SXSW 2019 brought many new faces, voices and experiences, but one of the biggest introductions was their newest track, Cannabusiness. A series of panels, discussions, and keynote speakers, Cannabusiness made its debut at SXSW with over 40 sessions around all things cannabis, sustainability, marketing, and the growing industry. Entering the final days of my ten-day SXSW venture, I had the chance to catch three different Cannabusiness sessions that allowed me to walk away with a better understanding of the industry, it’s budding future, and what that will mean for our country.
Convergence Keynote: Kevin Murphy and John Boehner
Former Speaker of the House of US Representatives John Boehner and Acreage Holdings (the largest US operator in cannabis) Chairman and CEO Kevin Murphy joined CNBC’s Tim Seymour to chat about the path to national legalization that is currently underway.
Boehner, who surprised many by hopping on the legalization train, opened the session by sharing how his view of cannabis had shifted over the last five years. After meeting several Veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Boehner’s eyes opened to see the medicinal benefits of cannabis and said he thought, “I’m probably not going to do this, but I’d like to learn more about it.” That thought soon led Boehner to joining the Acreage Board of Directors, a moment that CEO Murphy joked he’d never forget.
Though Boehner has never tried cannabis himself, he said he does smoke cigarettes, drink red wine, and often takes an Advil PM every night to help him sleep. With legalization in the future, he’s likely to try out a cannabis sleep aid. Alongside Boehner, America as a whole has been changing its view on the product. “The word is changing, but the federal government is not catching up,” he said.
If the States Act were to be passed, there would be far fewer deaths per day due to opioid abuse, Murphy claimed. Advocating for social justice reform, Murphy shared how 15 percent of the incarcerated population is due to cannabis related offenses, a percentage he hopes Acreage can lower.
At this point it’s not a matter of if, but when cannabis will be nationally legalized. “We’re not going to rewrite history, but we are going to build a future where people can get compassionate care with cannabis,” Murphy proclaimed on a high note.
The New Cannabis Consumers
“Men are from mars, women are from Venus” is the saying. But how are men and women different when it comes to cannabis? This Cannabusiness panel tackled all questions of the like, and it was beyond fascinating.
Moderated by Aliza Sherman of Ellementa, the discussion featured Whitney Beatty of Apothecarry, Diana Eberlein of SōRSE Technology, and Dr. Robb Flannery of Dr. Robb Farms. Sherman circled the conversation around three main topics: perceptions, purchasing, and consumption.
When it comes to perceptions, many on the panel agreed women care more about how they are perceived by others when it comes to cannabis usage. Joking that men don’t care about being seen as a “lazy pothead,” the women shared how they are more likely to share personal stories about cannabis when it comes to ailments for anxiety, stress or medical reasons, as opposed to using it recreationally. Providing the perspective of a male, Dr. Flannery made the interesting point that males might just be too proud to admit they use cannabis for wellness or ailing.
On the topic of purchasing, it’s clear that men and women require different marketing tactics. While men are sold a lifestyle, women want to be sold something that already fits their existing lifestyle. Appealing to emotions, women want to hear stories and desire to be heard, a skill that dispensaries are going to have to teach their employees. “Understand and listen. Get to the heart of what your customer is seeking,” said Sherman.
Consumption proved to be different among men and women as well. While women prefer edibles (specifically through tinctures), men prefer smoking (specifically through vapes). In fact, women are twice as more likely to use edibles even though they smoke and vape just as much as men. The reason behind it: they want to be discreet. Relating back to lifestyle, women want something that is easy to integrate into their day-to-day life and for most, an edible is the easiest form of cannabis to do so.
As I’ve mentioned before, the theme this year at SXSW was certainly story-telling which also carried through to the Cannabusiness track. “Don’t sell cannabis, sell stories,” proclaimed Eberlein. In the year of story-telling, I’m sure we’ll see that stories do in fact sell.
Building a World Class Brand in Uncharted Territory
Gunner Winston of dosist sat down with Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman for an engaging discussion about how to build a brand in the growing cannabis industry, inspiring change, and finding the right talent for his company. dosist is a wellness company whose mission is “to deliver health & happiness.”
Winston opened the conversation by explaining what dosist is truly about: “Empowering people to naturally improve their health.” He believes that unlike many other cannabis brands out there, dosist is taking a different narrative by not beating the “green rush,” but instead focusing on helping people improve their health. “Great brands don’t rush,” he said, and “Money is not the main operative.”
Winston hopes dosist will transcend categories through their offerings and strategy. Striving to be a “forever brand,” Winston feels that it is not marketing that will elevate them, but instead education. “Brands that educate are brands that win,” he stated. Instead of throwing out fluffy marketing campaigns, Winston wants to educate his consumers to establish trust and ultimately develop brand loyalty. Joking that “dosist is going to be bigger than Beyoncé ” (a BOLD statement, sir!), Winston explained that though dosist is in fewer channels than other companies, their focus and will allow them to elevate in those fewer channels.
When it comes to leadership, Winston is all about empathy, creating relationships, aligning, and communicating. “Build a culture that is aligned and moving in the same direction,” he suggested. Be authentic but dynamic. “Leadership is not one person, it’s the whole organization,” said Winston. When asked what three characteristics he looks for in talent, he immediately responded with “inspirational, collaborative, and accountable.”
It’s no doubt that Winston’s leadership skills and strategy will lead dosist into success, but success is not all he seeks. Instead, he hopes dosist will create change in the world by helping people find natural ways to improve their lives. “Changing the narrative of who engages in these conversations is more important than lobbying,” Winston concluded.
For more coverage on SXSW, click here, and be sure to check back in for more interviews, recaps, and photo galleries!
Photo credit: Leigh Kettle/Shuffle Online
Leigh is a native Texan gone temporary New Yorker and now proud Austinite. Passions include but are not limited to music (both as a spectator and dabbler), traveling & cultural adventures, film & television, true crime, design (of the fashion, interior, and graphic sorts), and photographing & writing about all the aforementioned. Self-acclaimed coffee connoisseur & wino, cat aficionado, book worm, and nature junkie.