Party Like a Marketer Podcast

Episode 41: Reducing Friction in the Marketing Flywheel for Cannabis Brands and Retailers

Episode Description

Lisa Buffo, Founder, and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association sat down with Johnathan McFarlane, Director of Strategy at Hybrid Marketing Co., to discuss Reducing Friction in the Marketing Flywheel for Cannabis Brands and Retailers.

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Lisa Buffo  00:12

Hi everyone. Welcome to today’s episode of 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. You can connect with me on Instagram at Libuff and Twitter @Libuff21. And I’m on LinkedIn as well. Send me a message I’d love to hear from you. Today’s conversation features Jonathan McFarlane , the Director of Strategy at hybrid marketing company, one of the industry’s premier marketing and branding agencies with a roster of clients spanning the US and Canada. Prior to his entry into the cannabis industry, Jonathan built his marketing chops in the fitness world, working with big brands and superstar athletes like NFL star Rob Gronkowski, and UFC legend, George St. Pierre, at hybrid, Jonathan builds creative branding, marketing and advertising solutions that are tied to business outcomes. His passion lies in helping cannabis focus businesses grow and avoid the many, many mistakes he’s made across his career in the cannabis industry. Jonathan, thank you so much for being here and joining us today.

Johnathan McFarlane  01:20

Hey, thanks for having me. Lisa. I’m excited to be here. It’s gonna be fun,

Lisa Buffo  01:24

Of course! So first, let’s tell our audience a little bit about you. Can you tell them about your your history, your professional history, you know, what brought you to cannabis as well? And then a little bit about what hybrid marketing does?

Johnathan McFarlane  01:39

Yeah, sure. So, my, my career history is a bit of a long and winding road with some pretty weird pivots. I went to school for journalism. And so actually started in news as a news editor did that for a few years, sort of went for the documentary film thing did that for a while. Ended up in the sports nutrition world, like the very extreme end of it. And, you know, that was kind of what I did for almost a decade. That’s what what took me to from Denver to Canada. And while I was living in Canada, that’s actually where I entered the cannabis industry. So it was 2017, I believe. And I started my first position industry as Head of Marketing for Mobius. They’re a large harvesting equipment manufacturer, they’re based in Vancouver, which is where I was living. And so you know, it was cool. I got to see the, the Federal legalization, how that worked north of the border and participate in that process. But also kind of grew up with it here in Denver sort of sought all developed here’s a unique perspective and, you know, Fast Forwards now, I’ve been with hybrid, three and a half coming up on four years. So weird to think that like seven years of the cannabis market or makes you a veteran, but it sort of feels like it does.

Lisa Buffo  03:02

It does. It does. And so did you. Did you grew up in Denver? And is that where you went to journalism school?

Johnathan McFarlane  03:08

Yeah, pretty much grew up here, grew up in Aurora actually went to school at CU for journalism, and then stuck around the Denver area until 2012. And that’s when we moved to Canada.

Lisa Buffo  03:23

Nice. Okay, so now you’re back in Denver.

Johnathan McFarlane  03:26

Now I’m back in Denver. Yep. And hybrid is what brought me back.

Lisa Buffo  03:30

Awesome. And then tell me a little bit about what hybrid does and focuses on?

Johnathan McFarlane  03:35

Yeah, sure. So we’re a full service agency definitely end to end. But our focus really is on business outcomes. So you know, we’re not in the business of line item tactics. We’re not in the business of marketing for the sake of marketing. Every time we’re proposing something new or looking at a new tactic or strategy, it’s always like, how does this impact revenue? How does it reduce risk? How does it reduce cost? You know, we always try and draw a line between what we’re doing at those business outcomes. For a lot of our clients, we’re their entire marketing department. So like, virtual CMO, all the way down to junior copywriter, really a lot of clients just plug us in entirely. And that makes a lot of sense for for the right, right kind of companies. But yeah, we’re, we’re expanding, we’ve been expanding pretty quickly over the last few years. We work across, you know, 1314 different states and have a few international clients and we are passionate about this industry. We’ve all been marketers before doing other things. But we’re all doing this because we choose to which I think is probably the same for you and for a lot of other cannabis marketers. They, they want to be here. We very much do. So it’s an exciting industry

Lisa Buffo  04:59

And Your role as Director of Strategy, so are you doing strategy for your clients? Like, tell me about your day to day? Or is that strategy for hybrid? Like, how do you tell me about that? And then how you approach strategy?

