown parties there. We’ve shown up at EDC we’ve shown up at different places that do with cannabis and we do cannabis pop ups. Be present, just show up how that guerilla marketing where if you hear something happening, get involved, you know, be a sponsor at different events, shake hands, people will only recognize you and trust you if they really see you out on the ground and making an impact on people. That’s what we’ve seen it Ispire for sure.
Lisa Buffo 34:19
That’s true. I’ll definitely validate that as far as this industry being very relationship driven and trust driven based on those relationships where a lot of it is that hand to hand. Who do you refer? Who do you trust? Who do you work with? Because there are a lot of folks who kind of come in try you know, it doesn’t work for them and then they leave and you know sometimes the clients they work with they’re kind of left holding the bag so I would absolutely network that or validate that as far as networking and getting to know folks for sure. Okay, so what is one thing you wish that you knew about cannabis before you got in? Like what what kind of took you by surprise once you got in.
Luna Stower 34:59
I think all the things that’s actually kind of dovetails into what I was just saying about how hard it is, I think that we knew that regulation was going to put a squeeze on things. But I didn’t realize that we would have three major extinction events that have left less than 10% of operators alive. So that’s been the craziest,
Lisa Buffo 35:18
Are you speaking of just California,
Luna Stower 35:19
Lisa Buffo 35:21
And what are those events? Can you speak to that?
Luna Stower 35:23
Well, the first one was, when the the first dive hit after when they found out that prop 64 was happening. A lot of people kind of were scrambling to kind of get their stuff together and they couldn’t in time. And then there was another one when metric hit. And people couldn’t get compliant, a fully compliant, so they were compliant as far as licensing, but they couldn’t get compliant as far as their packaging. So there was another that was in July, the following year after it went into effect. And then we have are having a we’re in our third one right now related to the general economic decline. And also we had a false spike during COVID of the people made projections on built their businesses around and it was just a spike and came right back down to pre pandemic purchasing. behavior. So the we’re seeing the third major one now, but almost almost no one who I started out in the industry with is still is still standing. Yeah, I’ve heard even just this week, I mean, epic, legendary first, to be first to market brands with, you know, clones in stores that were the number one clone company, they’ve just became insolvent, they’re going under labs are going under. This is just yeah, when I say extinction event, I’m not trying to be dramatic. It’s like the economic definition of mass mass closures due to over regulation over taxation and a competent control.
Lisa Buffo 36:43
Yeah, and are you seeing a difference in California then the summer other states who visit our markets that you work in?
Luna Stower 36:52
I would say we definitely are cool, we definitely export cool we are the culture setters we are, you know that like we’re high vibe we try to keep you know, healthy we’re outside we’re like the hiking kind of culture. Obviously, there’s, you know, more of there’s different kinds but something that unique to us, I think is that California cool that kind of La surfer Yosemite hiker things that kind of raised consciousness a little bit more like we call it Cali sober people who just use cannabis and maybe some mushrooms are psychedelics, but not other you know, not other substances have just kind of speaking to, you know, wanting to create peace and harmony and a little bit the softer side of cannabis. I think that you know, the growers, the regenerative, organic, outdoor cultivations that are sweeping Emerald Cup, and all of the genetics that are being sold around the world, to places that are winning, you know, Amsterdam’s High Times cups, those are all, you know, us or, you know, California genetics, a lot of Colorado cultivations that got started, those were all, you know, California growers with their genetics going out there and helping them get set up. So we explored a lot of our IP, a lot of our genetics, a lot of our culture and really, you know, Frenchy cannoli, who lived here, he taught everyone how to make, you know, temple walls and hash. And even if you’re, you know, not really traveling outside people come to us, and we also share via media and music. And I think that that’s the most special thing about us is that no matter how regulations go, there’s still not going to be a cultural capital for cannabis like California in the world, it’s just never going to happen. We have, in my opinion, the best weather wine weed on the planet, and I’ve been to 40 plus countries have been over 100 Cheetos in the last year and a half.
