For an industry founded on the oppression of U.S. citizens, particularly people of color, the cannabis space has a significant diversity issue. And while some states have attempted to address the issue with equity licensing and other considerations, these regulations have largely failed the communities they were designed to help, resulting in a vacancy of progressive movement in the space — but some entrepreneurs have stepped up to fill that void.
We recently interviewed Kieryn Wang, the founder and owner of ALMOSTCONSULTING, to discuss what drew her to the cannabis space, her push against the industry’s typically male-focused marketing strategies, and her marketing tips for an industry that has been pushed to the fringes of mainstream media. This interview also covers InclusiveBase — a project in partnership with Cannaclusive which includes a database for consumers of cannabis businesses owned by women, people of color, and other disadvantaged populations — and Kieryn’s biggest piece of advice for the modern cannabis entrepreneur.
Scroll down to read the full interview!
Ganjapreneur: Why did you establish ALMOSTCONSULTING and what were your goals when you started consulting?
Kieryn Wang: I wanted to support people and brands that aligned with my own values and goals since at the time I was working at a company that did not align at all. I saw that many in the cannabis space were struggling to navigate the restrictions around marketing, especially in the digital world, and I knew I could help with that. So I left my job and began consulting with companies that actually felt good to work with. My primary objective has always been and will always be to uplift businesses owned by people of color and to bring more awareness and spending dollars to those businesses. We need more of this, in all industries but especially in cannabis.
When did you start collaborating with Cannaclusive to build InclusiveBase? What did/do you contribute to this project and why is it important?
I created the PoC Cannabis Business Directory back in April of 2019 to help those looking to shop with BIPOC-owned businesses to find those businesses. A few months later, Cannaclusive reached out to me about combining our databases and collaborating on one collective list called Inclusivebase. By November of 2019, we launched with the new and more robust directory that included businesses they’ve been internally gathering for years and the businesses from the PoC Cannabis Business Directory. Since then, we’ve continued to clean the list, vet the businesses being submitted, and grow the directory so that more people can support BIPOC-owned cannabis businesses. It’s important in any industry to support BIPOC-owned businesses, but especially in cannabis where Black and brown communities are the most affected by the harmful and failed War on Drugs. Yet white owners are making the most money in cannabis right now and that should not be happening, especially while looking at the demographics of the population currently still unfairly incarcerated for cannabis offenses. Understanding this context is hugely important for those entering the cannabis space. (Looking at a lot of you that will be reading this…)
InclusiveBase is a monumental tool for anyone who wants to shop consciously, are you working towards uplifting and directing sales to businesses owned by people of color in any other ways?
We share the directory as much as we can with our audiences and communities, in our newsletters, in special content series, and more. Many people don’t know where to start when it comes to shopping for cannabis or CBD or finding cannabis businesses to collaborate with so this is a great place to start. We definitely have talked about and tried to set up a platform for people to filter through these businesses more easily and shop the sites, but that hasn’t logistically come together yet. We’ve also had larger platforms like Weedmaps reach out to us about integrating this info into their platforms, but those conversations have also petered out. Either way, we are here to continue to grow this directory and share it with more people so that more consumers are shopping from BIPOC-owned businesses and more awareness is being brought to these companies and their owners.
When is the right time for a company to seek out a marketing consultant?
Anytime is the right time. The earlier the better, because you will have more lead time. You will have better systems in place to build a solid foundation rather than having to redo work that you sloppily and hastily put together the first time. It’s never too early to solidify your marketing strategy and it’s also never too late. People who ask, “why am I not making any money” usually have not dedicated the right amount of time or budget to marketing. How will people buy if they don’t know you or anything about your product? How is it relevant to their lives? How will it bring value to the way they live? The first step is to figure out how you’re going to educate your customers on all of these things, whether through your site, your social or your email newsletter (hint: the answer will eventually be all of the above, but you have to start somewhere).
What kind of market share does a brand lose when they disregard the femme consumer?
That’s a great question. Of which I don’t have the exact number, but what I will tell you is they control trillions of dollars in consumer spending globally. So if you’re ignoring this crucial market, you’re ignoring a huge chunk of potential consumers. It’s time to listen to what they want and need. And actually listen, okay? Not impose what you think they want.
