In November 2020, Oregon voted to legalize psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic use, becoming the first state in the US to do so. In Washington DC, voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative that would decriminalize them and other psychedelics, including ayahuasca, magic mushrooms and mescaline. The ballot initiative became law on March 15, 2021, and DC joined Denver, Ann Arbor (Michigan) and Santa Cruz and Oakland (California) on the forefront of cities that have decriminalized shrooms. If the acceptance and legalization of shrooms follows a similar trajectory to the one taken by cannabis, it’s only a matter of time before magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics see the market explosion currently being enjoyed by cannabis and CBD products.
While cannabis is having a so-called cover-girl moment, it’s important to remember that it hasn’t always been that way — and in fact, despite all the media attention and marketing surrounding cannabis-centered businesses, they’re still not quite legal in about one-third of US states. Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at the key marketing takeaways learned by the biggest names in the cannabis space, and how those lessons might apply to the emerging market for legal shrooms.
Define Your Target Customers
The first step in creating any marketing strategy is deciding who your customers are, and this is doubly important in the adult-use cannabis industry, where your potential market may be much broader than you think.
Broadening Your Market
While millennials are the main sales drivers across all cannabis products, accounting for nearly half of all legal cannabis sales in 2021, Gen Xers increased their market share from 23% to 29% from 2020 to 2021, and baby boomers increased theirs by 5% during the same period. In total, US legal cannabis sales increased by 67% in 2020, despite pandemic shutdowns.
Deepening Your Appeal
At the same time, data shows that the old stereotypes of who’s buying which cannabis products and why are a little outdated. Recent market research shows that even consumers who primarily identify as “recreational users” cite wellness reasons for their cannabis use. Those reasons include improving sleep, reducing anxiety, relieving stress and overall relaxation. The split between medical and adult-use consumption is also pretty evenly divided across age and gender groups. If you’re aiming all of your adult-use marketing to millennials or your medical-use marketing to boomers, you could be cheating yourself out of valuable, viable and loyal customers.
Key Point: Consumers come to cannabis for a variety of reasons, and many of them are remarkably similar across all demographics. Defining your target customers gives you insight into their pain points (both literal and figurative) and helps you develop unique marketing strategies to address each of them — but much of your marketing can and should appeal across multiple audience segments.
Taking It Forward: Psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms, are increasingly being recognized for their possible wellness benefits. Paying attention to consumer demographics in these early days will give you a jump on positioning your brand to appeal to consumers across demographics.
Develop Your Brand Profile
Logo, colors, typefaces, voice — these all combine to create a recognizable, unmistakable brand presence, which is absolutely vital to standing out in an increasingly oversaturated market. This extends beyond the online space to encompass your packaging, store design, marketing materials — anywhere you have a presence.
This can be especially tricky in the growing cannabis and emerging shroom industries, where companies need to convey who they are and what they do without tripping over existing legal restrictions or the terms of service on various advertising and social media platforms. Many platforms — including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — don’t accept paid ads for cannabis, and can be ruthless in suspending accounts that reference keywords related to bud or images showing cannabis. Likewise, there are clear rules about making health claims for products that are not regulated by the FDA. Falling afoul of this can cost a new business dearly. This forces companies to think creatively in order to get around those restrictions. Figuring out how to convey a canna-positive message without stepping over the line can result in uniquely memorable branding.
Key Point: Packaging and asset design go beyond name recognition in the cannabis field. Your brand imagery and language must attract consumers without triggering repercussions.
Taking It Forward: The lessons learned from cannabis marketing will apply as shrooms and other psychedelics are decriminalized. Early adopters in the field will benefit from understanding how their branding can identify their products in ways that don’t trip over regulations.
Educate Without Lecturing
While CBD products seem practically omnipresent, both cannabis and psychedelics still face challenges in marketing to consumers who have been subjected to decades of stigmatizing propaganda about these substances. One excellent way for companies to differentiate themselves in a crowded field is to provide simple but effective education about the benefits, cautions and uses of their products. By providing simple but accurate information, companies can position themselves as trusted authorities who can answer questions and provide guidance in a confusing new landscape.
Benefiting the consumer will also benefit the company through a content marketing strategy that effectively uses strategic SEO to elevate the business pages in search engine results. Effective explainers, pillar articles and supporting information engage potential consumers and build a reputation for nonjudgmental trustworthiness.
Key Point: Content marketing that educates consumers on the benefits and uses of your products is both an effective SEO strategy and a good way to build your brand reputation and attract new customers.
Taking It Forward: Just as it is for cannabis marketing, educational content will be an important pillar of online shrooms marketing, as consumers look for explanations of current research and information about micro-dosing and other topics related to magic mushrooms.
Diversify Your Online Marketing
Online marketing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and relying on one channel for sales and lead generation is a sure recipe for failure. You need a website, of course, and an SEO strategy to help drive traffic, but social media marketing is an absolute necessity — and that doesn’t mean just putting up a Facebook page. Each social media platform tends to cater to and attract specific types of consumers. In order to reach — and engage with — the broadest possible customer base, your brand needs to be active on multiple platforms.
Even more important, they must create and curate content that will best appeal to the cannabis consumers who frequent each platform. Knowing who uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms will make it easier to spin original content into formats appropriate for each of them. Identifying and adding social media influencers can help elevate a company’s brand, bringing in new audiences and potential customers who are already predisposed to view them positively.
Key Point: Expanding online marketing to multiple platforms increases visibility and allows you to tailor your content to different types of consumers.
Taking It Forward: As the market for shrooms and other natural psychedelics opens up, engaging on multiple platforms will continue to be important in reaching a wide range of consumers. Social influencers are likely to become more important, as they invite less scrutiny and enjoy a bit more freedom than official social media brand accounts.
Adopt and Adapt to New (and Old) Marketing Channels
One final way to push the advertising envelope and get around online restrictions is to take your marketing offline. From email marketing (yes, it’s technically online, but far more personal) to billboards to mailers to event marketing, the biggest cannabis brands — especially local ones — have learned that the old marketing channels are sometimes the best. They promote a different kind of engagement, and are especially useful to dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis-centered businesses that rely on local traffic to really flourish.
Key Point: Old-school advertising and marketing channels offer ways to engage more directly and personally with potential consumers, particularly for brands that rely on local markets.
Taking It Forward: Local advertising networks and wellness events offer opportunities to educate consumers about the history of and research into magic mushrooms, and introduce new businesses in the space to audiences that are already curious about and accepting of natural wellness products.
I’ll be talking more about these lessons and other insights in a panel with Dan Lennon as part of ECom Week LA 2021. Looking forward to seeing you there as we explore these and other topics related to cannabis marketing in “Pushing the Limit: Cannabis and Shrooms.
Grandview Research – Legal Marijuana Market Size | Industry Report, 2021-2028
Aspen Brain Institute – What the Magic Mushroom Market in the U.S. Could Look Like
FlowHub – Cannabis Industry Statistics for 2021
Washingtonian – Magic Mushrooms Are Decriminalized in DC as of Today