By Jim Davis

Back in 2018 Canada legalized the sale and consumption of recreational cannabis: the only G20 nation so far to do so. In 2019 the laws around cannabis expanded further with cannabis derivatives like edibles, drinks, topical creams and vapes becoming legal.

There is an opportunity for companies to build their businesses by attracting existing users and the cannabis-curious to these new types of products. The challenge for marketers is to find the appropriate audiences and learn more about them so they will become your customers.

Our new report, Blazing a trail: the future of cannabis marketing in Canada, will help you understand the big picture. Here are some of the key findings:

Know your audience
There are some broad demographic insights you need to be aware of that might not be obvious. For instance, there is a profound gender split in the uptake of cannabis use. Since legalization the number of men using cannabis has increased 18%, but the percentage of female interest in legal cannabis-related products was down 1.8%.

Age is also an interesting area to dissect. Unsurprisingly, younger consumers show the greatest interest in searching online for cannabis products, but older consumers are much more likely to buy cannabis legally. This suggests younger users are still purchasing from their illegal sources, even though the legal option is there.

As is always the case though, big picture demographics are only the start. We looked at data from more than 550,000 individual consumers visiting cannabis sites and identified three distinct audiences the cannabis marketer needs to consider.

Active users
Active users make up 34% of the total cannabis audience. They tend to be over 35 and have a moderate household income ($40,000 to $75,000/year). They’re also disproportionately likely to live in urban areas.

Active users have been consuming cannabis for a while and have a good idea of what they like. The way they search suggests an advanced understanding of the different forms and variants of cannabis. They’re generally interested in Sativa derivatives with higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the prime psychoactive cannabis component) content, though that doesn’t mean they’re closed to trying new products.

The Experimenters group has two subsets:
1. Existing consumers who love to experiment with different types of cannabis.
2. Consumers who are curious about cannabis and are exploring to find out what they like.

The existing consumer subset understands cannabis strains and levels and they continue to test out the different variants, such as Sativa, Indica and hybrid products (see box). The cannabis-curious consumers are fairly new to the space and are interested in finding out what products work for them.

Experimenters also tend to be a younger group than active users; 43% are between 18 and 34, and most are either still pursuing their education or employed in entry-level positions. Their spare time tends to be spent indoors doing things like watching TV or playing video games.

What Experimenters are searching for online suggests they don’t know exactly what they want, which is an excellent opportunity for marketers to produce educational content. The kind of content they’re looking for tends to concern the health implications and effects of the different kinds of cannabis. Additionally, hybrids and Indica derivatives are popular with Experimenters.

Researchers don’t use cannabis regularly, if at all. They like to keep up to date on new developments in the cannabis market. The content they look for tends to be news articles around legalization or journals about the health effects of cannabis. These consumers don’t weigh into any particular age group but tend to be female. They consume a lot of general news content and are interested in health and lifestyle content.

Reaching your potential customers
Understanding the different audiences is just the first step. Cannabis marketers need to develop strategies to reach potential customers while keeping in line with regulatory requirements.

The landscape is evolving rapidly, both in terms of the kinds of cannabis products available and the rules and regulations around selling and marketing cannabis. Perhaps more than other industries, you need to stay abreast of these changes to make sure you are aware of the opportunities and compliant with the rules and regulations. To help with that look at our Blazing a trail report; The Canadian Marketing Association’s CMA Cannabis Marketing Guide is also a great resource.

Jim Davis is head of cannabis industry, MiQ Canada.

A quick understanding of cannabis
Cannabis has three principal variants.
 Indicas are typically associated with full-body effects, such as increasing deep relaxation and reducing insomnia.
 Sativas are known to induce an invigorating, energizing effect that can help reduce anxiety or stress and increase creativity and focus.
 Hybrids are typically grown on farms or greenhouses from a combination of Sativa and Indica strains.

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