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Lucia Cifonelli on the Secrets of Marketing in the Cannabis Industry

Co-founder of Cannabis USA, Lucia Cifonelli shares with us valuable cannabis marketing tactics and where she sees progress coming in this growing industry.

27/05/2022

Telling a great story is where Lucia’s passion lies, whether that be with a brand, best friend, client, or anyone who will listen. Her drive to connect people and her understanding of the history and innovation of cannabis have been the guiding forces that have led her to where she is today as co-founder of Cannabis USA. Capitalizing upon her ability to quickly pivot and problem solve, along with her knowledge of and demonstrated success in new and emerging markets, Lucia successfully leads Cannabis USA’s sales division.

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Can you tell me about yourself and how you started your journey with cannabis?

My journey with cannabis started 20 years ago and my goal is to destigmatize and educate people about this powerful plant, and how to use it for all its benefits, medically and socially. 

I have been in the cannabis space for about 5 years, making the switch from beverage and hospitality; working with companies like MillerCoors, Breakthru Beverage, and Cannabis USA’s co-founder Tim Haughinberry’s BackBar USA before working at Kush Co as National Account Manager and Director of Retail Services. 

Cannabis, like the hospitality industry, has given me the opportunity to connect people and bring them together. It has and continues to enhance most aspects of my life from my morning walks with my pup to making homemade pasta to being able to get creative for our clients. 

Lucia Cinfonelli and Tim Haughinberry Founder of Cannabis USA

Lucia Cinfonelli and Tim Haughinberry Founder of Cannabis USA

What inspired you to start your cannabis marketing and consulting services?

When cannabis started to become legal in the U.S, Tim Haughinberry & I had the vision to mirror the great playbook of BackBar USA’s beverage marketing program and use it in the cannabis space. Our passion for new brands and telling their story was the inspiration to help them get their message across to their consumer building market share and recognition. We came together to officially launch Cannabis USA in 2020 because we saw a gap in the market on the education and activation piece by offering full marketing and sales programming to the cannabis market.  It is not every day you get to work alongside your mentor again and do what you love doing! 

What is the full scope of services you provide at Cannabis USA?

Cannabis USA is a full service sales and marketing agency that includes: 

 - Brand Development 

 - Packaging Services 

 - Go to Market Strategy  

 - Field Marketing Management 

 - Sales Management 

 - Events and Sponsorships

Working with the largest liquor brands and hospitality partners we have long standing relationships and proven success in creating programs unique to our clients that include all aspects of marketing a new product or brand.  

How are you different from other consultancy companies? 

We are an LGBTQ & women-owned agency with over 40+ years of experience. Our combined knowledge across hospitality and CPG gives us a relevant advantage to grow the sales and marketing of the cannabis space. We focus on our clients’ needs, vision, ethos, and culture, offering the advice and services critical to their success. We align with professionals, experts, and industry leaders to create winning strategies for our partners.  Having worked with the largest liquor brands and hospitality partners we have long-standing vendors, practices, and proven success in creating programs unique to our clients that include all aspects of marketing a new product or brand.  Newer brands do not have the capabilities to build an entire sales and marketing program and that is where we help and succeed! 

What are the aspects you look at while marketing in the cannabis industry and please share some tips on marketing?

We study the brands vision and goals, research trends, price point, competition, and opportunities, then develop a solid strategy, a relatable brand image, and a creative campaign.  Knowing the marketplace and how to integrate brands effectively is key.  Working alongside the marketplace as well to create long standing relationships with retailers; in store demos, meet and greets with your head grower or chief science officer, and sponsored events are a few basic ways to engage. Finally, we are allowed to donate product for medical patients in CA working with retailers that support these endeavors. 

What are some other marketing practices that you use?

Looking outside the box is crucial since we cannot market like other industries. See what is happening in your community outside of cannabis, how can you integrate that way or educate curious, but cautious consumers at a local fundraiser or community event that aligns with your brand culture. Most likely this will be your target demographic and a new customer base.

Can you tell us about a success story you are proud of and what were the techniques you used to get it to the top?

One of our longest cannabis beverage clients, who launched in CA in June 2021, has just gotten into over 85 stores in their first year and it has been amazing to grow alongside them and their success. When we started with them, we had two brand ambassadors and we are now at 15 across the whole state with our busiest month hosting 28 in-store activations.

Our technique working alongside our brand partners is our (not-so) secret sauce!  We work as a conduit to our client’s teams connecting the dots across all departments to then bring it to their retail partners and execute it with our amazing brand ambassadors followed up with photos and recaps to re-engage and build based off our findings.

How has your past experiences helped you to become the person you are now?

I spent a lot of time traveling and working all over the world in hospitality and along with breaking bread, after-shift beers, or sharing a joint it always brings me back to the comradery of celebration with friends and family. I strive to live my life that way, for the connection and celebration of people

At Cannabis USA, we look to create that feeling of an experience or memory that leaves an imprint on your mind wanting more. 

Where do you see the cannabis industry in 5 years?

Progress in these three categories:

Research and development - We are in a very special time where people are diving deeper into cannabis research and other plant medicine as well as accepting it in their daily routine, we are only going to see that continue. Not only are we discovering more about this plant with terpenes and minor cannabinoids, but how the effect can be more specific than sativa, indica, and hybrid.

Sustainability - Consumers are more conscious about what they are spending their money on and the industry is responding with sustainable packaging, regenerative growing practices and creating organic practices like the Sun + Earth Certification following the guidelines of the USDA organic requirements.

Transparency -  As the industry continues to rapidly grow; like any large CPG industry, we will start to see more definition in categories and brands, along with increased visibility for consumers about what they are purchasing and putting in their body.  The need for transparency will be in the forefront of seed to sale with where our cannabis is coming from.

What advice would you offer to cannabis beverage brands?

Research your target territory and consumer. Understand locations where edibles outsell other categories because your product will move in those shops over a shop that might have a heavy flower or concentrate consumer.  For example, tourist areas are great as they have a higher sell rate of edibles and vapes than other categories because its people traveling or looking to consume immediately and easily. It is the same with the consumer; if you are a high dose shot beverage, your consumer is probably more into concentrates then into a micro dosing beverage, understand those dynamics and focus on building brand loyalty while also educating the consumer.

Education is vital about your product and brand. The beverage sector is growing with the amount of cannabis beverage brands doubling in the past year; but it is still only 15% of the edible category for sales. Like the liquor industry, when introducing a new product; trainings and engagement from the consumer to budtenders is what is going to make a brand stand out.

 Interviewed by Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier, Cannabis Reader & Cannabis Drinks Expo

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