Keys to Growth: Successful Marketing Strategies in Restricted Industries with Native Roots| EP. #91
The cannabis industry is rapidly growing and changing. With new rules and regulations surfacing daily, it can be a challenge to successfully grow or scale a steady marketing model. Luckily enough, Buck Dutton - Vice President of Marketing - at Native Roots, has brought his extensive knowledge and understanding to this episode!
On this 91st episode of The E-Comm Show, Buck will be sharing how Native Roots has successfully taken on the marketing challenges of restricted industries to help maintain and grow Native Roots as the largest privately-held cannabis company in Colorado. Tune in as Andrew and Buck discuss e-commerce strategies, brick-and-mortar insights, and a lot of marketing hacks!
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Keys to Growth: Succesful Marketing Strategies in Restricted Industries with Native Roots
Andrew Maff and Buck Dutton
As Vice President of Marketing for Native Roots Cannabis Co., Dutton develops, implements, and oversees all marketing and media strategy, customer research, event sponsorships, and internal branding for Colorado’s leading independent network of cannabis dispensaries. Among other things, Dutton develops long-range and seasonal omni-channel marketing strategies across all product lines and retail brands and ensures all visual representations of Native Roots align with company values and purpose. Dutton brings years of high-level corporate marketing experience to Native Roots, including leadership roles within a global Fortune 50 consumer products goods corporation. His specialties include crafting scalable strategies and processes to drive growth; centering brands on the consumer experience; prioritizing creative product innovation and launches; promotion strategy and pricing; visual merchandising; strategic planning; CRM and social media strategy; data analysis; sales management; and agency management.
We have a very robust email and text message digital campaign. And our customers are highly engaged and we do decently well on social.
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to The E-Comm Show Welcome to The E-Comm Show, presented by BlueTuskr, the number one place to hear the inside scoop from other e-commerce experts, where they share their secrets on how they scaled their business and are now living the dream. Now, here's your host, Andrew Maff. Hello,
everyone and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host Andrew Maff, and today I am here with the amazing Buck Dutton who is the VP of Marketing for Native Roots cannabis company in Colorado. Buck, how're you doing? Ready for a good show?
I'm ready. Andrew, thank you.
Super excited to have you on today. I love talking about this industry because it changes like every couple of hours. So it's always very interesting to hear what's going on at this moment. But I would love to give you the opportunity to let everyone know a little bit more about yourself and your background, obviously, we'll get into native as well. And then we'll take it from there.
Sure, Andrew, I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia, you might hear the accent come out every once in a while. It's been about 10 years in Miami working with the Art of Shaving, which is a PNG brand was there for around 15 years, 10 years based out of Miami, and then up and relocated about two years ago to Denver, Colorado to head up the marketing team here at Native roots, which is the largest privately held cannabis company in the great state of Colorado.
Beautiful. So native roots. It's a very interesting model. From what I've been able to dig, dig into, can you tell us a little bit more about how it works? And I know there are obviously retail locations, which is required pretty much, but they're all different. They're all are they all run by their own people? Or is it a franchisee X? I know they all have different names like what is that? What that does
- So native roots were vertically integrated. And if you're not familiar with that term, it means that we provide every touchpoint from seed to sale. So we have a 200,000-square-foot grow facility here in Denver, where we pump out a ton of great cannabis for the state. We have our own retail locations, we make our own marijuana-infused products in our MIP. And we have everything down to the retail store. So budtenders reporting directly into our corporate office gives us a really nice ecosystem that we own from start to finish, we have about 20 locations across the state soon to be 21. Most of those are owned by our corporate office, we have two stores that are partners. So somebody else holds the license, and we run and manage and own a portion of those, they all have different names because they all came online at different times. So for instance, the dandelion location, which is in Boulder, Colorado, was one of our first locations and we kept the name the dandelion, even though it is a native root, all the products inside her native roots. But the name on the outside, when you see it is the dandelion.
Interesting. So from a marketing perspective, I imagine that's gotta be relatively challenging, considering you've got a ton of different locations with different names that probably have some kind of different branding aspects to them as well. Luckily, most
luckily all of the locations have native roots somewhere in the name. So we get by on that. It's not like we're trying to market Old Navy, Banana Republic, and the Gap all at the same time. We get to market native roots which makes it a little bit easier for us. I can't imagine having to do five to 15 different marketing plans.
Yeah, I mean, either, so I don't play me. Awesome. Okay, so the big thing with the cannabis side, especially from a marketing perspective, is wildly challenging. There's so many things you can't do. There are regulations in 15 different places that you got to change every couple of minutes. So it's hard to follow that kind of stuff. What are you doing? Like what's, what's the majority of your marketing approach right now? And also, how do you kind of navigate the constant changes in the industry?
