Bad Positioning: Failing from the Start

Don’t let careless marketing trip up your chance for success.
positioning
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I’ve said numerous times across my articles and features here that the strength of your flower is the most important factor to succeeding in this industry, and while I still believe that to be true, it seems that some people have taken that to mean it’s the only thing that matters. I feel the need to clarify. 

In today’s marketplace, while the strength of your flower will likely determine the size of your long-term customer base – that is, consumers who actually want to smoke your products regularly – 9 times out of 10 what’s actually making the initial sale for you is your brand’s marketing. It’s true that some brands are able to create that allure using only colored jars and stickers, but for the vast majority of the playing field that isn’t enough. What works in the trap doesn’t work in the shop, as they say. And it certainly doesn’t work for everyone.

Now, I know everyone’s mad at the mylar wave, and no one is stoked about re-rocking the same old gear as something new and fresh, but the truth is, customers generally respond to newness, and they tend to like to buy the most sexy or flashy thing they can afford. That’s why those guys are doing it. But with all the opportunity before us today I think it’s foolish not to play the game in as big of a way as possible, and leaving out a detail  – like the way your product is displayed to potential buyers – is just no longer acceptable. 

Your Spot on the Court

When we talk about the details that are being expressed to your potential consumers, it’s important to remember that this goes beyond just how your jar (or mylar) looks. It’s how you present the brand; how you talk about it, and how it makes them feel, are two big things they will remember. If it looks like everything else and there’s nothing discernibly special about it, especially in most of today’s chaotic retail environments, how are they supposed to choose yours versus the next guy? Let alone pay more for it…

Often more important than look alone is how you’re positioning yourself. This can make all the difference in building the hype that drives a lot of this country’s major markets, and it’s often a major factor in determining how you want your actual branding to look. That’s why so many people are pushing the exclusive, or small batch thing right now. The harder it is get, presumably the more people who will be interested, and seemingly the less they have to try and *sell themselves* – but are they stopping to ask who is going to buy this high-end, low-effort project of theirs? Where you’re seen, and how, can make a big impact on your brand’s perceived quality. And it can often work against you.

When I wrote Invisible Armies last fall, I highlighted what I consider to be some of the ideal consumers to target when positioning your brand, but perhaps I didn’t explain enough how different these audiences might be, and how what works positively for one may work against another.

In an effort to help course correct and encourage some more thoughtful campaigns from those in our space, below are a few examples that, in my opinion, show how a marketing or positioning misstep tanked a brand’s chances for success before it even hit the streets. Hopefully learning the lessons that have cost others dearly will stop some of us from making them ourselves. You all know the definition of insanity, right?

The Monogram Mishap

I think this is a good place to start. I’ve tried to write this as its own piece a few times, but I don’t write slams and I can’t help feeling like I’m dissing some good people in the process with this one, so let’s distill it down here instead. I want to say up front that I think many of the people that work at Monogram and the Parent Company are excellent people, and this isn’t most of their fault – it probably seemed like a sure thing, and I understand the desire to make an impact, but this one was a costly blunder. 

We all remember the “Jay-Z’s getting into weed” story. He’s without question one of the greatest rappers-turned-businessmen of all time, I don’t think anyone’s contesting that, so undoubtedly it made a splash. But what does he know about weed, right? He doesn’t rap about it, we don’t ever see him smoking, surely he’s not a cultivator… so when the announcement came down that Jay-Z was starting a cannabis brand it was widely met with skepticism over adoption. 

They probably thought they were launching another Ace of Spades. The packaging was gorgeous, the pricing was high, it was catered to the elite, but let’s think about this fundamentally for a second – to a real smoker, if Jay’s not a massive stoner, or cultivator, why do I want his weed? And if smokers don’t want it, why would someone who may actually understand the value of something high-end?

Well here’s the part of the story you didn’t hear: Jay-Z was a face for this, and obviously part of the brains in the operation, but he was empowering real lifers. Their Head of Product, DeAndre Watson, has been in the game for years, and got to take advantage of a life-changing opportunity to partner with one of the largest music enterprises and entrepreneurs in the world to create something for himself, and the culture. 

Now let me ask you, if the pitch had been “Jay-Z, the larger-than-life music mogul and entrepreneur, is empowering another black entrepreneur to create something out of the ashes of the War on Drugs that harmed so many communities and to take advantage of the multi-billion dollar opportunity now in front of him,” how differently would you have responded? I get that’s a mouthful, but it’s a vastly different story, isn’t it? One that suddenly you want to support. None of the details changed, but the way they were presented just *feels* better, no? 

