CMO Q&A: How VIVO Cannabis is driving Integrated Communications

How VIVO Cannabis is delivering on its integrated marketing strategy

As part of our CMO Lab project, we are chronicling the unique stories and experiences of CMOs and senior marketers across North America.
We caught up with Sung Kang, CMO of VIVO Cannabis Inc., responsible for the company’s portfolio of premium cannabis brands including Beacon Medical, Fireside and Lumina. Prior to joining VIVO, Sung held senior marketing roles with Labatt, Novartis and General Mills.

Q. Are you surprised by the research that suggests that only one third of CMOs have changed-up their marketing approach in the last few years?

It doesn’t surprise me at all. It comes down to the outdated broadcast metrics that CMOs of larger companies are still using to make their marketing decisions. These CMOs are using yesterday’s metrics to shape decisions for today. CMOs are tied to broadcast media metrics because there is just no reliable way to measure share of voice outside of conventional media.

The challenge is that CMOs and management teams were trained on these broadcast media metrics and it’s what they know best. There are some bright spots though and we are seeing situations where junior teams are stepping up and saying, “these reports are not telling the full story.”

We are in an era where marketers are forgetting who the audience is and this problem is compounded by declining conventional TV viewership. We need to get off the drug of awareness curves and just focus on making sure the right people are seeing our message. Marketers need to ask themselves, does this pass the reasonability test for the audience that I want to reach?

Q. For the one third of CMOs who did evolve their approach, what do you think allowed them to do it?

I think they’ve realized that you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

It comes down to the ability to influence up. Marketers who can take a risk and do something innovative without the usual proof will be successful. Many brands are still stuck at a 50% digital spend because they are addicted to this “proof” that doesn’t necessarily exist.

For the marketers who have been able to move the needle, it’s because they’ve earned influence and the trust of management to run an experiment or a trial. For them, it’s about dipping their toe in the water and seeing what happens. But I know of several U.S. alcohol brands that did this successfully and were able to transition to 100% digital with amazing success.

Q. What’s the role of integrated communications for an industry like cannabis? What are you doing to drive an integrated strategy?

Well, aside from a few of the larger producers, the amount of actual marketing Canadian cannabis brands have done in the run-up to legalization has actually been quite limited, either because they are conserving budget, or they are holding out for consolidation. However, the whole industry has benefitted from a huge amount of media attention that is contributing to broad public awareness.  This media attention has given us an incredible opportunity to reach prospective customers - but it’s not prudent to think that the attention will last at this level over the long term. We’ll have to create new and better ways to sustain it.

One of the benefits of being in the news is that you get to cut through all the crap – the overly complex creative and imagery that doesn’t mean anything to a consumer. I’m really loving this kind of simple communication [earned media] because it cuts through all the garbage of what is mostly bad advertising.

We are also creating communities for our customers online. You also have to consider the restrictions that our industry faces in terms of marketing. Come October 17th, they will be even more restrictive. However, the restrictions force us to think creatively and communicate our message in an integrated way. I encourage my team to think this through every day.

It’s not a surprise that it is the older marketers who are stuck on conventional marketing tactics and it’s the younger ones who favour an integrated approach. Younger marketers haven’t come up through a system that was conventional by default. They are used to dividing up budget across a range of tactics and approaches. They know that the customer journey map and the path to purchase evolves over time. We need to ensure the map is updated and follow it.

Canadian marketers not keeping pace with disruption, according to study

Traditional tactics prove hard to abandon despite a radically altered environment

TORONTO, ON, September 20, 2018 – New research shows that Canadian marketers have been slow to respond to new business and brand reputation realities.

According to new data from CMO Lab™, a joint research project from APEX Public Relations, ruckus Digital and Maru/Blue, more than half (53 per cent) of senior-level marketers in Canada have not changed or evolved their marketing strategies in the last few years despite radical shifts in consumer behaviour and spending, the continued growth of digital platforms and the steady decline of conventional media.

“Canada’s marketers are falling behind when it comes to integrated branded communications, as part of an overall marketing strategy,” said Kenneth Evans, Managing Partner, APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital. “Marketers who fail to evolve and shift from traditional tactics to a strategic and integrated approach are putting their organizations’ brand reputations at-risk, as conventional marketing no longer delivers the audience, engagement or impact that brands need today.”

With increased responsibilities over data and insights, technology, customer experience, culture and brand reputation, the role of the chief marketer has evolved significantly over the last decade and is now one of the most influential roles in an organization. To retain their position of influence and their seat at the executive table, CMOs must evolve, incorporating new strategies and tactics to succeed in today’s environment.

According to the survey, reputation risk is top of mind with Canadian CMOs:

  • 90% of CMOs surveyed indicate that the way their brand or organization is perceived publicly has become more important in recent years
  • 64% said they are not fully prepared to adjust their marketing strategies if faced with a reputational threat
  • 55% of those who had experienced a reputational threat said that they could have been more proactive and better prepared to respond more quickly

“It’s clear from the research that PR and other communication experts bear some responsibility for this situation and must do a better job in demonstrating the value of an integrated approach to help CMOs drive programming in areas that are outside of their traditional area of focus including employee and stakeholder engagement, brand reputation management and corporate social responsibility,” continued Evans.