Yeah, so I'll address the constant changes first, because that's actually the easiest one, and it's because we have an amazing legal and compliance team here at Native Roots. So we have a group of people whose full-time job is to make sure that we're compliant and following all of the compliance regulations, not only by the state but various platforms. And as well as federal regulations as well, so even though we are not federally legal, we do have some things that we can and cannot do from the federal government. And then the state likes to step in and says what we can and cannot do. And then we have some specific things that we can and cannot do by platform. And our compliance team is amazing at staying on top of that, so my hat is off to them. Kudos, thank you to the native roots compliance and legal team. Without you, my job would be 10 times more complicated. And now, some of the regulations that's what you're asking about, correct?
Yep, the regulations. And then what you're doing Marty forgot the first part of the question. Yeah, there are,
there are a lot of things that are constantly changing. And, you know, native REITs, used to operate some locations in Canada as well, we have divested that arm of the business. But in Canada, it was even funnier, because we couldn't show anybody having a good time. Like, in the United States, we can show someone holding a joint, we can't show them smoking the joint. But in Canada, we couldn't show them having a good time. So everyone was supposed to be very sad as they consumed cannabis. And it's just, you know, the rules and the regulations and interest in history are just wild.
Yeah. So now that you're solely focused in Colorado right now. Correct. So obviously, the rules there were the first one, they were one of them, they were the first one that pretty much put it in place. So yeah, that makes life a little bit easier. What has been the marketing approach from both a brick-and-mortar perspective, as well as an online perspective?
So online is a little interesting. So from an E-commerce standpoint, we have a very, I think we have a great website. And it's about to be even better, we're launching a new website at the end of this month, that's going to make it a lot easier for customers to educate themselves and find the products that are going to be best suited for them. You can purchase and I say purchasing quotes because you can purchase and close out your cart and act as if you have purchased the product. But we cannot accept payment online at the moment. We so basically operate as a holding L holding platform where you have to come into the store for pickup, and we do have about a 92% pickup rate. But in my previous life, you know, if you have an online sale, that's an online sale, like you put in your credit card number it ships to your house and you're done. But in this world, it's not the same. So you place your order it's held, and you have to come in-store to pick it up. And at the end of the day, we wipe out all the orders that haven't been collected. But even with that kind of system, we still have a 92% conversion, which is pretty, pretty good, I would say in history. Go ahead. I was just gonna say brick and mortar from brick and mortar. It's, it's interesting because we have a lot of regulations around what we can and cannot say in the digital space. Digital Advertising programmatic ads are extremely difficult to do not impossible, but they are difficult to do. And then the tracking back because we're not accepting payment online. It's always a little bit squishy, attributing where a sale came from in the digital space. Yeah.
So from the online side, so you mentioned you're using Programmatic. So is that solely focused on display that you can do on certain sites? Or is this more like the content marketing kind of approach where you're creating articles, and you're working with people like Taboola and Outbrain, that are pushing that kind of stuff? It's a little bit of
both. In the cannabis space, when we do content creation or content pushing, it's usually with cannabis vendors. So there's a great site out there called Herb, which primarily appeals to millennial stoners. And I'm sure that they would not appreciate me classifying it that way. But that's in a two-word, two-word summary. That's, that's basically what it is. And they were they've been great at content creation and digital aspects. That way, as far as programmatic goes, we've tried a couple of different things. No, nothing has been the silver bullet, if you will. But we continue to test test and try until we find what's going to crack the nut.
So from an advertising perspective, it's mostly just partnering with websites that kind of host their own ads.
That is that is yes. We have gone to programmatic where we actually employ a company and that's the piece where it gets really hard to start attributing it back to our without having the piece of the online sales. But for the most part, it's it's working individually with some sites, and then getting creative and thinking outside the box. How, how are we going to promote various stores without going the traditional programmatic ad spin popup ads, etc?
Yeah, so that was gonna be my next question, right? Because I know typically in this kind of space or in really any restricted space, like advertising is just not really a thing, like you mentioned. Like there are some ways around it, but it's nowhere near what everyone else gets the benefit from, at least from a digital perspective. So what are you doing to get people to be able to learn about the product and or products, I should say? And then all the different locations like what's that marketing strategy?
