Invisible Armies: If You Want To Win, Stop Targeting Non-Consumers

Did anyone ever stop to think that making products for the people who actually consume them regularly may be a lucrative idea?

New Jack City

Over the past few years, as the larger universe started to understand the money that was collectively being made in cannabis *before* the flooding waves of legalization, there have been a lot of new players coming in trying to capitalize on the ‘green rush’ they’ve heard so much about. VC’s, businessmen, entrepreneurs with continued access to funding despite tanking their last company — they all showed up trying to make a quick buck. Now, I’m not going to get into all the Delta 8 nonsense, the THCa plays, or the folks who think their hemp CBD biz is a cannabis company, but I do want to dig in a bit on a common misstep I’m seeing with these new jacks popping up across our industry that could maybe help our guys too. After all, we’re all going to have to figure out how to play in this new landscape together eventually, no matter how any of us feel about the others.

As could be expected, almost all of the new players that have come in have created products specifically designed for the other new faces arriving to enjoy these newly legal wares – that is to say, non-traditional cannabis consumers. That may seem like a harsh way to identify new consumers, but if you keep reading I think it will become that much clearer why this signifier is important. I don’t mean passive once-in-a-while smokers, either – I mean people who LIKE consuming, and do it often.

So, back to it, these new guys made new products, and they quickly found out the audience they heard was endless really isn’t showing up the way they anticipated. But why? Their products are flashy, the marketing is tight, the pictures look great on Instagram! Why no sales? Well friends, it’s because you didn’t stop to think about who was going to consume these products. Your traditional industry consumer personas aren’t relevant here, and trying to sell what educated consumers would call low quality products isn’t going to make you friends. We’re talking about produce, not plastic, after all.

Consumer Personas

Before we get too far down the road, let’s pause for a second and explain what consumer personas are. Consumer Personas are used in the traditional business world to identify potential target customers and craft marketing plans to and around. While they may be created by the founder or ideator of said product, this is typically a marketing thing, as understanding your customer makes it exponentially easier to sell to them. Good so far?

Now, often many different personas are created, and these are primarily used to map out the various people who would want to buy or consume your product. The goal is to identify all of your *champion* consumers so that everyone feels seen, and the better you know each of those identities – from their loves to their pain points – the easier it is to identify and satisfy your base. You can use things like market research or data to identify commonalities among your potential consumers, and then use those groupings to figure out ways to most effectively communicate with each of your targets. Plugging into a need, or solving a problem for your chosen personas, could be the difference between them tuning in, or out.

For those that are just hearing about this, these are essentially marketing cheat codes. If you’ve ever wondered why a brand you like can seemingly speak to you so well, but also resonates with someone who doesn’t feel anything like you, it’s likely because they’re effectively utilizing their consumer personas in different campaigns, and talking to each in their native tongues, wherever they happen to live. This is far more sophisticated than a one-size-fits-all spray & pray campaign, and typically involves many different campaigns running at once. It gets tricky. But the more you can personalize, and individualize your marketing messages, the more successful they will be.

Now that you understand consumer personas from a high level, it’s time to expose the fact that there is a very, very lucrative persona out there, and targeting her has made many products household names across the world. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but perhaps the most important persona of the bunch is actually wives & moms. Responsible for nearly 80% of household spending (depending which study you read, these numbers came from Gallup & the Federal Reserve), it’s public information that women account for nearly 85% of consumer spending, and control more than 60% of all personal wealth in the U.S. – so it seems like a great target, right? For cannabis, marketers have found the ‘Wine Mom’ to be the cherry on top of this remunerative consumer persona sundae, and they’ve got overboard trying to talk to her, make her feel comfortable, and get her spending. In any other market this might work, but remember, we’re talking cannabis…

Understanding the Wine Mom Play, and its Faults

You’ve likely seen the explosion of infused products targeted at her and her wallet already. Lots of microdosing, lots of topicals, some cute edibles and small cans. They made it pretty, they made it pink, they shrunk it down, they added glitter. Besides the fact that most of these tactics don’t even work in traditional industries (look up Shrink it & pink it), it’s like they think that by adding cannabis to a spritzer they can increase the price and thereby make a much higher profit than they would have had the products not had THC or CBD or some terpene nonsense. As if this is what she has been waiting for forever, and it’s finally here!!!

