How Storytelling Can Help Cannabis Brands Stick Out
Ben Hartman
October 22, 2020

Imagine if you will, trying to market toilet paper in a world where from day one consumers were told that toilet paper is evil, it will harm them, and they must avoid it at all costs. 

Doesn’t sound so simple does it? 

That scenario was proposed by “wordtender” Julia Rubiner of The Herbal Verbalist, during “Telling Cannabis Stories,” a webinar hosted by the Cannabis Marketing Association and CannBe on Tuesday night. The webinar featured a panel including Rubiner and Lisa Buffo, CEO of CMA, Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, senior editor of The Cannigma, and moderated by Elana Goldberg, CEO of CannBe and The Cannigma. 

As the panelists put it, storytelling is key to overcoming the roadblocks the major advertising platforms place in the way of cannabis, as well as the stigma and fear that surround a product that never got the benefit of the doubt like toilet paper. 

According to Buffo, storytelling for the cannabis industry is “really connecting people, it’s creating an emotional bond or shared experience that sometimes feels harder and harder to have genuinely these days. We are literally rewriting the narrative because the story we've been told for 80 years is a lie and it's been told over and over again in these really deep nuanced and conflicting ways that people have registered in their minds.”

She added that cannabis brands should expect some blowback though, “because we’re asking people to question their beliefs and not only their beliefs but also why do I believe this, why was I lied to in my high school health class, why did my government or my parents and grandparents tell me this for so long. We’re rewriting a narrative, it's a complex and nuanced issue and we’re really challenging beliefs and as a marketer I see that as a really exciting opportunity and an honor that we all have.”

Omer-man said that storytelling is key for cannabis brands as they try to reach out to consumers and ease the trepidation, especially among new users. 

“Breaking the stigma is such a huge part of what needs to take place in the cannabis world and it touches on every single aspect from regulation and legalization to bringing in new people to the medical or recreational people who for most of their lives have been told that cannabis is either dangerous or illegal or bad or something you should hide and bringing them is something that storytelling is really powerful in doing.”

As Goldberg put it, “we’re not starting from an even ground like we would be with marketing other products,” and it’s a process of sorts bringing consumers along on their journey - and storytelling is key to building a connection with them for an industry that is not allowed to advertise or promote itself like virtually any other.

But in the face of adversity there is also opportunity - especially for stories and great content to break through. 

“It’s a brand new industry so youre talking about stories that people have not heard and it's an enormous privilege,” said Rubiner, and noted that social equity in particular is a fascinating subject and cannabis writers and marketers are extraordinarily fortunate to be able to write about it. 

Buffo noted that while many of the same marketing principles from other industries apply to cannabis, brands are faced with unique challenges in regard to compliance - on the city, county, and state level, covering everything from the types of packaging, messaging, and even the fonts you can use.  

For Goldberg, storytelling and creativity are key to overcoming these hurdles. 

“Oftentimes we’re trying to market a product where we can’t even really talk about it at all, which is another opportunity to use creativity but its a real challenge as writers that we’ve all come across.”

At the end of the day though, what’s most important is your unique, authentic story as a brand, especially in such a crowded industry where so many of the narratives have already been told. 

“One of the biggest challenges is that everyone is trying to tell the same story and to make yourself stand out in that space requires a lot more creative branding, a lot more knowing exactly what you’re trying to do and what your competitors are doing and how you're doing it differently,” said Omer-man.

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