Hire Learning: How to Hire and Train a Marketing Pro for Your Cannabis Business

Hire Learning

New Frontier Data boasts a diverse workforce that can better understand cannabis users’ mindset, find new business

By Bart Schaneman

When hiring a marketing professional, keep in mind that person is responsible for showcasing your brand to consumers. So it’s imperative to look for someone who understands what your customers really want, whether you’re a cannabis grower, edibles manufacturer, retailer or another type of business.

In today’s increasingly competitive marijuana industry – with new companies and products proliferating daily – customers can find it tough to determine which companies and brands are credible. You want a marketer who can help you establish business bona fides that differentiate you from the competition.

A marketing professional can help guide the face of your business in several important ways.

“It’s not just about a logo or a slogan,” said Kate Wells, chief marketing officer at NanoSphere Health Sciences, a Denver biotech company that manufactures nano-sized infused medical cannabis products. “It’s how that brand lives throughout every aspect of that product. Customer service. Social media. Every touchpoint with the customer is your brand experience.”

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

A key characteristic for Wells is a candidate’s sense of aesthetics and understanding of your brand.

If a candidate doesn’t have a clear understanding of your company’s brand, or if their artistic sensibilities don’t match up with yours, you risk sending the wrong – or at least a mixed message – to consumers.

“Branding is such an essential part of marketing,” she said, referring to the practice of generating a name, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes your product or service.

During the vetting process, Wells determines if the candidate can take the company to the next level.

She’s trying to decide: “Will they be able to convey our story in a way that really elevates the sophistication of our brand?”

The new hire needs to understand the wants and needs of today’s marijuana consumer.

Wells and NanoSphere focus on providing fast-acting edibles to customers with an emphasis on the scientific and medical components of the company’s brand. She’s targeting consumers who are looking for a brand they can trust, and a marketing professional is crucial in establishing that sense of credibility.

“That is what is lacking in the marijuana industry – confirming your credibility – and that’s an important message,” Wells said. “We’re a biotech company, so everything we do has to have a sense of science, medicine and credibility.”

She also wants someone who can sense the power of your brand’s voice.

At Viridian Staffing, a Seattle recruiting and human resources consulting agency for cannabis businesses, co-founder and Chief Talent Officer Kara Bradford suggests plotting out what you want to achieve with your marketing department.

That might be greater recognition for your brand or marketing that targets a particular demographic, be it women, social media-savvy millennials or health-conscious consumers. Then look for someone who can work strategically to help you reach your goals.

You might look for someone with great experience in social media, for example, “since we’re limited in our ability to drive advertising programs through retail and with producers and processors.”

As for good personality types, Bradford has seen successful marketing professionals with a wide range of characteristics.

“I don’t think there’s any one type of personality for marketing in general,” she said. “Someone who’s a little bit more extroverted, creative, might go to the advertising side of marketing, whereas someone who’s really analytical, maybe not as outgoing, would skew toward research or a product marketing manager.”

Experience in or near the industry is desirable for Harris Damashek, the chief marketing officer of New York-based Acreage Holdings, which operates recreational and medical cannabis businesses in several states, including Maine, New York and Maryland.

“Direct experience in cannabis, though it’s harder to come by, is certainly a plus,” he said.

He’s also looking for passion and curiosity toward the marijuana industry.

“Because it’s so fast-paced and changes literally daily,” Damashek said. Both consumer tastes and consumer demographics are constantly shifting, plus mainstream attitudes and stigmas about the industry are evolving.

Talent and contacts round it out, he added. You want someone who’s well connected and can bring their Rolodex along with them, plus someone who can prove they’ve been an effective marketer in other previous jobs.

“There’s no replacing sheer talent in marketing,” according to Damashek.

WHERE TO LOOK

At NanoSphere, Wells often looks beyond the cannabis industry for candidates.

“I find that’s it’s been helpful to hire outside of the industry,” she said. “Because I think people (from the outside) work just a little bit faster and have a greater sense of full-service marketing and what that means.”

Given Nanosphere’s business, she’s more interested in the candidate’s background in the medical industry, as well as science and technology.

Wells has posted job ads on the online job site Indeed and the Denver-focused site Andrew Hudson’s Jobs List. She’s also used a local recruiting agency to find marketing help.

Viridian’s Bradford recommends attending marijuana industry conferences and those put on by the American Marketing Association to find potential candidates.

AMA has local chapters that hold their own conferences and member job boards that you can post on.

“That’s a great place to look,” Bradford said.

She added that posting online via Craigslist or Monster, unless you have a really strong employer brand, might not attract the right type of candidates.

At Acreage Holdings, Damashek likes social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn to find good candidates. He also taps his personal networks.

“Some of my best leads have come from my network and people that I feel most comfortable with,” he said.

HOW TO TRAIN

Wells recently hired a new sales and marketing specialist.

The woman shadowed Wells for a couple of days.

She then went through a traditional training, receiving a presentation on the company, the technology, benefits and products. The training process lasted about a week.

“It’s pretty informal,” Wells said.

Bradford recommends that marketing professionals who need advanced courses try Coursera, the online platform that provides skills classes.

Some of Coursera’s classes, for example, cover digital, viral and content marketing.

Bradford would also send the candidate to cannabis-specific conferences and have that person attend marketing sessions.

“So they can get a bit of a picture from other people that are currently working in the space,” Bradford said.

Outside of the cannabis industry, the American Marketing Association offers training, events and classes.

Damashek strives to educate his new hires as much as he can about his company’s culture, holdings, assets and strategy.

Acreage Holdings has cultivation, processing and retail operations across 11 states with plans to expand. The company is aggressive yet measured in its expansion strategy.

“So that everybody kind of understands and is aligned to what we’re planning, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there,” he said.

HOW TO MANAGE

Managing is really about communications, according to Wells.

NanoSphere holds weekly status meetings to go through a list of initiatives. Those include email blasts, social media campaigns and upcoming promotional events.

Wells doesn’t tend to micromanage.

“It’s really about finding that person, and once you do, it’s letting them have the autonomy to really fulfill their role and their job,” she said. “I do give them a lot of space creatively.”

Bradford also advised against micromanaging your marketer.

“I’ve seen way too many founders who micromanage their marketing team because marketing is their bread and butter,” she said. “That can lead to a lot of tension and the marketing professional feeling like they can’t do their best work.”

But be very clear and specific in setting goals, including revenue targets and market share benchmarks.

“Being very clear about what those metrics and expectations are is very important,” Bradford added.

Once the training is over, Damashek likes to set the marketer free to get to work.

“Our management philosophy is collaborative,” he said. “Allowing free rein, but being there to provide guidance, resources and expertise. Frankly, I don’t have time to micromanage what everyone’s doing.”