They are targeting this *persona* because they’re trying to unlock that magical trove of cash they’ve heard she’s been hiding, and wine sometimes leads to bad decisions. However, you’ve likely seen many of these products fail already, too. Why? She has SO MUCH MONEY!

Well, while I appreciate the ‘Wine Mom’ is the decision-maker for a lot of household spending, I have some questions. First, how often does she smoke? Do you really think that’s who’s consuming the most cannabis? That’s why you’re in business, right? You want to sell a lot of something. So, do you think she’s buying it for her kids? Probably not. Is hubby smoking for a family of four? Probably not if she has anything to say about it. While we’re on that subject, do you think she’s buying liquor too? Or is that dad’s job still? Why would weed be different from alcohol?

I digress into gender norms, and that is not my intention, but the point is: why not target the demographics consuming the most? Do you think they don’t have money??

The long and short of this is that the ‘Wine Mom’, while she is of course welcome here, is obviously not the most lucrative consumer base for this particular set of products despite how much potential she has to spend. I doubt she’s buying the majority of the liquor, either. 

But heavy smokers? Now there’s a golden ticket…

Cannabis Golden Tickets

So, all you fresh faces with marketing degrees, you want some consumer personas that will actually work in this space? I’m not talking the heady boys – you don’t stand a chance with that market, but maybe you should focus on consumption habits more than wallet sizes. I bet you’d be amazed to find that those with the lowest disposable income always seem to find room in their budget for the plant that maintains their sanity. I’ve created the below personas – completely on my own with no data to back any of this up – but I will 1000% guarantee adjusting your marketing plans to speak to these consumers will result in a much better shot on the retail floor, and likely in a much longer lifecycle for your brand. 

The Family Guy

You probably won’t see this guy at any of your sesh pop-ups, but there’s a reason why brands like Stiiizy are doing the strong numbers they are, and I’m going to chock a lot of them up to being the belle of the Family Guy’s ball. The Family Guy largely represents the working class – working a job they likely hate to provide for their loved ones all day long, and while they may sneak in a puff or two on the job, and probably toke up on lunch, these are usually the types to let loose after they’ve put the kids to sleep. This persona isn’t celebrating its love of cannabis everywhere, it doesn’t subscribe to most trends. It probably doesn’t have a vibrant social media presence, save for maybe pictures of the wife and kids. But this persona is focused. Focused on getting value in the store (and out of the products they consume), and then getting back to whatever it is they have to do. While this is becoming a more common persona as the stigma continues to fade, let’s just say that there’s a reason beer ads are almost all targeted towards working class men.

The Budget Baller

Like the Family Guy, the Budget Baller doesn’t care about the flash of the hype market – they’re here to get as fucked up as possible, with as small of a break to the bank as possible. Formerly dubbed ‘the Moon Rock crew’, this persona isn’t as focused on quality of product as they are the quality of the high. They’ll take distillate rolled in kief from wherever you can get it, and they often don’t mind spray packs – likely because they were raised smoking cotton candy usb sticks. As I’m sure you could imagine, brands like Jeeter are thriving because of this base, and it’s constantly got new – let’s call them inexperienced – consumers coming to the table all the time. Some of these consumers are in this category situationally, like college students for example, and others are just frugal, but providing a significant bang for a not insignificant buck is the way to win these hearts and minds, and they can be a loyal bunch. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a gender specific category – both men and women find themselves here – it’s more about consumption habits than it is what they’ve got between their legs.

Retirement Ruff Riders

Grandpa’s off the clock, his joints hurt, and moving around sucks – what do you think he’s doing? As Lauren Yoshiko pointed out in her Sticky Bits newsletter (formerly the Broccoli Report) a few weeks back, there is a surprising lack of products currently focused on a demographic that has nothing if not time to chill. In addition to the brands Lauren mentioned, a company like Old Pal stands out to me as one that seems to have a good infrastructure to capitalize on a lucrative market, with seemingly minimal risk attached, but there are far more ways for people to consume than just flower, and I would imagine this market can be won over with a good selection of edibles. Maybe some sugar cookies, or crumpets. I might have said Grandpa up front, but this goes for Grandma, too. I doubt the old folks frequent the 3.5g blunts, but best believe they’re smoking. Among other things… have you seen the STD rates at retirement homes? That’s probably best left for another time.

