Party Like a Marketer Podcast

Episode 56: Tech-Forward Cannabis Marketing: Bridging the Gap

Episode Description

Hear from Vib Gupta, Founder & CEO of CannMenus about how cannabis marcom professionals can bridge the gap between cutting-edge technology and innovative marketing strategies to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of cannabis advertising.

Learn more and connect with the Cannabis Marketing Association:


Read the Transcript

Lisa Buffo  00:12

Hello everyone, welcome to party like a marketer, the podcast dedicated to cannabis marketing, public relations and authentic storytelling. I’m your host Lisa buffo, the founder and CEO of the cannabis Marketing Association. CMA is a membership based group focused on education and best practices for industry marketers. I’m a former cmo myself and really struggled with marketing once I joined the cannabis industry, with all of its unique restrictions, compliance issues, and aspects to storytelling that are not as common in other industries. So this community is for marketers working in this space looking to join the space who are looking for education, best practices and community. We host regular webinars. We have our members as guests on this podcast. We host events including our annual cannabis marketing Summit, which is a conference that we hold in person for our members every year, and we produce Downloadables and white papers all in an online member portal, including a Slack channel for our members to connect and ask each other questions. Each week we host a new guest on the show who are members of the organization that share their unique expertise in the cannabis industry and tell stories about their journey in marketing that can help other listeners of the show better understand how to navigate cannabis marketing themselves. Today’s guest is Vib Gupta. This is a season software engineer and founder of can menus, a leading big data technology company in the cannabis industry. Viv and his co founders started can menus in 2019, recognizing the scarcity of data driven solutions for the cannabis market and leverage their expertise in big data platform engineering, and the development of can menus unique software offerings. Under COVID leadership, Ken menues, has launched a cross platform Product Search offering that simplifies the process for consumers to find cannabis products online, as well as a Business Intelligence platform that provides detailed regional insights for industry operators. Please welcome today’s guest. Vib, thanks so much for joining us on the show.

Vib Gupta  02:27

Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Really excited to talk marketing today.

Lisa Buffo  02:31

Yes, so are we you’ve got such a good background in this space and insight into cannabis. So I’m very excited to learn from you as well this morning. But first, can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself? And Ken menues? What is your professional background? How did you get into the cannabis space? And tell us about the company and what you do from the founder perspective?

Vib Gupta  02:53

Yeah, absolutely. So my background is in software engineering. My co founders and I actually met while working on big data platforms for Internet of Things use cases, super industrial, you know, multinational corporations, startup called uptake in Chicago. You know, when we we met, it was pretty clear that we all kind of had this entrepreneurial drive. And so I think that was one thing that really brought us together. And then of course, just being cannabis people, I think we found each other pretty much immediately, which I think cannabis people tend to do, no matter where they are, especially back in the days when it wasn’t even adult use rock yet. So it was a little bit of, you know, more taboo and whatnot. But, you know, we started talking about business ideas pretty much right away that we could start to work on. Like I said, it was pretty clear from the get go that we gelled and that we could do something together. And we you know, we really had some complementary skills. They’re just naturally we started looking at the cannabis industry around the end of 2018. There were some rumors that Illinois was probably going to go fully adult use, the medical programs seem to be doing really well more and more people that you would talk to had a medical card in Illinois. And then at the same time, you would look into cannabis retail, and it would be super limited. Even though it was a medical market. You know, we kind of anticipated seeing some of the other markets struggle going from med to rec, that the current kind of operational processes and the technology that supports those processes just wasn’t really there for the cannabis industry. You know, it was a situation where we would have expected an industry that was created in 2012 2014 to be you know, very technology forward and at the time, it wasn’t really because of some of the things that we know today very well that you have to build. A lot of the times technology more specific for the cannabis industry because the nuances of the cannabis business and compliance and everything like that. So once we took a look at it, it made sense and once we saw that opportunity, it really seemed like a perfect fit to take our backgrounds in software engineering is our Our passion for the cannabis plant and combine those. And I think honestly, it’s become really a unique combination of skill sets that have contributed to just our success and our enjoyment in what we do, which I think contributes to our success for sure. So that’s how we got started. And really our goal initially, was to create a platform that could make sense of cannabis data online, which we saw that there was a very increasing amount of that was being created. So that was really our first focus is like, Where can we get data online? Either by partnering with people or by taking a look at publicly available data? And then how can we create a platform that can actually understand cannabis better than you know, so that we can take kind of this structured unstructured data online, clean it up, make it structured and make it super, super usable? The first use case that we have developed on top of this data platform, we like to refer to as like, but for cannabis. So just like Kayak lets you do a search across travel industry websites, we’ll do the same thing for cannabis, let you do a search, direct you out to where you can make your best purchase in your area. And then on the b2b side, we have a SaaS platform that pretty much takes those same data points from our platform, and exposes them to cannabis operators so that they can keep an eye on what’s selling in retail at what price is basically.