In addition to sharing ongoing quantitative and qualitative research, CMO Lab will feature first-hand insights in the form of video, a podcast and articles from top Canadian and global marketers highlighting how they are responding to change.

“Given the growing concerns about reputation, marketers should be doing more to protect their brand by thinking broadly and incorporating an integrated approach to their marketing,” said Lisa Valade-DeMelo from Maru/Blue. “CMOs are in the perfect position to adapt at-speed and CMO Lab is a great resource to help get them started.”

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About the CMO Lab survey

The online survey, conducted in May 2018, polled 100 Canadian CMOs or other decision makers in the marketing function using Maru/Blue’s Maru Voice Canada online panel.

Additional details are available at:

About APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital

APEX and ruckus Digital represent a collective of experienced, smart and creative communicators. Our unmatched 20-year track record of award-winning campaigns, client retention and client satisfaction are a testament to our ability to get it right, over and over again. Our work extends to all sectors, with a concentration on consumer brands, corporate and B2B, technology and reputation management. The key to our success is a fusion of senior level strategists, creative ideas, a passion for our work, client collaboration and a disciplined focus on achieving results that impact our clients' bottom lines. For more information visit and

About Maru/Blue

Maru/Blue is a premium quality data services firm that provides reliable global data connections for brands, agencies, and market research. We create value for our clients by connecting them with expertly profiled known respondents. The result? Reliable, reproducible insights. We deliver instant access to the general population, specific markets, and your or your competitor’s customers.

Springboard America, and Maru Voice Canada, established more than a decade ago, are a testament to our commitment and depth of engagement. More recently we developed the Maru Voice Business Canada and Springboard America Business Forum, both an excellent source for business to business research. Maru/Blue also recently announced the launch of its exclusive Qualitative Community and acquisition of Hispanic panel Tú Cuentas.

APEX PR/ruckus Digital media contact

For further information: Kenneth Evans at / 416-934-2114


Are Canada’s marketers keeping up with the pace of change?

That’s the question we set out to answer with APEX’s new CMO Lab project – and the results are well, surprising. Despite radical shifts in consumer behaviour, growth of digital and the decline of conventional media, only a third of CMOs have changed or evolved their strategies in the last few years. Yikes.

This finding is among a number of insights gleaned from our recent survey of more than 100 Canadian CMOs and senior-level marketers. The results provide an insider-view of how businesses and brands are responding to change and disruption while gauging how Canada’s marketers are coping with new responsibilities for technology, data and analytics and corporate reputation.

We’ve grouped the insights together in an exciting new initiative we’re calling CMO Lab. In addition to the quantitative research, CMO Lab will be featuring a content hub with first-hand insights in the form of podcasts, articles and videos highlighting how some of Canada’s top marketers are responding to change.

Here are a few of the most interesting findings:

  • Marketers are still tied to traditional: Despite massive change, new competitive pressures and technological disruption, only a third of CMOs have changed their approach to marketing in the last few years.
  • A (Not So) Integrated Approach: When it comes to an organization’s marketing, less than half of CMOs include PR, corporate culture or HR in their communications plans. Most CMOs are ignoring employee and organizational communications entirely, leaving out some their brand’s most vocal and authentic advocates.
  • Reputation Matters: A full 90% of CMOs believe brand and organizational reputation has become more important in the last few years. However, just half say they could have been more proactive when managing a reputational risk that impacted their organization.
  • Valuing Exposure: Just over a quarter of CMOs’ organizations value positive exposure in viral or engaging social media the most – above all else.
  • Driving Innovation: Half of CMOs say marketing innovation comes from inside their organization and half partner with other organizations to acquire new skills.

Are Marketers Losing the Race?

Conventional marketing no longer delivers the audience, engagement or impact that brands need today and it’s clear from the results of our study that marketers who are unable to shift from traditional tactics to a strategic and integrated approach are putting their organizations’ brand reputations at-risk.

But despite this less than rosy picture, all is not lost and there are some insights from the research that show that a set of marketers are starting to adopt an integrated approach that promotes a consistent message with their audiences while navigating today’s reputation risks and opportunities. For example, of the one third of marketers who have changed-up their approach, half are increasing their investment in new forms of media and making an effort to integrate different campaign elements.

What Can Agencies Do About It?

It’s clear that PR agencies and other communications professionals must do a better job in demonstrating the value of integrated communications across a diversity of channels and audiences to marketers.  Ad agencies have traditionally monopolized the attention of the CMO, but in order to help CMOs move beyond traditional areas, such as employee and stakeholder engagement, brand reputation management and corporate social responsibility to name but a few, PR professionals need to insert themselves into the conversation. We can’t ultimately expect marketers to single-handedly navigate an entirely new territory of programming if we don’t ourselves help them along the way.

The Road Ahead

It’s been a long road, but Canadian Marketers have successfully expanded their roles beyond brand communication to include data and insights, customer experience, workplace culture, corporate reputation and new technologies. But our CMO Lab research suggests that by not adapting to change, Marketers could be holding themselves (and their brands) back from even greater success. Looking ahead, Canadian CMOs should expand and extend their use of integrated communications to optimize programs and budget and reach more audiences. By doing so, they will achieve greater consistency of brand messages, enhance consumer, public and employee engagement while driving sustainable growth.

Stay on the lookout for new CMO Lab content from the APEX / ruckus Digital team and follow the conversation on social using the #CMOLab hashtag.

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