Cannabis marketers torn on how to earn women's 'buying power'

Canada's budding cannabis industry would do well to consider the unique needs of women consumers, a marketing professional says.

Don't 'just add pink and say it's for women,' says entrepreneurship professor

Organigram and Canopy Growth will supply at least nine million grams of cannabis a year for recreational adult sales in the New Brunswick. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Canada's budding cannabis industry would do well to consider the unique needs of women consumers, a marketing professional says.

The federal government is moving toward a July 1 target for cannabis legalization, and in Calgary, municipal leaders continue to debate the finer points of governing the sale and use of the drug within city limits.

Meanwhile, businesses are opening storefronts that, for now, provide only information to potential consumers but may eventually sell the drug and its associated products.

Women are often left out of the discussions, as much of the industry has been geared toward men, says Katie Pringle, co-founder of Cannabis Communications.

"There is a gap in the marketplace when it comes to the shopping experience for women," she told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

"And we all know the buying power that women have for the household, and it's not like cannabis is going to be any different."

Katie Pringle is the co-founder of Cannabis Communications. (Andrea Hunter Photography)

But from what Pringle can tell, women are seeking a slightly different cannabis experience — one that is tailored to be discrete.

This past weekend, she attended the Cannabis & Hemp Expo in Calgary and spoke with a range of women, many of whom want their usage of cannabis to be kept private.

"There's a huge stigma that still exists, and that exists for men and women, but women especially. There's always the 'mom guilt' out there, and they're dealing with that in so many different capacities," Pringle said.

"You worry about judgment from other people, or judgment towards your children. So yeah, discretion is really important."

'Just add pink'

But Mount Royal University entrepreneurship professor Patti Derbyshire warns marketing professionals be cautious to avoid a typical pitfall.

"Some of the obvious mistakes, I could see folks less experienced with marketing making," she said. "It remains an unfortunate decision for major brands across all categories is 'just add pink' and say it's for women."

Patti Derbyshire teaches entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University. (Kelly Hoffer)

Instead, if you break down into smaller groups how people use a product, you end up including all genders and better serve a person's needs, she said.

"If you consider yourself a connoisseur, there's no gender for that. You just want the very finest of a product," she said.

Same goes for daily users who want affordable, reliable cannabis, and the health-conscious consumer, who may prefer organic and to consult a doctor first.

"I think the marketplace is less gendered than ever," Derbyshire said.

Growing demand

As demand grows — Canadians spent $5.7 billion on marijuana last year before legalization — such marketing is key, Pringle said.

"Next summer it's going to be like an avalanche of brands have walked into the marketplace," she said.

"For many consumers, even if you've been consuming for a long period of time, you didn't know what you were having … so there's going to be a huge education component."

Her company has a product called Canndora, a subscription service that mails a discrete box of cannabis supplies to the customer's home three times a year.

One, which Pringle brought into the CBC studio on Monday, contained a rolling paper stick, a necklace featuring THC, the psychoactive chemical compound in cannabis, as well as vaporizing tools.

This is a Canndora box, which women cannabis users can pay to receive by mail three times a year. It's filled with supplies, and is meant to be delivered discretely by mail. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

The logic is that women may seek the healthiest ways possible to consume marijuana, Pringle said, for example, using a vaporizer may be more appealing than smoking a joint.

Lessons learned

Alice de Koning, who teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Calgary, says she looks to the alcohol industry, in part, as a way cannabis could be marketed to women.

Women prefer to drink or consume marijuana with friends, and prefer smaller doses as they often have smaller bodies, she said, so some drinks have female-focused labelling or lower alcohol percentages.

Alice de Koning is a senior instructor of the entrepreneurship program at the University of Calgary. (University of Calgary)

Her entrepreneurship students are picking up on the opportunity, as well, with one looking specifically at targeting baby boomer women.

"A lot of it has to do with just not being familiar with the effects, being smart enough to realize the product has changed over the last 40 years, but not really knowing how to use it safely," de Koning said.

The sometimes "seedy" dispensaries or paraphernalia stores can deter them, as well. Some tattoo parlors, she noted, have switched to a "spa-feel," which she said was a clear attempt to channel a clinical and luxurious feel to attract a new — possibly female — clientele.

"There's a lot of industries that start out very male and then there's a female angle to it — and you can see the shift."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.