Lisa Buffo  06:27

So on the consumer side, when you say search, like Kayak, which is a really good reference, I could say I’m looking for vids brand edibles, and it will help find it near me across different sites like that. That’s how you can search for products or retailers or both.

Vib Gupta  06:45

Exactly. Yeah, for sure. So that was the goal from the very beginning, particularly just being very familiar with the problems and medical patients were facing in getting products from licensed dispensaries, it was really difficult for especially in Illinois, we’ve got basically the highest prices in the country, there’s only a few markets that have prices higher than Illinois, they started to come down, but especially at the time, it was $60.08 $60, one gram, half gram cartridges were basically the norm not even one gram cartridges. So really, you know, when, when I would see people waiting an hour, an hour and a half in, you know, a dispensary waiting room that had like medical, physical medical conditions that were uncomfortable, literally, you know, sitting there just to get their medicine. And then you know, it turns out the strain they wanted to sold out, or the strain that actually worked for them. And there’s only a few, they just can’t get it. So really Yeah, that was the goal is, you know, get as specific as you want in terms of the products that you’re looking for. It could be that you’re looking for an edible that has CBG you know, something super niche as a minor cannabinoid, do that search will help you search across websites. So no matter if it’s Steezy with one I entered on Leafly and Steezy. With five eyes on IR Jain we can join those records together and help you compare it in one spot. Okay,

Lisa Buffo  08:03

cool. So it’s not just brand specific, its attribute or feature specific. And do you also have any features where it’s like for the medical side, people can search based on condition like, I need a topical for chronic pain, and it would help show you where what that might be and where you could get it? Yeah,

Vib Gupta  08:25

not not yet. But that is definitely something that we would love to add as as an enhancement, the effect based stuff is so tricky. Yeah, we definitely don’t want to misinform anybody. And I think the research is developing, but we are actually looking to partner with a couple of companies, different companies that do recommendations of that sort in different ways. And really, I think that’s part of our part of our ethos is, you know, we don’t want to own the cannabis data space, we really want to enable all sorts of applications to be built on top of this platform, right. And what we’re really good at is collecting, making sense of and organizing cannabis data. And doing that in a in a very, you know, flexible, easy to use way. And we would love to enable, you know, all sorts of companies that are working on research based on you know, effects or, you know, influencer based reviews for for adult use, and just helping people find those products, you know, once they once they read those reviews. Okay,

Lisa Buffo  09:24

cool. That makes sense. And then lastly, just to clarify on the b2b side, so when you say brands can search and sort of see what sailing is selling at retail in those price points, is it like a kind of like a Bloomberg terminal where they can just like see all the data or is it more of a is it a wholesale side where they can actually purchase or see what’s available there? Like can you just describe that a little bit more?

Vib Gupta  09:47

Yeah, definitely. No, I would like it more to your Bloomberg example for sure. And that’s that’s the current state. future vision. We would absolutely love to start enabling more workflows through the The actual platform probably through partnerships integrations with some other companies that are, you know, really good at, you know, automated text message marketing, or on the wholesale side, reorders and things like that. So, for right now, it’s kind of like, you know, Bloomberg is a great example. We actually like to use Nielsen Nielsen IQ with with their title, monitoring platform. Yeah, for sure. So yeah, current state. It’s a platform that lets you look at explore the data, play around with it, export it, you know, so that you can use it for your own internal reporting. And future vision, we would love to start to enable more the workflow street strip in the application.

Lisa Buffo  10:39

Okay, cool. Thank you for describing that. And do you mind sharing with us a little bit about your personal relationship with cannabis too? I know we talked about it. But like, can you sort of bring that story together about how you were working in this space? And you develop this technology? But also I know, you were a medical patient in Illinois? Yes.

