Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

The Top 25 Cannabis Brands That Killed It In Marketing In 2019

These companies showed excellence in social media, earned media, and website engagnement.

It's no secret. Marketing cannabis brands is a massive challenge given the broad restrictions imposed on products containing THC.

The Cannabiz Agency | Getty Images

For this reason, Green Entrepreneur has partnered with analytics company Pioneer Intelligence to analyze the performance of U.S. based, THC-selling brands across three areas: social media, earned media and brand-owned web properties. Every week, Pioneer gives us the top 25 performing brands of that time frame.

RELATED: The Hot 25: The Hottest Cannabis Brands Of The Week (2/1-2/7)

This list looks at the same metrics, but for the entire year of 2019. This following list recognizes the Top 25 brands in cannabis marketing in the last year, with some thoughts and tips from the marketers themselves. 

The top 25 companies in marketing excellence in 2019: Lowell Herb Co., dosist, Stiiizy, Grassroots, Kiva ConfectionsIgnite, Papa & Barkley, Flow Kana, Canndescent, CalivaRaw Garden, Beboe, Foria Wellness, PLUS Products, AbsoluteXtractsKurvana, MPX: Melting Point Extract, Bloom Brands, Wana Brands, Willie's ReserveConnected Cannabis, Rove Brand, Clear Cannabis Inc., Sunday Goods, and Theory Wellness.

Congratulations on moving the needle the most with your marketing efforts!

Green Entrepreneur Top 25 brands of 2019, data from Pioneer Intelligence.

The hottest cannabis company in marketing reach to grace the Pioneer Intelligence list is Lowell Herb Co. Green Entrepreneur spoke with David Elias, Lowell's CEO and Founder, to gain actionable takeaways for other entrepreneurs in the space.

Can you identify a key moment in 2019 that positively impacted your marketing efforts? 

David Elias: We love to create experiential, immersive events to thank the industry that put us here. At our last holiday budtender event, we had over 700 people attend; budtenders, buyers, store owners, and the overall cannabis community. 

Relationship building has always been important to us, and we believe budtenders are the backbone of our business, we value their opinion on what they want and this feedback goes back to our R&D team on new products. As we continue to launch new products, seeing the excitement from our cannabis community is one of the biggest rewards and motivators for our team. 

Can you share a particular challenge your team encountered in 2019, and how you overcame it? 

Elias: Our biggest challenge in 2019 was keeping up with demand. It’s an ironic moment, when just a few years ago, no one knew the brand and we had to go knock on doors, sometimes 10 to 15 times just to get a meeting. All of the things we had to do when we started were focused around getting stores and customers to take notice. Now our biggest challenge today is keeping up with the demand we have created. 

"It's not about clever marketing tricks, it's about consistency."

One of the ways we overcame this challenge was by staying true to our artisanal roots and to focus on delivering innovative collaborations and unique products. We realize that taking the time to create intentional and limited edition collections has helped to keep things fresh and exciting for the brand. 

In 2019, we launched exciting initiatives like the limited edition pack with CJ Wallace, the son of The Notorious B.I.G., The Think Big pack launched at select stores and supported our social justice initiatives. For the holidays, we created bespoke items like our Thanksgiving - Home for the Holiday’s book, and for Christmas we launched our Santa edition packs that people could gift and personalize. All of these ideas were created in small batches and delivered to a select number of retailers and enjoyed by creatives and cannabis consumers here in California. 

What is one piece of advice you would offer brands/ marketers to be successful in the cannabis industry today? 

EliasOur core focus is all about earning the trust of our customers. We are devoted to offering them the very best, most innovative, and highest quality cannabis products possible. It's not about clever marketing tricks, it's about consistency. Day in and day out we make sure we stand behind the products we sell. On the sticker inside each pack of Lowell Smokes reads, “We stand behind every pack. Something wrong? Get in touch and we’ll make it right.” I believe that message matters, and I still receive and respond to those emails. It all starts and ends with our customer.

RELATED: Inside the Country's First-Ever Cannabis Café

Green Entrepreneur interviewed James Rowan, Director of Major Brands at CannaCraft Inc., whose brand AbsoluteXtracts made the list. Rowan offers successful marketing approaches for other entrepreneurs in the complex marijuana space.

Can you identify a key moment in 2019 that positively impacted your marketing efforts? 

James Rowan: AbsoluteXtracts (ABX) saw a positive response to the launch and marketing of ABX Sleepy Time in 2019, ABX’s newest product line which comes in soft gel, tincture, and vape pen applications. The marketing outreach and in-depth terpene and cannabis education that accompanied the launch helped drive the product’s success. 

Sleepy Time is the latest example of ABX’s manufacturing and formulation capabilities. It’s also a testament to the power of customer-driven trends and ABX’s commitment to offering a solution to an issue that plagues millions of Americans. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 50 to 70 million US adults struggle with sleep disorders.

