This story appears in the October issue of MJBizMagazine.
No advertising on social media. No marketing that might appeal to children. No ads on TV or radio.
Sound familiar? The challenges faced by hemp and marijuana companies are old hat for the tobacco industry. In addition to legal barriers, the tobacco industry faces social stigma that is in some ways worse than that faced by today’s cannabis operators.
So, when Jen Pike took charge of brand management for Skoal smokeless tobacco more than 10 years ago, she had her work cut out for her. Pike led efforts to reinvent a category that had stagnated for 100 years, rising to vice president for consumer engagement and marketing at Altria, Skoal’s parent company.
Now Pike is taking the helm of Boldt Runners, a hemp company in Arcadia, California, that makes moist smokeless hemp. The company’s Cannadips brand is already in 5,000 retail locations nationwide.
MJBizMagazine caught up with Pike to find out what lessons the cannabis industry can take from another highly regulated industry, and why she believes there’s real potential in smokeless hemp.
What are tobacco companies doing better than the cannabis industry right now?
The real difference between the tobacco industry and the cannabis industry is that the tobacco industry is mature. So you have fewer products in that space.
They’re all national, and they’ve been around for a while. You have trusted, well-developed brands that are available nearly everywhere.
In the cannabis space, it’s just emerging. You have lots of companies trying things. From a consumer perspective, that makes cannabis—CBD or otherwise—really challenging to shop for and difficult for some to understand.
How is that a challenge for companies in the cannabis industry?
A couple of years ago, retailers got really excited about CBD brands that were coming into convenience stores. They thought, “Oh, wow, this is great. This is the next big category.”
And I don’t think they were wrong, but consumers need to know: Which products do I need for what, and when?
Because there’s so much in the market right now, consumers are still trying to figure out, “Do I want a tincture? Do I want a cream? Do I want an edible? Do I want to ingest (something) smokable, and when am I going to use these products? And for what reason?”
It makes for a very fractured landscape in cannabis.
How can cannabis companies build brands in this fractured landscape, given all the challenges in marketing and advertising?
To get the scale that tobacco companies have achieved over the past 100 years or so, it’s because we know the consumer that we want to reach.
You have to position your products, the context and how to use them.
Marketing has been really restricted in the tobacco space, too. If you’re laser-focused on who you want to reach and what matters to those consumers, there are absolutely ways to create relationships with those consumers and be relevant.
What we’re really focused on is awareness, great trial offers and responsibly executed adult sampling. I think those are three important pillars to get the word out and allow people to give it a try, learn a little bit more about the product.
How do you find your audience?
I’m old enough to remember when you’d see Marlboro in stadiums and stuff. But advertising like that in tobacco, that hasn’t been happening for quite some time.
The tobacco companies nonetheless were able to reach current adult smokers in the places where current adult smokers gather. And in those spots, once tobacco companies had verified that they were in fact talking to an adult smoker over 21, you can create great experiences—particularly at events and festivals. I think the same opportunity exists within cannabis.
Mass advertising has a place and a role for some brands. But for brands that are getting started and emerging brands, building relationships with a focused consumer set is where you start.
What does the market for chewable hemp look like?
Our core audience is men 21 to 40 (years old) who use MST, or moist smokeless tobacco. That’s exactly who we’re most focused on.
Our sales pitch is: We’ve got a product that is discreet, it’s smoke-free, it’s easy to use, and it has fantastic, long-lasting flavor.
We know that a large majority of people who use traditional tobacco products say that they would like to quit. We also know that men are looking for alternatives to traditional dip or moist smokeless tobacco.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kristen Nichols is editor of Hemp Industry Daily. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.