The Definitive Guide for Organic Promotions of Regulated Products | EP. #85
On the 85th episode of the E-Comm Show, Andrew Maff is with Joe Hodas of Wana Brands Inc, a cutting-edge cannabis brand that combines cannabis science with the customer journey to create a safe and effective experience. Joe explains why organic promotions are essential for regulated products and how brands in similar industries can use marketing tactics to stand out in the crowd. Tune in as he shares some of his own personal tips for creating effective organic promotions.
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Andrew Maff and Joe Hodas
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Joe Hodas, Chief Marketing Officer, Wana Brands
Joe Hodas serves as Chief Marketing Officer for Wana Brands where he is responsible for generating revenue by creating innovative and refined marketing campaigns for the organization while helping to grow Wana’s brand, market share, and customer loyalty. Since joining Wana in 2020, Hodas has been on the team that launched new innovative lines–including Quick, Optimals, and Live Rosin Gummies–while expanding Wana’s North American footprint to become a top international cannabis brand. An early professional marketer in the cannabis industry, Hodas drove the marketing strategy for Dixie Elixirs as its first CMO, helping build it into one of the most recognized national marijuana brands. Prior to joining Wana, Hodas was CEO at Gofire, an innovator of hardware and software IP designed to change the face of plant-based medicine and mainstream healthcare. As CEO, he guided Gofire’s marketing, product development, software, and sales, helping to bring the company’s first metered-dose inhaler to market, while developing the company’s next-generation products intended to redefine how mainstream medicine could be delivered and monitored for adherence and efficacy. Previously, Hodas served as COO for General Cannabis Corporation, a publicly-traded company consisting of several ancillary businesses. Hodas’ experience also includes positions as Sr. Director of Corporate Communications for Frontier Airlines, as well as agency experience at Vladimir Jones where he was a partner, and Ogilvy Public Relations. Hodas has also taught as an adjunct marketing professor at the University of Denver Daniels College of Business. He graduated from the University of Denver, receiving his master’s degree in mass communications and public relations after earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas. Hodas serves on the Boards of organizations including Colorado Leads, Volunteers of America, and The Global Livingston Institute.
You have to pick and choose which markets have the most commonalities among them. Choose those markets and then find products that fit in those markets. And then hopefully we can get a multistate launch off the ground.
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Andrew Maff. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host, Andrew Maff. And today I am joined by the amazing Joe Hodas of Wana Brands who is the CMO over at one of the brands, Joe, how are you doing great for a good show?
I'm good. Thanks. Yeah, I've never been called Amazing. So I appreciate that. So first,
clearly, no one is paying attention. I agree. I agree. I'm super excited to have you on the show you are one of a handful that we've had in this space. It is one of my favorite spaces to talk about because of the specifically the marketing complications behind it, which always makes things fun. But I always like to do the usual give the opportunity here to let everyone know a little bit more about yourself your background a little more about water brands. We'll take it from there, right?
Yeah, sounds great. And you know, some of you just mentioned accidents kind of tied to that, which is the challenges of marketing. And that's really one of the reasons why I got into the cannabis space and so with that, I'll kind of back up a little bit and say that, you know, I've been in PR and marketing and advertising my entire career here in Colorado and was with an agency back in like 2010 2011 and a pot soda companies where they call themselves at the time came to us and asked for a little bit of help us rework in that company was Dixie Elixirs and edibles at the time. And we did the work. I loved it I thought was fascinating had always been a fan of cannabis and the consumer had always been in favor of legalization, but hadn't it wasn't a big part of my life. And then as I got to know, Dixie a little more, we began to do some intercepts and some interesting studies about who's consuming cannabis and why. And I really began to see both the beneficial effects that it could have from a health perspective in terms of helping with pain and other issues that people were having from a health standpoint, but, but also that it was a variety of people that were using the product. So it wasn't what I think I perceived to be the target audience. And so that began my journey into understanding cannabis a little bit better as a business and as an industry. along the same route. Same time the state of Colorado voted to legalize adult-use cannabis and was the first state to do so. And that was implemented on January 120 14. That's exactly what I began with Dixie as their Chief Marketing Officer. So I made the jump from the agency side to Dixie on the inside of that company and spent four years there helping to not only shape what was one of the first national brands in cannabis i And I'll say national with air quotes, because, you know, it's still a small industry. So it doesn't really count as national but, at the same time, it was also able to help shape some of the regulation in Colorado, which has now really become part of the national regulation that we see in multiple other states. So really, really exciting time, bounced around to a few other companies in the cannabis space. Because that point was pretty broken. There was no way I was leaving cannabis because it was just so fascinating to be able to have so many firsts and to be able to help shape not only brands but industries and functions and purposes. So it became, I think a lifelong passion for me. And I joined one of the brands about three years ago is the relationship I have built with the CEO of the ANC Whiteman, co-founder and CEO of when I first started with Dixie, and so when I had an opportunity to make a move, she said we'd love to have you come to Juana and that was probably the best move I made and in this industry. One is currently the largest edibles manufacturer in North America. We're in about 15 states plus Canada, and we produce a significant amount of gummies across the country. And we are I think doing things a little bit differently than most cannabis companies which is the most exciting part from a marketing perspective for me.
