Consistency Is The Most Effective Marketing Tool – Says John Shute
In this interview, John touches on various topics such as effective marketing tools for cannabis companies, marketing challenges, and advice for budding entrepreneurs.
John Shute is the Co-Founder and CEO of the cannabis marketing agency - PufCreativ, an award-winning and full-scale cannabis marketing agency based in Denver, Colorado. He is also the Co-founder of community outreach platform – Cannabis Doing Good; Cannabis Impact Fund that promotes racial justice and environmental sustainability; and an educational guidebook platform – Cannabis Creative Movement. John's forte is creative cannabis marketing strategy, B2B, B2C, and client communication in the marijuana industry. He has appeared on multiple panels at Denver University and General Assembly, speaking about his experience in cannabis marketing. In this interview, John touches on various topics such as effective marketing tools for cannabis companies, marketing challenges, and advice for budding entrepreneurs.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? What encouraged you to get into the cannabis industry?
I’m a graduate of Norwich University’s MBA Project Management Program, and have taken the marketing industry by storm — originally starting out in hospitality and nightlife, and now specializing in cannabis. My forte is creative cannabis marketing strategy, B2B, B2C, and client communication in the cannabis industry. Always striving for excellence – I was awarded 2020 and 2022 Colorado CEO of the Year by CEO Magazine, and won 2020 Marketer of the Year in the ADCANN Cannabis Advertising Awards, with PufCreativ also winning the award for Agency of the Year 2 years in a row and Cannabis Creative movement winning “Marketing Campaign of the Year.”! On top of being the CEO at PufCreativ, I’m the CEO at Pinelands Apothecary, Board Member of the Tri-State Cannabis Alliance, and Co-Founder of the Cannabis Impact Fund, Cannabis Creative Movement, and Cannabis Doing Good.
I’ve always been an advocate for cannabis my entire life. The straw that broke the camel's back for me entering the industry was the number of friends and family in my life who struggled with opiates. I learned that cannabis was a safe alternative and I could put my passion and marketing to work in harmony together. Now my agency has been around for 5 years and on top of the world-class work we execute for our clients, we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for non-profits all over the country.
2. As the CEO & Co-Founder of PufCreativ, what does your day look like? And what is the best part of your job?
My days are action-packed, that’s for sure. On top of everything I have going on, my wife and I both work from home and take care of our 1-year-old daughter. I still manage to find balance in my life, although I handle a lot of the day-to-day business development, sales, and higher-level project management at PufCreativ.
On top of my and my family's mental and physical health, my team is very important to me and also the best part of my job. We enjoy the work we do together while making a positive difference in the world.
3. Tell us about PufCreativ, what inspired you to start this?
I was inspired to start PufCreativ due to a negative situation I was in. I was the Marketing Director of a cannabis business in California which dropped my intern and me without warning right before my wedding. Instead of putting my tail between my legs, I realized our value and pushed to form PufCreativ. One thing I love about life is taking negative situations and making them positive.
4. What’s unique about PufCreativ and its team? What does PufCreativ do best?
Our team is unique because we are located all over the country and maintain such a close bond with one another. We take pride in our work and keeping our digital organizational culture lively. I think this carries over into our work and client relationships which is why people choose us and stay with us for so long.
I think what we do best is being able to handle all foundational marketing for our clients and help them navigate the wild cannabis industry. We can start businesses from just an idea and take them all the way to generating an ROI. We also have relationships to help overcome certain roadblocks that always get in the way in this industry.
5. What were your key initiatives for the success of the PufCreativ? How would you describe your success so far?
Our key initiatives for success were to grow and scale, but all while maintaining our organizational culture and giving back. I’m very proud of where we’re at after 5 years. Our team is happy, motivated, and pumping out our best work ever. We help community organizations all over the country and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for non-profits all over the country.
6. According to you, what are the check-steps and important things to keep in mind when starting a cannabis marketing campaign?
