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 It comes down to the outdated broadcast metrics that CMOs of larger companies are still using to make their marketing decisions.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.