Johnathan McFarlane  05:14

Yeah, sure, it’s a little, it’s a little bit of both. But so as Director of Strategy, a big part of my role actually is business to business development, and then setting the kind of starting strategy from that point. So I handle kind of like the day one to, you know, month, three kinds of tone for our clients. So they’re the first first person that they I’m the first person they get to know, and the person that kind of walks them through the basics of what we want to do for them. And then I kind of guide them to the rest of the team. And eventually, we have, you know, a count team that takes over for the most part, so, so head of strategy meeting, I’m the one that kind of sets the strategy. But as you know, they change very quickly. I mean, especially in this industry, it’s just, it’s really I set the starting point, but the rest of the team kind of takes it from there, generally.

Lisa Buffo  06:11

So what are some of the questions you ask? And can you sort of walk us through that process as far as understanding and pulling out a strategy and tying it to business outcomes? Like, what are some of those first steps, cannabis marketers, and cannabis business owners would take with you?

Johnathan McFarlane  06:31

Well, one of the first steps is definitely all about goals. And I don’t just mean, we want to grow and get bigger, I mean, trying to define really specific goals, for example, not just we want to make more money, we want to make 2 million in revenue. Last year, we made 1.5, like, as specific as possible. And a lot of clients don’t really have those. And so part of our process is to help them figure out what those goals are. It’s not always revenue, it could be lots of other things, number of stores or average order value, whatever it may be, but goal at the top. And then we kind of work from there, in terms of what the strategy is to help achieve those goals, what tactics support that strategy, how we use those tactics. So it kind of in my head, it almost looks like a pyramid, with like, the goal at the top strategy underneath. And then you fill in all the tactics and ever everything under that. But we don’t, we don’t even normally talk about budget when we’re talking about goals, because a lot of the time when they tell us the goal, that helps define what the budget needs to be, like, if you, if you really want really aggressive growth, and you got some big marker you’re trying to hit well, then this is gonna cost you a lot more. And here’s what we think it’ll cost to help you achieve this goals under this goal, and, and so on. So lots of moving parts in that process. And our sort of initial discovery and engagement process is pretty extensive. But that’s important for us, we see ourselves almost as much as, as consultants as we are marketers, you know, helping our clients understand. Not just one tactic, but why we’re kind of looking at this all together. What makes sense if they don’t speak the language of marketing, helping them with that. So yeah, kind of a long process at the start, but it leads to really good results, and long term.

Lisa Buffo  08:30

Yeah. And it concentrates your efforts because you’re digging deeper, you’re understanding the why. And when you have that goal, you have something to measure success against or not. Exactly, yeah. core of any marketing strategy.

Johnathan McFarlane  08:44

Yeah, totally. I mean, if somebody says, hey, I want to grow, and they did a million in revenue last year, well, if this year they do 1,000,001. Does that mean that we as an agency accomplished your goal? You know, like, so that’s, that’s, that’s why we want those specific goals. I mean, for the results, but also just so we know how we’re being judged to if we’re doing a good job or not.

Lisa Buffo  09:07

And what do you see are some of the most common things that cannabis marketers struggle with in this process? Like, is there something you wish your clients knew or understood, or you find yourself sort of reiterating, as they approach their marketing strategy? And these next steps?

Johnathan McFarlane  09:25

Yeah. Well, so maybe this is just something that younger marketers do, and maybe not even specific to cannabis. And I think this is the case for myself too, is when you’re a little younger, a little newer, you tend to just jump right from nowhere to tactics. Now, a lot of people kind of skip over the strategy step, or just kind of you know, do lip service, just write something that sounds kind of nice, but doesn’t actually mean anything. And you do yourself a disservice because when you do that, you just, you’re focusing on one specific tactic and not everything overall what you’re trying to achieve? And what if that? What if those tactics that you’re just jumping to aren’t the right ones? You know, I mean, I think that spending a lot more time, more research more thought, whether that’s whatever interviewing the client doing market research, SWOT analysis on competitors, all that stuff, that all helps inform the strategy. And to me, that’s kind of like the most important part of the whole thing. And I do think that some marketers that are younger, just, they just jump right to it, because it’s exciting. And you want to like send an email campaign and how many opens how many clicks? Like, you know, I get it. That’s, for me, that’s really fun. But you know, you’re kind of skipping, skipping a step, if you just jump right to that kind of stuff.

