The Cannabis Industry Should Take Pages From Music’s Playbook

March 10, 2023 · Rolling Stone

THERE IS ARGUABLY nothing more important to the success of a business than the war for talent. Bad leadership can kill even the best businesses, while great leadership can buoy a company selling mids. As a still relatively young industry, the legal cannabis industry finds itself grappling with an interesting question: what is the right talent for cannabis? 

In the quest for talent, leadership and the right “playbook,” it is quite common to hear people try to compare and contrast the legal cannabis industry to other industries. CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods), for example, is one that many people compare it to and from which many cannabis companies often try to draw talent. There is logic there; in a literal sense, the product is a consumer-packaged good. Healthcare is another top vote-getter, which makes sense since many states start out as medical-only first and there is the precedent of Jazz-buying GW. There are also, perhaps oddly, quite a few finance-related executives in the industry, presumably due to the notoriously tough capital environment in cannabis. Thus far, the track records from these moves have been decidedly mixed. 

This may sound like a radical idea, but here’s one I would throw in for consideration: the music industry. 

The parallels, similarities and interactions between music and cannabis are endless. Consider this: In both industries, there are robust cultures and subcultures that are distinct and separate from the actual industry itself. In other words, there’s cannabis, and then there’s the cannabis industry — they are not the same. Similarly, there’s music and then there’s the music industry; they are definitely not the same either.

Anyone can make music, but that doesn’t mean they can make money with music. In theory, anyone can grow cannabis, but that doesn’t mean they know how to make money doing so. Are the most financially successful musicians necessarily the best and most talented musicians? In the same vein, are the most financially successful cannabis companies bringing that heat? And, of course, if you have ever been to a music festival, you already know how closely cannabis and music are linked. A common complaint we hear of executives and companies in the cannabis industry today is their disconnect from the plant and cultures and communities therein. An experienced operator from the music industry would be much more accustomed to operating under that sort of dynamic. 

The music industry has a long history of providing channels for creativity and innovation. Musicians, songwriters, producers and engineers are all accustomed to thinking “outside the box” and coming up with new ideas, which is a valuable asset in any industry. The cannabis industry is in need of creative minds that are able to come up with new and innovative ways to market and sell their products. This is especially true for the younger generations, who are often more influenced by music and its culture than anything else.

Both cannabis and music are creative industries that rely heavily on branding and marketing. Both industries also involve a high level of collaboration between artists, producers and other professionals. Additionally, both industries are rapidly evolving, whether due to technological advances and/or other causes. 

The point is, I believe the type of talent that can survive and thrive in the music industry would also thrive in the cannabis industry. Recently, history was made when Forbes put its first cannabis CEO on its iconic cover. The cannabis CEO in question? Cookies Co-founder and CEO, Berner, an American rapper and entrepreneur signed to Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang Entertainment. 

It’s important to note that I have no affiliation with Cookies or Berner, nor am I pumping them in any way here. Mentioning Cookies is purely to support my notion about how the music industry works relative to cannabis. If we consider the moves that Cookies has made, it’s clear that Berner has taken his lessons from the music industry and imported them to Cookies. The Cookies brand is so strong that its merchandise sells almost as well as its cannabis products. New store openings are more like social events complete with long lines, sold-out merch, parties and autograph signings. Obviously, the genetics are top-notch, which is clearly still key to a successful cannabis business. But from a marketing perspective, here are a few things to consider: 

• Cookies works with independent growers, giving each of them a label. The growers produce strains under each umbrella brand, bringing a steady flow of new products to market. To me, this looks a lot like the collabs we frequently see in music, and/or signing someone to your label.

• Berner wears Cookies clothing in music videos alongside a diamond-encrusted necklace with the “C” logo. Again, the merchandising could be a stand-alone business on its own. 

• His songs often reference the weed strains that Cookies has popularized. 

• He created and stars in a YouTube series like “Marijuana Mania,” which explores the culture of marijuana around the world. 

My assertion here is fairly simple; while the end products are clearly very different, I believe music and cannabis have similar social and business dynamics. Musicians can create multi-billion-dollar companies yet somehow keep their “street cred” and maintain a brand that is “cool.” This is what cannabis companies need. Music executives know how to create a brand that resonates directly with consumers with the face of that brand leading the way: A company that is able to balance a product and a business with the underlining community and culture. So, cannabis industry, for your next hire, perhaps consider the music industry ranks. (Full Story)

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