Interview: Bohb Blair, Chief Marketing Officer for Mary Jones of Jones Soda Company
A bubbly new product has entered the California cannabis market. Jones Soda Co. has expanded its products to include a line of THC beverages available within California dispensaries.
Jones Soda Co. has expanded its products to include a line of THC beverages available within California dispensaries. Mary Jones has been created to bring a line of cannabis sodas that feature the same four Jones fan-favorite flavors as the popular 10mg THC soda.
We spoke with Bohb Blair, the Chief Marketing Officer for the new line of THC sodas called Mary Jones. Blair shares with the Cannabis Drinks Expo the branding of Jones Soda Co., successful marketing outreach for getting your beverage noticed in dispensaries, and thoughts on the emerging category for the cannabis market.
Established Branding for Mary Jones
Cannabis Drinks Expo: Can you share with us your professional background and what brought you into the cannabis beverage space?
Bohb Blair: What's funny is, besides being a loving cannabis user, I didn't come into this from cannabis. I came from brand marketing. For the last many years, I have worked with fantastic, famous CPG brands and upstart companies, anything from Kellogg to Kraft, Heinz, and Airbnb.
I got to work in a lot of really cool stuff, and for me, when I got the call to come to this job, it was a dual role to be CMO of Jones Soda, which is, in my opinion, one of the coolest companies out there period, the end. Then take that brand into cannabis, and I was thrilled; it was a great call to make. It brought together many things I love with my history, but serendipity, more than anything else in marketing cannabis, just kind of fell in my lap.
CDE: What has gone into establishing the Mary Jones branding for these flavorful cannabis sodas?
Blair: It's fascinating because, first and foremost, Mary Jones is just a proud part of Jones Soda. I work for JS, not a different company. So everybody that works in the Mary Jones business works for Jones Soda, and we have a very blended team, not the least of which is the flavor scientist at Jones, Sarah, who was the one who did all the formulations for Mary Jones to make sure they taste exactly like our mainline product.
For us, it's a line extension of a brand portfolio of products distributed uniquely to dispensaries. Mary Jones is a qualifier to ensure you know what it is, but again, it's a proud member of the Jones Soda family. So for us, there was a desire to take this legendary brand that celebrated its 25th anniversary a couple of years ago. To take this brand beyond soda, the board and leadership explored a couple of things and hadn't quite figured out what felt right until they landed on cannabis. And instantly, everything felt right. The employee base loved it, and our investor community loved it. Everyone said, "well, this makes a lot of sense. Cannabis."
When I was brought on, that's where they were regarding the opportunity we needed to design the brand and figure out what it looked and felt like, get our portfolio and product strategy together, and all that stuff. We knew there was a fit with cannabis and a strong desire to go into that. It felt like a perfect badge for many reasons. That's why it's feeling so natural now that the right market is just an undeniable almost thing that the brands have been doing.
Cannabis Marketing Tactics Focused on Trade
CDE: What's one of the most important aspects of making consumers interested in your THC beverage brand, Mary Jones?
Blair: We are in a very different situation than everybody else. So many choices were about being agile. The identity is the Jones logo, flipped backward, and Mary scrolled on top. It's as close as possible while still confident you're providing consumer differentiation.
Brands might put the name 'Diet' in front of their brand name, and suddenly, that's different. We want to stay tight to the family. So we put quotes under our caps. We do caps for gear, our loyalty program where you send in soda caps to get swag.
A critical part of the branding strategy was to be ourselves and not go crazy and get outside of the brand too much. Have fun, and celebrate the uniqueness that is cannabis. So we came into the category of knowing precisely who we are. We're full flavor. We come in a 12-ounce bottle and are unapologetically, deliciously indulgent. This has also led us into dosage conversations. So naturally, as we started to identify our consumers, where we sit on the shelf, and where it fits, it began to feel natural to play in a specific potency range, in a particular serving size range. It started to unfold naturally for us across all the decisions.
CDE: What would you say is the main component of your marketing strategy?
Blair: There are three significant prongs to oversimplify it massively, but we play three critical areas. The first is one of the essential areas of the entire cannabis industry: trade. They're on the front lines and talking to the confident consumer. They're talking to consumers who need more confidence, telling them what they love and don't love. So as we thought about the most natural ways to embrace the trade, we found that all these things we do with consumers on Jones Soda felt like the everyday things we should be doing.