Lisa Buffo  10:48

Yeah, I’ll echo that we get a lot of questions. I’m frequently asked, you know, what’s the best place to market my cannabis business? And to me that’s, you know, questions, six 710 12. You know, the first one is, who’s your customer? What are your like, those things are important, because one channel may be better for one company, but absolutely ineffective for another company, or even a direct competitor, if they have different target customers. And they need to know that and they need to understand who they are and where they’re consuming information and what’s going to appeal to them. So I think that groundwork part in marketing gets to your point, missed or more quickly passed through, when putting in that time and energy there can really show results and learnings, right? Even if you don’t necessarily get the right outcome you desire, you’re going to learn something from that if you’re able to measure it. And you put that strategy in place, which will build over time, particularly if you’re, you know, you’re here for the long term. So I’m glad to hear you say that you spend so much time on that. And you go deep with that, because, yeah, I It’s I’ll just echo how common that sentiment is within the community.

Johnathan McFarlane  12:00

Yeah, yeah. But you know, as people progress through their career, I think that hopefully, that mindset changes a little bit. And the importance of strategy becomes more relevant to what they’re doing. It did for me. So I assume that happens for a lot of people.

Lisa Buffo  12:15

And do you see any common tactics or threads that either work a clot across clients, or you sort of see coming up over and over again, as either effective, let’s start with effective and then I do want to ask about what doesn’t work, but any common threads that you see that are like, you definitely want to think about this and put some time into this?

Johnathan McFarlane  12:38

Yeah. Okay. So this is a little fluffy in terms of like actual marketing stuff. But hear me out for a second, I really think that bud tenders are the linchpin to success for brands. And for retailers. When we talk about the retail side, if you imagine that the amount of time that a customer has with your business, like 90% of that interaction, is with a bud tender, I mean, they’re they’re sort of like your your frontline soldiers, they’re the ones that are actually talking to the customer, they’re the ones that are actually trying all these products multiple times a day, you know, the bud tenders are the tip of the spear. And when you’re a retailer, as it gets more competitive, as it gets more saturated, and, you know, like in Denver here, a lot of dispensaries are really similar, you know, the prices are low, the products are similar. When it gets to that point, you’re really selling the experience, you’re not even selling cannabis anymore, you’re selling the experience of engaging with your store. And bud tenders are such a huge part of that, that I feel like it’s missed a lot. And I know, on the retail side as marketers, maybe there’s not that much that we can do other than advise our clients to, you know, put in training programs, things like that. But still super important. On the brand side. Maybe just as important, because, you know, if a bud tender loves your brand loves your product, they recommend it. If they don’t love your product, or worse, they don’t even know you exist. They don’t recommend it. And that that right there could be the difference between success and failure. We’re in the midst of a really large research project called The Great bud tenders survey. And one of the questions was about the degree of persuasion that a bud tender has or degree of influence that a budtender has on what somebody purchases, and it’s a really high number, it’s something like like 96%. The budtender has a significant degree of influence over 96% of their customers. So this whole thing about bud tenders recommending or not recommending products It’s not just in my head, we have data to backup how important that is. And so for a lot of our clients, especially newer clients, we’re basically putting together bud tenders engagement strategies, just like you put together a strategy for anything else. There could be in person events, there could be like, like sample runs, there could be like a budtender, focus club, product education. There’s lots of things that you can do as a brand to engage bud tenders. And so yeah, that’s one of those things that I see is absolutely critical to both retail chain brands.

Lisa Buffo  15:36

Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. Because I think even my personal experience going to retailers, I am one of those shoppers who will go out of my way and drive further for a retailer that’s got a better experience.

Johnathan McFarlane  15:48

Same here, Yeah.

Lisa Buffo  15:50

Than the one closest to me, I’ll definitely do that. And I’ve had the experience multiple times where even though I can go to the checkout counter, or have you know, a conversation with a budtender and speak the language, I may ask about a product and inquire about it. And I will be steered either away from it or towards something based on what the bud tender really likes in recommends. I’ve even been steered away from products role. They’ll say, yeah, yeah, no, this one I don’t like as much, you know, totally, they will not hesitate to tell you their opinion, which in some ways is like, Oh, well, that’s pretty bold you to say at the point of sale, but they will, because they feel that strongly about it. And they’re not afraid to communicate to that whether or not they know, you know, what I do? We’re role my role in the industry. So it’s interesting to see just how I just want to validate your point that they are hugely important at that point of sale. And even if you know what you like, and your experience, and you’re a repeat customer, they still have influence over that. So overlooking them is a hugely, we’ll say, miss opportunity.

Johnathan McFarlane  16:58

Miss opportunity. Yeah, no, but you’re right, I am with you. And I think too, that there are shoppers that just want to order online, pick up their stuff and go. And that’s what ordering online is for. That’s what fast lanes are for. But the most valuable customers are retailer and a brand has are the ones that want to come in and actually have an experience, spend a few minutes chat with the bud tenders, ask about new products, they’re gonna spend a lot more I know, because that’s me. And just like you were saying, that’s you too.

