Cannabis Consumers: Understanding the Landscape, Tailoring Your Message

Once upon a time, the phrase “cannabis consumers” meant one thing: Stoners.

These days, of course, the landscape couldn’t be more different. With adult-use cannabis legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, medical use in 36, a large majority of Americans now have access to some form of cannabis, and they’re increasingly hyper-focused on different products, trends, and their own evolving tastes.

This is an incredible opportunity for cannabis businesses, many of whom are diversifying and specializing in niche markets. But it also creates a problem: Who are these new cannabis consumers, and how can I tailor my messaging and outreach to speak to them?
Let’s break down these complex questions into bite-sized bits. In today’s article, we’ll cover:

  • Types of Cannabis Consumers
  • Changing Channels: Methods of Reaching Your Audience
  • Designing Your Funnel: Leveraging Content to Reach Any Audience

Understanding Cannabis Consumers: Learning the Landscape

These days, the world of cannabis consumers is as wide and as varied as are these United States. With cannabis at historic acceptance levels, we can’t continue to rely on outdated assumptions about certain populations or age groups simply not being interested in cannabis. Industry analysts and pollsters have come up with innumerable ways to classify cannabis consumers (“Silver Dabblers” or “Discreet Unwinders,” anyone?). These tags are helpful, up to a point, but they’re made even more useful by cross-referencing them with hard numbers such as generational labels:

  • Gen Z: Ages 21 to 24; as young as 18 for some medical-use
  • Millennials: Ages 25 to 40
  • Gen X: Ages 41 – 56
  • Boomers: Ages 57 – 75
  • Silent Gen: Ages 76 – 95

Obviously, it’s risky to treat all members of a particular age group as a single entity. But categorizing these cannabis consumers by age is a helpful way to organize large amounts of information. And as recent data from dispensary technology platform Flowhub demonstrates, use patterns between these generations are remarkably consistent when we compare sales of medical-use and adult-use cannabis. In either case, the generations are responsible for roughly the same proportion of users:

  • Gen Z: 17% medical and adult-use
  • Millennials: Ages 42% medical; 48% adult-use
  • Gen X: Ages 23% medical; 21% adult-use
  • Boomers: Ages 17% medical; 13% adult-use
  • Silent Gen: Ages 1% medical and adult-use

What about determining cannabis use along racial lines? According to data from the Brookings Institution, it turns out there’s not much difference between Black and White Americans (though the Black community is 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession). And studies indicate that Latinos are by and large more likely than either Blacks or Whites to support the normalization and use of cannabis, even when they don’t personally use it themselves.

As we hinted earlier, there are many other ways of slicing this particular pie: By use patterns rather than age, as New Frontier Data has done, or by use patterns cross-referenced with product type, as a study published in Addictive Behaviors did.

When you’re trying to get a handle on the cannabis consumers in your specific area, we recommend starting with the broadest possible net—like looking at generational use patterns and stats—and then winnowing down from there. 

Of course, identifying different cannabis consumer groups is only the first step in the equation. Once we’ve developed a decent grasp of the landscape, it’s time to put that knowledge to use, tailoring our messaging and outreach to best meet the populations we want to serve. Let’s dive deeper into these questions next.

Understanding Cannabis Consumers: Picking Channels

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As a dispensary owner/operator, you have a large number of communication channels at your disposal: Email, text/SMS, content marketing such as blogs and posts, social media such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Clubhouse, just to name the most important. And how you best use them depends in part upon whom you’re trying to reach.

Disclaimer: Does categorizing communities by their communication preferences run the risk of painting with an overly large brush? It does. But just like categorizing cannabis consumers by age, it’s a reasonably effective way of organizing large bodies of data.

Studying the data on the generational groups we named earlier, we can draw some helpful inferences that will make it easier to reach them.