Vib Gupta  11:00

Yes, definitely. Yeah, for sure. So yeah, my relationship with cannabis goes back to my teenage years, you know, it’s definitely a little bit of a rebellious teenager I, I was fascinated by the plant from an early age and obviously just baffled from the beginning as to why something as innocuous as cannabis compared to other things that are more heavily abused is so illegal and so taboo. So it really, you know, I think as a kid, when you hear something from authority figures, which you then find out is very, very, very not true, you start to question authority in general, right? So I think it could be due to kind of this rebellious nature and like, oh, you know, you’re saying that it’s, it’s so so bad for me, I know that it’s not so it must be extremely helpful, which is that you know, looking back in retrospect, too young to be you know, consuming cannabis and consuming the volume of cannabis that I was I was doing at the time but that’s where my journey definitely began. And you know, I know a lot of people use the same you know, all cannabis use is is medicinal use, and I definitely feel like there was a you know, an aspect that was medicinal for me even in high school when when it was more so kind of the recreational kind of culture that more more of the stoner type lifestyle that I was living. When cannabis when this like, went all the taboos started to fade little by little. And I think really there was there was like content that was coming out on on TV for the first time like CNN, Sanjay Gupta did the weed documentary. I think it’s called weed. Yeah. I feel like that was like a huge turning point in the perception of cannabis and educated people to CBD in particular, you know, and I think like, it’s been really interesting to kind of see how cannabis advocates of Mark have marketed for legalization right? Where they’re like, hey, look, how can you deny this little kid have access to CBD, something that doesn’t even get them high? And then a year or two later, they’re like, Well, look, it’s cannabis is totally harmless. Let’s just legalize it. And that’s kind of how it’s gone. And, and that’s great. I definitely support you know, total legalization and decriminalization of cannabis. And I think it’s an absolute shame that there’s still cannabis arrested in Illinois and medical patients, you know, that get in trouble and have a huge liability in Illinois. So I really, you know, would I do continue to advocate for further cannabis reform. But that was kind of how my, my cannabis journey got started. Really, really fascinated, fell in love with the plant at an early age really started consuming all content related to the legal cannabis industry from a very early age as well and was just fascinated by the technology behind it. I’ve always been, you know, a tech geek and seeing, you know, new devices that would allow you to vaporize in different ways, seeing new technologies from from the grower side and you know, producing crazy beautiful plants and in the science developing was was really fascinating to me. And, you know, if it wasn’t for my fascination with with cannabis and wanting to consume information about it, I certainly don’t think I’d be able to put I would have been able to put together the data platform that that we were able to put together right. And even just going to dispensaries and looking at the menus. You know, that’s something that actually I’ve been fascinated with. Since I first saw a dispensary menu, a coffee shop menu in Amsterdam. So I was 17 years old. There was a school trip to Amsterdam, but I was lucky enough to be a part of to Holland, Amsterdam was a part of it. And yeah, it just it just fascinated me that that there is this legal cannabis industry. It wasn’t what everybody thought were everybody would think, Oh, it’s legal cannabis. They’re all just over there smoking weed all the time. And it’s just bunch of stoners, like no it’s a very sophisticated culture. are complicated but sophisticated culture. And, you know, that kind of continued on to when I would go out to restaurants when I would be a little bit older. And every time I go to a restaurant, I just I really study the menu, like what do you have on the menu? How do you have it organized? And I think that translates over to cannabis dispensary menus as well, too. So, you know, one of my favorite things to do is just kind of take a look at everything a dispensary offers, you know, especially if they’re one that has found a niche and I and I do really hope that more retailers find find a niche and do less of the here’s 3000 skews. And you know, we basically have everything might not be the freshest, but what do you need? You know, so? Yeah, sorry, long winded answer about my kind of history with with cannabis. But, you know, been fascinated by it from from a very early age. Full disclosure definitely did get in a little bit of trouble during high school for cannabis as well. And so that absolutely contributed to my desire to when the industry went legal, do what I can to participate in, in the industry, because of how much it adversely affected me and my life early on.

Lisa Buffo  16:12

And did you grow up in Chicago? Yes.

Vib Gupta  16:14

Okay. Cool. Even worse, the suburbs of Chicago, which are even stricter about cannabis.

Lisa Buffo  16:21

So yeah, yeah, I can imagine. It was definitely different growing up for sure than it is now.

Vib Gupta  16:27

Yeah, I never would have imagined that, you know, a few short years, it could go from everybody’s getting arrested to the states making billions of dollars in cannabis revenue. Yeah, that’s, yeah, definitely. I’m sure it was, it was kind of what was the experience like in your home state, say,

Lisa Buffo  16:47

Well, I grew up out in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, so not too far from home in Chicago. And I was in high school 2004 2008. And it was, there was definitely disparities about how it was enforced and who it was enforced on and what that looked like. And it was talked about in health class, but it wasn’t, it was sort of accepted, but it was like, don’t get, I don’t want to say it was accepted. But it was accepted sort of the way drinking was in the sense that like, people knew the kids were doing it. Some kids did. And like, as long as you weren’t stupid and didn’t get caught, they didn’t go out of their way to enforce it. But if you got caught, they enforced it. And they were very clear about it. And you could get suspended from school or lose your privileges, like I played sports, people would get suspended from games, things like that, which was actually quite detrimental to students and student athletes to lose time in school or in your extracurricular activities. And occasionally, some people like if it was bad enough, they could, you know, not necessarily threatened, like your path to college or whatnot. But they they would scare, they would scare you for short and make sure you didn’t do it again, or kind of understood the consequences of it. But yeah, it was not there was not the tolerance from the adult perspective, as far as there being open communication about it. And it was, there was more, I would say shock and surprise, but people would use cannabis and get caught for it relative to alcohol when alcohol had such, like, everyone was learning how to drive, you know, like there’s not much to do in the suburbs at that age. So you’d be out and about, and it was definitely different than it is today, although I’m not in high school today. So I don’t know exactly how it plays out. But I’m still in Ohio. Now. I moved back to Cleveland after being in Colorado for about 10 years. And you know, how just legalize this year? They’ve had medical for a while. So it’s a culture change, for sure. But it was not it like sort of was tolerated and sort of wasn’t in the in the same breath.