Lisa Buffo  17:29

Yeah. And that brand loyalty is I mean, we talk about in marketing strategy all the time of the flywheel, which is just like turning the funnel up on itself, where if you can make your customers promoters, your work is compounding, right? You don’t always have to be focusing on the top of funnel and getting the new new customer in, if your current customers are loyal, and they’re talking and spreading word of mouth, your efforts are building on themselves. And so when you have that good experience, and someone asks them in their day to day, you know, where do you suggest, what do you recommend, they’re going to speak to it more highly, and they’re, they’re doing the work for you to some degree, definitely, in person is is huge. And I think we’ve seen that. So let’s, let’s talk about that a little bit, too, as well. So I think your point about there are those who are the online shoppers, and there’s marketing strategies for that. We actually talked about that recently about what can you do online when you’ve got that E commerce experience in that checkout? And then there’s the in person for the folks that who do want that experience and they come in? So we’ve talked a little bit about that. Can you speak a little more to the online side of things to that shopper? What are some marketing strategies, or sort of tips or insight you have on how to make that E commerce or order ahead experience really work for brands and retailers? If they’re not having that, you know, direct budtender experience in there. They’re ordering ahead?

Johnathan McFarlane  18:55

Yeah, so I think for those kinds of customers, it’s all about putting your brand there, wherever they happen to be, which is not always that easy on the E commerce sort of journey. And reducing friction, as much as you can, at every point from visits to the website, to walk into their car with the product in their hand. It’s all about making that process as simple, smooth, easy, and fast as possible. Because that’s kind of what those those people are, are looking for. They they’re looking for convenience, they’re looking to do it on their own time. They probably don’t want to be walking into a store and sitting around for 20 minutes if they placed an online order. And so, you know, all those different points where there’s potential for friction have to be addressed before anything like paid media or anything actually really even. Will will work. So for example, if if somebody orders orders online because they’re in a hurry, they go into the store, you know at the time they’re supposed Do and orders not ready? Well, that kind of just sort of ruined the whole purpose of them even ordering online in the first place. And it kind of breaks that, like, sort of promise that you’ve made to them for a fast and easy experience. And if that’s what they’re after, and you don’t provide that even the first time, there are so many other options. I mean, they’re just gonna go somewhere else. So, yeah.

Lisa Buffo  20:24

Yeah. And I think that’s a typical consumer behavior. I mean, I will do that with food. With freeze ahead. It’s like I, you’re right about that promise that it’s the trust that you’re breaking. Because you will plan your day around it, right? Like, okay, I’m totally off when I have a moment on my way to the vet or whatever. And it can disrupt the flow you had, because they didn’t fulfill that. So I like to use around reducing friction, because that can go and that’s one of the things in the flywheel, which I had just mentioned is something I’ve learned about from HubSpot. One of the tools they have is, you can speed up the flywheel and you can by adding force to it, but also by reducing friction. And when you reduce friction, it’s finding what are the pain points already in the process, and smoothing those out without necessarily having to add more tactics or money or, you know, like getting really fancy with it that goes so far, and I think a lot of marketers don’t think about, okay, what can we just make smoother about what we already got, as opposed to adding to the stack or adding to the process?

Johnathan McFarlane  21:31

Yeah. Have you ever seen the movie The founder, about Ray Kroc and McDonald’s?

Lisa Buffo  21:37

I have not seen the movie.

Johnathan McFarlane  21:39

Okay. So it’s a good movie, you should see it anyways. I mean, I really think it’s good. But there’s a scene in there that I think actually connects a little bit to what we’re talking about. There. There. They’re out on a tennis court. And they’ve taped off on the tennis court, the exact size of the store, and where all of the different equipment is where the grill is, where the cash register is where the milkshake machine is, they’ve taped it all out. And they put in their employees standing, you know, kind of on this map, and basically pretend to actually do their job. And they they’re analyzing it like a manufacturing line. So they start here, and then they move, they move the thing over the dishwasher over here, because it’s going to be faster than they move their register here. And then they put two people in a fry cook. And they’re, they’re going through this whole process on this tennis court, trying to find all of the different friction points in the process from order to delivery, and trying to figure out how to reduce them. So you know, we can kind of think of the ordering process for cannabis online the same kind of way, like where all at different points where there might be friction, and what can we do to address each one of them.

