Minutes after the plane touched down in Miami last week for the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference the rain picked up again - and it didn’t stop until after the conference ended. But considering how things have been going for the cannabis industry over the past year or so, maybe the sweeping rains and palm trees bent over by the wind were an apt metaphor.
The conference returned to Miami last week to bring together plant-touching and ancillary entrepreneurs, investors, executives, start-ups, and strivers. All of them from an industry that has been roiled by oversupply, price compression, regulation, and the difficulties that come with running a business that is still illegal under federal law.
The panels held in the conference rooms at the Fontainebleau Hotel touched on several of the bigger issues in legal cannabis today: price compression, funding and legal hurdles, marijuana legalization, inclusivity and social equity, innovation, and the importance of actionable data, among others.
Here are three key takeaways from two stormy days on Miami Beach:
Companies are focused on how to differentiate themselves and their products
In today’s legal cannabis market (and in the illicit market), having high-quality cannabis is the norm. But when consumers are faced with so many readily-available, premium products, how can companies stand out on the dispensary shelf?
Cannabis executives and experts debated whether the best approach is to stand out by focusing on the quality of your cannabis flower and products or trying to beat the competition with better prices.
And while price compression was spoken of as one of the main enemies of the industry, Pablo Zuanic of Zuanic and Associates said it is to be expected in a competitive marketplace like legal cannabis.
At the "Cannabis and the Future of Retail" panel on the first day of the conference, moderator Debra Borchardt of Green Market Report listed key takeaways on what retail cannabis brands must do: "Brand loyalty programs, use data to make a difference, find ways to differentiate your store, and really address that loyal customer."
Attendees spoke about the importance of innovation in developing new, marketable delivery methods and products, as well as unique consumer experiences, and ways to market them despite the restrictions on cannabis advertising.
Overall, the discussions seemed to take a holistic approach to how to stand out from the crowd and gave the impression that there is no silver bullet or quick fix for cannabis companies that are looking to build a lasting brand.
Actionable Data is Crucial for Cannabis
"I think you need to learn how to look at data and figure out when something just isn’t working."
Rungta was by no means the only cannabis professional to talk about data.
In panel after panel, actionable data was held up as one of the central ways that cannabis companies can find out what works, what doesn’t, and where they should focus their efforts. And the ability to collect data from cannabis customers and suppliers was described as a key feature of several cannabis companies’ offerings.
The discussion seemed to focus on organizing and using actionable data for guidance, without letting data completely take over your operations.
The evolving role of data makes sense for an industry that is still relatively new. Before legalization, cannabis operators couldn’t use large amounts of digitally-harvested data. They worked on word of mouth, experience, and an understanding of their consumers. But as the industry matures, it is clear that companies are looking for ways to collect and harness data to develop key performance indicators and an understanding of how and where to focus their operations.
The importance of education in cannabis
Education. Education. Education.
The panel discussions and those held on the brand's showcase floor made it clear that cannabis education - both for consumers and industry professionals - is of great importance to the industry.
Education was described as key to a wide variety of industry goals.
Speakers discussed how a greater understanding of cannabis and its benefits as a medicine can help counter the negative stigma that surrounds the plant even in the era of legalization. They discussed how it can create more informed consumers and counter the over-emphasis on THC percentage in cannabis flower and cannabis products.
Education was also described as a way to help create a more informed consumer base that feels at home in the dispensary - and fully comfortable describing what they want and what works for them.
As Aaron Miles of Verano Holdings stated during a panel on nurturing growth in cannabis “people need to understand the product but people don't." He added, “you almost can't get too sophisticated before the market understands what cannabis is about.”
In an earlier panel on cannabis buyer personas Gina Collins from Trulieve said that education is key to countering the intimidation and uncertainty many consumers feel on the dispensary floor.
“I think there’s intimidation of coming into a dispensary and having that conversation. They [consumers] feel this overwhelming desire to shop as they would in other retail environments and be an informed consumer. There's great potential there.”
But greater education was also described as benefiting cannabis retail workers who are looking for ways to better connect with consumers.
Or as Caroline Yeh of TSUMo Snacks said on the “How to Build Your Edibles Empire” panel, “maybe you can offer the consumer something that maybe they don't know what they want, but if it's new maybe they’ll want to try it out.”
On the same panel, Christine Smith of Grön described the cherry limeade drink her company made for the Midwest market as an example of how education can help cannabis companies better understand their customers and how to connect to them and their communities.
Determination as Strong as the Storm
Another clear takeaway was that the weather didn’t put too much of a damper on the conference. With attendees unable to hit the beach or the hotel pool, the panels and cannabis conference floor were humming at all hours of the day, and the feeling in the air was one of optimism, determination, and a passion for the cannabis industry.
But perhaps Elliot Lane, head of Benzinga Cannabis and Psychedelics said it best.
In a Linkedin post, Lane wrote “Cannabis has been through the ringer but those fighting for space in it are still passionate, focused, and driven and this was in obvious display in Miami this week.”