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4 Ways Cannabis Brands Can Tap into the Power of the Black Consumer

Black consumers spend $1.3 trillion annually, so why aren't more companies marketing to them?

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As established and emerging cannabis brands look for new markets and consumer audiences to capture, one segment of the consumer population remains surprising untapped: Black Americans.

According to Nielsen's 2019 Diverse Intelligence Series (DIS) Report, Black Americans account for $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending, even though they make up 14 percent of the U.S. population. The report also found that black Americans are 20 percent more likely to pay more for a brand that aligns with the image they wish to convey, more likely to shop are high-end stores, and are more influenced by in-store advertising (28 percent) and merchandising (27 percent).

Black women, in particular, wield enormous power as consumers. Women drive 70%-80% of all consumer purchasing decisions, and women account for roughly 52 percent of the black population. Nielsen's 2017 DIS Report, which focused on Black female consumers, found that Black women are both early adopters, brand loyalists and are also among the fastest-growing groups of social media influencers. 

Unequal representation

Despite making up an influential consumer segment and despite similar usage rates to whites, Black Americans remain underrepresented in the cannabis industry, both as business owners and consumers. The reasons are myriad, ranging from the lasting impact of the failed War on Drugs to the confusion many companies have about marketing to Black consumers.

Here are some suggestions for connecting with Black consumers in an effective way:


1. Know your history

Black Americans are far less likely to seek treatment or trust medical professionals. One recent study found that only six out of 10 black Americans trust doctors to do what’s right most of the time. Another seven out of 10 say that the healthcare system unfairly treats people based on race “very often” or “somewhat often.” This mistrust is the result of centuries of abuse and horrific practices inflicted on black Americans, such as the Tuskegee Study, in which researchers injected Black men with syphilis without their knowledge.

Cannabis brands, especially those in the medical market, must consider the shared history of black Americans and respond accordingly. What may seem appropriate or authentic to white audiences may not necessarily be so well received by black audiences. Having a better understanding of Black history and how it relates to your audience will not only improve your marketing results but also give your brand greater authenticity.

2. Be authentic

It is one thing to say all the right words, but if your actions lack consistency with your messaging Black consumers will not respond. You must be authentic throughout, from the backroom to the board room. This approach means not only seeking to gain more Black consumers—but also black voices. Seek to expand your executives to include Black men and women and other persons of color. This improves the authenticity of your messaging and also benefits your brand by bringing in a diverse collection of thoughts and opinions.

Aside from increasing diversity within your own company, supporting social causes relevant to the Black community also improves brand authenticity. For example, Black Americans over the age of 35 are 15 percent more likely to expect the brands they purchase to support social causes. In this way, you can not only become a more authentic brand but also actively support and improve communities of color.

3. Don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations

It is the nature of most businesses to avoid controversy at all costs. The fewer people you offend, the more likely they are to purchase your product. While this position is understandable, it will not necessarily attract Black consumers. By taking a stand on an issue or encouraging conversation around a topic that is relevant to black consumers, you create a beneficial effect on your brand.

Case in point: When Colin Kaepernick was all but abandoned by the NFL for his protest against police brutality, Nike took a risk and used him as their new spokesman for an ad campaign. Despite the controversy and vows from people to never buy their shoes again, Nike saw a 31 percent uptick in sales.

4. Amplify Black voices and avoid unseen bias

Sometimes it's the simple things that are most effective. For example, despite some marketers believing that Twitter is no longer relevant, Black Americans are still 30 percent more likely to use Twitter than whites. Find out where Black consumers are spending their time online and amplify those voices.

Additionally, it's vital to use social media to be sure that technology does not reflect unseen biases. For example, automated sentiment crawlers will often misinterpret or struggle to analyze African American vernacular English. Likewise, algorithms and software programs can often exclude Black Americans because they unintentionally only consider white experiences or linguistic nuances.

Commanding more than a trillion dollars in spending, Black Americans, especially women, are easily one of the most influential consumer demographics in the U.S. Unfortunately, the cannabis industry has yet to learn how to market the black consumer. By understanding the history, adopting radical authenticity, encouraging uncomfortable conversations, and lifting up Black voices, cannabis brands can easily and ethically tap into one of the most powerful consumer segments in the world.