Lisa Buffo  22:48

And there’s actually tools for that. I’ll mention Hotjar is one and I know there’s one others name that’s I can’t recall right now. But there’s actually tools that will show you heat maps of how folks are using your site. So you can actually see, are they clicking this button? Are they getting stuck here? Are they trying to click a part of your site that doesn’t actually work? So there are tools for that physically like you just for the retailers, but also for that online shopper? You can you can actually sort of look at and have that experience online through websites and technology by using heat mapping tools. And if I remember the name of the other one, but hot jar is the one that comes to mind.

Johnathan McFarlane  23:28

Yeah, hot jar is pretty cool. If anybody listening hasn’t checked it out? I would I would recommend it.

Lisa Buffo  23:34

It’s wild, and it will slow down your site a little bit. We found that um, but all right. Yeah, it can. But it’ll just show you like heat maps and videos of how people are clicking through your site. Give you some really easy insights of making that smoother.

Johnathan McFarlane  23:50

Yeah, I mean, always better to have more information. more data than then last?

Lisa Buffo  23:55

Definitely. Definitely. And I want to talk I want to go back to the budtender conversation. So we talked about some things to do to improve that experience. Are you seeing besides lack of strategy and engagement? Is there anything you’re seeing brands or retailers do on the bud tender side that you think is executed improperly or isn’t working?

Johnathan McFarlane  24:19

Yeah, so I think I think, I mean, one of the really important things to get across to bud tenders, if you’re a brand is product knowledge. You know, like they’re your if you’re a brand, the bud tenders are your salespeople, basically. So you want to make sure they are well versed on the bullet points of your product. You know what, why it’s better, why it’s different, what are the benefits? What does it feel like all those kinds of things that you would expect? But the problem that I see is brands trying to do education with bud tenders without really giving them a reason to that really incentivizing them. And so you know, if if If you’re just trying to say, hey, I really just want you to take 10 minutes to go through this. I mean, maybe some will. But if you say, hey, I really want you to take 10 minutes to go through this. Oh, and by the way, here’s a really cool hoodie, and I’m going to drop off some pizza tomorrow. You know, like, that really helps. So I feel like people are really just jumping right to their product education without doing anything. And that kind of builds a little bit of goodwill, which I think would help help bud tenders absorb that information too. Like if they already kind of like, like your brand, and they already find you a personable person, they’re much more likely to listen and absorb what you’re trying to tell them then if it’s the reverse.

Lisa Buffo  25:40

I think that’s a good point. It’s not forgetting the the human and emotional side of things and treating them as such, as opposed to just sort of like rushing to the end goal. And yeah, forgetting the incentive, I think that’s a good way to put it. Yeah. Okay, cool. So all right. So we’ve talked bud tenders working with them for brands and retailers, we’ve talked ecommerce a little bit, are there any other strategies or tactics that you work with a lot or see brands and retailer, so utilizing, that you want to touch on?

Johnathan McFarlane  26:17

Well, there’s one so there’s, there’s one that I don’t know if I’d call this a strategy or tactic or whatever. But um, but one thing that that some folks, some businesses do miss that I think is really important as industry is some sort of CSR program, some sort of good cause attached to your business. So I give a presentation where I talk a lot about loyalty and having a good cause associated with your business is one of those things that helps build loyalty. And I mean, this business, a lot of it is about loyalty, somebody shows up to your door, purchase a product, and then never comes back. Like you’ve lost the war with that person, you may won that first battle, but that’s just the start, you know, you got to keep them coming back. And the business case for CSR programs is really clear. I mean, that’s why companies like toms, and 10 trees exists, that’s why there’s more and more B Corporations coming up all the time, because consumers these days, it really matters to them, they, they share, they want to buy the product, they want to get what they need, no doubt. But if you offer them something where they can feel really good about it, like, yeah, I just spent $20. But I know that 50 cents, I know a small piece of that is going towards an animal rescue or something like that, you know, consumers will choose those businesses first, and the data absolutely backs that up. So there’s something that kind of any business in this industry will will be able to do. And because we’re fighting the stigma, continuing to fight the stigma of what we do. That’s another thing that really does help in the community to show when you’re a good actor, your business belongs there, and is a net positive to the community. And that’s one way to do that. So also, it just feels good to do good things. I mean, when it comes down to it, so why not? Why not add that in there as well?

