Zack Grossman has become part of what he calls the “cannabis brain drain,” joining the exodus of marketers from categories like CPG and beverage alcohol into the fledgling category.
Grossman has joined Toronto-based cannabis company FIGR as director of marketing after spending the past decade in a variety of roles with Johnson & Johnson—including overseeing marketing for brands including Motrin, Splenda, Polysporin, Nicorette and Nicoderm.
Grossman will be responsible for the company’s various marketing programs, helping bring products in its innovation pipeline to market. FIGR currently sells exclusively in PEI and Nova Scotia.
FIGR president Harvey Carroll said that Grossman’s prior experience with J&J, particularly his experience leading its launch into the e-commerce space with Amazon and Walmart, demonstrates his ability to thrive in new territories.
Grossman, meanwhile, says he’s excited by the prospect of working in a dynamic category like cannabis, particularly since the participants’ brand-building efforts are still very much in their infancy.
A self-described “passive observer” of the cannabis space, Grossman says he ultimately decided to make the jump from CPG because of the opportunity to help shape a nascent industry.
“It felt like it would be such a huge missed opportunity to not take that chance, to learn that skill set and build and grow in an industry that’s changing,” he says. “In CPG you spend a lot of your time fighting over a quarter share point, or a full share point if you’re lucky. It’s a lot of fun, with great challenges, but it’s really tough.”
Cannabis provides a unique marketing opportunity—and challenge—in that brands like FIGR have considerable white space to develop their go-to-market approach, but also find themselves bumping up against the Cannabis Act’s strict rules around marketing and advertising.
“You need to be smart with the money you invest and take advantage of every opportunity you have to make a connection with the consumer,” he says. “When you think about strategy, sometimes it’s more important to choose what not to do than what to do.”
Grossman is confident that his experience navigating Health Canada’s marketing rules will translate well into the cannabis space. “I’m no stranger [to the] regulated space, having come from J&J and working with products that are already quite strictly controlled by Health Canada,” he says.
FIGR’s current marketing strategy, embodied by the positioning statement “Know your roots,” is built around concepts like craft and local, says Grossman. The company says that it works with fifth-generation farmers and touts the traceability of its products. Wunderman Thompson is FIGR’s marketing agency, with National responsible for PR.
One of FIGR’s key offerings is its online tracking tool Sentri, which enables customers to trace products from the company’s two growing facilities in Charlottetown and Simcoe, Ont. using a lot number on each package.
In a recent survey of PEI and Nova Scotia residents conducted using Leger’s online panel, 75% of people said that buying locally produced cannabis is important to them, while 52% said that it’s important to know how their cannabis is grown and processed.
FIGR is currently in the middle of expanding its two facilities, which will total more than one million square feet when the process is completed in the next 12-24 months.