There’re many variables with any cannabis marketing campaign. Understanding the business, products, and campaign goals is always an important first step. Once there’s a clear understanding - quality content, education and compliance are then typically the most important aspects of a cannabis marketing campaign. Bridging the gap between cannabis and consumer education without being able to communicate or visualize due to compliance can be tricky. We love to suck users in through a campaign, strategically educate them and ensure that our clients’ assets are safe while doing so.
7. What is the most effective marketing tool or strategy that works best to increase sales over time? How do you help brands overcome social media restrictions?
The most effective marketing tool and strategies that work best to increase sales is quality consistency in your efforts. The cannabis industry is relentless. If you have a consistent brand that differentiates itself through its branding, story, products, education, and engagement with the community, it will pay off. Branding, marketing, storytelling, and the actual products themselves are sometimes on the back burner for cannabis organizations when they should be prioritized.
It’s tricky for cannabis brands on social media. Each social media platform has its pros and cons. We understand each platform's policies and how it views cannabis, so we cater the content and messaging to be as compliant and effective for each platform as possible. There’s always a risk, especially on Instagram and Facebook, but if you set up and execute your marketing platform the right way, there are ways to effectively overcome these restrictions.
8. What is your take on running a marketing campaign for small budget dispensaries and for CPG brands in a state with strict regulations?
I typically love running marketing campaigns for small budget dispensaries and CPG brands because most of the time they have a very genuine story and the best products to offer. I’m a huge fan of shopping local and small-batch cannabis products. I feel that cannabis is a sacred plant and the preservation of its quality can get lost in translation to corporate cannabis. Sometimes small budgets are tough, but if we can make it work realistically, we’ll do it.
9. What are the challenges you face while initiating and planning a marketing campaign strategy? Can you share a challenging experience and what strategies you followed to overcome it?
We’ve been working in a lot of newer markets, so a big challenge there is education. It can be challenging to get consumers to recognize the value of a quality product if they don’t understand the difference between what’s quality and what’s not and exactly why. When marketing to an educated consumer, they see the value in minor cannabinoids, terpenes, and how their cannabis was grown, compared to someone who is not educated and typically will buy what gets them high for the cheapest or whatever their budtender tells them.
One of our clients WaxNax launched a pre-dosed dabbing inserts years ago, which was way ahead of its time. Knowing it would take consumers some time to learn the value at a local and national level, we took the time to create a strong foundation for the marketing platform with a heavy emphasis on education through design and video. Our influencer network played a big part in the process. Now the brand is launching in multiple states and becoming very well known at a national level.
10. Can you share your experience about the most exciting marketing campaigns you designed for a cannabis brand?
One of the best campaigns that we've done and are still executing is our Cannabis Creative Movement campaign. It’s an educational guidebook series that involves brands, non-profits, community partners, media partners and creative folks from all over the country. We’ve won ADCANN’s 2021 “Marketing Campaign of the Year” and we just submitted for a CLIO Award. We’re excited to have an opportunity to be creative, educate and give back all at the same time and hope to encourage others to do the same.
11. What are your future goals and what’s next for you?
We have so much we’re excited about. Two of my favorite upcoming projects will be launching our first custom cannabis dispensary mobile application for The Fire Station in Michigan and submitting for our own cannabis dispensary, Pinelands Apothecary, in New Jersey. We’re excited to build mobile apps around clients' goals, tech and business situations. We’re even more excited to have a foot in the door in retail to eventually create our own brands.
12. What tips would you like to give to young entrepreneurs who want to step into the cannabis industry?
If you’re looking to start your own cannabis business, my advice is to never give up or stop learning. This is the hardest industry to run your own business in, so you need to make sure you set your expectations and perspective for the long term. Mental and physical health is very important to overcome the obstacles you will face. The amount you’ll learn in the fastest-growing industry in history is priceless. Learn from your failures and keep growing!
Interviewed by Aanchal Sharma, Beverage Trade Network