Lisa Buffo  28:11

Yeah. And to your point about in Denver, this is very true, right? There’s so many dispensaries and you you said it so well, that they’re selling the same brands, right? So it’s essentially the same. So the way to differentiate is on that experience, and this is a part of that experience. And it totally Yeah, it ties to your values, right. And people want to support particularly millennials, Gen Z, the data is there. But in general, folks of all ages want to support businesses and companies that have values that align with theirs. And I think cannabis is so you know, just within the cannabis industry and the like socio political system, there’s so many injustices to address and ways in which CSR can make sense with the bigger picture, given what’s going on. But also on that local scale. What can you do in Denver in Capitol Hill, what is your community need, and the more plugged in you can get, the more depth brand loyalty has an opportunity to really resonate and those values be very clear, which I think ties to your point about bud tenders and saying, you know, do they know your product? And do they know the selling points? It’s like, is that message clear on your packaging? Is it clear on your external marketing? And is it clear on your inside sales in what you’re telling the bud tenders that they’re communicating is that message you know, across your,

Johnathan McFarlane  29:33


Lisa Buffo  29:34

Yeah. Across your business and is it getting out there and how can you communicate that in multiple different ways and channels so I’m really glad you brought up CSR because I I’m also seeing it as something that will be almost non negotiable in the future where if you don’t have it, you’re going to be the the odd one out but it’s it is an easy, it’s an easy win, and there’s so many ways.

Johnathan McFarlane  29:59

Yeah, and I I think so I can kind of hear in the back of my head, a lot of small business owners saying, we just don’t have the funds to do that. And so it doesn’t have to be necessarily financial thing. For example, you know, one, one day per quarter, you could give all your employees a half day to go volunteer, whatever organization, it doesn’t cost you anything other than time. There’s, you know, could be it could be fundraising, beyond your own money could be setting up events for another organization, or even offering your services as marketers for free to another organization. So I don’t want people to think that they have to have a whole ton of money, a whole big budget, to put something like this together, it can be very, very cheap, very affordable, and still effective.

Lisa Buffo  30:47

Yeah, and there’s ways you can do it, where visibility goes far right, include your local nonprofits, and maybe an ask in your newsletter, if you’re doing a vendor day, you can have you know, a local group offer them a table, like there’s different ways to build those relationships and build those bridges that don’t cost money that you have, because you have an audience, and you have a voice in your community. And signage, right? Like you’re in retail, there’s so many different ways to say, hey, we support these folks. And we do this or know about them, that you can do you know, regardless of your profits, and your your bottom line.

Johnathan McFarlane  31:26

Yeah, and then just make sure to tell the story afterwards, pics, or it didn’t happen just like on the internet, you know.

Lisa Buffo  31:31

Very true and very well saved from a marketing perspective. Because it’s easy to forget. And we’ve I’ve, I’ve personally fallen into that as well, where you’re just like, Oh, you do the thing, and it’s not a big deal. And you don’t, you don’t take it to the next level. So they thank you for mentioning that as well.

Johnathan McFarlane  31:49

Yeah, no problem.

Lisa Buffo  31:50

So, anything, I want to talk about a little bit about what you’ve personally learned, given your experience in cannabis over the last seven years going from Denver to Canada and back? Are there any lessons that you’ve learned? You know, I feel like this industry in this space is very much so trial by fire. My personal story, I came from marketing and other industries. And then I tried to apply that playbook here. And it just didn’t quite translate directly. So are there any lessons you’ve learned over your last seven years in cannabis? In your time between Canada in Denver that you wish you knew earlier in your career? Or like any aha moments you had? That was like, oh, yeah, I that makes sense now, but I didn’t know it then that you would impart on earlier stage cannabis, business owners and marketers.

Johnathan McFarlane  32:39

Okay, so as as a young marketer in this industry, one thing, I think that will really help you almost prepare, prepare the groundwork is to accept that we are an industry of disruption. We’re always complaining about what we can’t do. We can’t advertise on Facebook and Instagram. We can’t, you know, we can’t use Google ads and a lot of cases. But when we do that, we forget that there’s a lot that we still can do. And we should focus on that rather than complain so much about what we can’t do. Because the reality, I think, for a lot of people in this industry, is that the fact that they’re all all these rules and restrictions, actually, is why we’re in business. That’s why there are specialists because it’s not that easy to navigate. So I think once you accept that, right now, we’re writing the story of this industry together as we go, we’re flying the plane while we’re building it, or building it will or flying it, whatever makes more sense. You know, once you can kind of accept that, it’s going to be like that for a while and learn to almost enjoy the chaos a little bit. It sort of just opens up this, this mindset in your brain where all the things that you thought weren’t possible suddenly can be you just have to look around corners and think outside the box. I really do think that anybody that can make it as a cannabis marketer could make it just about any other industry far easier. Because this is hard. You know, this is a it’s a hard thing to do. But, but that’s one of the things I like about it is it’s we’re still figuring it out together, or writing the story as it as it happens. It’s exciting. I don’t know if that’s really advice. But you know, that’s how I think about things.

