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GAINING MARKET SHARE: Converting the non-believers

With an increasingly competitive market in cannabis- how does one bring the naysayers into the fold?

So why is this article on a hemp blog? Well- most CBD consumers are want-to-be cannabis consumers who due to a variety of factors consume Delta 8 & CBD alternatives instead. Reasons include living in non-legalized states, living in rural locations far from retailers, and having limited or poor product quality and selection.

Attracting cannabis consumers to your brand is no longer the standard. In an increasingly competitive industry, companies must have both a strategy and marketing plan that will attract those who don’t consume cannabis and hemp but are open-minded to it instead of just relying on their core customer base for continued growth.

Many current-day nonconsumers hold misconceptions around marijuana different from the Reefer Madness propaganda perpetuated decades ago but similar in that they don’t want to identify with the stereotype they believe cannabis consumers fit into. The industry has brands targeting all lifestyle types and as people engage with them they slowly see there’s more than just smokable products targeting “lazy stoners”.

Beyond that, non-consumers are increasingly finding their close circles around them have consumed and giving them the permission to feel it’s ok to try it as well without judgment.

Manufacturers can help the industry progress by truthfully labeling products they create to build trust with consumers. Retailers can do their part by creating environments that step outside the typical smoke and vape shop vibe (which many have) to cater to a wider audience and by maintaining educated staff capable of presenting products beyond what’s the highest potency product on the shelf.

Steadily, across all legalized markets we see a rise in non-consumers reporting they have tried a cannabis product in the past 6 months.

According to BDSA’s Consumer Insights, 45% of adults in recreationally legal states are Consumers. Consumption has even begun to creep up to as high as 50% in older established markets. As one example, Colorado is at 47% penetration which is up from the 35% it was in the spring of 2018. California is now at 45%, a rapid rise from just 39% in fall 2020.

But as mentioned before, through market maturation people see those in their circles consuming and feel safer trying products as well as opening up about their use. For this reason, it’s hard to calculate precise statistics to account for how many people were consuming but in the closet about use.

BDSA is also tracking that developing medical-only markets are also seeing a spike in past six-month cannabis use. Maryland has seen a dramatic rise in consumption since the launch of its medical cannabis program, from just 14% in spring 2018 to 35% in spring 2021. Pennsylvania has also seen its consumer penetration more than double over this same period, from 16% in fall 2018 to 33% in spring 2021.

So what’s the pathway to conversion from the dark side? It starts with an understanding of the objections:

“My lifestyle and cannabis don’t go together”

In a survey from BDSA, 55% of those who reject the use of cannabis and have never tried it as well as 30% of Acceptors (who have tried it but gave up use) claim the top reason they abstain is that cannabis does not fit their lifestyle. While recognizing that cannabis may not provide value to everyone or even that it may come and go in phases of usefulness; there are steps the industry can take to address this concern.

A glaring pain point is the need to move away from the highest potency-centric products and into more balanced and thoughtful product offerings. Increasing offerings and education about the usefulness of products outside of the smokable category is another pathway we need to walk.

Redefining social and mood-altering cannabis use from recreational to medical is another important push. Pharma does not classify Prozac and other medications used to stabilize moods as recreational so why is cannabis labeled as such?

“Im not a fan of the effects” or “It gives me anxiety”

BDSA reports 25% of Acceptors and 55% of Rejecters claim the main reason they stopped using cannabis was that they didn’t like the way it made them feel. We have seen a lack of education in our industry to help new consumers understand dosing and pros and cons between product form factors. Unfortunately, most new consumers prefer to use edibles as it feels farthest away from the stigma surrounding smoked and inhaled products.

But edibles also offer some of the most uncomfortable highs. Overconsumption of inhaled products can cause extreme lethargy and a much mellower mind processing speed but won’t typically induce the spinning heavy reality that can be acquired through overconsumption of edibles.

Anxiety is also typically found in products that have less of a balance between THC and CBD; something many consumers aren’t aware of. With a lower dose of THC and a higher dose of CBD many of these fallen consumers could be won back. This is where our lack of education in the industry shines.

I have personally watched this in Oregon’s market. At the onset of legalization, potency was king. As the market matured and consumers realized the highest THC products actually weren’t giving them a great experience, terpenes and more CBD-infused products proliferated. And this goes back to the duty of retailers. As a distributor, we have seen many retailers through their hands up in the air crying, “that’s what consumers want!”

But the truth is that’s what consumers think they want.

While undeniably there will always remain a percent that doesn’t want the education, a much larger portion wants this guidance. It is the duty of retailers in the industry to educate staff who are the point of contact with consumers. It is the duty of brands to educate as well, through the real estate on their packaging and the white space of their websites and social platforms.

“I might use cannabis if it helped a medical need I had”

Although there is an abundance of recreational use (which we still want to advocate reclassification to as medical), many Consumers cite (other) medical or health-related use, and BDSA Consumer data suggest that medical needs can be a big draw for non-consumers as it feels the safest and least judged reason for use.

45% of Acceptors and 20% of Rejecters say that they would be more likely to use cannabis if their doctor recommended it, while 35% of Acceptors and 15% of Rejecters claimed they would be more open to using cannabis if they were ill and learned that cannabis might help them.

This illustrates the potential for brands to expand their consumer base by offering products catered to medical focused use. This includes products such as topicals and pills aimed at pain relief, a core reason for consumption among medical users. To relabeling and creating a more normalized story around desiring the use of edible and smokable products as wine and alc0hol alternatives.

“I’m not sure cannabis is safe”

Even though legal medical cannabis has been available for decades in some states, many non-consumers remain unsure about the safety of cannabis use. While it represents a smaller subset with only 10% of Rejecters and 30% of Acceptors, it’s still an objection worth paying attention to.

They claim that they would be more likely to use cannabis if they were convinced that cannabis use was completely safe.

A few contributions to this mindset are likely the adverse effects felt by those who overconsumed and may have reported a negative experience to friends as well as the cannabis from the illicit market which is often covered in pesticides and other compounds unsafe for consumption (from illegal growers spraying flower to rid it of pests). Another likely scenario is the scare from the vape crisis of 2019.

Here we saw a legal market come back and say, “people may be dying from these legal products and we only have guesses as to what compound is the culprit”. While early reporting of the EVALI crisis linked health risks to ALL cannabis vapes, later investigation found that most cases were the result of illicit market vapes contaminated with Vitamin E Acetate. By accurately conveying this information, brands and manufacturers had the opportunity to correct any reputational damage and ensure the non-consumer public of the safety of legal cannabis.

Moving forward, Manufacturers can set rigorous standards for product testing that exceed regulatory requirements. Brands can label products in a way that provides valuable safety information to potential buyers but without overwhelming those who have little cannabis knowledge.

With the gradual destigmatization of cannabis, we can already see a significant expansion in consumer participation. However, there is still work left to do when it comes down breaking barriers and educating non-consumers about this drug so they don’t avoid using it out of fear or misconceptions. Many of the issues voiced by Acceptors and Rejectors for avoiding cannabis can be addressed.

Industry businesses need to do their parts in these efforts to yield a larger, more engaged Consumer pool or we can just wait long enough for Hollywood to make it cool and everyone’s friend pool of rejectors to slowly decrease (as it will) and then start working on objections all over again but this time with psilocybin.

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