For much of its existence, Weedmaps had little competition for the title of most important marketing platform in cannabis. Before dispensaries peppered main streets in many states, the “Yelp of weed” was often the only way dispensaries and their customers could find each other.
But times have changed. Legal cannabis is less provocative than it used to be. And Weedmaps, which started in 2008, has evolved into a diversified cannatech company with software offerings for retailers and brands. Late last year, its parent company filed to go public on the NASDAQ at an anticipated $1.5B valuation.
Weedmaps continues to be among the most prominent advertisers in cannabis, even as lack of access to mainstream channels like Facebook and broadcast television remain limited at best.
In an email interview, the company’s chief marketing officer Juanjo Feijoo discussed its recent moves, like its sponsorship of November’s Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. fight, and how he sees the cannabis marketing landscape evolving.
This interview has been lightly edited.
WeedWeek: How would you describe Weedmaps’ current marketing strategy?
Juanjo Feijoo: On the consumer side, much of our marketing aims to dismantle negative stigmas about cannabis through education and social advocacy. Whether it’s our Weedfacts campaign, our 2017 national OOH [out-of home] campaign, or our Weedmaps Museum of Weed, we realize the broader role we need to play.
The marketing strategy on the business side is a little different, but still very industry-centric. We want to ensure retailers and brands understand how Weedmaps has evolved and how we can help them be successful.
In our advertising, we work to strike a balance between generating awareness among new consumers and staying true to our brand ethos. A good example of this was our recent partnership with Triller for Mike Tyson’s return to the ring.
It was a significant inflection point for the industry. It provided our brand with one of the largest and arguably, one of the most diverse platforms where we were able to further break down stigmas and promote social justice through our creative.
WW: What are you doing now that you didn’t or couldn’t do a year or two ago? What catalyzed you to move forward with it?
JF: We’re constantly challenged with how we effectively navigate marketing and advertising restrictions and policies that are in place. Not much has changed in the last couple of years with regulations, but the team has been relentless in finding opportunities and insisting on different variations of campaigns or activations.
Those include more premium OOH units, new digital marketing networks, doing CTV (connected TV) ads, video ads at airports all over the U.S., or activations we’ve made happen with top tier artists and brands. Last year’s “Higher Together: Sessions from Home” 4/20 live stream, which brought together top tier talent like Wiz Khalifa, Billy Ray Cyrus, Ari Lennox, and others, and generated significant coverage across national mainstream media outlets is a great example.
Weedmaps’ partnership with Triller for Tyson’s return to the ring was a first-of-its-kind for a cannabis brand that will hopefully open the door for future sports and entertainment sponsorship opportunities.
WW: What’s an example of how your messaging has changed in recent years. Why did it change?
JF: Our audience now ranges from more experienced cannabis consumers to prospective consumers. Given that reality, it’s been important for us to not necessarily change our messaging, but to evolve it in a way that is inclusive of our broader consumer base, no matter where they are on their cannabis journey.
Given our user base and reach, we have also prioritized marketing spend to better drive awareness and adoption of our cloud-based WM Business SaaS subscription offering, our end-to-end operating system that allows cannabis retailers to access valuable users, grow sales and scale their businesses.
WW: I recently heard an MSO marketing executive say the industry is at a stage when it’s almost too early for marketing. What do you see as the primary goals of marketing at this point?
JF: Every state is different and different brands and retailers undoubtedly have different objectives. But I largely disagree with the statement. While in some markets with limited supply and low product differentiation, marketing may be less effective, that’s not reflective of most cannabis markets in the U.S.
It’s not that difficult to think of brands that have quickly built passionate followings through effective marketing. Whether it’s Cookies, JungleBoys, Stiiizy or Wyld, they have all built enormous amounts of brand equity through great marketing and consistently great products.
On the retail side, it is striking to see the difference in performance by new entrants into crowded markets solely based on how effectively they are able to reach the right type of consumer with the right message, despite all the marketing restrictions that exist. Given the high lifetime value of cannabis consumers almost everywhere, retailers who have a good grasp on their client economics can consistently get 20-30x ROAs.
WW: Tell me more about the airport campaign.
JF: Our placement of advertisements in 48 U.S. airports was strategic in that, for many, it may be the first touchpoint they have with our brand. With new markets opening and with legalization varying from state to state, many consumers don’t even know where to begin when it comes to obtaining legal cannabis products or finding dispensaries or delivery services near them.
These ads really serve as an introductory to Weedmaps, with the goal of generating broader brand awareness in markets on the cusp of legalization and encouraging prospective consumers to check out our platform in markets where cannabis is legal.
WW: Following the Tyson fight what kinds of events are you thinking about for future sponsorship opportunities?
JF: It’s hard to figure out what will and won’t be available to us as a cannabis brand. But the Tyson fight opened a lot of doors for us to be able to engage with brands, athletes, celebrities and organizations that have previously been reluctant.
WW: How would you characterize the current climate for online marketing?
JF: It’s not easy to navigate, but has enormous upside if you can figure out the right channels, and the right price, for you. Many broad-consumer channels are now open to cannabis, but 85-90% of the people seeing those ads won’t be cannabis consumers, so the ads’ effectiveness, and the return on your investment will look very different than if you advertise to an engaged cannabis consumer audience.
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