Lisa Buffo  34:28

I think it is I think it is good advice, because it’s easy to get bogged down by what doesn’t work. And it’s easy to do, what you’re good at and what you know, and if you have spent years running Google ads for products and other spaces, and that’s what you know, you have come into cannabis and need to develop a different playbook. It can be frustrating, but to your point I think it does breed creativity and innovation in a way that forces you to think outside of the box because you can’t rely on these typical channels and to me is almost funny because it’s like, Oh, of course that’s so that’s so cannabis, right? Like, you have to do things differently. You have to think more broadly and more creatively and in a way that is engaging. And the cool part about it is it is there’s a lifestyle component. And you’re reminding me of a story that Jacob Rowland, who was one of our guests, who works with lab labs told us a few weeks ago where he had spent this money doing a pop up in the summer with icicle or not icicles popsicles thinking that people were going to love them for the Fourth of July and add a pop up event. And for some reason, they just they didn’t really hit but then later at an event, he made a, like a smoking device out of a pool noodle, which was something he saw on tick tock, and it cost him like $2. And it was a massive fit and success. And it’s just like, yeah, there you go, you know, versus hundreds of dollars. But people love this because it’s sort of funny and gimmicky and creative. But very cool story. Yeah. Like it brings the the joy to it. And that experience, that experiential part that you mentioned that, you know, is a memory that folks will remember. And that’s what marketing is all about.

Johnathan McFarlane  36:13

Yeah, no doubt about that. Sure.

Lisa Buffo  36:15

So what are some aspects of the future of the cannabis industry that you think are important or are worth noting, either from a marketing perspective, or just where you see the industry growing? As we know things move really fast in cannabis. But is there anything you’re sort of anticipating or paying attention to in the coming year?

Johnathan McFarlane  36:37

Well, so I mean, not a direct connection to exactly what we do on a day to day basis. But one thing I’m really looking forward to, and really excited about, is cannabis being removed from schedule one. And it maybe that’s just a personal thing, but But part of the reason is because I mean, we all know, I mean, certainly everybody watching this knows that cannabis is not the same as meth and heroin, not by a longshot, and it doesn’t belong there. And the fact that it’s there and, and only drugs that are supposedly have no medical value or research potential, are in that category. And we know that that’s not where cannabis fits. So I, I don’t believe that federal legalization is in the very near future. But I think that D scheduling or bringing it from Schedule One, two, or whatever, I think that could happen in the near future. And once that happens, even if it’s not federally legalized at the same time, which I don’t think would be, that will open up a lot of opportunities for him for things like banking, and insurance and things that were really difficult for some of our clients in the first place. So that’s something I’m watching closely, that conversation is happening now. So it doesn’t sound so crazy as it might have a few years ago. And as marketers, you know, I don’t know what the direct connection is. But I gotta believe that a change like that will have an impact on what and how we do.

Lisa Buffo  38:09

I agree. And I think it’s one of those macro signals that, you know, we do a lot of educating to the public within the industry, but it’s coming from industry that has an incentive to sell. So that changes at the federal level, even that D said, D scheduling, it does take steps forward as far as reducing the stigma, and accelerating that process, which invites, you know, again, more opportunity for everybody and take some of the pressure off of the industry to have to you know, keep sort of speaking from the bullhorn about, it’s not the same, it’s different. And here’s why. So, yeah, that is a an important signal that, you know, we were kind of watching the government on and, and something to pay attention to.

Johnathan McFarlane  38:54

Yeah. When the day comes, the government says, okay, okay, okay. Cannabis is not going to kill you or ruin your life. When the government says that that will be a watershed moment for industry, I think.

Lisa Buffo  39:05

It will, It will. I would love to see that soon. But I agree. I think it is going to take time. Yeah. So are there any lessons? So speaking of lessons of adversity that you have faced that might be a story you would want to share for either a young market or young entrepreneur? Yeah, any lessons you learned from from failures or hard things you’ve come across?

