How Do You Market an Illegal Product?

How Do You Market an Illegal Product?

Regardless of your stance on cannabis and its associated uses, there’s no doubt the question of legalization has become a “when” rather than an “if.” Since California first introduced medical cannabis in 1996, states throughout the country have begun grappling with how to address a growing demand without sacrificing safety in the process.

But the real floodgates opened in 2012, when Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, opening the market for legitimate brands to populate a fledgling industry. Since then, players from all walks of life — from the small-time “craft” producers looking to emulate the craft beer revolution to larger corporations — have sought to create a niche for themselves in an expanding market.

thc soda cannabis marketing

THC-infused sparkling craft soda

And while marketing taboo products like tobacco or alcohol is old hat at this point, it’s a brave new world for marketers helping cannabis brands make their mark.

For one thing, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, which has created a bureaucratic nightmare for most producers. Unable to deposit their earnings in federally-insured banks, dispensaries have helped shepherd a cottage industry of security personnel deployed specifically to guard and transport large quantities of cash.

So while most agencies would love to see their clients blossom from local or regional players into national powerhouses, that simply isn’t a possibility for many of today’s cannabis brands.

Instead, most are focused on a branding exercise bent on reshaping the conversation and perception of cannabis. Gone are the days of “420” innuendos and highlighter-green colorways. That’s been replaced with modern branding and soothing, millennial-friendly pastels. Where the industry once looked like it was sponsored by Monster Energy, it now appeals more to the Goop set.

48North’s soft hues and modern design

The Atlantic notes that like cigarettes and alcohol before it, cannabis is undergoing a subtle shift from a wellness product (beer was initially touted as a “safer” alternative to hard liquor) to a lifestyle product (think 20-somethings living life to the fullest with their beer of choice):

“[Cannabis-focused agency Cannabrand] typically uses lifestyle-oriented images: young people hiking, frolicking with friends, sitting around campfires. ‘You connect with a brand that you can relate to,’ co-found Jennifer DeFalco says. ‘If people are doing activities that you’re likely to do, you’re more likely to connect with that brand.’”

In the digital realm, where most social media platforms still enforce a strict no-drug policy, marketing campaigns often begin to resemble a game of whack-a-mole. Brands will skirt the line of terms of service agreements, often being forced to create entirely new digital presences after one gets shut down. Kiva Confections, for example, has had its Instagram account Kiva Confections, for example, has had its Instagram account shut down eight times since 2015.

Because of these stricter rules in the digital space, some brands are even spending more of their marketing budgets on less heavily digital tactics like local “alt-weekly” newspapers, trade publication advertising or podcast sponsorships.

So for now, the world of marketing tricky and illegal products like cannabis may a bit of Wild West at the moment — but ever-changing state laws are bringing a new wave of investment and innovation. And as those laws begin to catch up with shifting public perception (particularly around the cannabis-derived products that don’t strictly involve smoking), more marketing opportunities will arise. Until then, we’ll stick with more traditional vices…

BKI Hot Takes: Negative Reviews Can Be Positive

BKI Hot Takes: Negative Reviews Can Be Positive

If your brand has been around long enough, chances are you’ve experienced negative consumer feedback. Whether it was a low product rating or a scathing online review, it’s never fun to receive criticism. But negative feedback isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, when handled correctly, it can go a long way in helping your brand and the products or services you offer.

Receiving feedback from customers is crucial to a brand’s success. Positive feedback lets us know what we are doing right, while negative feedback can alert us to problems and provide an opportunity to fix them. Though it’s probably safe to assume we would all rather receive one over the other, both are equally important for the well-being of your brand.

Take KFC, for example. When customers complained about the quality of their french fries, the fast food giant responded by changing their recipe and then used actual complaints they had received to promote their new-and-improved product.

This fun, engaging marketing strategy was not only successful because of how it was well-received by customers. It also made a clear statement that the brand has their ear to the ground when it comes to knowing and addressing their customer’s wants.

Negative feedback can also provide the opportunity to improve brand sentiment with your response. A 2017 study by BrightLocal found that customers who have their issue resolved in their first interaction with a business are twice as likely to purchase from that business again.

Nobody knows this to be true quite like Dominos Pizza. After a viral video showing two employees contaminating restaurant ingredients surfaced, the chain started its new “Pizza Turnaround” campaign.

