postcard that was mailed to voters

Voting YES for Medical Marijuana Zoning

A Canna Communication Case Study

Early last summer we were contacted by a cannabis entrepreneur that was facing opposition to a medical marijuana grow business in Egelston Township, Michigan. He realized he needed professional communication assistance with this issue and we jumped right in.

Background:
The elected officials in Egelston Township opted-in for medical marijuana businesses in late 2017. Soon after opting in, the entrepreneur/grower who had already purchased property in the township started construction on buildings for greenhouses and a provisioning center. In the spring of 2018, a resident of the municipality who is also a developer that owns a subdivision adjacent to the two greenhouses under construction began circulating a petition to upend medical marijuana zoning in the community. The petitions were validated by the township clerk, and the proposal would appear on the mid-term ballot. If the vote didn’t go the grower’s way, he would lose the opportunity to have any cannabis business in the township.

We were asked to create a campaign to persuade voters to keep medical marijuana zoning in the township.

We provided the client with a full political campaign proposal and he chose to rely on web, social media, direct mail, and yard signs. Our messaging focused on providing accurate information and guiding conversations while helping people understand two issues: zoning and medical marijuana.

Strategy:
After a discovery meeting with the client, his horticulturist, attorney and a business colleague we wrote a set of key messages that went to the heart of the zoning issue.

The messages focused on:

  • The township has done its due diligence in creating medical marijuana zoning and the work should be respected.
  • The township work was done with multiple opportunities for public input and within the open meetings act.
  • Ensuring people knew this was a medical marijuana business issue. Adding to the complexity was that Michigan voters were going to vote on recreational marijuana, too. This was a separate issue, but also on the ballot. This was a point of confusion for people.
  • Voting yes for medical marijuana zoning.

We created a theme for the campaign and began work on developing a website and a Facebook page. We presented Egelston Grows Green as the theme because it spoke to the idea of growth in the township, not only cannabis itself but jobs and tax revenue. We wanted to include the township name in the theme to create a sense of place, identity and pride.

The key messages were used to create website content, to launch the Facebook page and to provide content throughout the summer. As it came closer to election time, we promoted the vote and ended each post with a Vote YES for medical marijuana zoning message.

photo of the egelston grows green facebook page
Facebook cover photograph

Significant challenges and opportunities for execution:
One of the most significant challenges we faced was the convoluted language that was in the petition and on the ballot. We knew that the best thing we could do was to make it simple for voters to understand and accurate to the ballot. We chose: vote yes for medical marijuana zoning.

In May of 2018, Facebook put restrictions on two essential parts of our campaign: political advertising and marijuana pages. The platform required anyone wanting to conduct political advertising to supply a physical mailing address and a copy of a photo ID like a driver’s license. We did this but were thwarted by another new policy that made marijuana pages unsearchable. Cannabis pages and groups that had been easy to find for years had disappeared from the search tool, and Facebook was denying requests to boost to create ads for all marijuana businesses regardless of what they did, i.e., law firms and accountants were being denied promotional space. This made launching the site and promoting content a challenge, especially for a new page. We relied on a network of advocates to share our daily posts and a popular community-centric Facebook page, Wolf Lake World News. We posted our information on that site and engaged in multiple conversations there, too.

We created the website egelstongrowsgreen.com for key messages and details about the growing operation, that people had an interest in. They wanted to know how this business could potentially affect them: everything from the smell, to security, to job creation, to compliance, water use and plant waste. We posted two informational videos to the page as well. All the time we are reinforcing the message about voting yes for medical marijuana.

yard sign about voting yes for medical marijuanaOne month before the election we helped the client with a succinct, clear message for yard signs and designed a postcard for voters. These collateral materials reinforced the singular importance of voting yes for medical marijuana zoning. The postcards were mailed to the 7500 voters in the township. The client also held a yard sign pick-up event with principals on-site to answer questions. 

postcard that was mailed to voters to encourage them to vote yes for medical marijuana
front of the postcard

In the days before the election, one of the business partners secured a video interview with a hyperlocal indie news channel, and we were able to share that interview and clear up some of the misconceptions that the opposition was promoting.

Outcome:
Great news! The voters of Egelston Township approved the zoning ordinance 1921 to 1751 votes.

pretty cannabis packaging on some chocolate

Be Amazing Inside and Out: Why Cannabis Packaging Matters

There’s nothing more appealing to a consumer than good packaging and fair pricing. Either by accident or intention, cannabis packaging in Michigan tends to fall short of that standard. We’ve seen bad knockoffs of popular candy brands, in both name and design and kid-friendly graphics. If the cannabis industry wants to be taken seriously, we need to present ourselves in a mature manner and product packaging and branding should reflect that.

When Michigan’s licensing entity LARA sent out guidelines recently about cannabis packaging, we were pleased to see that they are serious about making packaging unappealing to children.

Their cannabis packaging rules state:

No edible marihuana product can be in a shape, color, package, or labeled in a manner that it would appeal to minors aged 17 years or younger.

just say no to bad cannabis packaging like this lollipop
An orange lollipop with 35mg of THC.
an orange lollipop without childproof cannabis packaging
Easy to open by a kid or an adult.

