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…

3 Ways to Maximize Your Holiday Marketing Efforts

3 Ways to Maximize Your Holiday Marketing Efforts

Trying to capture some of that holiday spending for your business? Or maybe you’re concerned about cutting through the extra clutter? There are many factors—both good and bad—to contend with when marketing during the winter holidays. Here are three things to consider as you get started.

1. Embrace the Uptick in Radio & Streaming

Audience action for some media outlets increases during the holidays. This is good news especially for B2C marketing. One example is radio & digital audio streaming. A great many listeners who might otherwise be tuning in to a bunch of disparate stations or just listening to their own playlists all start to gather ‘round the fire of holiday music. If your market has a holiday music station (e.g. 99.5 WMAG in the Triad), November and December may be the best time to buy as you can maximize your reach in a small period of time.

By the same token, many listeners of digital audio like Pandora or Spotify are more likely to be streaming during this period, too. And the best part is, your message doesn’t have to be holiday-themed — it just has to be good and relevant.

2. Find Your “Red Umbrella”

Standing out in a crowd can be tough. As inboxes become increasingly inundated during the holidays, even niche B2B marketers may find it challenging to reach their audience. Emails seem to hit an all-time high in frequency, so how can you make sure yours is seen?

Timing is one element you can control: test and measure throughout the year to learn when your audience is most likely to open and engage. You can also try to focus in on the quieter periods when they aren’t being bombarded, giving your email a better chance of standing out.

To that end as well, you need a captivating, relevant subject line. Whether it’s the offer of a discount or the answer to a burning question you know comes up at this time of year, make it clear what you’re offering (without making it spammy). And if you segment your email list, it should be even easier to keep your subject line and offer super relevant.

3. Create Your Own Reason for the Season

Car companies have done it: car sales increase dramatically during the end of the year because car companies have created the belief over time (whether it’s true or not) that the holidays are the best time to buy. You, too, can create your own buying season within your B2B or B2C market.

If you have a great offer and market the heck out of it, you can secure your audience’s attention when you want it. So instead of trying to elbow your way through the holiday marketing crowds, find a time of year that works best for your audience — you know them best. When do they have the time, interest and budget to talk? What offer will propel them one step further toward becoming a customer or increasing their current business with you?

On the flip side, this tactic can sometimes train your customers to wait for a sale before buying anything. If that works for your sales cycle and bottom line, no fear. But consider carefully before you proceed.

So as you’re gearing up for the holidays, consider these three ways you can make the most out of a busy, noisy marketing season. With the right tactics and patience, you’ll find a campaign that works for you and your audience.

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.

4 Reasons to Rethink Your Trade Show Approach

4 Reasons to Rethink Your Trade Show Approach

In today’s digitally-focused world, it may seem like there’s less value in a trade show than there used to be. Why should you spend precious resources on something that just doesn’t seem to hold a candle to your digital marketing efforts? If you’re no longer seeing the ROI on trade shows, it might be time to rethink your approach and strategy for these events. Let’s look at 4 reasons to attend trade shows and why they can still be a valuable marketing tactic.  

1. Network, Network, Network

Everyone knows that networking is a necessity when it comes to growing your career or business. And while LinkedIn has changed the way we network, nothing beats an in-person connection. Getting in front of potential customers in a face-to-face meeting gives them a chance to connect with your brand and ask questions in real time. As product and service offerings for consumers and B2B companies continue to grow at a furious clip, having that personal connection is more important than ever.

Trade shows also offer the opportunity to see what your competition is up to. By talking to other retailers when you attend a trade show, you might just be able to find someone who has the inside scoop on what’s going on in the industry. It’s also a great chance to see what innovations are coming down the pike—as well as what gaps in service or product might exist where your brand can fill a need.

2. Plan for the Future

No budget for a booth? No problem! Speeches, seminars, conversations and “walking the floor” are all opportunities to plan for your company’s future. Doing so gives you a chance to see who’s there, what they’re doing, how potential buyers are reacting to them and how many people actually attended the show in general. You can use this as an opportunity to start planning for next year so you’ll know if it’s actually worth spending money on exhibiting or sponsorships.

You can also see if there’s an opportunity for you to speak at the show. If you can dazzle the crowd with your ideas and insights, you’re subtly promoting your brand and boosting your credibility as an expert in the industry. Bonus points (and increased attendance) if your course gives continuing education (CEU) credits. It’s also a chance for you to educate yourself on your industry by learning from and interacting with other thought leaders.

3. Generate More Targeted Leads

In addition to all the networking and educational opportunities, trade shows are a hotbed for generating new leads. Virtually anybody who attends one is looking to learn more about companies like yours and the services and products you offer. So whether you’re simply exchanging business cards or using a digital device to sign people up to your mailing list, a trade show can deliver targeted leads for your sales and marketing teams.

In addition to generating leads, your trade show can bolster other important brand metrics, too. With the right efforts, you can increase traffic to your website, grow your social media presence and build your email database. These “softer” leads will certainly take time to groom and turn into customers, but they have the added value of both a more personal connection and the knowledge that they came from a niche, targeted source.

4. Debut a New Product

For many companies, a trade show is the ideal place to showcase a brand-new product or initiative. Particularly for brands in the B2B world, there are few opportunities quite like a trade show to generate hype and excitement around a new launch. Many companies in this space don’t have the benefit of being able to sell directly online or in physical stores where their customers can interact with products in person. A trade show gives you that space to really make a big impact—but you need a well-designed, captivating booth to do that (that’s a blog post for another day).

Even if you’ve got a forthcoming product that’s not quite ready for the limelight, you can use a trade show to quietly field test what you’ve got. From having real customers interact with the product to receiving valuable insights from the folks who will use it, a trade show can be a fertile testing ground for your R&D team.

Final Thoughts

Although there are many good reasons to exhibit at a trade show, they are not all created equal.  It’s important that you do your homework before committing to any trade show. Compare the conferences and trade shows in your industry and ask yourself some important questions:

  • How much attendance does this trade show typically attract?
  • What’s the breakdown by job title and function?
  • What kinds of exhibit or speaking opportunities are available?
  • How much time do attendees actually spend in the exhibition hall versus in conference sessions?

If you can, try to attend a trade show without exhibiting before you make plans to build out a full booth. If it doesn’t seem like you’re going to get a good bang for your buck, make another plan. And of course, you can always ask us to be your second opinion.

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