This project centered on using customer feedback to not only revamp their pizza, but their overall brand image as well. The centerpiece of the campaign was a video that used real Dominos employees to tell the story of how the company listened to its critics and changed its pizza recipe for the better.

“You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energize your process of making a better [product].” -Former Dominos CEO Patrick Doyle

Dominos’ response to the onslaught of negative feedback played a significant role in boosting its public image and brand sentiment because of how sincere it was. By taking the time to respond in a way that appropriately and effectively addressed feedback, the company was able to regain trust that had been lost.

Their efforts have paid off financially, too: Domino’s surpassed Pizza Hut in 2017 to become the world’s largest pizza chain, even outperforming the stock of Apple and Amazon in the process.

As shown by both KFC and Dominos, listening to your consumer’s wants and needs and then taking steps to meet them shows your customers that you genuinely care – something that goes a long way in building brand loyalty.

A whopping 68% of customers leave a brand or company because they feel their business is unappreciated. And while you may not be able to incorporate every customer’s input, listening and responding to what they have to say is crucial to keep them coming back.

As marketers, we need to stop looking at negative feedback as damaging to our reputation and start viewing it as opportunities to further enhance our products or services and, as a result, better serve our customers.

BKI Hot Takes: Just Say “No” to Passive Aggressive Marketing

BKI Hot Takes: Just Say “No” to Passive Aggressive Marketing

We’ve all done it (or at least thought about it): Shared an off-the-cuff line in a brainstorming session that manages to be on-message and makes everyone laugh. Sure, it might be a little cheeky or off-color, but it’s just so funny! But when it reaches your audience, will they be laughing, too? Or will the joke fall flat?

If you’ve spent any time shopping online in the past year or so, you might have come across a very specific example of this kind of marketing humor, which we’re semi-affectionately dubbing “Passive Aggressive Marketing.”

Many times, this tactic takes the form of a pop-up or nudge modal on a website, giving you the chance to do things like save money on your next sale or join an email list. You’re used to this binary choice: either you take the (presumably) great offer or you miss out on the brand’s generosity.

The passive aggressiveness comes into play should you decide to opt out of this deal, where you are forced to click on a button that, for lack of a better word, is SUPER judgmental. For instance, maybe you “Don’t Want to Protect Your Family” (security company) or “Want to Spend More Money” (clothing site) or “Hate Reading” (book retailer). Now, of course, none of these things are likely true, but the pop-up forces you to choose this ignoble path.

Now don’t get us wrong: we love a witty repartee just as much as anyone. But once you’ve seen this passive aggressive marketing tactic a few times, the joke begins to get a little stale.

And therein lies the danger: if you’re not one of the brands absolutely nailing the right tone, you’re simply following a trend that has the potential to annoy or even anger your audience.

Think of it like this: many people already find pop-ups that take over your entire screen to be burdensome; but now the pop-up is forcing them to say something that may not even be true. And if you’re using a basic pop-up that fires for everyone who visits your site, you might be badgering first-time visitors who aren’t familiar with your brand. What kind of first impression is that?

A good compromise might be to let your opt-in CTA have a little humor or edge to it, while the negative route offers a polite, neutral decline option like “No thanks.” That way, you can lighten the mood and test the waters with a little humor without putting your audience into a weird, passive aggressive corner.

As with any new tactic, it’s critical to consider your audience. If your brand routinely incorporates humor into your marketing and has a sarcastic, ironic tone, using these pop-up modals might be a huge hit for your audience. So make sure you do the important work of analyzing and considering your audience before implementing this tactic, just like you would any other.

Or don’t, or whatever…

BKI Hot Takes: Oatly’s Epic Marketing Fail

BKI Hot Takes: Oatly’s Epic Marketing Fail

Every brand dreams of a marketing strategy that is creative and functional enough to help drive demand for their product or service. But what happens when your strategy is so effective and demand becomes so high that you actually run out of the thing you’re marketing?

Newsflash: it’s not good. Just ask Oatly.

Established in Sweden in 1994, Oatly is food and beverage company that invented oat milk: an alternative dairy source developed from research on lactose intolerance and sustainable food systems. Despite its nearly 25-year existence, the company did not gain a lot of traction until a few years ago when a revamped marketing strategy helped put their brand on the map in Europe.