No edible marihuana product can be associated with or have cartoons, caricatures, toys, colors, designs, shapes, labels, or package that would appeal to minors.

No edible marihuana product can be easily confused with commercially sold candy. The use of the word candy or candies on the packaging or labeling is prohibited.

An edible marihuana product must be in child-resistant packages or containers.

In Michigan cannabis is still medicine and is sold to adults (or to an adult for a card-holding minor). It needs packaging that acknowledges this but also remains appealing. Think about the over-the-counter drugs you might buy or herbal supplements. Those products have packaging that is professional, serious and not appealing to kids.

some child proof cannabis packagingCannabis edibles are an upscale product, they’re not inexpensive to purchase and the packaging should reflect the quality of the product contained inside. That’s not to say it has to be expensive or over-packaged, but it does need to be thoughtful in its presentation. People make decisions in a provisioning center based on several factors including price, a word of mouth recommendation, advice from the budtender behind the counter and the appearance of a package.

Studies show that the time slot in which a shelved product can capture the attention of a consumer is very short, one to two seconds. This is why it’s so important for cannabis packaging to be well-designed. You just don’t have that long to get someone’s attention.

good cannabis packaging from Northern LightsToday, brands across every sector are facing an increasingly competitive landscape and an increasingly sophisticated consumer. People tend to disregard mass brand communications in favor of more personalized messaging mediums. Packaging has the power to connect with the consumer to communicate a brand’s message on a physical and individual level.

How many times have you purchased a bottle of wine solely on your attraction to the label? Cannabis products should be thought of similarly. 

Smart packaging design is effective because, more than any other medium, it stays true to the product. It’s the main interface between a brand and consumer. Packaging conveys a host of messages that appeal to different consumers—both young and older, through elements of design such as naming, color, typography, graphics, structure and texture. We think Willie’s Reserve does this right.

cannabis packaging gone wrong, it's too attractive to kidsAn experienced designer can look at the product and create packaging that is sophisticated, appealing and true to the product inside. There’s really no reason that cartoons, colors and childish fonts need to be used in cannabis products. 

Packaging is part of a cannabis brand and being consistent is important.

Branding is one of the most important aspects of your cannabis business—whether you’re large, small, retail or business to business. Your brand is not just a logo, website, corporate identity or marketing collateral. It is your company’s personality. It’s your confidence, passion, action, voice, and set of values that make your company unique. Your brand needs to resonate with audiences in an emotive way. 

Quality cannabis packaging is a necessity.

Packaging design for the cannabis industry needs to be more than simply slapping a pot leaf or joint on a box. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to catch the consumer’s eye as the cannabis marketplace continues to evolve and competition grows.

If you need ideas or assistance with packaging design, Canna Communication can help. We understand the new Michigan rules and we know the art of packaging design.

marijuana plants are part of any new marijuana business

Fire Up! PR Musts Your New Marijuana Business Needs

If you are the owner of a new marijuana business, you’re probably thinking about a lot of things: compliance, human resources, inventory, customer service, security and how to handle all those twenty dollar bills! We hope you’ve given some thought to your marketing communication plan, too.  Like most pursuits, taking the first step is the hardest part. To make that first step a bit easier, we suggest getting things underway with these six simple-ish things.

Develop Your Story.

People want to know how and WHY you got into the cannabis business, they want to hear about your vision and values around your business, too. These are vital parts of your company story. You’re in the medical marijuana business and it’s important, outside of making money, to tell people why you’re doing what you’re doing. Some of it’s personal, like fighting cancer or helping a family with an epileptic child; some of it might be business-related, as in you want to create jobs and contribute to the economy. Whatever your reason for being in the cannabis business, start forming a relatable story. Every successful company has a story.

Be an Expert About Cannabis.

marijuana plants are part of any new marijuana businessTake time every day to read/watch/listen to cannabis news, especially regarding Michigan and cannabis as medicine. You expect expertise from businesses you patronize and your customers expect the same from you. You need to be able to help people understand the business of cannabis, too. Be accurate with your information and data, you don’t want to be the source of bad information. This acquired expertise will also help you as you connect with the media where your business is located.

Reach Out to The Media.

Media relations begins with getting to know the media. The newspaper reporters, radio personalities and TV journalists in your own community need to know who you are and what you’re doing in the medical marijuana industry. Reach out to them and make sure they know you are available as a resource for future cannabis stories. When you are awarded your license and start to establish your business make sure the media is the first to know.

Create Content and Be Social.

You’ve probably heard a lot about content lately. New and fresh content drives traffic to your website, and makes people come back for more, it’s the gasoline of SEO or search engine optimization. Content is the words, videos reading glasses and some content for a new marijuana businessand images that you put on your website and on your social media pages. It needs refreshing regularly. High-quality content is an integral part of communication and marketing and while you’re selling something, you’re also helping people understand the why of what you’re doing. If you don’t have social media pages for your company, yet, get them established. You can do this long before your new marijuana business is open. It’s good to get your name out there, connect with people and practice your content posting habits.

Discover Your Niche.