Lisa Buffo 38:36
Oh, my gosh, that’s a lot of trade shows,
Luna Stower 38:38
And you know, it’s wild.
Lisa Buffo 38:41
And I was also curious, you mentioned this earlier about the differences between Northern California and Southern California. What are some of the things that you see what’s difference between those two markets? And how and can you make that tie to marketing and advertising? Like, are you seeing, speak answer that however you want, but like, what else are you seeing that’s different as far as either how the brands are being positioned or being marketed?
Luna Stower 39:05
Well, you’ve got a little bit in NorCal, down in SoCal, with the woods dispensary that opened up in West Hollywood by Woody Harrelson and some other folks that it felt feels very Northern California. And I say that because they only work with regenerative agriculture and small artisanal farms and brands that are women, people of color or other otherwise equity owned. They don’t allow plastic displays. Everything’s wood and moss and really beautifully curated. That’s kind of more how it is in Northern California. It’s more about sustainability, more about innovation and a lot more loyal. I found that in LA we call it kind of the customer market. It’s kind of whatever is cool and flashy, whatever is trending on social media. There’s not a lot of brand loyalty. There’s a lot more tourism down there. So you got people coming in from Vegas from San Diego from Mexico just kind of coming in, you know, over the border and around other parts of southern California going into the LA cannabis scene and Um, and really kind of it’s very much about the brand presence and the cachet and the hype. And is it you know, is it is it catching on globally, Northern California is very much focused on, you know, more of that terroir and that appellation of origins. Like, where was it grown, if it was grown in humble, you know, you can’t say have humble in your name or Mendocino in your name, unless you’re, you know, completely produced out of there. Like they’ve changed certain laws around that because people were harkening to that cool that I was talking about and trying to leverage that in marketing, but they didn’t have the soul. So I think that that’s a lot of it is you know, there’s a lot more money opportunity and movement and volume happening in Southern California a lot more excitement and buzz NorCal is way more insular way slower way lower volume in a lot of ways, but, and lower basket sizes. But the conversations that we have up here, the consciousness of the general consumer, you know, it’s just a little crunchy, it’s a little bit more conscious, they want to know the story, they care that it’s, you know, you know, grown outdoors, whereas down in Southern California indoors, what’s is what’s popular exotics is what’s popular up here, it’s more of what the effects are going to be what the terpene profile is, they’re not strain hunting as much. In NorCal, as you see in some of the some of the Southern California shops, I might get some hate from Californians for saying this, because I’m totally oversimplifying, but I really, I mean, when I was working for Jetty extracts, I manage both NorCal and SoCal. And literally even just the way you communicate with them, like buyers in NorCal, would answer emails, buyers, and SoCal, none of them would answer an email, these guys would get offended if you texted them late at night, these ones were texting me late at night. So, you know, this is just years of experience. And I love them both. They’re just it’s just like, you know, they’re different speeds. And I think that they’re both so special. And I couldn’t, couldn’t operate without each other, because NorCal brings down the product, and SoCal sells it. So cows, the plug NorCal is the product, they have to work together. And they’ve worked together really beautifully in a lot of ways for for over, you know, two and a half decades. And so I’m really proud of our state. As far as operators go, we’ve done the best. We’ve tried to jump through the hoops, we’ve given out our addresses, we’ve signed all the paperwork, we’ve given up our firstborn child and all of our savings accounts, we’re trying to do it right. And it’s been metric in the DCC that’s completely sabotage us. So I know that we’ve done our best. And I’m extremely proud of all the operators in California in both traditional and regulated markets that are continuing to survive and get this medicine out to people, despite really, really problematic regulations.
Lisa Buffo 42:31
And what are some ways we’re coming up on our time here? So but what are some ways in which you can brands can differentiate? So we know how crowded it is, we know how busy it is? How can you stand out in this space?