I truly believe that people that are in the marketing space in like in anything with cannabis CBD like anything like that, just pure artists because day Hitting day out, you get people that are like, Oh, if I can't track this, how am I supposed to run my business and blah, blah and go, whatever happened to like the good old days when people were doing TVs and billboards and radio? And it's like, you can't track that stuff. So why is it all of a sudden that we're so reliant on it? So how are you able to effectively market without blowing through a budget, knowing that you can't actually tie that conversion together?
So the good news is this, our CEO and founder is a former marketer. So she kind of gets it right. Right, when you talk about getting budget, you have to have sort of understands, like, when I talked about brand awareness, and I say, Hey, we're going to do a billboard, because XY and Z, she gets it right. We had a conversation this morning about a new platform that we have access to, which is Twitter, which hosts different subjects. But we talked about, you know, doing some experimenting there. And I said, I don't, I don't know what the ROI is gonna look like, I don't know if I'll be able to track in the way that I think I will. But are we willing to try an experiment? Her answer was absolute. Let's, let's do that. Right. So. So you know, I make the I made the case, to say that as a brand awareness tool, we have access to a lot of different options. And I tried to be responsible with the span. And I also tried to at least, as best I can try to push traffic to a specific skewer specific source, or at least broadly, we can say, Yeah, we saw some lift here. You know, we got creative recently, with the launch of a new product here in Colorado. It's called Quick Calm, it's a fast-acting product designed to help people with anxious feelings and spiraling thoughts, right? So it's a very low dose product we used, we used 50 to 80, which is a local magazine here to promote it. And we use a QR code in the magazine that drove to a specific dispensary that we had a partnership with so that they could use a discount in that dispensary through the magazine ad. And we saw a lot of Surprisingly, a lot of conversions. That was the first time I was able to actually hold up something and say, like, hey, we had 187 clicks on this QR code and 157 people bought the product. So that was a, you know, that was big, that was a big moment for us.
Nice. So obviously, in this space, you're when someone goes to a cart, they added on your site, you still have the mix between the digital and the physical that you kind of have to combat and deal with. But from a digital side, what are you doing in terms of how you're able to market because obviously, you can't run ads on anything, pretty much? So you've got your SEO, like content marketing, heavy side of where you kind of trying to develop the brand is more of a thought leader, you have the social media side, which is obviously just building the audience. And you have your influencer marketing side, which is great for local sides since obviously, you got to the mix of that. So what has from a digital side? What has that approach been? And how are you kind of able to track the success of that?
Well, I think, as we were talking earlier, when I look at our digital channels, and I look at some of the basic tools like programmatic advice, and there's been an evolution, by the way, so it wasn't it didn't start out this way. In but initial days, programmatic advice consisted of being able to buy ads on High Times Magazine, and whatever the local free publication was in whatever market because those are the only ones that allowed for cannabis advertising, but it's sent his it's since opened up. So we have access to a lot of inventory now, which is great. But you know, it is an awareness tool. So I can, I can ask for impressions, I can see, you know, click-throughs I can drive them even to a landing page, which is what we do sometimes. But all of that has to live in a very self-contained way. And I have to view all of it as brand awareness, I can't really do anything other than continue to push the brand out. And I tried to be specific with it. So at the very least people know we have a sleep product, we have a quick calm product, we have a fast-acting gummy, those kinds of things. So I'm a little bit specific with it as relates to the skews that I'm highlighting, but in other channels, other digital channels. For example, you mentioned social, we actually are even more limited there than programmatic ad buys. Because we can't we can't promote the I can promote education about a SKU on Instagram but I can't say here's what it cost here's where you buy it. Here's you know a direct connection to a dispensary that can where you can make your purchase I can't do any of that right otherwise I risk losing my platform which by the way has happened multiple times Instagram just three weeks ago just said oh we got to we got an alert that you're violating our community standards and they shut down a platform for five days. No explanation no reason why luckily we had someone inside of Meta that helped us kind of get it back online. But they basically just said sorry we made a mistake. And now we have a thought from back. So so we have to be super super careful about what we use social for and how we advertise on social begin with what we say Advertise, I mean, organically. We can't eat, you can't pay, and we have no access to paid advertising. So it's all organic, but I have to be very, very careful even with influencers, even when, you know, even when I'm paying someone else, and it's their platform, and I still have to be super careful. I don't want to risk losing the 43,000 people that we have. So yeah, so it all looks like brand awareness and then I transfer that to the store because, by the way, there are so many dispensaries you know, there's let's say 500 in Colorado 557 100. In Colorado, I am not trying to do the heavy lifting, getting them into the dispensary. For the most part, I'm presuming that they're gonna go to the dispensary. I just want them to have one on the mind or a specific SKU that we sell when they go into that dispensary and then combine that with, okay, now they're in a dispensary, they see the point of sale, right? So that's a big piece of my budget to the physical asset in the store, where I'm hosting my products. So I have my brand ambassador in my field marketing team, in a lot of stores in multiple states, we have a pretty good size field team. That's how I can I combine the two, create awareness digitally, drive them to the store with stores drive the traffic, and then make sure that when they're in the store, it's reinforcing the message I've given them digitally.