While you want to work with everyone and provide medical marijuana to anyone with a card, there’s good reason to have some of your business be a bit specialized. Having a niche makes you different and will help you stand out from your competitors. To discover your niche, you need a passion about something you can address, you need to deeply know the audience you want to reach, you’ll need to research them and their interests, buying habits and behaviors and craft messages to them. Your niche interest needs to be authentic.

Define Your Brand.

A brand is the outfacing image of your business and its inner personality. It starts with your logo and is part of everything about your company including customer interactions. A brand is the personality of your company, not only who you say you are, but more importantly, what others say about you, too. Your brand is the culmination of YOUR work AND customer relationships. It is formed by the content you create, the story you tell, what you share on social sites and how you respond to a crisis. People outside your company will also determine your brand by their opinions, ideas and reviews, but it’s mostly formed by your content, interactions, voice and how your company behaves in the community.

Interested in learning more? Need help getting started?

We’d love to help you move your new marijuana business forward. Drop us a note and we’ll be in touch.

Why I Gave It All Up for Marijuana

It wasn’t exactly a revelation or a call from God, but for me, it was close.

I’d been noodling the idea of doing communication consulting for a few years. As a senior public relations practitioner, it felt like where my career should go. I didn’t, though, like the idea of being a general practitioner. I wanted whatever came next to be meaningful, special and interesting. I was waiting for that idea to come to me.

The Revelation

On a November evening in 2016, I heard a NPR story about a cannabis industry trade show. What caught my attention was the hundreds, if not thousands, of ancillary businesses that support growing and distributing marijuana. The lights, fertilizers, air exchange systems, grow systems, edible products, star-powered cannabis brands, packaging, vape pens and security systems. It wasn’t about selling flower, but the picks and shovels of this green gold rush. I knew exactly where I was supposed to go next—into cannabis communication.

I secured the domain Canna Communication (how did no one already own this, I still wonder) and then jumped into my more formal education about cannabis.  It wasn’t good enough that I liked pot—I needed to know it. I started meeting people in the business, reading books and articles, and listening to podcasts. I stopped being a marijuana mooch and got a Michigan Medical Marihuana card for chronic knee and back pain, the result of years of running.

Cannabis has always been a part of my life to some degree. While in college, I used marijuana socially and recreationally. I learned to roll a joint using Zig Zags and the cover of any convenient double album.  As an adult I took a hit when it came my way, but didn’t seek it out. I never thought of cannabis a medicine—like for pain—but something for mental relaxation and happiness. As an introvert, cannabis helps me be more engaged with people.

Coming Out for Cannabis

I started to slowly come out—dropping hints on social media by sharing articles about cannabis and telling select people I was moving toward communication consulting in cannabis. It felt good to say it and people’s reactions were one of surprise, validation and connection. The more I talked about cannabis, the more people told me stories about their experience or that of someone they knew. People connected me with people in the business—a brother who made fertilizers, friends who were growers and people who use the plant for all sorts of medical conditions from Epilepsy to cancer therapy. People validated my business assumption that this was a field full of growth potential.

Just more than a half-year after I bought the Canna Communication domain, I walked away from a good-paying, highly visible position to devote myself to sharing information about cannabis and helping people grow their a path in a sand dunebusinesses.

I gave it up because I am sure I’ll get something more than what was left behind.

I aspire to be more self-directed, not just in the work that I do, but in my daily life. I want to complete the narrative about my career; I want it to be about being an entrepreneur and following my intuition about what the future might look like. I envision a story about standing up for something that is changing American culture for the better.

Cannabis is more than a plant for human health—it’s about working for freedom, science, smart public policy and social justice. It’s about being ahead of, and on the right side of history.

Marijuana business plan writing

Strategic Communication for Cannabis: It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

A strategic cannabis communication program takes time to develop. Just like growing a highly productive marijuana plant, appropriate nutes are delivered when needed, lights are timed to the plant’s grow cycle and the grower knows when to cut, dry and trim. Just like growing–communication plans have steps that can’t be skipped or ignored without the peril of a poor outcome.

And as you know—plants don’t grow overnight, in a week or even in a month and they need care and attention.

Communication works best when there’s a strategy—a cohesive plan about getting your message out to potential customers.

photo of a marijuana leaf illustrating communication for cannabisGetting Ready to Grow Your Business Now

As business owners prepare to enter the Michigan Medical Marihuana licensing process, which is still in the development stages, they’re are also waiting to get their communication/marketing plans in order. We understand that creating a brand and communication strategy is an investment of both time and money. But now is the time to develop your marketing communication plan if you are seeking a license. Creating a brand identity, securing a URL, designing a website, creating original content for the site, developing a media kit, creating social media campaigns and all of the collateral materials a business needs, takes substantial time to create, refine, launch and implement.

If you’re a Michigan Medical Marihuana license-seeker, consider this: do you want to launch your marketing communication strategy the day you’re approved, or do you want to start developing it that day?

At Canna Communication it’s an easy answer, in the words of Wayne Gretzky—skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been.

Let’s talk, we’re all about communication for cannabis and helping your business grow or get started. If you’re struggling on decision about what you need and how to move forward, we can help.