That’s the importance of positioning.

The Smoke-Free Stove?

How about something still fresh in everyone’s memory. We all saw this one. Snoop’s “giving up smoke”. Although generating many millions of eyeballs and capturing fans attention across the globe, those who have been around the block a few times instantly saw this for what it was: a marketing stunt. Many of us in the industry expected him to launch an edibles brand, or maybe a vape co if you were taking ‘smoke’ hyper-literally. I don’t think any of us expected it to be a fire pit. 

Now let’s break this down. When Snoop talks about ‘giving up smoke’, absolutely no one expects him to be talking about second-hand from a fireplace. They expect him to be talking about weed. I mean no disrespect to the Doggfather with this, but in my best Kanye voice, WTF does Snoop know about fireplaces? This would have worked better as an actual air filter than it does as something virtually no one associates him with.

By now the press has extensively covered the fact that the CEO of Solo Stove has been let go after this stunt didn’t perform the way the company had anticipated. Although surely getting the brand in front of tens of millions of potential consumers across the world, I wouldn’t say they left a great taste in most viewers mouths with that one. Plenty of notable people made themselves look foolish by jumping on the bandwagon of his ‘health concern’ before the full story had dropped, and I doubt any of them bought a fireplace, or talked any further about it, for that matter.

So how did this help the company? Besides generating a ton of spray & pray impressions, it probably didn’t much. But it did cost them a ton of money to reach a largely different consumer than they were intending to. That doesn’t do much for the bottom line.

Overreaching

Finally, we have probably the most common misstep I see across this industry, and that’s positioning yourself away from who you actually are. This presents itself in a ton of ways, like the new guys who act like they’re OG’s, Chads who are acting like gangsters, or the brands nobody has ever heard of who pretend they’re elite small batch cultivators because they’ve only got a few lights. We’ve seen appropriated cultural cornerstones and “master growers” who have never smoked. Often. I don’t want to specifically name check anyone with this one, but I’m sure we can all think of 2 or 3 brands immediately who use a term like “legacy brand” that’s definitely not, or who is trying to sell their work for insane rates because they just don’t produce very much of it, and not because it’s incredible.

When you’re positioning yourself, understanding the audience you’re communicating with matters. One of the easiest ways to shoot yourself in the foot is to try and communicate something to one audience that it doesn’t understand, or that it rejects. For example, even talking about ounces that sell for over $1,000 is something a solid chunk of the market will outright disbelieve – which I don’t think they’re entirely wrong about but that’s a different story. The point is, your “selling points” can work against you if they’re not landing in the right spots. There’s a small percentage of smokers who want that unobtainable, and are willing to spend monumentally for it. Pitching something at those rates might appeal to them, but it’s going to price you out of a lot of the market. Do you want to look cool, or do you want to be a successful business?

Or how about presenting like you’re some urban street brand on the rec market, while being run in a boardroom by ivy-league educated white guys with collared shirts? Respectfully, who do you think you’re talking to? It’s okay to make a brand for people like you: new consumers who are excited about the access and the less shady experience an Apple Store-esque dispensary provides. But do you really think you’re fooling the guys who have been here for decades? And even if you do initially, do you think they’ll come back for boof? Certainly not. But if you were targeting a consumer who didn’t actually know what was up, one you could develop, and grow with, I’m sure you’d have better results. Because not everyone is educated on the plant yet, and it’s okay to dip your feet in. You don’t have to pretend you’re something you’re not. I promise you it’s going to be easier to try and sell to yourself than it is some fictional character you’ve created in your head – you just know them better!

But It’s Gotta Be More Than Marketing

Having said all that, I’m going to point out once more that while your pretty bag and good marketing campaign can and will make a sale, that doesn’t mean you can just put some bullshit into a bag and expect brand longevity – or any type of customer loyalty for that matter. Your actual product, and it’s effect, is what will bring a consumer back time after time. Marketing is a sales tool; it’s not a replacement for good product, but it’s also not an unimportant detail. 

We’re living in a new world where soon weed’s going to be on the shelves of stores like 7-11. When you’ve gotta play against the big dogs, do you think you’ll stack up? Perhaps a better question is, have you ever seen the real titans of industry let up? Even the brands known across the globe spend handsomely on advertising annually to maintain their positions. What makes you think you’re any different? It’s not just having the best product, it’s having the best product *actually* in the people’s hands. There’s already a lot of options, and we’re just getting going. How are you going to make them choose you? 

It starts with a solid foundation. 

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