Marketing expert Leah Thiel shares advice on creating a brand that stands out on the shelf
By Jean Ko Din
Marketing cannabis products in this young Canadian industry can be a regulation minefield. But marketing expert, Leah Thiel, says a strong product will always stand out from the crowd.
Thiel has earned more than 20 years of experience in marketing major Canadian brands, such as Hudson’s Bay Company, Sears Canada and Holt Renfrew. She joined the cannabis industry as director of retail marketing at Tweed and Canopy Growth Corp. from 2018 to 2020.
Thiel is now vice-president of marketing at Indiva Ltd., a London, Ont.-based cannabis producer of edibles and other cannabis products. The company recently launched the first three flavours of Wana Sour Gummies to the Ontario market.
Grow Opportunity talks to Thiel about what it takes to bring a popular U.S. product to the Canadian market and shared some of her expertise in bringing a brand story to life.
Grow Opportunity: Because we are a cultivation magazine, I’m interested to know what you think is the role that growers can play in a company’s brand strategy?
Leah Thiel: What I love right now is this beautiful craft movement that’s happening. Not unlike what happened in beer, there’s a really nice craft movement happening in cannabis. And we are a part of that, in that we’ve got a brand called Artisan Batch.
We bring small, craft batches of cannabis to the market but we give the credit to the grower, the micro growers. So bringing their products and their name to a national stage is really fun. It’s also really authentic. And and they can piggyback off of our experience and our license to work together. I just think it’s a great path forward to normalization.
GO: As a marketer, what do you wish growers knew about telling the story of their product?
LT: Most micro-growers are pretty passionate about what they do but it does take some coaxing. I often get on the phone to talk to them about their grow. Some micro-growers are hesitant about sharing their growing methods, their secret sauce if you will.
But the truth is, if you can grow really good cannabis, you’re already in a premium league. There’s some stuff out there that’s not so great. You can have the brightest, shiniest facility and not be able to grow great cannabis. So, it’s an art and a science at the same time.
Telling the mico-growers story is part of what makes them and their cannabis so special. By telling consumers that you grow it in a certain soil medium isn’t going to rob them of their ability to have a premium product. In fact, it helps them stand out from everybody else.
GO: When preparing the launch of Wana gummies in the Canadian market, how do you make your brand stand out and create that customer loyalty that every company is vying for?
LT: With effective marketing that comes from a few different directions. One of the biggest opportunities happens in stores. I would put budtender education at the top of my list, quite frankly, because budtenders are our best partner in explaining the products and becoming loyalists themselves. Once the consumers are already in the store, they’re already on their purchase journey. Capturing their attention in the store in a powerful way and educating consumers helps them make their purchase decision.
GO: What is the difference that you notice when bringing a U.S. product, like Wana gummies, to the Canadian market?
LT: I would say the Canadian market is is playing catch up to the U.S. The Wana brand in the U.S. has been around for 10 years. And it started in Colorado, it’s a female-developed and led company, and they have perfected the product. They really understand their consumer and the consumer has had 10 years to understand this product as well and incorporate it into their life.
The U.S. also has very different regulations than we have here and so, they can do heavier marketing and make heavier claims. In the U.S., it is very much a wellness and lifestyle brand – two things that we can’t talk about here in Canada. We cannot promote it as part of your lifestyle and as part of your daily wellness. It’s the exact same product, it can do that for you here, too. But we just can’t, we can’t position it in that way.
GO: What are the biggest regulations challenges you face as a marketer?
LT: Specifically with launching Wana Quick, it was very challenging because this is a fast-acting gummy. And it’s very difficult to say fast-acting without having studies and science behind it to prove it because Health Canada is very strict on the on the language. So how do you say fast-acting to a consumer without saying fast-acting?
That’s a huge challenge, because we have a responsibility to tell consumers this is a different experience. It’s not the same as the other edibles. It would be a disservice to someone to not tell them that this is going to kick in five to 15 minutes, versus an hour for other products.
There are regulations that we need to observe and lines that we have to tread. Wana Sour Gummies are absolutely vegan, gluten-free, and low in calories. These are all things that are true about the product, yet those are viewed as health claims. In the end, we need to tread lightly yet still craft our story and sell our product.
GO: It must be such a different problem-solving challenge going into the cannabis industry when you’ve worked with so many other brands in other sectors.
LT: Yeah, absolutely. I joke that when you first start in the cannabis industry, you come in with so much joy and excitement. You are joining this new frontier, and you’re making history, and it’s so exciting, and it’s intoxicating. And then you find out, there are a lot of “can’ts”. It crushes your dreams a little bit but then you find the opportunities and the ways to do it.
I think that takes a special kind of love for the business, and a hope for the future that things are going to lighten up a little bit in terms of regulations and restrictions. And that you’re still on a path of taking this this plant and bringing it to more and more Canadians. More and more people are jumping on the bandwagon all the time. We are doing so much to still trailblaze and normalize cannabis which I think is fantastic. It’s just one step at a time.