Sure. It it's, you know, several pieces. In the marketing strategy. One thing I will say is, when cannabis adult use was passed, it was portrayed that it was going to be regulated just like alcohol. And I will say, working in this industry, we are not regulated like Brock Lesnar, excuse me, we are not regulated like alcohol in the least. For example, one of the things that we are really good at here at Native Roots is sponsoring local community events. We have a lot of success and a lot of return on investment with sponsoring these localized events. Last summer, we sponsored Denver Pride. And at the cities, under the city regulations, we had to have a blacked-out tent. We had to check IDs before we came into the tent. And all we were doing was simply educating them on cannabis. We were not giving out any samples. Nothing to that sort. There was nothing for sale. And it looked like we were just completely blacked out. It was like a mystery binder. Whereas absolute and kudos. Absolutely. This is not a diet absolute at all. But absolutely, it was a sponsor in the park. They were passing out swag. They had tents, they had banners everywhere. And then Coors was the sponsor of the Pride Parade, which was actually televised. And they were front and center course coming down the street Happy Pride, whereas our education tent was completely blacked out. So we would love to be regulated like alcohol, but that is not the case. Yeah.
That's gotta be wildly challenging. It's so the events that you've been doing as different pop-up events, or the different, like community events that you're sponsoring, like are is that the most effective form of marketing you've had so far? Are there other ones you've started? Yeah,
it's one of we do offer some print advertising as well. We have some local publications here in Colorado that have been very receptive to print advertising for cannabis. And then we do offer some digital space, we are taking out some ads digitally, we have a very robust email and text message, digital campaign, and our customers are highly engaged. And we do decently well on social, there are a couple of social platforms that we do really well in. We are very heavily liked on Instagram. And we've gone we've taken a lot of steps recently of making sure that Instagram likes us to the point that they're even offering us to boost our posts. But we know in the Instagram world, we can't boost our posts. But we've gotten ourselves into a place where Instagram likes us enough to be calling on us to boost our ads.
So they're calling you to boost your stuff even though you can't
I have to imagine it's not a person, it's got to be an algorithm that doesn't, that we're a cannabis company at the moment.
Pretty good. So from that definitely makes sense that society would be one of the top ones because it's really the best way from an online perspective for you to be able to bring in new people. Have you done anything from an influencer perspective of like, maybe just localized influencers within Colorado we
have we launched a new apparel line back in February, it's been extremely successful, and we've built it kind of like a lifestyle brand. And we worked with about 25 influencers for that launch of them posting about the apparel. So it wasn't necessarily about the cannabis. It was about the apparel that is carried by this cannabis brand. And that has been hugely successful.
Interesting, that's okay. So you've started to develop almost like a lifestyle brand as a marketing approach to improve on the existing products.
Correct? Correct. And that's how we actually launched our channel.
Okay, how long have you been trying tic-tock?
We've just been on tick tock I think since the end of February, beginning of March. It hasn't been wildly successful, but we haven't been shut down and we haven't been flagged. So that's a win. And
that's good. Yeah. It's a good start. I believe that Twitter is supposed to be releasing the ability to start running ads at least for the cannabis industry. Is that something you started to look into?
They actually have released that. Oh,
did they do it already? Yes, they
have and there has been a hand full of cannabis companies that have dipped their toe into that pool there. I don't think anybody has knocked it out of the park. In fact, it's I haven't heard about it in a little while, which makes me think that not very many are doing it. We did some research we did some diving in, and we did have to clean up our Twitter account a little bit before we can be past the the blue check test, if you will. We are we have the ability to advertise on Twitter today. We have not simply because we haven't seen a huge return from other people doing it.
Yeah, that's what I've heard too. Interesting. Okay, so one of the questions I had, was because I realized you are in more of a traditional kind of E-commerce, consumer-facing regular, but I guess we'll call it a regular type of business prior to this. And then you came into the cannabis industry? How was that transition? How did you like what was your way of figuring out in the beginning, like navigating all of the different rules and regulations, and then how to start marketing and brand
like this? I will, I will tell you right off the bat that it was an eye opener on my first day, you know, I was with the Art of Shaving brand, which was owned by p&g, and it was a very corporate-type atmosphere. And my first meeting that I was in on my very first day at Native Roots, people were actively talking about how they got high the night before and what products they had been testing and trying. And I just sat there completely like, I am not in Kansas anymore. Like this is not the world like, like what the eff is going on. So that was a big eye-opener on day one. As far as the regulations go is, you know, all throughout the interview process, I had been doing research, I knew that I was stepping into a nontraditional world from what I was used to. And I was perfectly okay with that I was ready for the challenge. I don't think I realized at the time just how deep the regulations ran. Like the can't show anybody having fun in Canada thing that blew my mind, it was not something that we put in the interviews. So it was sitting down with those compliance folks with our legal team. And really understanding what we could and could not say. And, you know, the first couple of days, I got a little bogged down, I was like, wow, I don't think any of the ideas that I had coming into this are going to be able to play out. But what I quickly learned is we have such a great group of people here, the answer is not always know the answer is I don't think so. But let me see if we can find a way to do it. And so I think the team here at Native Roots is really good about thinking outside of the box and trying to find a way to make things happen. And you know, it doesn't always work out. And it doesn't always come to fruition the way you want it to. But I feel like we end up with more yeses and maybes than those.
