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A Ladder in the Desert: Grow Sciences’ Jaimie McKenna Talks Strategy

Navigating the Cannabis Marketing Landscape

By Eva Berlin Sylvestre

It’s not often journalists mic the marketer, which makes sense via our training: “Marketers are our nemeses — they care about products, not about enlightenment!” But if you allow it, a second level dawns: Marketers are everyday people who know more about the industry than most, and are capable of caring about both. With that in mind, we put our feelers out for someone who’d be willing to talk shop about a facet of the industry oft overlooked: the messenger behind the message. In this instance, we’re shining a light on Jaimie McKenna of Phoenix’s Grow Sciences.

Jaimie McKenna’s rise to the role of Marketing Manager for Phoenix’s Grow Sciences is a narrative of both serendipity and hard-earned triumph. Originally hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, her post-college life led her from waitressing to a photography job, searching for a role that could harness her creative zest. Her pivot into the cannabis space began at the Local Joint, a popular Phoenix dispensary, where her dynamic ascent from receptionist to General Manager transpired within a year. It was here that Jaimie’s knack for brand cultivation and community engagement became strikingly clear. Eventually, the marketing realm beckoned, offering a new canvas for her talents, leading to her current role at Grow Sciences.

Since taking the reins at Grow, Jaimie has built a marketing machine of epic proportions, deftly maneuvering both the stifling regulations governing the trade and the niche, but diverse culture they serve, while fostering sustained growth and increasing market presence.

After a bit of arm twisting, Jaimie agreed to sit down with HQ and grant us some insight into what makes the gal behind the Insta hit post. Gather round, dear readers, for what follows is gold.

 

Cannabis Marketing Whiz, Jaimie McKenna at the Local Joint in Arizona.

How did you venture into the cannabis marketing industry?

I need to go back in time just a bit to paint a clear picture of how I fell into this wonderful industry totally by chance. I’m originally from Providence, Rhode Island. I lived there until I was 28 years old. After I graduated from college and got married, my husband and I were looking to switch things up. I’ve always longed to get out of the East Coast and see what else is out there and meet new people. So, when my husband had the opportunity to transfer his job to Phoenix, we decided to make quite a drastic change and ended up on the opposite side of the country. I was looking for a job that could lead to bigger opportunities and fast. While I was searching endlessly for more entry-level jobs that looked promising, a receptionist job at a local dispensary in Phoenix caught my eye. On a whim, I applied and got a job at PARC Dispensary in August of 2017. My hard work paid off and it helped me advance from receptionist to budtender, and then to shift supervisor within three months of being hired. I was promoted to General Manager around my one-year mark — an insane learning experience. The first thing my boss told me when I started to advance in the company was that working in this industry is like dog years. And she wasn’t kidding! My boss recognized [burnout] and suggested that it was time for me to maybe venture into another area of the company that I hadn’t been able to spend a lot of time in yet, and that was marketing. [Eventually], I took a job offer from an Arizona brand called Grow Sciences, and it has been an absolutely wonderful two years.

What are the key marketing strategies you employ in the cannabis industry, and how do they differ from traditional industries?

The cannabis industry is community-based. You can use the standard marketing outlets such as out of home advertising, print, and digital, but it’s about being present in the community and making genuine connections with your accounts and consumers daily. This keeps your brand top of mind because the competition is stiff in Arizona.

Can you discuss the legal and regulatory challenges you face in cannabis marketing, and how you navigate them?

Cannabis marketing has evolved over the years quite a bit. In the beginning, we had to come up with creative ways to send the message that you were a legal medical cannabis shop or brand and you had products to sell. Even the storefronts had to be pretty inconspicuous. There were restrictions on certain words and imagery, such as traditional pot leaves and certain products, but they have become more lenient since recreational use went into effect at the end of 2020. Billboards were the last type of advertising to start allowing most types of images and words for advertising, but you still can’t show products being used in the image.

How do you identify and target your core audience in a market with diverse consumer preferences?

Keep the feedback loop open. Any way you can connect with your sellers and consumers is key. Run events and let people try the product and provide feedback right in front of you.

What role does digital marketing play in your strategy, especially considering restrictions on certain platforms?

Social media is definitely the hardest platform to use to connect with your consumers. Shadow banning and account deletions are a hard pill to swallow when the majority of your audience is constantly engaged online. At Grow Sciences, we decided to create an app from scratch and use that to connect with our consumers daily. They can find our products at their favorite dispensary, get notifications about exclusive or new drops, and even connect directly with our team using the chat function. This has already solved a lot of our issues.

Ensuring compliance while staying unique can be tricky, but I am lucky enough to consult our team and talk with our compliance officer when designing packaging for a new product. The guidelines are pretty gray, but we do our best to stay connected with the state and get approval before anything goes to print. It pushes us to be creative and think outside of the box.

What trends do you predict in cannabis marketing over the next five years?

I think more brands will start creating or using white label apps to connect with their consumers. I don’t foresee any more restrictions being implemented as we get closer to legalization.

What’s the most innovative campaign you’ve worked on, and what were its results?

I have worked on a number of campaigns over the years, but I think the most innovative one I worked on was the app launch. We now have over 5,300 app subscribers to date. It’s a constant advertisement in all of our marketing campaigns, and the numbers keep climbing.

What’s a typical day for a cannabis marketer?

Every day is different! We have a small team at Grow Sciences, and we wear a lot of hats. We try to spread ourselves out so that we can be out there in the field representing the company we love so much. One day I’ll be in the office all day, which is located in the heart of our cultivation, decorated and cluttered with our field materials. The next day, I’ll be in Northern AZ, checking out a new dispensary that we are launching in and taking measurements for a display space. We are just constantly on the go, and it’s what makes our job so much fun. It’s impossible to become too complacent.

What are some side-perks you enjoy?

Cannabis events are the best part of the job! You get to relax, smoke, and just enjoy time with your team while connecting with like-minded people in the industry. It has definitely been the cherry on top of this career. I also work inside the cultivation, so I’m immersed with the entire company. They just expanded into an 80,000 square foot facility, and it’s already working like a well-oiled machine. I can literally watch the product go from clone to finished product every day. We grow, harvest, trim, extract, and package all under one roof. Giving our accounts a tour of the building is so much fun because not all dispensaries create their own product, and they aren’t able to see how the sausage is made. Every tour is like watching a kid walk through a chocolate factory. It’s very fulfilling to share the same kind of love and admiration for cannabis.

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