Cannabis and COVID-19: Understanding Shifts in Consumption and Where Marketers Go From Here

As we stay home to comply with social distancing guidelines, cannabis consumption is increasing. And it looks like a trend that could stick around. New research data is telling an interesting story:

  • 30% of Canadians report increased cannabis use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Sales data from Ontario showed a huge jump in online cannabis sales as COVID-19 hit Canada in March.
  • 83% (!) of Canadians say they plan to continue to use as much or more cannabis as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Perhaps you’re one of the three million Canadians whose working hours were wiped out or reduced over the last few months and you’ve got a little more time on your hands. Or you might be an office worker managing the added pressures of working remotely. Maybe you’re a mom or dad, maxing out on the extra patience or creativity required to get through a now-nonstop parenting role.

Whatever the case, these changed behaviours present an opportunity for brands. Canadians have found new ways to incorporate cannabis into their lives—and it’s working for them. Brands need to respond, and fast.

Part of that response is understanding where people are learning about cannabis. We just happen to have that data, too. Our recent research study asked Canadians where they go for cannabis information, and almost half of respondents (46%) said they learn from their friends, family or a trusted staff member at a dispensary. Ahh, the age-old word-of-mouth approach. That means that marketers need to build credibility with potential customers on a microlevel. Identifying those small but hugely influential people in various networks can net huge results.

Understanding the Cannabis Consumer

Cannabis users are incredibly diversified and multifaceted. They sit across a spectrum of needs, decision drivers and education levels. Canadian consumers are buying cannabis for lots of different reasons, which means they won’t respond to one-size-fits-all marketing.

To better help cannabis marketers understand their audience and their motivations for cannabis use, Ketchum Analytics, one of the largest in-house research and analytics teams in North America, identified four main buyer segments within the general population, each one turning to cannabis for a slightly different reason.

More information on these consumer archetypes and implications for brands is available upon request.

Cultivating Cannabis Brands

Cultivating a healthy cannabis plant is all about creating the right conditions for growth. You need passion, time and attention, and you need to know your stuff. At Ketchum, we take the same approach when tackling a communications challenge.

That’s why we’re excited to talk about our new cannabis specialty in Canada. As part of our existing Ketchum Cultivate offering—strategic consulting services dedicated to helping food and wellness brands achieve business success—we are expanding to help new and established companies in the cannabis and hemp space differentiate and elevate.

Legalized cannabis is still a budding industry. Many Canadians are struggling to differentiate between products and find the brands they trust. The time is now for brands to build loyal relationships. A cannabis communications strategy needs to be equal parts human-centered and business-focused. It needs to keep current customers loyal and attract new ones to the fold, while deftly navigating the restrictions of a highly regulated industry.

The Ketchum Cultivate team understands these issues. If you’d like to talk about building a customized communications solution, please get in touch.

Erin Manning is the Associate Managing Director of Ketchum Canada. With a focus on wellness, food and beverage, and technology, Erin has 16 years of experience crafting brand strategy for both B2B and B2C clients, driving measurable results for the business.