Oatly eventually made its way to the U.S. market in late 2016. Instead of introducing their oat milk on grocery shelves and promoting its tongue-in-cheek branding through traditional advertising, the company opted to utilize specialty coffee shops as oat milk ambassadors. These influential advocates would raise awareness of their product with the hopes that this targeted approach would slowly grow a faithful following.

It worked.

In just one year, Oatly spread from 10 locations in New York to more than 1,000 locations nationwide as demand for their oat milk boomed. In fact, “exploded” is probably a more appropriate word to describe their growth. This niche approach, timed perfectly with an insatiable demand for dairy alternatives, made its oat milk so popular that the company literally ran out.

Demand for the product became so high that the Oatly production team could not keep up. This past March, coffee shops across the country were without oat milk for upwards of a few weeks, leaving coffee shop owners and customers shaking their fists and earning the company a few headlines in the process.

Oatly responded to the shortage with an apology and a promise to ramp up its production. But despite their efforts to quickly resolve this issue, coffee shop owners and oat milk lovers alike were left pondering a valid and important question: How did this happen? And would it be an issue again?

Here’s the thing: Oatly had no idea of just how popular they were going to become. They knocked it out of the park when it came to their marketing tactic: introducing a high-quality product with little to no competition (oat milk) in an increasingly expanding field (alternative or non-dairy products) into a new market (United States) through a select and controlled medium (specialty coffee shops).

But they failed to ensure their supply chain was equipped to handle such a swift climb to the top. And a blunder like this can affect more than just a brand’s short-term revenue – it can have a lasting impact on their long-term reputation.

And while we haven’t seen it happen yet, miscalculations like this also open the door for a competitor to step in and deliver the service you had previously cornered the market on.

It may seem a bit obvious to consider, but the next time you’re developing a marketing plan to promote your product or service, don’t forget to stop and evaluate whether or not you have the capability to deliver on your promise. Once damaged, brand reputation can be a difficult thing to revive. And in today’s world where most markets are overflowing with high-quality brands, you want to be sure yours stands out for the first-class commodities that you offer – not because of your shortcomings.

BKI Hot Takes: When Brands Respond to Natural Disasters

BKI Hot Takes: When Brands Respond to Natural Disasters

As the Carolinas begin to recover from the devastation Hurricane Florence left behind, people across the country are pitching in to help those affected, including many well-known brands. Airbnb, Anheuser-Bush and Lyft are just a few of the dozens of companies that have announced plans to participate in disaster relief efforts, despite not necessarily having direct ties to the communities affected.      

Charitable giving and other humanitarian efforts are nothing new from the likes of large corporations, celebrities and athletes—especially when disaster strikes. But when Hurricane Katrina wrought havoc on the Gulf Coast in 2005, more brands began to participate in relief efforts. Fast forward 13 years, and now 87% of global consumers believe companies of all sizes must play a role in natural disaster response.

What changed?

Simply put, the widespread response by brands to Hurricane Katrina—the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States in the last 90 years—redefined the ways in which people could lend a hand.

Before 2005, companies often responded to natural disasters by writing a check to agencies such as the Red Cross. When it became clear that the need on the Gulf Coast eclipsed what traditional monetary donations could provide, they found another way to help: through the donation of invaluable resources such as their services or employee volunteers.

Businesses like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot sent generators, food, water, flashlights and batteries into the areas hit. Ford provided vehicles for search and rescue. HCA, a large private hospital company, helped evacuate people on their privately-leased helicopters. The contributions of these much needed supplies and services along with numerous other selfless acts showed that large financial contributions are not the only way to have a positive impact.

This realization has set a precedent that is still implemented today. In fact, nine out of ten global citizens now think companies should leverage their unique assets to lend support to affected communities. This shift in expectations has greatly helped with recovery efforts because brands that many not have the same financial capacity as larger companies or direct community ties to an event are still finding ways to help.

Increased participation by companies and people alike sometimes means that brands don’t receive the same amount of public recognition or praise for their efforts that they once did. But at the end of the day, what or how much your brand contributed isn’t the recognition that matters—it’s the act of stepping up to help fellow citizens is what’s remembered the most.

