Lots of brands, little differentiation causing ‘decision fatigue’ for cannabis users

Canada’s licensed producers have spent millions of dollars on branding and marketing since cannabis became legal in 2018, but a new report suggests their efforts have done little to create established brand identities or foster loyalty.

The report from Chicago-based Brightfield Group says the major LPs have largely focused their post-legalization efforts on raising capital, which has not translated into strong customer relationships.

Brightfield Group says the recreational market is “flooded” with brand options, leading to “decision fatigue” among consumers who struggle to distinguish between different products.

Cracking the code on brand loyalty could be a major boon for LPs in the coming years. Canopy Growth Corp. CEO David Klein recently pegged the value of the market at $10 billion, but predicted that it would rise to $70 billion within three years as new stores open and more customers enter the market.

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Source: Brightfield Group

Brightfield Group’s findings are based on a Q1 survey of 3,000 Canadian cannabis users, which found that none of the country’s leading cannabis brands has more than 41% awareness (Tweed), with the “vast majority” having recognition between 1% and 15% (see chart).

It also found that there is little in the way of deeper brand connection—meaning that consumers are still purchasing product largely on the basis of price rather than brand name, packaging or a glowing review from a friend.

“This leads to a rocky purchase funnel with large drop-offs from awareness, to consideration, and to purchase,” the report cautions.

While marketing investment and brand-building efforts have helped get larger LPs like Canopy and Aurora into the minds of consumers, Brightfield Group says that smaller LPs like Organigram and Aphria are frequently outperforming higher-awareness brands when it comes to driving purchase.

The study also found that brands have different appeal for the various customer segments identified by Brightfield. For example, Aphria’s Good Supply brand is successful with cohorts such as “Typical Stoners” (who favour attributes like quality and affordability), while Tilray’s Canaca appeals to Newbies (who prefer easy-to-use formats like pre-rolls).

The study says that many brands are targeting the “Typical Stoners” segment, while others are pursuing “higher-end” occasional users. LPs with a diverse product portfolio catering to different segments have a great advantage, the report says, since they can hedge against small but valuable segments like luxury consumers while still targeting the broader cannabis market.

With many traditional marketing avenues closed off to them, some LPs are reconsidering how they go to market. In May, Leamington-based Aphria laid off about one-dozen employees, including its chief marketing officer, with CEO Irwin Simon telling BNN Bloomberg that the plan was to revisit how it markets its products through digital, including social.

Health Canada’s rules around cannabis marketing have placed significant constraints on LPs, and it’s not uncommon for brands to run afoul of the Cannabis Act. In a statement last month, for example, the New Brunswick LP Organigram said that it would make changes to its Trailer Park Buds brand (below) that launched in April.

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 1.06.17 PM.pngThe brand name was a not-so-subtle reference to the popular Canadian comedy series Trailer Park Boys, which regularly incorporated cannabis use into its storylines.

However, it contravened the section of The Cannabis Act stating that cannabis products cannot be presented “in a manner that associates it or the brand element with, or evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of, a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”

“After reviewing perception around our Trailer Park Buds brand with Health Canada, [Organigram] is making some changes to its newly launched brand and logo,” the company said. Organigram said that it is moving to a modified version of the logo in the short-term, while exploring options for a permanent logo and brand name combination.”

The Brightfield Group report said that initial brand health data suggests the Canadian market is ripe for disruption, and that the size of a producer does not necessarily have any correlation with awareness, purchase intent or satisfaction.

Brands that are best able to reach consumers at different need states will be best poised for success, it said, while innovation in product format, features and positioning will help attract new cannabis users and sustain the interest of the heavy users that drive the market.

“Brand building is hard work, and very difficult in an environment as tightly controlled as the Canadian cannabis space, said Brightfield Group’s managing director Bethany Gomez in a LinkedIn post announcing the study.

“There is a lot more work to be done to effectively connect with the Canadian cannabis consumer, but it is exciting to see some brands starting to develop a more consumer-centric approach and beginning to trend in the right direction.”


Chris Powell