The Cannabis Consumer: 5 Demographics and How To Brand For Them

by Libby Cooper on 12/07/2020 | 6 Minute Read

If you love getting stoned, it's a great time to be alive.

Just walk into any cannabis dispensary and feast your eyes on the astounding assortment of consciousness-altering bud, pre-rolls, edibles, and more. This explosion of choice has been astonishing for consumers, but it's also made it harder for brands to stand out, establish trust, and tell their stories. 

That is a problem that my co-founder Scott Sundvor and I tackled early on in the life of our company, Space Coyote. We knew that the quality of our joints would stand up to anything else out there, but to succeed in a market in which mediocre products were giving pre-rolls a bad name, we needed a brand that spoke honestly to our consumers.

That process started with a deep understanding of precisely who we were speaking to. And right now, there are five critical demographics that cannabis brands need to know about—each of which demands a different approach to branding and design.

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The Stoner

Stoners, or as I like to call them, heritage market consumers, are people like myself who have been getting high since long before it was, well, legal. For some of them, their love affair with herb goes back decades. 

If there's one thing that unites stoners, it’s a deep love of getting really baked. That makes them very conscious of the price-to-THC ratio of the products they buy.

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Editorial photograph

However, it's not enough to provide stoners with products that will just get them blazed. Brands can celebrate getting stoned. For Space Coyote, this comes through in our psychedelic aesthetic and playful stoner language. We know how joyful the lifestyle is, and we communicate that through our design and photography. What’s better than seeing people have fun, just the way you do when you get stoned? Everything we put into the world of Space Coyote has a sense of humor, making it clear that we don't take ourselves too seriously.

 The goal isn't to sanitize smoking weed-you have to depict it honestly and positively. Any stoner can look at our brand and know exactly where we're coming from.

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The Connoisseur

I like to think of this group as the wine aficionados of the cannabis world. They like getting stoned, sure, but they also consider themselves tastemakers. Connoisseurs know the latest trends in extraction and the hottest strains of flower; they live and breathe the expert side of weed.

This group also pays attention to what stoners are buying and talking about. On the side of seed sales, Humboldt Seed Co has nailed this demographic with an artisanal, handcrafted vibe that exudes from their branding. Papa's Select Living Extracts has also impressed the market with its authoritative presence.

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But it's also essential that the brands specifically targeting connoisseurs speak to the consumer's love of exclusivity, and don't be afraid to include high-level details about how and where your bud is grown right on the packaging. Limited runs and small drops are another great way to capture the connoisseur's interest, as is a higher price point. They value quality, and they're willing to pay for it. 

These consumers are also allergic to anything that seems like traditional marketing. They want to feel like they discovered your brand for themselves. So be careful about promotions involving influencer or celebrity endorsements. If a high profile stoner hypes your product on their podcast, great! But if the press you're getting looks like the result of a business transaction, then it won't earn you much love from connoisseurs, and it might even turn them away.

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The Social Smoker

As the name implies, the social smoker sees cannabis mainly as a treat to enjoy with friends. They're usually in the market for something easy to consume and easy to share, like a pack of pre-rolled joints. And keep this in mind: they are 100% not an expert.

Brands targeting this group need an approach to design and packaging that portrays their product as fun, inviting, and, yes, normal — the weed equivalent of the Gap. One brand that does an exceptional job of this is Flow Kana with its conventional and approachable look. Since getting stoned is more of a special occasion for this group, a mid-level price product is usually the sweet spot. That's good news because a brand aimed at social smokers isn't going to do as much volume as one vying for connoisseurs or stoners that smoke daily as opposed to weekly or biweekly.

Social smokers are also likely to walk into a dispensary looking not for a specific brand but a category, such as a pack of pre-rolls or mini pre-rolls. That means that staff recommendations will play a mighty big role in their purchasing decisions. So training sessions and promotional events that raise brand awareness among budtenders — and give them a non-intimidating vocabulary for talking about your product — can go a long way.

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Editorial photograph

The Curious

There is a vast market of potential cannabis consumers who are just now dipping their toes in the water. As with social smokers, fun, playful, and reassuring packaging is an absolute must for this group. Many of these newcomers won't feel comfortable smoking or even vaping, so edibles are a pleasant, non-threatening way for them to take the plunge. I’ve seen edible brands like Kiva’s Petra mints and Kikoko stand up to this challenge well by converting curiosity into cannabis evangelism.

The biggest challenge will be getting curious consumers to set foot in a dispensary in the first place. Brands can help this process along by making sure that any public-facing images work to normalize the cannabis experience and depict it as approachable and safe.

Staying away from stereotypes is also essential. Clichés still affect how many Americans think about weed, but the fact is, cannabis is something that people from all walks of life enjoy, no matter their race, gender, or belief systems. The more we can do to show cannabis experiences in an inclusive, welcoming light, the easier it will be to get curious consumers off the fence.

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The Unconverted

Public opinion about cannabis has changed drastically over the last decade. But there is still a significant group of adults who view these products with suspicion. That might not seem like a demographic that today's brands should care about, but it is — especially when it comes to decisions about the way they present themselves to the world. 

Brands can do a lot of good by emphasizing the positive, human stories behind their products. Space Coyote wouldn't exist today had Scott and I not discovered weed as a way to manage our respective autoimmune diseases. Similarly, showing how cannabis is helping epileptic children or cancer patients live fuller, less painful, and healthier lives can be enormously powerful. Stories like these will change the conversation on cannabis in ways that, over time, can even reach the unconverted among us.

No brand will be right for all of these groups, of course. Space Coyote started as a brand for stoners like Scott and myself, and we remain true to that identity today. We once strayed from the stoner-connoisseur identity and tried to appeal to an entirely different kind of smoker by developing High CBD joints with a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD aimed at a more curious consumer. 

The results were pretty underwhelming. That was an important lesson, and we decided to discontinue producing that SKU. In a crowded market, brands that embrace the amazing diversity of cannabis consumers and serve the unique needs and tastes of a specific kind of customer will be the ones that succeed. The brands that try to be all things to all people will end up disappointing everyone. Stick to what you are good at, be the best in a small track, and you will reap the rewards.

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