Business

How a Nike exec views cannabis marketing

By Alex Halperin Mar 19, 2021
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Alex Halperin is the founder, editor and publisher of WeedWeek. Before he started covering marijuana legalization in 2014 he reported on topics such as fracking, health care, technology a...
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Alex Halperin is the founder, editor and publisher of WeedWeek. Before he started covering marijuana legalization in 2014 he reported on topics such as fracking, health care, technology and finance. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Slate, Fast Company, Quartz, the Washington Post, Mother Jones, The New Yorker and many other publications. His first book, The Cannabis Dictionary, was published in March. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Craig Lyon, who recently joined California brand Connected Cannabis as head of marketing, spent the early years of his career at Nike, which constructs mythologies around its products as effectively as any company in the world. Now Connected seeks to do something similar. We recently caught up with Lyon to discuss his impressions of cannabis marketing and where he aims to take Connected.       

As WeedWeek discussed several weeks ago, in a challenging economy, Connected, and its sister brand Alien Labs, already manage to sell out their flower at a far higher price than many of its competitors dare to charge.

You can’t sell an eighth for $70 unless it’s high-quality product, but plenty of high-quality producers charge far less. Connected’s secret sauce draws on its roots in the legacy market, influential fans in the hip-hop world and engineered scarcity. Consciously or not, it’s a formula that owes a great deal to Nike.

Coming to the new industry, Lyon has been struck by how so many brands are trying to demystify cannabis: “Everything seems to be about making this easier, simpler,” he said. Weed does the same thing it always did, but Lyon says its new found accessibility has stripped the “intrigue” and “adrenaline rush” of how it was purchased in the past. 

By working so hard to normalize it, he said there’s a risk of losing what has long made the purchasing experience unique. As he sees it, this is a “huge opportunity.”

He wants to step back a bit and ask why so many companies are using the same playbook, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit their brand. “These things are hard,” he said. There’s a tendency to think “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” At the same time, “There are more ways to do this than the way we’re all charging down this path”

Lyon sees a similar conformity in brand ambassadors, in-store demos and other cannabis marketing staples, that won’t necessarily be replicable as the industry grows. “Processes are in place that no one steps back to think about ‘Why are we doing it this way?” he said.

Some of that likely owes to brands which have to train all their resources on simply getting a product to market, rather than the story they tell the world. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Connected. Over a nine month period last year, it and Alien Labs generated more revenue from branded flower than any other brand in California, according to BDSA. The company also raised a $25M Series A in 2019, Navy Capital as its primary institutional investor. 

New markets ahead

Lyon was a bit cagier about sharing his vision for Connected as it expands from California and Arizona into new markets. But he dropped several koans that may point in the general direction.  

“I have always believed that the word of your friend is greater than the word of any brand speaking to you,” he said. As social media has conquered the world, consumers have sharply honed BS detectors that make it difficult for companies to pretend to be something they’re not. 

One way Lyon plans to personalize Connected’s message is by telling different stories to different markets. In California, Connected is a known entity, but that’s not true to the same degree in some of the new states coming online. “There’s so much of the east coast’s cannabis culture that’s still to be written,” he said.

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Alex Halperin
Editor/Publisher