Yeah. I could see that I can definitely understand. I mean, at least from New From a personal perspective, like coming from that I can only imagine what that transition was like, Yeah, but I definitely see Yeah, in the old, so many struggles with this,
you want to boost online sales, you dropped some money here, you dropped some money there, you dropped some money in this bucket. And you know, your online sales reflect that in 24 hours, and life is good. Here, those buckets don't exist. So you have to kind of think outside of the box of where you're going to drop those dollars to make an impact on the business.
Yeah. So if you were to start, let's say you were to start a completely brand new cannabis business, you're starting to sell a new product? How do you How would you get that going from a marketing perspective? Because you really can't really do much with the advertising side? So is it just to start to build up the social presence and do what you can from that side? And then maybe a content creation side? What would be the approach? If you weren't, like, funded by? Obviously, the larger company? They weren't? Sure,
absolutely. I think where you have to get your mindset on is you have to kind of take it back to the late 90s, early 2000s before the internet was a big contributor to online shopping. And you have to kind of think, how would you launch a product before the internet was available? And you go about it in the same way. It's scheduled a launch event, you know, getting people to talk about grassroots efforts. And then once you have that base plan, then you can start adding in your digital elements. Well, I can say this on social so how can we create a social campaign that reflects what I want to say and what I want to do at the launch event or at this community-sponsored event, etc? And it's not relying solely on the internet and your online platforms as your base. It's relying on that old-school kind of marketing. Know-how from the 90s if you will, and then bringing in the internet In the digital platforms to supplement.
Yeah. Interesting. And do you think that there is still? Is there still a lot of room to grow and to be able to market successfully in an offline perspective, whether it's traditional, like direct mail, or have you ever done anything with billboards or anything along those lines, we've
done some billboards with mixed success just depends on where they are. The city of Denver does not allow cannabis billboards. But the state of Colorado does. So we have experimented with that. We have not experimented with direct mail, because the United States Postal Service actually has a penalty of prison time for sending funds. The joke in the office is who goes to jail though? Is it the CEO? Is it me Do we get to choose? So you know, we haven't discharged. I know that there are a lot of smaller dispensaries that have done the direct mail campaign and kudos to them. We're at the size now, here in Colorado, that we're we're kind of taking a step back from even pursuing that because we do feel like if we were to get caught, we would probably be made an example of because of our size here in Colorado, so we're just we're steering clear of the direct mail. Yeah, hope I answered that question.
Yeah, that makes I didn't know that you would go to jail for it. Totally. That was this industry and say, we didn't either for
a little while, we thought that there was just a fine, which we were going to be willing to cover. And then one of our attorneys went digging a little deeper and was like, whoa, hold up. There can be a prison sentence if we're caught doing direct mail. So
he's, yeah, that's alright. Well, for those of you who learned something fun fact, don't do that. In the cannabis brand. Wow. All right, Buck, obviously, really appreciate you having me on the show. I don't want to take up too much of your time. I know you guys are super busy over there. But I would love to give you the opportunity. Let everyone know where they can find out more about you and of course more about natives.
Yeah, absolutely. If you want to find out more about me, I don't know that I am all that interesting. But if you want to, you can find me on LinkedIn. The name is Buck Dutton. And if you want to learn more about Native Roots, which I would encourage you to do, our website is nativerootscannabis.com and we will be having our new website live hopefully by July one.
Beautiful, sounds good. I'm gonna check it out. I'm super excited to see how that thing works. Because I don't know how anyone does cannabis at all. It seems very challenging. It is. Which obviously, but
I love it. I love it. I wake up every day and am excited to be in this office.
I bet because it's new every day stuff changes so fast. It's amazing. Buck thank you so much for being on the show. Obviously, everyone who tuned in thank you so much as well please do the usual rate review subscribe to all that fun stuff or head over to theecommshow.com to check out all of our previous episodes or registered to join our Live episode on April 30 for our 100th episode, but if not, we'll see you all next time. Appreciate you joining us.
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