Over the last year, we noticed an uptick in requests for products and strains that helped with sleep, so we decided to formulate a product with a blend of terpenes designed to support restful sleep. When we see a problem and when we hear from customers about what they need, it’s a no-brainer that we will try to address the issue.

Can you share a particular challenge your marketing team encountered in 2019, and how you overcame it? 

Rowan: Finding exciting and innovative ways to work around channels that we can operate in is always a challenge. Because of the continued restrictions on cannabis advertisements, 2019 presented a familiar obstacle to traditional marketing efforts so we had to get creative with how we engaged new customers. 

We chose to get in front of new audiences and target demographics through the sponsorship of non-cannabis events like comedy shows headlined by Joe Rogan, activations at mainstream events like The Outside Lands Music Festival, parties at Coachella Festival, and sponsorships at sports tournaments and events.

RELATED: Are Weed-Infused Drinks The Future?

This approach has proven effective and is disruptive to the traditional sponsors of these events. While we were the first cannabis sponsors for most of the events and often invited in with trepidation, the reception has been so overwhelmingly positive that we have been invited back to sponsor many of the same events and more. 

What is one piece of advice you would offer marketers to be successful in the cannabis industry today? 

Rowan: Marketing cannabis should be approached with a combination of traditional marketing practices and fluidity to change course in a new and ever-changing industry. 

Marketing cannabis is similar to marketing a lot of consumer products, and it might even be easier because the uses span recreation, medical, sports, health, wellness, and beauty, allowing for endless possibilities. But the cannabis industry is still in its infancy and continues to see changes in trends, regulations, news, and research. A shift in any one of those areas can force cannabis companies to change course on a product, campaign, or strategy at a moment’s notice. 

Context and an understanding of how the industry and products have evolved over the last three decades are also important. This knowledge helps us to predict and, at times, set trends by creating products that appeal to both the experienced and novice cannabis user. The combined five decades of industry experience that our two founders bring to product development, paired with our marketing and manufacturing teams from mostly non-cannabis backgrounds, have led to the creation of some of California’s most popular products like Hi-Fi Hops, a cannabis-infused beverage by ABX and Lagunitas. 

Our experience, expertise, and manufacturing capabilities all contribute to the popularity of AbsoluteXtracts, but at the end of the day, creating products that are effective, safe, and meet the needs of our customers is what makes the brand successful. The accompanying marketing efforts connect the dots from what consumers want and need to the solutions that we are creating through our products. 

RELATED: 8 Ways To Set Yourself Up For Financial Freedom In Your 20s

Papa & Barkley's Chief Marketing Officer Angela Pih spoke with Green Entrepreneur to discuss some of the brand's biggest wins and advice from the last year.

Can you identify a key moment in 2019 that positively impacted your marketing efforts?

Angela Pih: We qualified our consumer segments with data, based on quantitative and qualitative, and defined our key customer segments with behaviors, profiles, and needs. We leaned in on Daily Pain Managers and Caregivers as a top target audience due to their loyalty for Papa & Barkley. We started partnering with dispensaries and other local partners to create programs and education sessions specifically for them and their needs.

RELATED: Five Best Brands For The Canna-Curious

According to AARP, 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day. That's 7 people turning 65 every minute. That’s our Moms and Dads. Older adults are the largest growing population in the U.S. As they age, they're living an active lifestyle and looking for alternative ways to manage their ailments. They're smart and informed, they choose to live clean lifestyles and eat healthy food, so Papa & Barkley's principles on clean cannabis wellness is something that is easy to relate to and understand. 

Can you share a particular challenge your marketing team encountered in 2019, and how you overcame it?

Pih: In late 2019 when it seemed like the California and national CBD market was starting to cool, we focused on marketing to the intersection - both consumers and dispensaries. We had to educate those who influence purchase decisions, e.g. budtenders and store owners, in addition to our consumers.  
"We take an education-first approach in our conversations with consumers, especially when speaking about plant medicine and our principles of clean cannabis. We believe in full transparency and authenticity as a brand,” said Angela Pih, CMO at Papa & Barkley. “Consumers deserve to know how their cannabis wellness products are made and the spectrum of options available so that they can make more informed choices for themselves and their loved ones.”

We piloted marketing efforts in the Palm Springs area to target older adults and snowbirds who visit during the winter season with an out of home billboard campaign, senior education sessions and dispensary bus tours, cannabis and CBD 101 seminars with golf, resort and country clubs, budtender education and activating at community events. As a result, we saw an overall 100% sales increase since the start of the campaign and won over skeptics with our education first approach. This is a marketing program that we can replicate and bring to other cities across California and the U.S. 

What is one piece of advice you would offer marketers to be successful in the cannabis industry today?

Pih: Know your audience and speak to them where they are. There is great curiosity about cannabis and people are craving more knowledge so they can make educated decisions. Lean into data to learn about your audience, what they're interested in, and listen to what they have to say.   

Image credit: Papa & Barkley

Green Entrepreneur spoke with Jake Heimark, CEO and Co-Founder of PLUS Products, who offers advice for other entrepreneurs in the competitive cannabis marketing space.