Vib Gupta  18:53

Yeah, absolutely. Really exciting about Ohio, for sure. That’s gonna be a really fun market to Yes, next couple years.

Lisa Buffo  19:00

Yeah, we’re excited about it. Well, I want to talk marketing a little bit too. And I want to hear from your perspective, as an entrepreneur, I want to get into some of the insights from Ken menus as well. But as a so many of us, myself included our small business owners in the space, you know, came up with an idea based on a problem that we had, which sounds like you did to where you actually experienced this problem of waiting in line not being able to have the inventory you wanted, and it causing you issues as a customer and as a patient. What were some of your first steps into marketing, can menus, the business itself when you got into the industry, so I’m guessing. So did you launch like early 2019? What was that environment like and what was sort of your first Alright, here’s how we’re going to start telling people about it and marketing the company within the space because you have an interesting angle on that your b2b to see. But I don’t know did you develop one side of that first and kind of market it to one audience first or what was sort of have v one of can menus internal marketing?

Vib Gupta  20:02

Yeah, absolutely. You know, that’s a great question. You know, just to start off, I think I’ve mentioned this to you before, at least we’re as technologists, we’re very clueless about marketing. You know, I think we have an appreciation for it, certainly. But we’re, we’re not marketers. We’ve, we’ve, we’ve learned a lot over the past few years. But yeah, early 2019. Throughout 2019, we were really focused on just proving out the concept in terms of technology, right? Can Can this actually work? And that that has just challenging ourselves to find out if we can do it has been so valuable for us. If we don’t, we don’t try to assume like, yeah, we can probably do this, we, you know, we might not be able to do this. We don’t we don’t put that doubt in our heads. We go, Okay, can we do this? How can we make this happen? And that has worked to our advantage and actually making it happen, you know, so that was really the first kind of year of development, once the data platform was was kind of up and running. And we actually had a product, we realized that we probably should have been thinking about the marketing for this whole past year, right? And what would have benefited us? So, you know, in hindsight, it was like, or what do we do now? And of course, we made the classic first time entrepreneur, engineer, entrepreneur, I think mistake of, if you build it, they will, they will come right, you know, this is such a useful platform. Who wouldn’t want to do a universal search for cannabis find, find the best prices, save some money, find the best products, like, just gotta put it out there, and it’ll, it’ll just go it’ll probably go viral right? Now, it’s not really how it works. In the early days, we, I really didn’t even know where to look for cannabis people. I had kind of become friends with the general manager at the dispensary that I frequented, and, you know, I started talking to him a little bit. And he was like, yeah, like, here’s my card, let’s let’s talk and I generally found that, that people at dispensaries, especially as a medical patient would would listen to me right, I think that angle kind of kind of worked. And they saw that I had, you know, I think they saw that I had a passion for what I was doing, I really cared I wanted to actually create something that would be good for the industry and move the industry forward. So that was really kind of what I was doing in the very beginning was really grasping for straws when when shutdown hit really affected your ability to kind of go out there and this pandemic, right, yeah, yeah, when when pandemic hit so that that kind of put a you know, a pause to the I can just go out to retailers and try to talk to somebody to jumpstart this type of thing. And of course, you know, we went we went online we went to clubhouse was was was big during the pandemic. Those days, there was a lot. Yeah, there’s a lot of cannabis rooms on clubhouse. That was really cool, because I got to, you know, figure out who some of the cannabis influencers were in my area, follow them on Instagram, started DMing people. And it was amazing that they actually responded. You know, like, I found that from the very beginning, like, you just email people DM people keep it short, keep it genuine, you haven’t asked for them. They’ll usually respond, you know, even if they’re very, very busy, very successful people. And that’s, that was a really cool lesson learned from the beginning. And one of the folks I linked up with on clubhouse is still an adviser to our company today and has been huge for our company. But really, in the beginning. It was like how can I start talking to people? Maybe if I can get an influencer to post about this, it’ll go viral. Maybe if I can get on Reddit and start posting about this, it’ll go viral? I very, I think, you know, not sophisticatedly just put a couple of different posts up on Reddit. And a little bit of traction. I got some replies, hey, this is really cool, really useful. Thanks for putting this together. But definitely nothing like that went viral, right? Literally, like, I can’t remember if it was weeks or months after my first Reddit post, somebody else had created a platform that was kind of similar to what we were doing. But it was only product alerts. So you couldn’t do a search. But you could set up a alert and you could be notified of like, hey, like this product is back in stock in this dispensary. So it was a scaled down version of what we had kind of built on our product search side. And this person obviously was much better at the marketing because he was all over Reddit, all the communities. You know, he had like, a really well structured post. You know, that looked really good. And, you know, he had hundreds and hundreds of likes across like 2530 different communities that I saw this post shared on Yeah, yeah, for sure. So it was like, okay, like, it’s not what I’m sharing. It’s how I’m doing it and the whole approach to it. It’s got to be more nuanced. So it’s not the channel that’s wrong. It’s not, you know, it’s it’s this whole holistic approach. And it was a really interesting learning experience of like, like, oh, it’s not that I thought that things could that I could make this go viral on Reddit or mini viral or whatever, and it didn’t work. So it’s just not going to work. It’s, there’s another approach that can definitely work better, right?

