To stick in your customer’s head, you must first understand how they think.
Consumer targeting and segmentation are at the heart of good brand building & provide a focus for all marketing activities.
A key challenge across the cannabis industry right now is consumer insights and segmentation. The data is still being collected and the groups are broad and diverse. The latest identified opportunities — 55+ and females — are huge and far more nuanced than they are currently defined. As a brand owner, understanding your target consumer makes up one of the three* key areas that brand owners should keep a steady eye on; in no particular order:
- Maintaining a thorough understanding of the competition’s products, capabilities, and brand messaging. Who are they, what they do, where they sit in the market, and their strengths for the future.
- Constantly addressing the market need that you are solving and the product or service that you are selling.
- Maintaining a clear picture of who is your target customer based on actionable insights. What they do, how they behave, what influences them, and what else they buy.
An analysis of the current design and messaging thus far shows an industry that has mostly ignored the consumer opportunity and proceeded based on gut feel, or by addressing a consumer-type as an afterthought. Instead, consumer insights should be considered a precursor to any creative or innovation activity. Without a clearly defined and fully understood target audience, brands are making guess work of a key brand building metric that focuses creative to win the right eyes and the right hearts at crucial moments across the customer journey. Making the most of these consumer opportunities requires you to understand your consumer’s thoughts on the world around them.
Because current consumer intelligence is chunky and hazy, observing the broader consumer-packaged goods space can create some short cuts for brand owners which we will dive into later in this post. Identifying relevant categories and brands to study and borrow from can create deeper connections as cannabis brands address their existing consumers while appeal to the growing audience.
Take charge of your customer’s journey.
The industry is moving at such a pace that new competitors, new technologies, and new sciences can dramatically alter the competitive landscape overnight. Unless you have a particular focus on science or technology, changes to significant functions of the market can have you left out and without sense of direction.
People, however, rarely change as quickly. Consumer preferences and behaviors tend to operate on auto-pilot and only make dramatic shifts when triggered by an external provocation. Even so, behavior changes can take multiple business cycles before the opportunity matures and the supply is saturated.
As a brand owner it is your job to know your customer well enough to stay on top of their needs and deliver products and experiences that they can genuinely connect with. Being the first to bring to market the types of products that would otherwise compete for your target’s attention— then obsessing over and improving that connection. This level of focus will not only make it difficult for competitors to steal your customers, but will put your brand in the best position to discover and bring to market significant and meaningful innovations. A tighter focus provides better insights. Better insights result in stronger brands through improved products and messaging. This commitment to understanding your target customer becomes a cycle of encouraging loyalty and recruiting new customers who are able to quickly understand what your brand is all about and why that’s more relevant than your competition.
What a defined target audience looks like?
How do you know you have a clearly defined target? It comes down to classic demographics, a look into behaviors and lifestyle choices, hobbies and activities, and consumption patterns.
For the sake of internal alignment and tracking consumer changes, this information can be brought to life as a visual pen portrait or a table of information. On the more inspirational side, it can be a collection of images supported with a written bio. Diving deeper, it can become a series of actionable insights. Targets can also be defined through the lenses of attitude or occasion. These approaches pull together different demographics, but dive deep into the reasons people make different purchasing decisions.
One big watchout: By starting with data, it can be very easy to pile all the big opportunities into a version of a franken-person that does not actually exist. Always remember these are real people that you are talking about. Data should be used as a support for deciding on which are the best opportunities.
How to short-cut your consumer understanding.
There are some great cannabis brands coming to market, moving away from the inward-focus that has become a barrier as the category evolves. Leveraging dark-market cannabis codes or hanging on functional and format-based naming and design will continue to become an outdated standard. Bringing an outward-focus and a clear consumer in mind will be the difference in sustaining your brand into further uncertainty. These three themes should help guide that change which you can read more about in our report: Design for How People Shop.
Identify where your business is sourced.
No matter if your brand targets wellness or pleasure, there is a mature and well-defined category from which you are sourcing your customers. Discovering these categories, studying their dynamics, and reverse-engineering the consumer-types by decoding design and communications can reveal a treasure-trove of valuable insights. For instance, in the pleasure space, it is well known that consumers swap between alcohol and cannabis in their free-time. There are countless hooks to be discovered by looking at beer, wine, and spirits through the lens of consumers. And you’d be benefitted by speaking with experts who have built and managed brands in that space.
Borrow from parallel brands and categories.
In other cases, there is a category that is extremely similar in the way it opperates. That could be similar regulatory or communication challenges. Maybe its a category that also manages the many formats and benefits of cannabis. For instance, studying how tobacco brands have been managed around the world — facing many different regulatory jurisdictions — would reveal valuable learnings for a cannabis brand that has ambitious goals and wants to ensure they are positioned accordingly. Functional foods and over-the-counter medicines also face similar challenges in terms of managing the complexity of communicating multiple functional benefits across different formats while still building brand equity.
Dive into the nuances of occasion.
Every different consumption occasion will reveal opportunities to better understand your consumer for those who look closely. Whether it’s specific needs to optimize the occasion, or a mood that your consumer is trying to create, laddering occasions into valuable insights can further your effort to optimize design and storytelling in meaningful ways.
A roadmap to success.
As a brand owner, in the thick of the quickly evolving cannabis space, it is your prerogative to obsess over the details and be fully consumed by the category. At the end of the day, however, consumers have much fuller and more diverse lives. Only a small percentage of potential customers live and breath cannabis (though they are currently the dominant segment). The emergence of hugely diverse groups, from females to those over 55, are just the start of further consumer segmentation and opportunities for future-focused brand owners. Products and competitors change quickly, so developing a strong understanding of broader consumer lifestyles and behaviors is key to building a brand for the future. Looking inwards and backwards will have you stuck in the weeds. Studying and taking learnings from across the consumer-packaged goods space can have a significant impact in building deeper connections and appealing to new consumers.
*Regulations are also an obvious factor in times of change. Given the nature of state-by-state and country-by-country jurisdictions, the transparent and transitionary nature of governmental change, and the blanketing effect across all businesses, regulations tend not to be a day-to-day factor for brand building as these other topics.