So with that, once you do get them in the store, how are you differentiating against the I mean, it feels like 1000s of different just edibles alone, there's countless of them. So how are you kind of able to let the product line stand out in a market that A is so crowded, but it's also just getting more and more competition every day?
Yeah, it's the competition as well as significant price compression, obviously, those two are related, right, but the price compression is Israel. So oftentimes, we have to be aware that our premium pricing is not for everybody, we have a premium product line, we put you know organic ingredients, we put a lot of really additional elements into our products that other brands don't have. So innovation is one way that I differentiate our products on the shelf. Because we have the only fast-acting anti-anxiety product, which is our quick calm product, right? No one else has a product like that it's very unique. So when they go into the store, if I've done a good job with the budtenders, and I create some education around it, then that consumer will be identified as a person who might benefit from this given product. But I also have a lot of him store materials so that it's you know, very clear to the consumer when they're in there, that this is a product that might be a good fit for them. But, in terms of like on the shelf, that's really hard. So I go back to the budtender education piece. And I'll be honest with you know, budtenders, helping them along with budtenders. incentives. The biggest, probably the biggest line item I have in my budget right now is swag. It sounds silly to say but like this, this hat. You know, there, we spent a lot of money on that, because that's what helps motivate the bartenders that wear it in-store. They, you know, they share it, they are consumers as well, by the way. So it's important that we are from Center for them and top of mine so that when someone does come in, they say what's your favorite gummy? They answer the law.
And because of all of the regulations and how they're differentiated in each state, does that make marketing in each state that much more complicated? Or are you able to kind of implement your marketing approaches in all the states where you're currently available?
And it's super easy, no problems. That's good. But this is how Saturday is our biggest goal for this for the latter half of this year, which is to actually create a product and marketing launch across multiple states at the same time. Can you imagine, right? Crazy, we haven't been able to do that really, because because of the regulations you're talking about because of even things like in certain markets, like the product I was mentioning earlier, it has Elfine some markets don't allow other over the counter ingredients to be in the product can only be the cannabis and other cannabinoids right? So we can't sell that product in every market. So markets don't allow, like in Florida, my packaging to be black and white. I'm not allowed any color on my packaging in Florida. In fact, the gummies have to be colorless as well, which is kind of weird. So you know, so I can't create materials and spread them across multiple markets simultaneously, I have to pick and choose which markets have the most commonalities amongst them. Choose those markets, and then find products that fit in those markets. And then hopefully we can choose can get a multistate launch off the ground.
It's every time I talk to someone who does marketing in this industry, it's like every other brand has it's so easy like no one thinks like state-by-state marketing because they have to how do you keep track of all of that? Because they're changing, obviously, all the time?
Yeah, well, that's a great question. And you know, they do change a lot. And oftentimes, you know, the governing bodies in each state, which by the way, are different, right? It's the liquor board. It's the Marijuana Enforcement Division here in Colorado, it's, you know, whoever, they, if you're tied in really locally, you might get some of those updates. You know, with us using partners, each of our markets, we're putting on them to know if there's a change in the regulations, or at least packaging and marketing or something else to be aware of it. We have a compliance team internally, that also helps. And then there are also third parties that are all they focus on is keeping up to date on the compliance at a federal, state, local, and even down to like County, and, you know, super local jurisdictions, because each state generally when they legalize, they allow counties and cities to opt-in or out of programs and to create their own rules. So the city of Denver has its own sort of governing body that helps to dictate and mandate what can be done underneath the state umbrella of what's allowable. So they can't do something that's not already allowed by the state. But they can translate the rules and regs how they choose to for their city.
You mentioned earlier the programmatic side, obviously, that's primarily like display ads, that kind of stuff. Right. But you also mentioned, are you getting into Twitter. Did Twitter open up allowing cannabis ads or did you just do an organic side?
