Forecasting the future is what we’re all about at ThoughtLeaders - and we’re keeping a close eye on the marijuana industry, which is predicted to more than triple its economic impact within 5 years. Currently, 33 states have approved medical use whereas only 10 have approved recreational use, yet this sector already employs more Americans than the mining and steel industries combined.
This explains why investors are pouring money into the industry, with over $10Billion invested in 2018. The growth of the marijuana industry is undeniable, and although there are still several challenges facing these ‘green’ start-ups, we’ve already identified some early trends that brands can take advantage of to sidestep these obstacles to growth and gain traction in this burgeoning industry.
Strict regulations on how cannabis companies can market themselves have been a persistent challenge due to traditional lawmakers in the US and a generally slow shift in perceptions around cannabis culture. Cannabis brands are prohibited from advertising in spaces where children spend time, meaning no television, radio, vehicle, print advertising, or even mascots. Some states require companies to disclose all intellectual property licensing deals. You can see how brands can be crippled by these restrictions in one such example between WeedMaps and CA’s bureau of cannabis control (BCC) over issues with licensing.
The natural solution, digital marketing, is also hampered because retail sales are severely limited geographically state-by-state in the US. Furthermore, imports from cannabis powerhouse Canada are extremely limited to research purposes only, so global markets are not an avenue of exploration for most brands. How can you market on YouTube and Instagram in a successful manner when you can only sell to audience members in your state?
In reality, YouTube isn’t really an option either. YouTube demonetized all cannabis-related content due to issues with advertisers and offensive content - if YouTube can’t generate ad revenue off your content, you can’t either, as makeup influencer king (queen?) Jeffree Star could tell you.
Nonetheless there is still a HUGE amount of conversation in the digital space surrounding marijuana, and we’ve drawn up an insights report to give you an idea of what the industry looks like now and what it’s shaping up to become over the next 5 years.
Looking at a trend report of influencers talking about cannabis, we come up with some interesting data. Since YouTube isn’t a strong option for getting their content viewed, many publishers are turning to podcast. Here's the trend of podcasts discussing marijuana, showing the steep increase in conversation:
Right now, cannabis is considered a start-up industry bearing witness to an incredible amount of technical innovation and multi-channel growth. Some publications like Cannabis Economy podcast have defined the content in this space, focusing on business and finance topics concerning the marijuana industry:
In fact, there are 92 publications that we have defined as niche content producers, discussing the topics of business consulting and marketing strategy within the world of cannabis. Over 413 podcast episodes have attacked this unique topic thus far, and from the trend graph we can see it’s only getting more attention.
There are several companies that have recognized the opportunity in offering consulting, analytics, and softwares specifically tailored to marijuana retailers and growers. These companies are targeting an audience of people interested in cannabis through a business lens. The data currently shows that sponsoring in these spaces could see results as high as 1M impressions - indicating an untapped market. Here’s who we are keeping our eye on:
Business analytics for cannabis growers, dispensaries, distributors and wholesalers.
Publication connecting consumers to cannabis products and dispensaries, plus industry news and information on current regulatory practices.
Cannabis growth consulting agency designing systems for personal, business, and commercial application.
Producing highly accurate lab testing software to dispensaries.
Marketplace connecting cannabis brands with cannabis-related publications where they can sponsor content to promote their products and services.
This niche community of business and entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry is growing fast, but there are other influencers talking about these topics that are a bit harder to find. Tons of finance podcasts love to analyze tax revenues from local and state regulations and the impact that has on cannabis wholesalers looking to scale. These are not channels dedicated to marijuana, but they certainly do mention them. So how can we understand the overlap?
Let’s look at sponsorship king Hubspot - they are a great example of a comprehensive business service provider, with a variety of products to support and drive productivity, especially favorable for start-ups. They also have tested a wide variety of verticals and have hit on what works.
Hubspot has an audience of 29M and over 1M impressions just from sponsoring on 88 podcasts.
Check out their top sponsorships on their brand page here: it's mainly business, marketing and entrepreneurship podcasts. Within this space, our system identified 27 episodes from 16 unique channels talking about cannabis and marijuana. That's an incredible amount of overlap with just one other business service provider.
We can use other business services brands to create a more comprehensive picture. Overlapping Zapier, Hubspot, Salesforce, and Upwork sponsored channels with those also mentioning marijuana, we get:
From their mutual top 100 sponsorships, we identified 36 that hit all the checks! That’s an audience of 46M and counting.
Even though recreational use is the fastest growing channel in the cannabis industry, medical cannabis use is predicted to remain the highest revenue generator in 2020, owning 71% of total sales in 2019.