Lisa Buffo  25:04

Yeah. Yeah, Fred, it’s a hard one to crack. We’ve we’ve, we’ve dabbled in it too. But it’s it’s its own kind of beast. But yeah, that’s cool that you guys started. And we we actually have similar timeframe we launched early 19, in our one year was right when the pandemic hit. And we actually our first year, we had a very boots on the ground in person, marketing strategy. And lockdown changed so many things for so many people in businesses who were in the early stages. So I empathize with you there for sure. Okay, and then you had mentioned that, after that you guys have started to get into content marketing a little bit. Is that

Vib Gupta  25:42

correct? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Lisa Buffo  25:45

And can you tell me a little bit about that? Like, what how did you then take those lessons from Reddit? And what you had tried and sort of seeing if things could go viral into like, a content marketing approach? Like how did what was kind of that process? Like, and what what was some of that first content that you were putting out?

Vib Gupta  26:04

Yeah, absolutely. You know, when when we got started with the, with the content side of things. For us, it was all like, theory and conjecture, right, we didn’t really, we didn’t know whether what we were going to do would actually work in terms of putting out content, putting out some SEO optimized pages, and hopefully increasing our traffic. But we could see that there was evidence that there’s a lot of cannabis related searches happening online for a variety of product for a variety of topics for people looking for dispensaries near them looking for brands and products near them, but also a ton of people just looking for information about cannabis in general, right. So we have this theory that it’s it’s low enough hanging fruit, and that we could actually build up some authority and start to rank for these keywords. And at the same time, they’re not keywords that are worthless, they’re very valuable keywords, right. So that was just kind of this initial thought that we had, we didn’t really know how to make it happen, or how it’s going to work. So we did bring someone on, who had a little bit more experience on that side of things to help us kind of take what we wanted to do on the content side and bring it to life. And you know, that included putting out articles, informative articles, kind of tailored towards some of the things that we saw people searching for on SEM rush, sem rush, yeah, it’s a huge, huge platform for us in terms of helping educate us into you kind of the different terminologies and dimensions around digital marketing. But then, of course, just having very specific actionable measurements, and on the technical side, the audits of our website to make sure that, you know, all of our, our websites were restructured properly, and we actually had the technical SEO Correct. Can’t talk can’t can’t say enough good things about sem rush. It’s been amazing for us. And I think it’s really cool, that someone who doesn’t know much about marketing can go into something like sem rush and have a lot of success. But yeah, that was kind of our focus, it was how can we kind of create, let’s let’s focus on nailing the basics, you know, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, how can we have useful content on you know, pages that are structured properly, you know, tags, headers, title is optimized for the keywords we’re trying to reach? Let’s see if we can, you know, just keep putting up pages build up authority really, really slowly start to build up authority. The person we were, we were working with at the at the time that was creating some of this content was like, you know, these results are good, it takes time to build up and we’re like, I don’t know, maybe, maybe not, you don’t really believe it until you see it. And then when you see it, like a month or two, you know, three months later after publishing an article and it’s all of a sudden, it’s skyrocketing to the top of Google and you’re finally getting traffic from it. It’s really, really cool, rewarding feeling. And it’s, you know, definitely conditions you I think, to more of the delayed gratification, the long term thinking that that you have to the attitude that you have to take on when it comes to content marketing. So that was kind of the beginnings of it, when when we really, really ramped up and that was about a little over a year ago was when we started put out SEO optimized pages for every retailer that we have many data for on our platform, every brand that we have on our platform pages for you know, at the city and state level as well. Just kind of the whole whole shebang out there. And we really started ranking for you know, then 1000s and 1000s of keywords, increased our traffic by an insane amount, week over week, month over month last year. And so it was again really rewarding to see and I think it was a situation where we started started slow proved out the concept and then really turned it on the faucet. And now, you know, we have a lot of people that come through our website at the last measurement, it was 150k monthly users. And the coolest part for me is the retention metrics, there’s, you know, 15 20% of users end up coming back after after 30 days right now. So just the fact that there’s, there’s a lot of stickiness there. And, you know, we don’t, we don’t monetize our BTC site at all, there’s no advertising, it’s really just a utility for people right now, to to get value out of. And it was cool to see people actually using it going to, you know, trade shows and events and people telling me about their experiences using it and and knowing about it, it’s definitely a cool thing.

