Blackbird is on a mission to let cannabis brands and retailers engage with consumers in direct, meaningful ways. Unlike other companies that focus on either businesses or consumers, Blackbird aims to be a resource for both. Director of Marketing Jamal Barghouti said the company “connects all the dots.”
Barghouti started his career working with conventional industries including specialty coffee, where he routinely relied on traditional advertising, public relations, and social media strategies. But when he transitioned into cannabis, he realized nothing about the industry was traditional.
“When I started at Blackbird, I didn’t really understand the depth or complexity of the cannabis industry,” Barghouti said. “The more I got involved, the more opportunities I started to see and my perspective really changed.”
Fed by relentless curiosity, his professional acumen and insight grew rapidly, on pace with an exploding industry. His perspective shifts almost constantly. “Every day and every challenge in cannabis is unique,” he said. “It forces you to be creative and to act quickly.”
Creativity and rapid action are more important than ever. Cannabis, and retail in general, are transforming more rapidly than might have been the case had a deadly global pandemic not interrupted the normal evolutionary process. In particular, the digital realm is playing an increasing role in retail across the board, and Barghouti believes the shift may benefit cannabis dispensaries and brands more than similar businesses in other industries.
In line with its motto, “keep it moving,” Blackbird uses digital tools to connect consumers directly with brands that most interest them. The result is more than just increased communication. Barghouti said the company’s multichannel approach helps brands and retailers increase profit margins. “Through text message marketing, online ordering, and built-in customer loyalty programs, cannabis retailers and brands can reach qualified consumers in their area and keep their most valuable customers coming back through exclusive deals and rewards,” he said.
Advertising is one of the biggest hurdles cannabis companies face. Google Ads, social media, and other online venues—not to mention real-world outlets—decline to disseminate marketing messages from entities that deal in a federally illegal substance. Consequently, according to Barghouti, text message outreach has become an essential tool. Short message service (SMS) and multimedia messaging service (MMS) marketing are popular with consumers across almost all industries. According to SMS Comparison, text open rates are as high as 98 percent, and 95 percent of texts are read within three minutes. In comparison, a satisfactory open rate for emailed newsletters is about 20 percent. What’s more, 75 percent of customers who have opted in to receive commercial text messages prefer to receive offers via text.
Blackbird’s texting tools help brands schedule compliant messages to help increase brand awareness and sales, Barghouti said. Compliance is a significant issue, he added, as companies that do not adhere to regulations outlined in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act may find themselves facing stiff fines. That said, “Whether brands are meeting their customers online or in person at events, they can continue promoting their products and building their brand in their own voice as well as turn casual shoppers into brand advocates with exclusive launch announcements and text message deals and promotions,” he explained.
SMS and MMS value extends to more than just delivering sales pitches. Texts also serve as a way to capture critical consumer data, according to Barghouti. “Cannabis brands can use the MyBlackbird software to capture important customer information like phone numbers, email, and customer interests and use those to build targeted lists,” he said.
Text messaging also facilitates loyalty and rewards programs. The MyBlackbird platform allows brands to create tiered loyalty programs that reward customers with points-per-dollar or points-per-visit perks. Users may access their loyalty points online and apply them in-store or to digital purchases. “Through MyBlackbird, dispensaries and cannabis brands also can build targeted client lists and group customers by several factors, including event check-in, birthday, order history, and product interests,” Barghouti said. “Use these lists to send targeted text messages and not bulk campaigns. Keep your customers engaged with text messages that are tailored to their interests.”
Text message marketing is just one part of the equation. The BlackbirdGo marketplace allows consumers to filter searches by brand, retailer, or geographic location. The platform provides brands and retailers with another layer of customer engagement. “Brands and dispensaries looking to reach new consumers in their area can promote their products on the BlackbirdGo marketplace through display advertising as well as sponsored content opportunities,” Barghouti said.
BlackbirdGo advertisers can access product performance reports to assess how well products are selling and which products are not resonating with customers. Brands find the insight about regional purchasing habits helpful because the data allows them to adjust distribution strategies, preventing oversupply and undersupply issues based on real-world information, not supposition.
The ability to process orders online and track inventory through Blackbird’s menus can alleviate the strain on dispensary staff, Barghouti said. Blackbird also can help retailers establish cashless payment services that integrate with point-of-sale systems. “Orders placed through Blackbird menus sync automatically with a retailer’s established systems, providing an easy way to start curbside pickup and delivery,” he said.
In the company’s home state, Blackbird offers an end-to-end solution facilitating not only order processing but also fulfillment. The company operates a licensed last-mile delivery service in Nevada. “We have been completing compliant and efficient deliveries in the Silver State since 2015,” Barghouti said. “We complete deliveries on behalf of our retail partners, allowing retailers to spend more time on their customers. Blackbird’s experienced delivery team becomes an extension of the business, providing world-class customer service to customers and employees. Customers can order cannabis for delivery directly from the BlackbirdGo marketplace.”
Beyond its products and services, Blackbird takes pride in maintaining a diverse team. In the cannabis industry, activism and the fight for social justice are intertwined like in few other commercial sectors. According to Barghouti, the company remains acutely aware of the industry’s legacy of compassion and fairness, especially for those most impacted by harsh state and federal drug-enforcement policies. “Our mission is to be good people and to help good people every day,” he said. “We have a dedicated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee that works in tandem with Blackbird’s senior leadership to develop DEI initiatives both internally and externally. Several Blackbird employees also hold positions in industry associations like the National Cannabis Industry Association and the Cannabis Distribution Association, where they work to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion issues front and center.
“We believe the rising tide raises all ships,” he added, “and we believe the best work is done together.”