How is sponsored content driving those sales? Across 1,500+ influencer channels discussing cannabis, 933 have mentioned medical marijuana and chronic pain/other medical conditions over 9000+ times in the past year.
Again, we see podcasts dominating the discussion, and we’ve broken it down a few different ways.
Pulling up the specific channels covering these topics, there was an immediate theme: health and wellness channels that are either hosted by a doctor or feature an interview with a doctor. 141 podcasts actively discussing marijuana right now are actually hosted by a licensed medical practitioner/MD physician. There is a combined audience of nearly 23M unique subscribers to these channels alone, showing a huge followership.
Here’s an example of some quality content - put out by none other than Cannabis Economy - featuring Dr. Silviu Brill (shout out to our fellow Israeli innovators!). We expect to see more of this content as more states in the US legalize medical use (only 33 states have legalized thus far), and research and testing on products becomes more regulated.
Chronic pain patients accounted for nearly 44% of medical marijuana sales in 2019. We weren’t surprised to see in our system that chronic pain is the #1 topic being talked about on marijuana influencer channels, with 226 influencers talking about it heavily this year:
Podcasts are leading the discussion with 55 unique channels hosted by medical practitioners who also talk about marijuana - that specifically mention chronic pain.
Here's an example of some sponsored content promoting CBD oil across content focusing on chronic pain within the medical community - you can see Ned & Co (click here for their analytics page) sponsored this episode:
CBD oil is another hot topic - for a slightly different reason. CBD products are among the few cannabis products that are regulated differently, because they do not contain THC and do not produce any psychoactive effects. CBD oil was approved as part of the 2018 Farm Bill (although some food and beverage CBD products are still up for debate).
CBD Oil is extremely popular for a variety of applications, so much so that CBD Oil brands have developed entire lines based on health needs for insomnia, migraines, menstrual cramps, arthritis, seizures, and digestive disorders like Crohn’s and colitis. Here’s a list of the top brands we are currently keeping our eye on:
1) Balance CBD // (AAXLL Brands Company)
2) Green Roads
4) Ananda Hemp
5) Joy Organics
6) PlusCBD Oil
7) FAB CBD
8) Dani Pepper // (AAXLL Brands Company)
9) Budderweeds // (AAXLL Brands Company)
12) Mission Farms
13) Koi CBD
15) NuLeaf Naturals
16) Aurora Cannabis
Four Sigmatic and Mindbodygreen have commercialized CBD sales as part of their “natural and superfoods” offerings. They actually are selling a selection of the top CBD brands listed above, showing that those brands haven’t quite figured out how to market themselves yet, and are leveraging online marketplaces to do the promoting for them right now.
Looking at Four Sigmatic, we can see they’ve been heavily sponsoring podcasts talking about CBD oil with incredible results. They've actually sponsored 118 podcast episodes to get a whopping 2M impressions:
We can see they are sponsoring 44 lifestyle and wellness podcasts that are already talking about CBD over 250+ times.
Four Sigmatic is reaching their ideal audience, consistently sponsoring their top 5 podcasts over 200 times, spanning 3 years. That’s an audience of nearly 89M they’ve gained by sponsoring content in these top 5 podcasts alone.
CBD Oil is just a small part of what companies like Four Sigmatic offer, and their natural audience is the vegan and naturopath community. Our trend report of top podcasts discussing veganism and naturopathy shows this overlap:
308 podcasts have been discussing this topic across an audience of 610M unique subscribers. Within this space, there are 79 podcasts that are also talking about CBD and hemp products - that's an incredible amount of overlap.
Top health brands like Mindbodygreen and Cured are promoting their CBD and hemp products on these channels. Here's an example:
The obvious revenue potential for cannabis brands right now is by far and away CBD products, and our data on topic trends within the cannabis community shows us that chronic pain is a key conversation influencing consumers in this space. Podcast is the clear winner and preferred format of discussion, although we are watching YouTube as they continue to muddle through their demonetization algorithms - we are optimistic that they will solve this issue soon, given the incredible profits YouTube is missing out on.
We are seeing cultural norms shifting rapidly, doing away with the classic stigma around marijuana, but there’s still so much hush-hush, with up to 12% of Americans that still believe marijuana consumption should be a punishable criminal offense. Just as much, 11% of Americans report they consume marijuana daily (whether rec or medical). Keep in mind - we’ve found that these discussions are happening across business AND doctor podcasts alike, showing that marijuana is being treated with a new degree of legitimacy, since white collar professionals are getting involved in the industry.
It will be interesting to see how influencers will help the market evolve. Keep your eye on YouTube, our up-and-coming brands, and innovations in chronic pain products, personal growing equipment/systems and delivery/distribution services. And as always, check out our newsletter weekly for more insights like this!