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  1. Most customers do not recognize cannabis by brand
  2. Monthly cannabis users largely shop for specific strain
  3. Many cannabis companies target female clientele

Companies that want their cannabis to be recognized by repeat customers have hit a snag: Canadian advertising and packaging restrictions make it difficult to establish brands. These legal constraints, designed to keep cannabis away from children, have led some to believe that consumers could instead seek specific strains rather than brands, much like how some wine consumers request their favourite chardonnay or merlot rather than company name.

“There are brands that have an idea about how they are different but I don’t think it would be fair yet to say there are brands that have communicated that yet,” said Rebecca Brown, founder and president of Crowns Consulting, during a panel at the O’Cannabiz Conference and Expo in Vancouver this week.

“We’re at the beginning of the road to figure out how to make brand a thing when you can’t use any of the known and trusted techniques to make that stick in someone’s mind. I think the consumer is exceptionally confused.”

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Ipsos data show that of the monthly cannabis users who were surveyed and asked what brand they use, 64 per cent cited a strain rather than a brand, while only 11 per cent named a brand.

“A lot of cannabis companies are producing different strains. They’re branding a strain, not a brand,” said Michael Rodenburgh, executive vice president for Ipsos.

Ipsos data also show that 43 per cent think cannabis product advertising should be the same as for alcohol – permitted but not allowed to target children, or be associated with high-risk activities, personal success or social acceptance. This compares with 37 per cent in 2017.

“While most Canadians still want limits on advertising recreational marijuana products, some take a more relaxed view of advertising limits compared to a year ago,” Rodenburgh said.

For now, however, advertising restrictions could see cannabis consumers targeting strains rather than brands like the roughly 30 per cent of wine drinkers who do not know their favourite brand and instead cite their preferred type of wine, Mr. Rodenburgh said.

Despite their advertising obstacles, many cannabis companies are targeting women. While legal restrictions make this challenging, some are reverting to other methods of communication to reach what some see as an “untapped market.”

“Email marketing is the majority of the way we’re doing our clients’ campaigns,” said Maxwell Duchaine, chief executive of MMJ Hype, a cannabis marketing agency.

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“If your branding targets women, men will follow. Women make most of the purchasing decisions in the household.”

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