Luna Stower 42:48
Elevate voices that matter. And stories that matter? No one wants to see another picture of you smoking at the beach, everyone’s most of the beach, everyone gets it. It’s fun to smoke at the beach. Like maybe you guys organize a beach cleanup, maybe you do something like use the platform that you have in the community, you have to do good. And I always say love is lucrative. You can do good and do good. You know what I mean? Like you can do good and do really well actually. So what I’ve noticed is the way that people work in this industry is by networking, so alliances, for example, the Fairchild events, the flamingo hotel, said yes to our party after all the flowers. Now they rescinded it because they’re worried about consumption and things like that. They got together with an alliance of other of other people and made it a new spot like overnight like we are just like the plant we are a biodynamic being that works really well with other you know, beneficial plants, animals and insects around us and to try to imagine you’re in a silo and not be part of an organization of you know, if you’re in beverages do that, if you’re a woman in cannabis, join these beautiful women’s organizations, there’s a million I can name that are all badass and beautiful, and really supportive of women growing in the industry. You know, get show up and be a part of that and show up early, help them set up help them or if you show up late, help them break down, you know, if you show up and you really are really making an impact. That’s what’s gotten me so far in this space and just being a genuinely good person who works for the plant first. I love Ispire I love Jetty extracts. I love the people that I’ve worked for and not a bad word to say about anyone I’ve worked for in the industry. But at the end of the day, I don’t work for them I work for the plant I work for people and they they they buoy me and support me to do that work with their support and their name and that is the most important thing right you can have the dream but you need the resources behind you. And so find that find the places that have those resources that share your dream and build with them because it’s a rocky road. And the more diversified your network is when something pops up and happens Oh, I got a guy for that. Oh, I got a girl for that. I’ve got someone for each issue that I have. Because I’ve been on the ground I’ve seen them I’ve talked to them about their dreams about their struggles. I deep They listen to my clients and my colleagues and my co operators, I don’t call them competitors. It’s cooperation. You know, the other people around you, your co operators like what? What’s the what’s the issue that you’re seeing? How can I help you and just be of service like servant leadership is something that we are lacking in cannabis because of this survival mode, this fight or flight that doesn’t put us in creative problem solving and support mode. So that’s the biggest thing that I would say is, reach out, do good work. Don’t be afraid that it’s off brand for you to do some social, something social justice related. Everyone’s looking for companies that are tied to a cause and a purpose right now. So if you’re not doing it, you’re actually already behind.
Lisa Buffo 45:41
And live what is any last piece of advice you would give cannabis marketers or audience listening, as well as any contact information you want to share? Whether it’s websites social, either for yourself or Ispire?
Luna Stower 45:55
Yeah, just something that I learned at the CMA summit that I went to the you guys put on, which is still I’ve been telling everyone my favorite event I’ve been to hands down, like, not even be guessing. It was such a beautiful summit, I learned so much. And one of the things I really learned was about on social media, like really moving away from these platforms that are blocking us into, you know, the Twitter space, the LinkedIn space, the discord space that are open, not using hashtags being like that, like don’t, don’t put all your eggs in the Instagram basket. That’s something that I think is really important for all of us think about is how can we tell our stories on our own websites and lead people back to our products and our story and own that traffic, instead of just giving it up to meta who really doesn’t want us on their platform, and they’ve made it very clear. I mean, I’ve been shadow banned for four years, you have to type out my whole name, which speaking of which is Luna underscore stauer. But yeah, you can find me at Luna stauer.com. Get iced feiyr.com. And I’m happy to be a resource for anyone watching. You can email me at LUNA at get ice feiyr.com or DM me, or hit up Lisa and we can hop on a call, I’m totally down to be of support. I want to make sure that all the pains that we’ve gone through and the landmines that we’ve located, you guys don’t have to, you know, navigate on your own, that we’re really here to support you every step of the way. Because we want you here and we want you to survive and thrive.
Lisa Buffo 47:18
We’re gonna thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story and these insights. I’m really excited to get this out to everybody. And you heard her please feel free to reach out as well. And thank you so much. We appreciate you.
Luna Stower 47:33
Much love to you all. Thanks, Lisa.
Lisa Buffo 47:35
Thank you for joining us for another episode of Party like a marketer. Follow us on Instagram at party like a marketer and on our website, the cannabis marketing association.com 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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