Can you identify a key moment in 2019 that positively impacted your marketing efforts?

Jake Heimark: Launching in Nevada has proven successful for PLUS. It’s a highly engaged and active market, ripe for a brand like ours. We’re excited to explore the market in greater depth. We are already a top 3 brand in our segment according to Headset, a third-party data provider, after launching Q4 of last year.  

Can you share a particular challenge your marketing team encountered in 2019, and how you overcame it?

Heimark: We definitely underestimated what we’ll loosely call 'CBD marketing fatigue.' The over-saturation of CBD in the market made it more challenging than we anticipated to make noise with products that truly work. Our challenge is in cutting through the clutter of the current landscape in order to inform customers about PLUS’ attributes as a trusted cannabis brand with an unmatched edibles offering; our accuracy in dosing, our potent dose per serving and our unparalleled manufacturing process. 

What is one piece of advice you would offer marketers to be successful in the cannabis industry today?

Heimark: Establish your POV. There’s a lot of competition in the cannabis landscape today, but if you can carve out a niche for yourself and then do that one thing really well—you’ve got a chance. For us, that means delivering trusted edibles products with clear and concise messaging around cannabinoid content, a strategy that allowed us to maintain our spot as the largest gummies brand in 2019.

RELATED: These Are Top 100 Cannabis Companies in the World

Green Entrepreneur spoke with the founder and CEO of Kurvana, Mehran Moghaddam, about the marketing efforts that brought the California-born company to the top of the pack.

Can you identify a key moment in 2019 that positively impacted your marketing efforts? 

Mehran Moghaddam: Loyal and new clients were thrilled to experience our largest product release to date. Our decision to undergo a brand refresh and align all facets of the brand was an imperative decision in order to continue pushing boundaries within the cannabis space. New product releases hit the market in early 2019 with the portfolio expansion featuring an all-natural CBD vape line for top-tier wellness benefits and everyday use, the release of four new strains within the flagship ASCND line of high-potency vapes, All-In-One disposables available in a selection of our top-selling strains, and custom hardware designed to outperform our previous generation. 

Can you share a particular challenge your marketing team encountered in 2019, and how you overcame it? 

Moghaddam: Kurvana, along with the entire legal and regulated vape market, felt the urgency and dire need to properly address the vaping related illnesses caused by the illicit market. To provide a high level of transparency, we were one of the first manufacturers to begin testing our products for the additive, Vitamin E acetate. As safety is our highest priority, we assured that our products were legally compliant, rigorously tested, and manufactured exclusively for the regulated market. Our insight was funneled and distributed through retailer training, digital media, and printed collateral. In addition, our labeling underwent updates to showcase an in-depth analysis of our product testing. Lastly, we only endorsed purchasing authentic Kurvana products strictly at licensed cannabis retailers. 

What is one piece of advice you would offer marketers to be successful in the cannabis industry today? 

Moghaddam: Our biggest contributing factor, or rather, motivator, for Kurvana’s success is our commitment to innovate and to push boundaries in a fast-paced and challenging industry. Part of that success lies in our continued efforts to evolve based on consumer feedback, key market trends, and most importantly, the well-being of those who purchase our products. 

RELATED: Four Ways To Bridge The Cannabis Industry Reality With Wall Street Expectations

Green Entrepreneur spoke to Rick Batenburg III, Chief Investment Officer of Clear Cannabis, Inc that made last year's excellence list by moving the needle the most on social media and across the web. Batenburg gives advice to entrepreneurs who face similar hurdles in 2020.

Can you identify a key moment in 2019 that positively impacted The Clear’s marketing efforts? 

Rick Batenburg III: Although the vape crisis was damaging to the industry as a whole, we were able to educate the community and our products stood out because we have always followed the most rigorous safety standards; The Clear has never contained any of the ingredients that proved to be unsafe. The Clear has been sold since 2012 and we have never had safety issues with our products. As soon as the news broke about unsafe vapes, The Clear doubled down on marketing efforts and rose above as an industry leader. 

Can you share a particular challenge your marketing team encountered in 2019, and how you overcame it? 

Batenburg: Content creation is and always has been a challenge. Due to conflicting state and federal laws, advertising is not permitted in the same way as other industries. The most effective way to overcome the content creation challenge is to find creative and easy ways to have a constant flow of new material. We are fortunate enough to work with some amazing photographers on a contract basis, as well as receiving submissions from team members and The Clear Family of enthusiastic and loyal customers. 

What is one piece of advice you would offer marketers to be successful in the cannabis industry today? 

Batenburg: With the advent of social media and on-demand entertainment, advertising and marketing have never been more challenging because of the number of options your consumers have. They can pay to not see advertising. This means you must add value and earn the attention of your consumer base. Offer something of intrinsic value with artistic conviction. Get creative, get your hands dirty and do something unexpected to get the attention of your target demographics. Whether that's funding artists or creating guerrilla campaigns, the battle of marketing is won and lost through vulnerability and effort.