With the new year underway, I look back on 2023 with pride—not just for the many accomplishments of my team, but for the industry as a whole. We survived another year, everyone! In a tough environment like this one, survival requires strong teams, collaborative spirit and, not least, a healthy dose of Merriam-Webster’s aptly chosen 2023 Word of the Year: authentic.
For English-language communicators worldwide, Merriam-Webster’s iconic dictionary is a frequently visited resource. That the beloved reference manual chose “authentic” as its word of the year filled me with a sense of hope. The word wasn’t selected at random or because the publisher’s staff felt it appropriate. “Authentic” rose to the top due to the volume of searches the word received. Search volume is a good indicator of the collective conscience.
Authenticity applies to the cannabis industry now more than ever. Brands, agencies, and every business in between can’t survive off fancy words alone. The days of self-aggrandizing are behind us. Consumers, investors, and collaborators are supporting companies that are genuine and personable—and those are the players that will survive in the long run.
But what does authenticity mean in practice? How can companies demonstrate they are authentic?
We are all busy trying to get our story out there to a larger audience. Promotion is vital for success. But what sets authentic businesses apart is the time their teams invest in getting to know others in their community. “Quiet” conversations—those without an audience—matter.
For example, many of us leave large industry events—MJBizCon, Lucky Leaf, MITA— feeling best about the quiet, one-on-one conversations carried out with other members of the community. The chance to really get to know the names behind the brands makes a huge difference in relationship-building. Regardless of the venue, events allow us to interact authentically with other individuals, not just faceless, impersonal brand identities (no matter how charming those identities may be).
Honesty matters, too. As the industry has matured over the years, it’s become easier to see through inauthentic marketing. Claiming to be “the biggest” or “the best” doesn’t mean much in a saturated market.
What does have meaning is a compelling, true story. Sharing real-life tales of finding relief for patients, bonding with friends and family without alcohol, and replacing cigarettes or even opioids with cannabis are just some of the ways brands use authenticity to help create buzz and achieve longevity.
Authenticity is especially beneficial in branding and marketing efforts, but it’s also a key trait of good salespeople. Top performers consistently say their secret is to develop an authentic relationship with each customer. Relationships need time to grow and bloom. Authentic marketers and sales professionals plant seeds through LinkedIn conversations, emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings. Over time, the work they put in to make genuine connections blossoms into something profitable for them and their customers.
In truth, we’re all selling our personal and commercial brands every day with every interaction. That’s why social media is such a powerful tool: It allows us to stay in one another’s orbit, celebrating wins and offering support in authentic and meaningful ways.
Authenticity also favors collaboration over competition. The industry has room for us all. While friendly competition is a necessity and keeps us all operating to a higher standard, we can make room for collaboration, too. Brands with similar values and missions can work together to get their message out to a larger audience while celebrating their unique individual qualities. When Jeeter partnered with Highsman to release a football-themed box and limited-edition apparel, for example, both brands garnered attention from a larger audience and created something bigger than either could have created alone.
This year, expect to see brands leaning more heavily into authenticity, though the concept may take unexpected forms. In Merriam-Webster’s announcement for the 2023 Word of the Year, the publisher stated, “Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate—two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary.”
Yes, authenticity can be hard to define, and striving to “look authentic” can have the opposite effect if attempted on only a surface level. That’s why the most successful players in the industry right now are the ones who have been true to themselves since day one. These are the companies we will see continue to succeed in 2024 and beyond.
I don’t know what the next Word of the Year will be, but I do know I will be carrying “authentic” with me through all of my endeavors this year. May we all succeed and celebrate one another’s wins in 2024!
Kim Prince is founder and chief executive officer at Proven Media, a results-oriented agency serving business- and consumer-facing companies throughout North America. She brings more than twenty years of corporate marketing experience and has an impressive background in corporate messaging strategies, public relations, and strategic planning for corporations, brands, and C-level executives.