Let’s run down the list:

Gen Z: Social media in general—and influencers in specific—are hugely important to this demographic. Email—typically accessed via smartphone—is the preferred form of communication for roughly 2/3rds of this demographic. In addition, leveraging the power of SMS marketing would be a good call for this group.

What to Market: Research by Benzinga indicates that this demographic gravitates towards vapes, concentrates, and other high-tech cannabis products. As the above data shows, however, they’re not picky about classifying cannabis along medical or adult-use lines.

For more background information and analysis on marketing to Gen Z and Millennials, read our recent post on the topic.

Millennials: Email is even more crucial to this group than Gen Z. Research indicates that because this group receives more emails as they age upwards, there’s less tolerance for spam or spam-like material. Authenticity and orientation towards values and a mission are crucial here—good time to revisit your mission statement—and informality sells well (yes, you can use emojis sparingly in this context).

What to Market: Based on a stated desire for adventure and experience, some analysts believe the tactic of classifying products by desired outcome rather than dry botanical name (sativa, indica) is a good bet with this demographic.

Gen X: By the time we reach this age group, email has largely edged out SMS as a preferred communication channel. What’s more, Facebook usage is highest for this demographic, if you use that platform. Overall brand loyalty is also highest for this group, so any steps you can take to personalize your communications and offers will go a long way towards cementing the long-term relationship that powers a healthy bottom line.

What to Market: As data from cannabis analysts shows, this demographic gravitates to flower and pre-rolls first, with vapes, concentrates, and edibles coming in a somewhat distant second.

Boomers: You can make all the jokes about “disconnected seniors” you want, but research shows that 68% of boomers use smartphones, and they make 20% more online purchases than Millennials. Email is a popular communication format here, with an interesting twist: Boomers are much less likely than other generations to multitask while reading their email. What’s more, research indicates they have the longest purchase consideration time of any age group.

This means that the material you send their way can be more detailed and specific, less geared towards a fast sell. You have this generation’s attention: Use it wisely.

What to Market: While boomers are less shy of adult-use cannabis than you might assume, using medical cannabis to relieve symptoms such as chronic pain and inflammation is really key here. Inhalables, capsules, and edibles are most popular among this group, and providing top-notch educational material and guidance on these products will help demonstrate your commitment to serving this large and important segment of cannabis consumers.

For more background information and analysis on marketing to seniors, read our recent post on the topic.

Silent Gen: While this group of cannabis consumers is small, it will only grow in leaps and bounds as Boomers age up. Providing authoritative information, clear medical guidance, and gimmick-free messaging and offers is the ticket here.

Understanding Cannabis Consumers: Designing Your Funnel

Knowing who you’re trying to reach—and having some actionable intelligence on how to best do it—allows you to create funnels that truly engage your audience, leading them from skeptical observer to curious browser to active customer, even brand advocate.

What the data we’ve shared should illuminate is that just as there’s not one kind of cannabis consumer, there’s not just one kind of funnel. Their design and functionality must be highly tailored towards their target audience’s goals and predilections.

But one thing is universal: Whomever you’re trying to reach, you should use different types of content tailored at each stage to further the process.

For instance, the top of any given funnel can be seeded with educational content on your products. It could be general information on different types of concentrates aimed at Gen Z and Millennials or an introduction to a new study on CBD’s pain-fighting ability for Boomers.

Further down in the middle of the funnel, you could share more granular content and introductory offers. Here’s where more granular information—and links to specific products—can nurture the relationship and foster intent to buy.

When customers reach the bottom of the funnel and are in relationship with your brand, it’s time to focus on products that will continue to intrigue and serve them. Having done the work to research and understand your audience, by now you’ve got a pretty good idea which specific offers will appeal to them, as well as the best channels and tone of voice to cement the relationship.

Are you ready to learn more about how to use content marketing to reach specific audiences and demographics? Start with our Introduction to Content Marketing. And if you’re ready to take the conversation even further, reach out anytime. We’d love to share what we know.