So we go to target the trade, drop off, and there's soda in almost every dispensary's breakroom from Jones in their fridge just for the employees to enjoy, as it should be, but we want to be their favorite soda. So we launched this magazine called Maryzine, published in the style and early nineties scene. It's incredible, and you can only get it in a dispensary that carries our product. They're accessible for anybody to take. There's a stack of them inside the front door of Sweet Flower, Med Men, and Planet 13, and all these stories carry us all through California. And we're in over 280,000 shops in California, by the way.
We do all sorts of activities and fun projects and how to make a bong out of your empty Mary Jones bottle, coloring book pages, comic book pages, and playlists that you can download from Spotify and all this stuff, right? Well, one of the recurring editorial features that we do, is called Hey Bud and what we do is we have this biographer interview budtenders with cool projects outside of work. He writes about their band and photography project, types it up, and hand draws a picture of them. We publish it under this moniker, Hey Bud, and it's about getting to know more about how fantastic budtenders are outside of work. So we profile that.
Making a consumer-facing publication that naturally celebrates the trade feels like a way to have fun with our product. With cannabis, that's a big part of what our marketing strategy is engaging in. We found that we can do it with consumers and trade simultaneously in specific ways. All this to say, we love getting out there and playing with our fans, whether they're trade or consumers, and trade is critical.
Expanding the Cannabis Beverage Category into Households
CDE: What are your overarching thoughts on the cannabis beverage category in current markets?
Blair: It's impossible to answer accurately. We all have opinions about it. One is that we all have an eye on the prize. That would be if cannabis beverages were to get an adoption rate near what packaged good alcohol experiences in the U.S. and Canada. Around 80% of households buy it regularly. At the same time, the numbers for cannabis are way lower than that.
So if we were to achieve even microscopic gains in share of household penetration towards alcohol and then maybe bring cannabis to some of alcohol's occasions, perhaps it just gives the consumer to double down and realize that they could bring cannabis to these occasions. There are many ways to get there, but that's the big prize. And we're all wondering: How far out is that? Because all these things we're doing are small gains in pursuit of that macro goal. So now, in the smaller gains area, the thing I don't like is that the existing brands take share from each other in this number of 3% of the category not changing, just one popular one, which sucks.
We need to grow that 3% number aggressively, and there's plenty of room for our brands on the shelf when we increase that number, and then there's a much bigger prize than stealing a prize from your neighbor on the shelf.
CDE: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Cannabis Drinks Expo 2023?
Blair: Check our product portfolio. Because in California, we've got our 10 mg bottles and 100 mg bottles out. Consumers are feeding back what we promised them: they taste just like our mainline product, and people are blown away by the flavor. That's exactly what we wanted to happen. We recently launched in California with Sweet Flower, our infused-syrup mixers, and then they're going out to a number of other stores at the beginning of the year. But this is our THC mixer. It's for mocktails and cocktails, making your own Mary Jones home on a SodaStream. We don't care what you do with it. Pop it on desserts. It's awesome.
Sarah did a fantastic job in formulating this because it mixes into any cocktail with no residue. It's just an incredible product. Early next year in Q1, our candies will start to come out as well as our edibles, and we're going to demonstrate that our flavors go as even the beverage shape just go to other places. I was excited to experiment and see where consumers welcome us into the various parts of the cannabis category. And anywhere flavors go, it's going to be great.
CDE: Thanks for sharing such unique insights with our readers, Bohb!
Discover More Marketing Successes in THC Beverages at the Cannabis Drinks Expo 2023
This is the event of 2023 for cannabis companies to be in attendance and make impressions. With new states legalizing cannabis, the shows this year will be focused on bringing cannabis drink professionals from all new legal states.
Save the date for your city and connect with MSOs, dispensaries, growers, packaging companies, co-packers, flavor suppliers, cannabis beverage brands, and other service providers looking to enter the cannabis beverage market.
Register today to attend in San Francisco on July 27th or Chicago on August 1st.
Article by: Hannah (Izer) Vysoky