Click here to help in the Hurricane Florence relief efforts.

BKI Hot Takes: Voice Activated Technology

BKI Hot Takes: Voice Activated Technology

If your first thought when hearing of Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home was, “How can my brand be a part of this?”, you’re not alone. Technology is expanding and improving at a rapid clip, and no one wants to be left behind.

Much like the adoption of social media or mobile phone apps, voice-activated technology (VAT) is producing three tiers of responses: Full-on early adoption, cautious toe-dipping or skeptical reticence.

But like any new technology, the most successful brands will employ a healthy mix of all three approaches.

And as the Managing Director of Mindshare America puts it, you can’t be “sidetracked by the short-term wins that come with [VAT] custom skills and light-touch activations. They’re an important step, but not the end game.”

So why exactly are brands and marketers so excited about VAT? There are three main avenues by which it’s breaking new ground, each with their own set of rewards and challenges.

SHOPPING

As reported by iHeartRadio, 38% of all US Amazon Echo owners made a purchase with their smart speaker within the last 30 days.

Think about how many walls that process removes between a consumer and their purchase. Unlike traditional e-commerce, there are no product pages to wade through; there are no carts to fill or abandon; there are no checkout screens that require lengthy input forms.

Using the most natural form of communication we have—our voice—you can re-up on popcorn and rent tonight’s movie in only a few seconds.

Of course, this presents a challenge for brands in a crowded space: How do you remember to specify Charmin when most of us will simply say, “I need to buy some toilet paper”? To grapple with that confusion, brands will need to begin carving out “audio niches” for themselves in a similar way that logos create distinction in a visual space.

Like any new technology, the most successful brands will employ a healthy mix of early adoption, cautious toe-dipping and skeptical reticence.

This is also an opportunity for brands to partner with the technology makers directly at an early stage, wherein Toll House might be able to position itself as the default “cookie” order when using Google Home.

The playing field is still relatively sparse in many of these scenarios, so brands have the opportunity to act quickly and own those spaces (much like the most agile companies were able to dominate the App Store listings early on).

The challenge here is that most brands are not Toll House and are unable to lean on marketing budgets provided by their parent company Nestlé. However, we’ve noticed opportunities sprouting at the local level, too, that allow companies to incorporate themselves into the VAT space.

ADVERTISING

Our Integrated Media Director, Lesley Thompson, was recently pitched the ability to sponsor select “skills” (the VAT equivalent of an app) within local markets through one of our media partners. Using these spots, a local deli could append itself and a brief marketing message to a user’s “Flash Briefing” (a morning news run-down), much in the same way they might with a local radio spot.

The difference here, though, is that your message isn’t limited to the “every hour on the hour” timing that constricts a radio spot—potential customers would literally hear your message whenever it was most convenient for them to check the news of the day.

Another tremendous benefit to VAT advertising is the diversity of placement: because the technology integrates to our homes, our cars and our phones, those branded spots will likely have high reach potential. And as the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow, incorporating our thermostats, refrigerators and doorbells, so does advertising placement opportunity.

SEARCH MARKETING

According to Google, nearly 20% of all searches are voice-activated. So while SEO pros and amateurs alike are working diligently to keep their content optimized for written keywords and phrases, nearly one quarter of all results are returned through voice commands.

Digital assistants like Google Home or Apple’s Siri are becoming more integrated into our everyday routines, which means that Google’s 20% metric is only going to rise. Marketers will have to begin optimizing content based on the way we speak-rather than how we type.

Machine-learning and AI will help push this technology forward, improving the landscape to where they will understand not only “what is said but the way it is said,” according to Voices.com VP Kirby. “Tonal inflection and all the other characteristics that add meaning to the spoken word will become part of the process of comprehension.”

Voice Activated Technology stats

So how have SEO experts already started grappling with this changing landscape? By understanding certain key aspects of voice search, such as the fact that it more often than not occurs on a mobile device and is location-specific (“Where can I get tacos around here?”).

They’ll also begin integrating the notion of conversational keywords that mimic the way we talk to one another. For example, Search Engine Land describes the difference between typing “Best digital camera” into Google and asking, “Alexa, where can I get the best camera for Facebook streaming?”

We love geeking out about the latest technologies and innovations. Want to chat about how we can leverage them to help your business?

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