November 14, 2018
An uphill battle
WoahStork is an American online marketplace for cannabis. With its primary product being a formerly illegal substance (and still illegal under federal law). WoahStork has a unique marketing story, with advertising restrictions that your typical online store will most likely never encounter. It also faces the unique challenge of tapping into an audience who need to overcome the current climate of misinformation, poor perception and often trepidation they may associate with cannabis.
On January 1st, 2018 for the first time, cannabis dispensaries in California opened their doors to consumers. In what is now the largest legal market for cannabis in the United States, there are still many hurdles that both businesses and consumers face.
For brick and mortar shops and online tech businesses working in the cannabis industry, it’s not just about selling a product; it’s about selling a feeling, an experience and a way of life. But to do so, there are many barriers to entry that they must overcome.
First of all, you can’t simply advertise cannabis like you would advertise shoes or chocolate. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Bing have all banned the advertising and selling of marijuana. Why? Currently, under the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C Section 812, cannabis is still illegal and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. This means that marketing cannabis — no matter if it’s for recreational or medical purposes — is illegal in any publication including newspapers, magazines, handbills and other written advertisements.
However, WoahStork has found ways around this advertising ban. Their marketing strategy is all about finding loopholes and being creative by going back to the roots (no pun intended) of marketing.
Changing a mindset
WoahStork is uniquely positioned in the market as they’re not just selling cannabis to stoners, but they place a strong focus on medicinal and therapeutic needs of consumers. But marketing to consumers who are typically undereducated on the effects and uses of medicinal marijuana is where it becomes tricky.
David Nguyen, Co-Founder and COO of WoahStork explains that consumers who suffer from cancer, arthritis, epilepsy and other ailments come to marijuana towards the end of their health journey.
"The discovery process is usually a very difficult, uphill battle. The time spent battling with side effects of the medical condition and previous treatments is sometimes a very long and painful journey."
“In the case of Esperanza [the woman seen in the video], that was years on years of just pain and confusion. And even when you get to the point of: ‘okay, I need to, I want to try cannabis,’ they've still had to jump over many hurdles.”
David explains that he often comes across people seeking medicinal marijuana who are concerned that they will be judged by their family, friends, colleagues and even society for taking the product.
“All these types of questions are legitimate. So once they get to that point where they’re ready to commit, there’s another uphill battle to find the right product. It's not as simple as walking into your local Wal-Mart and saying: “Hey, I have a headache I need a bottle of Tylenol.” It's more like: “Hey, I have a headache, but where do I go and what product do I buy?” In looking for their answer, people may enter a dispensary with bulletproof glass, walk past a guard with a gun and listen to obnoxiously loud rap music.”
Today, most cannabis dispensaries are worlds away from regular stores that people are used to, and many fail to provide an environment that suits all customer needs. They range from the one described above to very high-end storefronts. However, what most lack is a truly comfortable environment for anyone and everyone to have an efficient and helpful path towards the product most suited for their needs. This is where WoahStork comes in. WoahStork’s online marketplace offers people a way to research and discover cannabis products from the comfort of their own home. It also helps to remove the fear factor with an integrated learning platform to help customers decipher product names and ingredients.
Marketing in a highly-regulated environment
With cannabis marketing, it’s all about the power of organic growth. To avoid hitting a marketing brick wall, WoahStork relies on building relationships with local cannabis groups like NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and the NCIA (National Cannabis Industry Association).
David admits being creative is the biggest challenge that WoahStork faces in building community trust. “We need to use our smarts to implement a marketing campaign, technique or strategy that truly rises above the rest of what everyone else is doing.”
“If you look at other [cannabis] companies, they're relying on their reputation that has been built over time. For example, WeedMaps are like a 10-pound gorilla in the room because they're over 10 years old and they've built up a whole network and reputation. However, over time they depend on that reputation only, and that is where WoahStork has a chance to rise with creative techniques and out of the box thinking.”
To build WoahStork’s reputation and enter the same playing field as WeedMaps, David has focused his marketing efforts on community building and the power of incentivization. Below, WoahStork has shared one of their very own customer journey templates, designed to increase awareness and customer loyalty.
The Customer Journey
The Journey takes a creative spin on organic growth and targets prospects through word-of-mouth marketing. In testing multiple channels, the journey helps WoahStork understand how to reach and communicate with their audience over emails and offers.
By asking customers to refer their business across their own social channels and “invite a friend,” WoahStork is harnessing the power of influencer marketing. They’re empowering trusted customers to become brand ambassadors and help them build WoahStork’s niche community.
“Autopilot is our magic genie behind-the-scenes that really works a lot of wonders,” says David. “It helps us take in all the data points about who our customers are, if they're new to cannabis or if they’re first-timers, what medical condition they may have and how frequently they would like to use the product. We can trickle all this information into any Autopilot journey.”
Despite all the marketing challenges WoahStork has faced, they’re a growing player in the market. They're continuing to change the stigma of consuming, buying and selling medicinal marijuana.
David says that WoahStork is not only a tech platform but it’s an experience that “utilizes technology to assist people from a medical standpoint, and on a human level.”