Bad Decision Bachelor’s

Finally, the category I’ve created to self-identify with. The Bad Decision Bachelor (or Bachelorette, where necessary) is the type of no-real-responsibility-having arrested-development-ass fool who can afford to spend far too much of his disposable income on toys and drugs because he doesn’t have any alimony or child support payments, or any real responsibilities – or supervision. This guy makes bad decisions regularly, spends way too much time online, and is way over-indexing spending on cannabis, especially when compared to all the other things he should be budgeting in. While similar to the heady boy in the pursuit of quality, this persona also has a love of new formats, and regularly wastes money on new product categories just to try them. They typically have a very specific way to consume, and even in the face of all other options will revert back to their comfort zone. Also known as the ‘Stoned At Home’ bunch, this base consumes almost compulsively. 

Alright – this should be enough to get you started – each of these personas is its own invisible army, waiting to propel your brand to Valhalla. There’s obviously an endless amount of people consuming from all different walks of life, and I just chose a few at random to represent as many as possible, but do these not make more sense? There’s of course more nuance, and sub personas within each of these, sure, but this is a 101 course. Feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments, or pitch some other consumers you’d like to explain to all the people that seem to think that the lady passively consuming on weekends is their meal ticket. I’ll be betting on the kids that actually smoke.

And before I go, I want to be clear here that I’m not mad at the Wine Moms – in fact, I love you all – I just don’t think you’re the best target market for pot. You’ve got responsibilities and shit – brands can focus on those that don’t, as they probably consume a lot more. They’ve got way more time to get lost in the products, and while we don’t want to breed addiction, we do want people to consume like, a lot, right?

  1. Great insight, being in the industry I can’t fully agree that it’s this simplified. I’d say the biggest two reasons you’re seeing a marketing push towards what you call “Wine Moms” is the hard cap on thc limits for anything that’s not raw flower. Sure tinctures can be upwards of 1000mg + but represent less than 1% of the entire California market by sales rev/units sold. So those old school Cali consumers who propelled brands like Kushy punch and Korova cookies to stardom have had to piece meal their highs elsewhere in turn causing Korova to nearly close its brand down ( their chain of doors is strong) and Kushy punch relegated to the valley, Leaving the other end of the coin to be explored and that being the small dose customer as that customer never had a market in the medical days being that no edible or vape had accurate dosing %. I think the other more obvious part of this is the taxing and price. To produce a high end high dose anything involves much more specifically to COGS than a smaller dose form factor. The cali customer is so grandfathered into the experience of consuming cannabis that they will always chase the price point they remember from the “good Ol days” that they will turn to the black market for their needs. Leaving that dollar unattainable for legal operators to chase. Sell to who willing to participate, and the mom’s specialty wanted accurate dosing and safely tested product and that’s who the state built the rules around for the rec market. Not agreeing but this is what’s proving out in Headset, BDSA Leafly and Pistol.

    Keep up the work.
    Thank you.

    1. Hey Pablo – thanks for the reply, I hear what you’re saying but what you described are burdens with the rec industry overall, and you’re looking at data from only the rec market. i’m not only speaking to rec brands here – i’m speaking to everyone with a cannabis brand, and the vast majority AREN’T rec yet. that said, it also sounds like you’re hyper focused on edibles – there are no THC caps on extracts, or prerolls, or vapes, in the majority of states. but to your point, with edibles it is and will always be a consumer safety issue that’s why some states like WA initially went w a 25mg cap. edibles definitely have a longer learning curve, and low and slow is a head methodology as well – it’s just that people want things that taste good, and they don’t need as many options for gummies as they have for cereal at a grocery store. you’re glazing over why those brands fell off (one had a pesticide incident, the other stuck to a slimming category) but most businesses will fail no matter the market – thinking it’s just old cali heads that are shopping on the black market is a large misstep though. the rec market is taking advantage of consumers due to the taxes and prices you mentioned and the brands aren’t obfuscated from that – but making products for the smallest share of consumers doesn’t make sense on either side of the pie, and the regulations need changing for that reason as well. finally, i don’t object to anything you’re saying, but speaking to the one audience you’re connected to doesn’t mean you’re creating a wide reaching product, which is necessary in this space rn. If you notice i say smart brands have MANY personas they’re talking to.

