Editor’s note: This editorial was contributed by Dan Serard, the Director Of Business Development & Strategic Partnerships for Cannabis Creative, a Massachusetts-based award-winning digital marketing agency specializing in cannabis and CBD.
When California first opened up the floodgates of cannabis by legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, the industry was apprehensive and cold. As other states followed suit, dispensaries remained sterile, clinical places with bland products that resembled a pharmaceutical prescription.
As we put those days in the rearview mirror, so too are brands and professionals that adhere to that image. Instead, we’re seeing sophisticated brands and innovative marketing teams changing the landscape of the cannabis industry.
So why haven’t we done the same for cannabis networking?
Traditional cannabis events like trade shows have helped bring legitimacy to the industry over time, but at the end of the day, the real changemakers in cannabis are looking to create meaningful business relationships that go beyond the surface-level interactions typical of a large business conference. Particularly in a post-pandemic era, we need to reimagine the cannabis networking experience. Instead of buttoned-up elements like expensive booths and corporate attire, we need to curate intentional, memorable moments with one another.
The Evolution of the Trade Show
There are quite a few aspects of a large event that can be inconvenient. The number of attendees at conventional trade shows is often overwhelming. Exhibition floors are brimming with booths and teams walking through. Cannabis (usually) cannot be sampled out, brands have their sales pitch on repeat all day, and most interactions are brief and superficial at best. You can be intentional about who you connect with and how you spend your time, but there are no guarantees that you’ll be able to have a fruitful conversation with so many distractions.
Seth Worby, the CEO and Co-Founder of Cannabis Creative Group and Founder of the TeeHC Open, and a frequent attendee at trade shows, adds that “They’re tiring. You’re on your feet for eight hours straight. They’re expensive: food, hotels, travel, etc. A show can cost a small team upwards of $10K.”
While trade shows have been an amazing tool in the industry for a long time, the truth is that post-pandemic trade shows are struggling to maintain popularity. In the long run, brand-centered, fun experiences will win out over corporate programming. This will include events like industry competitions, brand-hosted pop-ups and experiences, and interactive cannabis events. After all, this is an industry that is heavily based on the senses.
The Future of Cannabis Networking Events
After being cooped up inside for almost two years, people are eager – but also apprehensive – to get back to in-person events. At the same time, everything from consumer behavior to family dynamics and company culture has shifted dramatically since March 2020.
The result is a need for more interactive, meaningful events to take place.
When it comes to networking in such a highly creative and competitive industry, the key is not to know everyone, but rather to build valuable and meaningful relationships with the right people. Therefore, cannabis professionals are not interested in cold pitching people who are not interested in their brand. Rather, they want to meet warm leads and connect with partners that are genuinely excited to work together.
As we conceive what post-pandemic cannabis networking events might look like, it begs the question of who is most fit to host and facilitate these types of relationships. The most obvious answer is those who have their ear to the ground: ancillary businesses. From cannabis marketing agencies to brand consultants, ancillary cannabis businesses hear a wide range of needs from all types of players in the industry.
Whether you’re a dispensary or a CBD brand or anything in between, it is likely that you’re working with an ancillary business to help grow yours. What better way to pave the way for the future of cannabis networking than with these creative professionals? With all this in mind, there are key elements that define the future of cannabis networking events. These events will – and should – include:
- Interactive elements for attendees to engage in
- Brand activation opportunities
- Creative networking activities and spaces
- Community-building programming
- Flexible and inclusive cannabis consumption policies
- Hosts that facilitate lead introductions
Post-Pandemic Networking is Here to Stay
The last few years have changed the landscape of our society – permanently. As much as we wanted those lockdowns to be a temporary fluke, the pandemic has created change that is here to stay. Consumers no longer want to be overtly sold to. They want to shop from brands they are loyal to, brands that align with their values, and brands that understand the value of a meaningful relationship.
This shift impacts major players and small businesses in the industry alike. As cannabis professionals seek out more engaging, fun, and meaningful networking events, we expect that it will not be a trend that comes and goes. Instead, we’ll see these features expand to other industries and become essential to the success of future networking events.
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