Elise McRoberts knows a thing or two about what makes a brand tic:
In the emerging cannabis market, strong branding is crucial to standing out from the crowd. A cohesive and compelling brand story and marketing strategy can make or break companies in this space as the quest for consumer loyalty continue to ramp up.
Elise McRoberts knows a thing or two about what makes a brand tic. The founder of Hashinista, a full-spectrum marketing and communications agency, Elise is a leading resource for companies looking to make their mark on the culture. With over a decade of marketing and event expertise, several successful brand launches under her belt, and multiple years spent as both High Times Cannabis Cup and Emerald Cup judge, the former Doc Green’s CMO is a cannabis multi-threat.
In this Cannabis Community College Q&A, Elise shares her unique cannabis industry journey, her predictions for where the market is heading, and her advice for newcomers entering the space.
How did you get into the cannabis space?
Believe it or not, my entry point was being invited to be a Cannabis Cup Judge for High Times Magazine in Amsterdam in 2012. I had met the managing editor of the mag- shoutout Jen Bernstein(!) in NYC to catch a ride to The Moe Down Festival in upstate New York a few months before the Cup. I was working in the music industry at the time.
Jen and I instantly bonded over our love of weed and she was impressed with my knowledge and pallet. I was still living in Chicago with access to packs of that Emerald Triangle fire, so I was smoking the very best, experimenting with all the edibles, and was already a weed snob, which qualified me to be a judge.
Going to the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam BLEW MY MIND. It was the first time I had ever seen a cannabis event, really a cannabis community! At that moment I knew these were my people and I wanted to be IN the cannabis world. I moved to California a few months later, got my medical card immediately, and continued to judge Cups for High Times from 2013 onward.
I was building knowledge and relationships in cannabis for years before I decided to go all in the space. After Prop 64 passed in 2016, there were a lot of new opportunities in California and my music industry career felt stagnant. I was determined to make it in the music biz (as a marketer, ultimately manager) and did secure some dream gigs. I worked for JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, Art for Amnesty, Mickey Hart, Tribal Planet, and nugs.net on the Dead & Company tour (a big deal to a Deadhead like me!); but still, I never felt truly valued, empowered or supported in the entertainment industry.
I decided to shift all my energy to cannabis and prayed for an opportunity where I could lead and exercise my full skill set. Not long after that, my prayers were answered when I met two legacy operators who had just received their licenses for their SF grow and delivery service. I got the job to be their CMO and helped them launch Kind Courier.
You have seen a lot of brands come and go in this space. Industry issues aside, what does it take for a brand to last?
Consistent quality products, stellar customer service, authentic branding, innovative marketing, a rockstar team of talent, and most important: a strong vision, and the ability to pivot when everything falls apart. Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t go big, be conservative with funds and resources and be strategic; know your target market as well as your own product.
Win over real fans who will evangelize your brand. Treat your team, partners, and customers with the utmost respect, give back to your community and support compassion and prison release programs. A brand can be great, but if it’s not giving back to the movement, that won’t cut it. Cannabis consumers care.
What are some of the common branding mistakes new companies make?
Spending more on marketing and branding than product quality, trying to be something they’re not, undervaluing talent, not listening to their consumer, trying to follow market trends instead of blazing an authentic path, thinking that good weed sells itself or thinking a product is fire when it’s not.
I think most new companies have no idea just how competitive it is and how hard it is to get on a shelf. You have to use every tool in the arsenal to get out there and then try to stay ahead of the game. However, don’t view your fellow entrepreneurs and brands as competitors–see them as your community and find ways to work together.
Uplift and work with others in your category and the good vibes will come back. COLLABORATE!!! Fans loooove a great collaboration between “competing” and complementary brands and it’s always a better story than a solo mission.
Where do you see the market heading over the next five years?
Unfortunately, I see a lot of consolidation happening and more brands disappearing, but with the consistent flow of new startups continuing to enter the market—like Hashinista (stay tuned in 2023!). If we see change at the federal level, anything can happen depending on how cannabis is scheduled. I see leading craft/small/non-MSO brands continuing to expand and pop up in new states with licensing deals.
I’d LOVE to see MSO’s put their money into making their mids better by working with and empowering craft, equity, and legacy operators. I expect more beverages, health-conscious and niche products, along with more celebrity brands. I hope we see the end of using terms like “Indica” and “Sativa” to define a product effect; and maybe, just maaaybe people will care more about terpenes than THC in five years.
What advice do you have for newcomers to the industry?
Become an expert on the plant and an activist first. Know the plant and history of the movement as best as possible, along with the current state of the industry before even looking for a job. Attend city council and/or nonprofit meetings and community gatherings where cannabis is being discussed to meet people and get involved. Find your local NORML, SSDP, NCIA, Grower’s Association, or similar activism group’s chapter and volunteer.
Connect with people who you respect and admire and who are doing the things you want to be doing. Get a mentor and never be afraid to reach out to anyone to just ask for help and guidance. My DM’s are always open to women, minorities, BIPOC, equity, and legacy individuals who have questions. Hit me up for free advice. I love to help and give back.