Why do you think that so many cannabis marketing programs have catered their strategy towards the male consumer?
They think it’s easier. They don’t have a proper understanding of the actual demographic of cannabis consumers. They’re lazy and they want to use easy tropes to sell weed. Newsflash, you don’t need to sexualize women to promote cannabis. Again, listen don’t impose.
Can a brand with a male-centric product and strategy market to women without a complete rebrand or new product?
Sure, they can. But it all boils down to how. Are you going to be condescending about how you approach it? Then, get lost. No one wants your product like that. Or are you going to LISTEN and provide the information that is being sought out? Again, how do you provide value in their everyday lives? What will your product do for them? What is it they want and need? Have you listened or are you assuming? Be careful in your how. It will make all the difference.
What did women learn at the first Women’s Wealth & Wellness Summit? What kind of programming can they expect in the next event?
At the first WWW Summit in 2020, we covered myriad of topics including salary negotiation, saving/budgeting, team management/leadership, and virtual networking. Then, we rounded out the day with at-desk exercises and massages, digital painting, yoga, breathwork, and learning about human design. The next WWW Summit will cover wealth and wellness again with a focus on investing, global career options, manifestation, decolonizing relationships, and much more. I’m excited to share the lineup soon!
What other topics do you cover in marketing workshops? Who is the ideal audience for these educational events?
In other workshops, I cover marketing 101 in cannabis as well as email marketing 101 and email segmentation. This knowledge is applicable to any industry, but I definitely come from a lens through cannabis since there are more restrictions and we have to be more creative with our strategies. I’m also building out more topics like how to gather and synthesize your analytics and how to plan a marketing calendar, so stay tuned for that.
Why do you always recommend that cannabis businesses build an email list? Are there any sectors in cannabis that wouldn’t benefit from having an email list?
Every business benefits from having an email list. There is no situation where you would not benefit from building and maintaining an email list. Especially in cannabis, because social media is so volatile and any platform can take away your account without so much as a warning. Then, your audience is lost and how would you be able to communicate with them? This was a huge issue in 2021 when we had at least 3 separate incidents of technical difficulties that shut down Facebook and Instagram for at least a business day each time. Those who had built their email lists were able to email their customers and let them know what was going on and how they could place orders. Those who depended on their Instagram accounts were out of luck. The question I always ask is, “if Facebook or Instagram shut down, how would you talk to your customers?” If you don’t have an answer to that question, you better find some backups ASAP. And (for cannabis folks especially) what if Instagram or TikTok or Twitter decides to take your account away? How will you market your product then? You don’t own your content on social media. Be careful and protect your assets. Make sure you have a site that you’re directing people to. Make sure that you’re collecting emails and communicating with them consistently. Emails land in inboxes, they get tracked for opens and clicks. With social media, you don’t have nearly as much control or guarantee that people see what you send.
What is the biggest marketing challenge that cannabis businesses face? What is your advice to tackle this challenge?
The biggest challenge is certainly not being able to openly talk about products and sales, especially on social media platforms. Cannabis is still considered federally illegal, so corporations (like Facebook and Google) don’t like to risk being cannabis-friendly. So we have to be careful about how we talk about cannabis and cannabis-related goods and services. The language needs to be more vague. The imagery needs to be more strategic. It seems like everywhere we go, we need to tiptoe around the rules and regulations so we don’t risk our businesses getting flagged and our accounts shut down. My advice? Find ways to reach your audience outside of those spaces. Of course the pandemic is not making in-person events any easier, but first you need to create those community spaces that your customers and audience feel comfortable sharing and spending time in. Remember, we’re trying to provide value in their lives with our products and services. Are you educating your consumers? Are you connecting them with other individuals and organizations that are aligned with your business? How are you going beyond the everyday posting and the sales calls-to-action? Give them a look into what you value and who you are. Your customers want to know who they are giving their money to. Consumers want transparency. This is your goal: to deliver it.
Thanks so much, Kieryn, for answering our questions today! You can learn more about Kieryn Wang and ALMOSTCONSULTING through the company’s website.