      1. Appreciate your feedback, I think conversations like this need to continue for rec and traditional to succeed, to your point of rec taking advantage of customers isint necessarily always the case. We can look at Doja charging $420 a zip for the same seed junky flower that seed junky sells for $35-40 out the door. We can even point to NorCal Nemo, Cash tree mason etc for overpriced flower and some others charging crazy prices on ounces but that’s more of an exception than the rule. My point to the old cap consumer was based off of my experiences running dispensers in that our traditional buyers scoffed at the pricing and out right told us they were going back and kept to their word. This has been great and I’d love to continue this conversation sometime soon.


        1. So I don’t disagree with much of what you said, but there is a difference between SJ bred and an SJ strain, and the high end of the market rarely describes the rest – for example, Gucci does fine, but it also doesn’t really effect the low spending crowds options either . Now regarding SJ he’s a prolific breeder responsible for some of the most popular cultivars of recent times, but none of the fanfare came from his cultivation – breeders tend to be best at breeding, and the cultivators winning have honed their separate but equally important craft. SJ is breeding a lot of Doja’s strains, but he’s not cultivating it. Everything is expensive rn and weed is no different, but premium always carries a hefty price tag. That said, the pound price is VASTLY down on the manufacturing side on either market, but on the rec side you don’t feel it bc the retailers are eating up that margin trying to cover 280E and still make a profit. that’s what i mean about taking advantage, but they are also trying to survive so i’m not entirely blaming them. It’s a broken game right now for sure, but that’s why I actually focus less on rec – there’s amazing things happening rn, and to your point high end ounces are going for more expensive than ever, so the end of the market has been largely exaggerated – people just can’t afford rec as it exists today, despite there being numerous value options.

      2. I miss the days when I could smoke a bowl or a joint and feel stoned rather than feeling like I need to phone a friend to talk me down from going to the ER. I’m nearly 50, have disposable income and love to smoke but have to scour menus from a dozen delivery services to find 1 joint or eighth that hits that sweet spot of 10-15% thc. I buy what I find with zero thought of brand or price I just don’t want to feel like I’m going to die after I smoke. Common conversations in my circle go like this, want to smoke, hell no everything is too strong for me, I have a joint that’s only 8%, hell yes light it up, where did you find this,etc. There is no consistent brand or service that I can be loyal to with my specific needs but I would throw them all my weed money if there was. I love the 0.5 to 1mg edibles and buy them all – good luck finding anything less than 5mg so I cut them into small pieces and spend way less money (good for me bad for the market). Just ranting but I think there is a market for people like me who would consume way more often if it didn’t require a 3 day weekend to recover.

        1. Hi Garry – so my first thought is, are you only smoking indoor? I’ve heard this from a lot of older smokers who are looking for something similar to what they smoked in the 70’s-90’s, and have found that outdoor satisfies the needs they’re looking for.My other thought is the brand Old Pal, if you’re located in California at least, which seems to be a lower dose flower. Another option to try would be high CBD strains, which have lower THC %’s by proxy. I’m not going to get into the THC % nonsense but I agree with you, the breeding for THC thing is getting out of hand. I appreciate your sentiment but the unfortunate reality is the majority of shoppers on the market today ARE shopping looking for the highest THC percentage, however misguided it might be, so brands have been forced to cater to this reality – like the consumer demanding purple gassy strains, which has caused most brands to produce LCG no matter how uninterested they are in the cultivar. that said, with edibles in particular you should never have a problem finding low does stuff on a recreational retail shelf because almost everyone has had that ‘I ate a brownie and got way too high’ experience. LMK if any of those work for you on the flower side though!

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