If there is one thing the past two years have taught us, it’s that we all need to work together. Contrary to Darwinian “survival of the fittest” business philosophies, there’s a lot more evidence marketing collaboration is key—not only for outsmarting predators or enticing prey, but also for everyday marketing success. Opportunities to succeed by partnering with other brands exist within your own market, among adjacent categories, and across the business spectrum.
Competition vs. collaboration
While collaborations have been happening on some level for as long as humans have been trading with each other, recent successes, particularly in the streetwear industry, practically have made the practice into a requirement of the modern marketing mix. The 2017 Supreme x Louis Vuitton collaboration has become the stuff of legend, with products showing up on resale sites at prime prices even four years later. Streetwear label AMBUSH redesigned Moët & Chandon’s champagne bottle for a collector’s edition earlier this year, and Balenciaga just announced it will collaborate with video game Fortnite on a collection available both in real life and for in-game characters. Beyond fashion, the tech and auto industries also have reaped the rewards of this straightforward practice, engaging consumers and raising brand profiles across the board.
Too often, cannabis brands tend to look at themselves as competitors when there are actually ways to join forces and tap into mutually beneficial growth. As an example, if you’re a flower-only brand, why not form an alliance with a pre-roll brand, offering to provide your flower to the pre-roll for a collaboration. Maybe work with an infused pre-roll or a moon rock where you can take somebody else’s concentrate and pair that with your flower. Tag-teaming may make the profit margin on the product slightly smaller, but during the time of the collaboration, you’ll actually reduce costs on your marketing budget while increasing exposure for both brands. You’ll also be making an investment in brand loyalty by tapping into the other brand’s customer base. Similarly, a solid collaboration also may lead to expanding retail shelf space when stores that carry the other brand recognize yours is bringing in new customers.
If you don’t have a stellar marketing plan (or budget) but do have a great brand, look at collaboration as an opportunity to leverage somebody else’s marketing. When your product is superior, you have the potential to lend a highly marketed brand your merchandise’s cachet in exchange for buzz. It comes down to good-old-fashioned bartering.
How to get started with a great collaboration? Watch for brands you think would pair nicely with your own. What are they lacking that you can provide? Marketing? Quality product? Retail positioning? From there, start conversations at conferences. Make connections on LinkedIn (a relatively untapped, underrated source for people in the cannabis industry). Once you’ve made some connections, sketch out a few ideas. Start small to get to know each other, then move on to larger projects.
One of my favorite recent examples of a successful collaboration in our industry is Dr. Greenthumb x Stündenglass. Dr. Greenthumb is a craft grower based in California with a great reputation among artists and celebrities. Because of his reputation, his company was able to take the brand and collaborate with other core sectors of cannabis consumption (i.e., devices). Stündenglass products already were sold through large distributors, so Dr. Greenthumb didn’t have to create a device on his own and then market it. Instead, he found a brand that was already killing it with a loyal following and an established distribution network. Now, Dr. Greenthumb’s logo is featured on a product that gets far more exposure, not only through Stündenglass’s marketing but also through all the marketing being done by its distribution companies. Compare that to the extra energy and attention Dr. Greenthumb would have had to put into developing a completely new product himself.
Crossing industries completely, consider partnering with a musician or band. Offer to name a series of strains after the artist, then attach a QR code to the packaging with a link to their latest album, connecting the consumer to the music. Take it one step further and be sure the strains associated with the musician pair well with their music. In fact, multi-platinum recording artist Russ partnered with Wonderbrett on a new line called CHOMP, named for an album Russ dropped in 2020. The cannabis grower worked closely with the artist to develop a strain that would reflect his personal tastes—something that’s inspiring without being numbing.
Finally, there’s the ultimate goal of industry-wide collaboration, perhaps best expressed by the 2021 efforts of the Emerald Cup Awards (ECA) to support small northern California farmers who were being driven out of business by a sudden drop in cannabis prices. Not only did the ECA offer these farmers good deals on exhibition space, but the event’s staff also organized press conferences and governmental action on their behalf.
The potential for mutually beneficial opportunities is practically endless, whether you’re coordinating directly with compatible brands within your category, partnering with companies in adjacent categories, stepping out of the industry completely, or doing what you can to help the whole market. By working together, we can all end the “year of collaboration” with more successful brands and perhaps a better feeling about ourselves all around.
Jared Mirsky and his award-winning cannabis-focused branding and marketing agency, Wick & Mortar, have helped shape the cannabis industry since 2009. Rebranding cannabis is his mission, and he aims to accomplish the goal by helping educate the industry about the power of successful branding and the impact it has on the world.