Lisa Buffo  30:45

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Yeah, and that’s a good overall sort of marketing philosophy is like start slow test things, see what works, and then scale up and put resources behind what is working, because it does take time to start to see results. But it can, it can have a compound or snowball effect, if you’re thoughtful about it,

Vib Gupta  31:05

especially when you have little to no money, you know, we bootstrapped this this company, we have a little bit of investor money in right now. But certainly nowhere near kind of the millions that some of our competitors have raised. And that’s kind of been part of our philosophy of just startup development is don’t raise a ton of money, if you don’t need to, you know, we’ve kind of taken the opposite route, we worked at a lot of startups that took took the other route, and were very successful. But you know, I think, with technology valuations kind of moving from revenue to profitability, we were I think a little bit ahead of the game on that just kind of not wanting to fall into that trap of just raised a bunch of money, raise more money and keep doing that until maybe you had a big we kind of wanted to take a little bit more of a smarter approach, I should say, I don’t want to say smarter, because I don’t want to put anybody down the ticks the other approach, but it worked for us. It had to work for us, because we just that’s we didn’t have the money. Yeah, you know, so,

Lisa Buffo  32:08

ya know, we’re, we’re bootstrapped to, I echo that same philosophy gives you a little more. I don’t want to say control. But also yes, because you get to dictate the path and your pace and have some seniority with it. So that’s really cool. But yeah, bootstrapping is not easy at all. Absolutely,

Vib Gupta  32:29

absolutely. Yes, you can, you can like take more risks and pivot, I think, you know, especially when you’re when, you know, maybe you’re still trying to figure out your direction, early on. Yeah.

Lisa Buffo  32:39

And listen to yourself, because there’s sometimes you just start to know things about your own business or what’s happening internally that may not make sense on paper, or it’s kind of just a feeling based on what you know, and how it’s working. But you don’t have to, it’s you in the team, you guys can do that. So, absolutely. I want to talk a little bit about for 20. I know last week, we did a webinar for CMA members. And you guys have had some really interesting data because you do get all of this search traffic across the US. And there’s a few points that had really stuck out to me. One of the things you had mentioned was about how I think you said last year for 20 was on Thursday. So that sales cycle started the weekend before. So it was really like a 10 day long event. Can you talk a little bit to the audience about overall what you’ve seen in your data in relation of 420. As of this recording, it’s early March, we know it’s coming up quickly. And really, for 20 of like our big event in the cannabis industry. But it is also indicative of other kinds of events based marketing and you know, how folks approach or I should say, how businesses approach different sales cycles around holiday at retail, what are some of the insights that you have that just really stick out to you about the holiday that would be helpful for marketers to know? And I just want to get into that a little bit.

