From Contraband To Desired Brand

Chris WrenJune 15, 20175283 min

An industry with a projected worth of $50 billion by 2026, cannabis is poised to make huge gains in the lifestyle, health and wellness industries. Marijuana has fought hard to overcome stereotypes such as the stoner stigma made famous by Cheech and Chong. Yet as more states in the US legalize marijuana, and other countries continue to at least decriminalize it, cannabis is attracting interest among investors and industries alike. Noted trends forecaster, Gerald Celente of the Trends Institute, has been talking about this for years, going so far as to name it a top 10 trend for 2017. He cites opportunities aplenty that extend far beyond the traditional notions of the backstreet Amsterdam coffee house or dispensary. At this year’s SXSW, a panel of pioneering women in the cannabis industry shared an all-up view of the opportunities available especially for women and the 50-plus market.

Perception-Shifting Case

One of the more interesting factors in marijuana’s pivot to create highly-desired brands has been the influence of the tech industry. In April of 2015, Founders Fund, a venture capital firm co-founded by investor Peter Theil, made a multi-million dollar investment in Privateer Holdings, a Seattle company that manages several marijuana businesses. Among Privateer’s company is Leafy, a site that manages news and reviews, and Tilray, which researches and cultivates crops in Canada, and the Bob Marley official cannabis brand which includes the “rise up” social initiative and a line of body care products.

Brendan Kennedy, one of Privateer’s founders said in a NY Times interview, “After looking into the industry, we quickly realized that this is no longer, and hasn’t been for years, a countercultural product.” There was opportunity, he added, because “the brands that were out there tended to embrace the clichés of the industry.”

Another cliché that is being broken, according to Rustigian Burderer, founder of cannabis start-up Simplegentix, is the customer experience. By creating tastefully curated dispensaries that look more like polished, high-end retail stores, it’s easy to reach more customers. Campaign describes a San Francisco store, called Harvest, where consumers are welcomed into a modern retail environment that doesn’t scream marijuana. Instead, wooden shelves showcase products while posters describe its medical benefits. She says, “It’s indicative of how the industry is becoming more accepting. From the stoner, it’s developed into a sophisticated, elegant light.”

Evolving Opportunity

JWT Intelligence asks, “Can cannabis be the next beauty super ingredient?” SXSW panel speaker Emily Paxhia says, “I’m seeing more branded lifestyle products that address the different need states around cannabis, and it’s not about getting as high as humanly possible.” She points to Whoopi Goldberg’s Whoopi and Maya line of medical cannabis products that work to ease menstrual cramps, and are branded to look more like “high-end products you might come across in a department store.”

Beauty and wellness is a massively growing segment. In the last year and a half, executives from L’Oreal and Aveda have expressed interest in implementing cannabis in products. Some brands are infusing beauty products with cannabidiol (CBD), which is a non-psychoactive substance derived from plant. Since it lacks THC, the products can be classified as ‘legal hemp’ versus cannabis. This may contribute to even broader appeal, further destroying the old, outdated stigma.

The Trend Is Your Friend

In the age of disruption, very little is permanent. Some taboos, such as those surrounding cannabis, are eroding in the face of the growing body of science about its benefits. Other taboos as well – gender norms, womanhood, the definition of ‘a beautiful body’ — are meeting similar challenges in the marketplace of ideas. Brands that are stuck due to stigma can take a lesson from what is happening with the cannabis industry. By understanding the forces at work behind the all-up perception-shifting case, and working to implement fundamental changes based on those insights, it’s possible to leverage a trend to affect dramatic outcomes. Even better still, the beauty and wellness industry is removing the controversial aspects of the cannabis taboo (THC) and double-trend-dipping in both ingredient and lifestyle.

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