Johnathan McFarlane  39:29

Yeah, I got one for ya. So when I when I started hybrid, as as marketers and in really small companies, kind of all our I was like a jack of all trades. You know, when you only have four or five people, six people on the team, everybody does a bit of everything. And then as the business grows, and you add employees, you know, you start to sort of define people into specialties or or they choose them and so, even though it hybrid I was originally hired as a jack of all trades, I saw an opportunity to put some effort into business development, which up to that point, we had never done that the business had never done it, it really been referrals and word of mouth and whatnot. So I convinced my, my boss, our president, Greg Peters, to let me give the, like a real effort to kind of remaking what hybrid is all about visually, like new website, everything like that. And see if I could, you know, build the business a bit quicker if I put some real effort into it. He said, Yeah, absolutely. Let’s go for it. So over the course of the next year, I mean, I poured myself into this, I was sending tons of outbound campaigns, writing lots of blogs, trying to build links, just just trying to generate some awareness for what we’re doing and that we exist. And I ended up with, surprisingly, getting a lot of businesses to the pitch point. But an entire year goes by not one new client, I have not landed one single new client. And it was so defeating. I mean, I remember sitting in bed with my wife one night, and just turning to her and telling her like, I don’t think I can do this. I was I must have been wrong about either myself about the business about the industry, but it’s not working. And I’ve been trying for a really long time. Well, maybe a week after that, finally, sat down with a business owner, they wrote a check right there on the spot landed our first client high fives yelling, congratulations, it was a tiny client. And they didn’t last long. They were not a great client. But just that just knowing that like, okay, I can do it really just sort of helped propel me forward. And looking back. While I thought this entire year was just like, wasted time me just spinning my wheels, it really wasn’t because every time I would send an email campaign, or every time I would do whatever, whatever tactic we’re talking about, I’m looking at the results, and I’m adjusting. And maybe the most important part was the pitch process. Every time I would pitch, you know, I would look afterwards and revise the deck and tweak it and tweak the messaging. And you know, the points that I want to try and make and so on. So that entire year was really just, it was just prep and practice. And when I finally did land, that first client, they started to come a lot quicker after that. So you know, it can be defeated when things don’t go exactly how you planned. But again, that’s just part of this industry, most things aren’t going to go exactly how you planned. And if you just embrace that and learn from it, you’re being you’re gonna be in a better position moving forward.

Lisa Buffo  42:56

Thank you for sharing that story. If you did, I think so many people like, it just speaks to the fact that first of all ROI, and cannabis is long term. And it takes a while to build credibility, it takes a while to build that trust in that reputation. And it takes a while for things to mesh, particularly, overall, how small, many of the businesses are I mean, we’re talking small businesses working with small businesses largely in this space. So to be able to do that, and know that it does take a while and just speak to that, I’m really glad you shared that because I think folks can get defeated if it doesn’t work right away. And there’s also pressure between marketers and leadership to sort of like, show that ROI right away and do need to have that conversation more that when we are talking ROI, it can be years it can be, it’s more than a quarter often, particularly if you’re in the early stage of your business. And we’re a bunch of startup entrepreneurs in the startup industry. So we are all sort of building our own planes, as we’re like building the sky. We want to go with that and go like that. It’s like that’s a lot, right. And so much is changing. So thank you for sharing that. Because I think it is a common story among marketers, but I don’t think everyone’s really, like willing and forthcoming to say that but but it is the case. And sticking with it and iterating and adjusting and pivoting is like so like the cannabis regardless of what sort of functional role you’re in, whether it’s marketing or operations or or growing or branding, like all of that can be the case.

Johnathan McFarlane  44:37

Yes. Very true. Yeah.

Lisa Buffo  44:39

I hope you frame that cheque and,

Johnathan McFarlane  44:42

I don’t know I did with that cheque. Actually, I handed it off to Greg and I’m not sure what he did with it other than look at it and disappointment because there wasn’t word zeros on it. But you know, it was good for Greg to because it proved to him also, that I could do it and I wasn’t wasting my time. Up to that point. I mean, Greg was gracious. He gave me a year long leash. That’s, that’s quite a lot. So I am, I’m thankful to him. And hopefully my work from that point forward has more than made up for that sort of year long low.

Lisa Buffo  45:17

Yeah. Awesome. And do you want to share any contact information website social media, either for yourself or hybrid? Where can where can our audience find you if they want to get a hold of you?

Johnathan McFarlane  45:28

Yeah, so you can check out a bit more about what we do hybrid marketing And I love talking shop about about this stuff. So anybody that feels like having a chat with me, like not for sales, reading stuff like that, just because it’s fun. can send me an email at [email protected].

Lisa Buffo  45:54

Awesome. Jonathan, thank you so much for taking the time to be here and chatting with me and sharing your stories and insights today. We really appreciate it.

Johnathan McFarlane  46:01

Thanks, Lisa for having me. That was a lot of fun. Hopefully we can do it again soon.

Lisa Buffo  46:05

We will. Interested in connecting with our guest experts join CMA at the Cannabis marketing and get exclusive access to our member content, including our bimonthly webinars Slack channel and networking events. You can also sign up for our newsletter with free resources on our homepage. Thank you for listening to this week’s episode. 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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