Vib Gupta  33:56

Yeah, no, absolutely. The the first thing that’s really cool to see, I think, this year is how early people are talking about for 20. You know, we’ve we’ve been pretty much talking about it with folks since late January. And at this point, people are in like, full tilt, a lot of the brands and retailers that we’re talking about today are very focused on on capitalizing on on for 20 this year. And I think that’s maybe not I think that’s an increasing amount of over over the last couple of years. So it’s cool to see that peep. Yeah, yeah. And I think that it’s also indicative of just like the the increasing sophistication of technology and techniques, the tools that are available for brands and retailers and it’s cool to see that people now feel like they have tools data, you know, information to help help plan things, you know, more ahead of time. But yeah, for 20 Super, super exciting time. You know, I think obviously just a really crazy time for for cannabis retail in general. Some of the things I think we shared on the webinar Are that all that I’ll just like recount here last year looking at, you know, five of the five or six of the largest markets in the country, it was about a 1.5x increase on on 420 as compared to a normal Friday night even compared to a normal Thursday. So certainly, you know, a huge, huge opportunity. You know, I think if you were to guess, about the change in like demographics shopping on for 20, you would guess that it’s more of the casual users more of the less of the people that are everyday users. Certainly, you know, that’s, that’s a huge part of retail sales. In general, I think the Pareto Principle definitely applies to cannabis, where most of your sales are going to come from the smallest amount of, of users and all of that, but in 420, on 428, really, things really do shift, you see a definitely market increase in preroll, sales, concentrate sales, and things that are really specialty, for sure. So within vapes a lot more people buy pods, like the specialty pods, as compared to generic vape carts. People are in concentrates, people are buying more than live resin more than live rosin. So there’s, there’s definitely a ton of evidence that there’s a lot of people a lot more people that are gonna be coming into retail looking for premium products on 420. So I think that’s important to mention, because a lot of people focus a lot on just discounting, offering good deals, and that’s part of it. And people don’t want to feel like they’re getting ripped off. But I think there’s a ton of evidence that people in cannabis, looking at the data, that people will pay a premium for a premium product, like, again, nobody wants to be ripped off. But people will, you know, gladly pay more for live rosin. You know, if they can afford it. And that’s, that’s what they prefer. If you kind of tried to do analyses on like, price elasticity in cannabis, there’s, there’s not a ton of evidence that that we found, and I think that other people who’ve done this research have found that that shows that cannabis is heavily price elastic, you know, I think it’s actually relatively inelastic. So, I think, you know, when we’re talking to brands and retailers, we certainly try to encourage them to avoid discounting like crazy, and it’s like, you’re gonna have eyes on your retail establishment, you’re gonna have more foot traffic, certainly do what you can to, you know, inform people early on of what you’re going to be doing. But it’s not about discounting everything 50%? You know, I think it’s about really making sure your product mix is indicative of, you know, really more congruent, I should say, with the expected, you know, product mix based on what happened in your area last year, right. And that’s one of the things we love doing with Ken menus is you can you can get down to a very specific region, you don’t have to say, hey, here’s the data for all of California, because that’s California, pretty big state. Even within LA, you know, things change significantly from you know, Fremont sorry to say Fremont is that, is that in LA, or San Francisco? Yeah, nevermind, you know, or Seattle? I don’t even Yeah. What am I thinking of like El Segundo to downtown LA, you know, completely completely different markets. So Temecula, you know, see, I don’t know LA. Okay. Yeah. But yeah, so I think in terms of the discounting cycle, I’m very eager to see how things land this year, I don’t anticipate retailers will start discounting, you know, the weekend before, it doesn’t make any sense to really based on the data, the, the increases in traffic really happen right around 420 There’s a little bit of a bump that happens, you know, last year that happened the weekend before 420. But I think most people were are wanting to celebrate 420 on 420 Specially when it’s close to or on a weekend, so this year with 420 being on a Saturday, I think the industry is really expecting it to be huge, and it should be huge. There should be tons of parties events, activations, that, that’ll be really cool. I know another thing that’s, that’s data driven, that that we would recommend is you know, don’t don’t forget about accessories, you know, make sure you have, you know, the batteries and all sorts of, you know, paraphernalia on hand and use that in your bundling strategy. Accessories are usually pretty, pretty high markup and could be a way to, you know, offer deals without, you know, deeply discounting on actual cannabis, or vice versa. So yeah, I think just the headline is for 20 is not typical, you know, by any means. It’s a totally different mix of people a lot more traffic. In terms of E commerce, you know, make sure your E commerce is really, really clean, organized, everything’s labeled properly. That’s like the easiest thing that you can do to increase your sales. goes on any day of the week and on 420. The only way you can handle you know that most retailers can handle that type of increase in traffic effectively is by using all the technology that’s available to them. So I think some of the things that we’ve been talking to brands and retailers about over these past few weeks.

Lisa Buffo  40:15

Cool, thank you. And yeah, I would agree to at least from our side that this year is probably the earliest the year we’ve seen businesses and brands focus on for 20 As soon as they could, or earlier than the curve. And I would agree for us, it was also like end of January where people started putting their plans together and executing on them. But I am excited. It’s on a Saturday this year, and to see what changes and I do remember you saying to us on the webinar about getting your data as hyperlocal as possible, and just wanted to emphasize that that even like within neighborhoods, things can change year over year, and those buying patterns change year over year. And cannabis is such an interesting use case for retail because it is one of the few industries I think left where you like you physically, you generally physically have to go to a store to get it you’re not competing with E commerce as much in terms of like household goods, where you can just go to Amazon as opposed to target cannabis, for the most part, you do have to physically go somewhere. And those dynamics can really change based on how many dispensaries are in your area, the makeup of people in your area and what they’re buying. So I want to echo that point about getting data as hyperlocal as possible. That was really interesting point that you made. Okay, well, last few questions. Before we wrap up. One thing I like to ask about on this show is any fail stories in relation to marketing? So I know you shared a little bit about like, what’s worked and how that you guys did try the trying to get an influencer and going viral. But are there any other stories about what things that you tried in your startup journey that didn’t work? Or that you’ve seen that you’ve seen with your clients, like any fail stories in marketing, that you’re open to sharing with the audience as well? Yeah,