No, they have, okay, so this is relatively new in the last month and a half, I'd say maybe two months that Twitter has begun to allow for cannabis advertising. But the first time I talked with them was before they announced it publicly. And we were kind of going back and forth on what they're proposing. And it became pretty clear that they didn't understand the industry. So I tell you that not to say I'm so smart, and they're not. But because it's obviously Twitter, they're smart people. But more so to say it is so complex it has taken in the last month and a half, I've gotten three different new iterations of their advertising regs and how they're treating cannabis because it has evolved so rapidly as they begin to realize like, oh, this language doesn't really apply, nor does it work. Or, Oh, if we do this, we're excluding this entire category of the industry that might, you know, want to be on the platform. So it's been a pretty complicated dance. But it is an interesting opportunity, because of the first major social platform to allow for for Canvas advertising. I have my own opinions about where Twitter's going. And you know, all the political elements and the ownership of all that, but, but it is, you know, it is a first for the industry because we still can't use anything. We still can't use Google, you know, so we're prohibited from all those Twitter might offer an interesting differentiated approach to us for content outside of programmatic and some of the other digital channels with us previously.
Yeah. So with all of the limitations you have, right, like it's, I could be here all day listing your limitations. What's the one thing that you wish that like, your traditional e-commerce seller, your traditional, like, digital marketer, or just like a regular marketer? Like what's the one thing you're like? I wish we could just have that.
Well, I don't know if this is quite the answer you're looking for, but e-commerce, like literal e-commerce, I can sell a product on my site and ship it. Right. And I'll put all the age gates and restrictions in place and do all that. But if I could just allow myself to sell directly to the consumer. And to be able to ship that way. That would be huge. Yeah. Now, I say that. We have a lot of really great brick-and-mortar dispensary partners. And they're our partners because they have they've been the channel through which we have to sell our product. So it wouldn't be something I would say like overnight, I would move immediately to an E-commerce model. But just the ability to be able to reach the consumer directly see a conversion, have the data, understand who's buying the product, and to be able to make sure that when I speak to them, I can be positive that if they have said I want this product they put in the cart and they buy it, and I know that versus then sending them to a brick and mortar store and not be able to connect to
I get that I would agree with that. Do you think how far out you think it'll be until that actually becomes a reality?
Well, if you don't want to indulge me for a second, I'll tell you something that's a little bit related to what you just asked. But also that goes back to some of these challenges. We as an industry right now regulated cannabis if you're really fighting three different battles, so the one you mentioned, which is the existing competitive landscape within dispensaries and for the consumers, mind, and hearts to we're combating the illicit market, which is still huge. I just saw an estimate from New Frontier data that estimates So about $74 billion, which is two, or three acts in the current legal market. So the illicit market is still huge, right? We're, we're competing with them on a regular basis from a pricing perspective primarily. And then lastly, this one is relatively new but more direct to the question you're asking. There is a whole set of products that are hemp-derived. Now, I don't know if you've been following this at all. But there's Delta Nine Delta, a TCO, all of which are derived from hemp, which was technically legalized through the farm bill in 2018. But subsequently, many have found these loopholes to be able to create synthesized Delta nine which is the act of chemical THC, or molecule THC to create that from him and then sell it online and in C stores and in you know, liquor stores or wherever they are not subject to the same regulations that the regulated cannabis industry has yet it's still the same substance right. So I just yesterday, just to experiment, I bought some delta nine products, five milligrams of THC per unit online. Now each getting shipped directly to my house. I haven't received it yet. But you know, it is definitely a whole new world that they do have access to the things that we don't, and no one is really money.
Yeah, yeah, the Delta Nine thing I mean, that blew up, at least in my opinion, overnight, I feel like all of a sudden, every gas station was like this. We have this delta nine and then all these ads on and I was like, okay. But yeah, it's gonna be really interesting to see where it goes. It's every year, there's something new, some state opens it up, while another one takes it down. And it's just left and right. It's gonna be I commend you, for tolerating it.
Well, I, I really appreciate that. And I'll tell you what, I told my team on time, as you know, yeah, it feels like we're pounding your head against the wall. But as a marketer, it teaches you how to be really smart, how to overcome hurdles, and how to think differently and get around problems. And so I think from that standpoint, the training is great.
Exactly. Joe, really appreciate you having me on the show. I know you're super busy. So I will use this opportunity to wrap things up. I'd love for you to let everyone know where they can find out more about you and of course, more about wanna brands.
Well, great, you know, want to brands or website want to brands.com Most of all of our stuff handles are at Wana Brands. I'm at Joe H O D A S and welcome any connections and I appreciate you having me on. Thank you, Andrew.
Yeah, thank you, Joe. Of course, everyone that tuned in thank you as well please make sure you do the usual rate review, subscribe, and all that fun stuff or head over to theecommshow.com to check out all of our past episodes. But as usual, I appreciate you all joining and we will see you all next time.
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