Vib Gupta  42:03

absolutely. I mean, in general, I think just definitely want to emphasize our biggest failure was not coming up with a marketing plan, or, you know, and figuring that it would just fall into place, or that someone else would figure it out as, as the founder, you really do need to set the direction, and you need to have that figured out, otherwise, you’re not gonna be able to really recruit anybody, or it’s gonna be harder to recruit people when you don’t have that vision to, to share. So certainly biggest failure was just not immersing myself into the marketing side of things earlier on and under estimating the need for for for, for your marketing plan and overestimating the, the technology, you know, and the viral potential of the technology. In terms of their, you know, I think in terms of content marketing, one of the biggest failures was really figuring out the best way to communicate information that might be subjective, or estimates kind of based on the best data that we’d have available. You know, I think that the cannabis community is very, very, very sensitive about their own data and how it’s represented. So we certainly, you know, when we put out certain pieces of content, got a lot of of positive interest, but we got a lot of negative interest as well, too. So I think, you know, that was a little bit of a failure, in that, that we learned from and now I think we are much better in terms of how we present data, how we present content, and recommendations. And really, that that kind of situation where people reach out to us and are angry, doesn’t happen anymore. And, you know, sometimes it’ll be it’ll be just a case where, you know, hey, my brand or retailer, you know, we have our we have ourselves as like number three in the state, you guys have that number nine on your list, and it’s like, okay, you know, like there’s, there’s kind of hairs to split a little bit when you’re, when you’re talking about brand ranking, sometimes a lot of brands are similar. So you can move from nine to three, you know, pretty regularly, it’s, you know, it’s not in the cannabis space. You know, a lot of the times when you’re looking at rankings, they’re gonna be fluid, right? There’s, there’s, there’s just, it’s, it’s a dynamic market. So really just being able to handle handle those kinds of things, knowing how to put content together in a way that’s, I think, maximum usefulness. Realistic, something that’s going to just add value without making people kind of question whether they can trust us, I think that was that was kind of one of the one of the things that we learned early on, in terms of in terms of the content side of things, and then of course, just how important marketing is, you know, having visuals that represent the data in the right way. You know, our dashboards if you take a look Usually the entire dashboard, you put it on to any piece of marketing collateral, it’s gonna look horrible. So that was another thing is kind of like from the data side of it, how do we, you know, take screenshots of data where you can, it’s really focused on one single thing, you can look at the screenshot and get an idea of how you can actually take action based on this data. And you can, you can actually read it from a PowerPoint and when you’re when you’re standing 1010 feet away. So all the little things really, we were kind of, I feel like getting back to just marketing one on one. But it works like all this stuff works. That’s that’s the thing. You don’t have to be crazy, you know, sophisticated or complicated from the get go do the basics. They work build on top of that. One of the biggest things that helped us out was going to the CMA conference almost two years ago as well, eating, yeah, meeting all these people and sitting on the sessions and taking notes. And and I think a lot of those people you see them have a ton of success on online today and in the digital marketing world. And that that was really cool, too. So I think more more marketing conferences, more more discussions about marketing and cannabis. I

Lisa Buffo  46:09

will echo that. Um, but yeah, there. Thank you so much. Is there anything else you haven’t shared today that you want to let the audience know, any other topics we haven’t covered?

Vib Gupta  46:20

Um, no, nothing that I can really think of, I think, you know, definitely always love to meet new people and speak with people. So please do feel free to reach out. I’m on LinkedIn, VB Gupta, that’s a that’s a good way to reach me. You can also, you know, check us out at Ken Submit a contact us form if you’d like to get in touch. But, you know, thank you so much for having me. I really, really enjoyed this discussion, Lisa. Yes,

Lisa Buffo  46:49

we appreciate you. And if you reach out to them on LinkedIn, let them know you heard them on the podcast, as well. I’m sure you get a lot of LinkedIn requests. But it really appreciate you sharing your insights. We will link your LinkedIn and your website in the show notes for all of our listeners, but thank you for taking the time today. And good luck to everybody on for 20 and check out his product at Ken menu’s dot com. Thanks, guys. Have a good one. You too. Thank you lib. And thank you everybody for joining this week’s episode. If you are interested in learning more about cannabis Marketing Association and joining our community. You can find us online at the Cannabis marketing And check out our membership page. You can also email us at membership at marketing And follow us on social media or on LinkedIn. We’ve got a newsletter which you can sign up for on our website and on Instagram and Twitter. We are @Cannamarketing


— Transcribed by

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.

Become a CMA Member Today!

Join the fun as we host exciting educational and networking events in your community. Engage with your marketing peers and collaborate to solve the cannabis industry's toughest marketing and public relations challenges, all while building community and having a great time!