Innovator Interviews: Wana Brands' CMO Joe Hodas on the Future of Brand-Building in CBD & Cannabis

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As Chief Marketing Officer at Wana Brands, a premium medical cannabis and CBD brand, Joe Hodas prioritizes the production of high-quality and consistent products, in conjunction with ongoing research and consumer education. 

As Chief Marketing Officer at Wana Brands, a premium medical cannabis and CBD brand, Joe Hodas prioritizes the production of high-quality and consistent products, in conjunction with ongoing research and consumer education. 

“Through it all, we really focus on science first and foremost,” said Hodas. “That’s also what we communicate in our brand, which is why we have a heavy bend towards education in all of our marketing. Everybody interacts with cannabis differently, but at the very least, our goal is to create consistency for each consumer. We do a lot of research before bringing our products to market.” 

For many marketers, the cannabis and CBD industry may still feel like the Wild West. Although recreational marijuana has been legally sold in some states since 2014, there have been many challenges for brands in terms of state-by-state differentiation when it comes to marketing, supply-chain constraints, and product offerings. 

Wana Brands was founded in Colorado almost 11 years ago and has since expanded their offerings to 11 states and 9 provinces in Canada. Over the years, Hodas has focused the brand’s marketing strategies on in-store promotions and education of “bud-tenders,” the well-trusted dispensary employees who influence about 80% of consumer decisions. 

Since COVID, the medical marijuana brand has pivoted in an attempt to reach consumers virtually before they decide which brands to purchase. Although they cannot sell products directly to consumers on their website, Wana has implemented a back-end ecommerce platform on their website called iHeartJane, which connects consumers to dispensaries so you can reserve Wana products near you. 

Their newest product offering, a fast-acting cannabis gummy labeled Quick, took years of research until they got the formula just right. The flavored product has already been released in Colorado, Canada, and California, and Wana plans to release it in Oregon, Michigan, and Oklahoma this summer. 

“We developed this product because we noticed a real problem on the edible side of the industry, where consumers were unsure of how edibles would affect them,” said Hodas. “It can be really variable and really powerful for some people. Other companies put their new fast-acting products in the market, but we waited until we had the exact right product. The benefit is that consumers recognize this.”

Joe Hodas will be speaking about the Future of the Cannabis and CBD industry on June 10th at Brand Innovators 10th Anniversary Summit. Brand Innovators caught up with Hodas from his home in Denver to discuss key insights about cannabis consumers, the edible gummy market, and the exciting future of the CBD industry. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What channels do you use to communicate with consumers?

Education is a really big piece of how we communicate with consumers. We recently made a series of videos with our media partner in Tennessee. They are fun, branded, and interesting. They are not just trading videos, they are meant to be more stylized. Part of our goal over this past year, and as we move forward, is to help consumers both find and differentiate products. 

We use some alternative channels to communicate with consumers, and we tend to push towards the latest and greatest technologies. We have partners like ZolTrain who are a trading platform, as well as a direct-to-consumer SMS platform. We use them to send out a rich text filled with all the necessary information about our products, communicating the message more visually. That seems to drive more conversion. 

What key insights do you have about cannabis and CBD consumers? 

For one, the cannabis consumer likes novelty, new products, the latest and greatest. You’ll see that a lot of brands focus on incorporating new ingredients like CBD for example. Secondly, the consumer has evolved. In addition to making your product an high-quality vehicle for delivering cannabis, you do also need to make a product that people enjoy. You need creative packaging and a great flavor profile. 

Lastly, the cannabis consumer really values products that work for them with consistency. There are some great brands out there, but they haven’t taken off like Wana. I know there are some brands out there with great packaging, excellent social media, and trendy offerings. But our brand is consistent, we deliver what we say we are going to deliver, and as a result, consumers like us.

Why has Wana chosen to prioritize edibles, specifically gummies, in their product line-up?

To be completely honest, Wana just got lucky when we chose gummies as a category to dive into deeply. Gummies ended up becoming the No. 1 modality for consumers looking for cannabis edible products. If edibles make up about 15-20% of most markets, gummies account for about 70-85% of the edibles in that market, a pretty substantive share of the product category.

We began to develop really great formulas and focused a lot on product quality. For a long time, we have been making vegan gummies, and we just recently started using organic sweeteners. Most importantly, we really focused on the way that the product carries the cannabis. Do we need to make it taste good? Yes. Do we need to make it high-quality? Yes. But it is really meant to be effective in terms of its ability to carry the medicine. The same thing holds true on the CBD side, where we also make gummies.

CBD is a newer product offering in this market. How has its growth and popularity affected your marketing strategies? 

In 2018 and following the passing of the Farm Bill, CBD started to get on people’s radars. And then there was this mass proliferation of CBD products. There are many companies out there who are just taking any product and throwing CBD in it without really understanding the plant (like a CBD pillow, for example).

It is a powerful plant. There has to be a purpose and reason behind the products. It also doesn’t work for everyone in the same way, so if we are not cognizant of the plant we are working with, the products themselves are not going to be effective.

Moving forward, we are waiting for the FDA to put out clear guidance in terms of what our brands can and can’t do. People love our gummies, but a lot of retail stores haven’t picked them up because the FDA has not set a guideline as to whether or not edibles are allowed on store-shelves (in terms of CBD products). 

Tell me more about Wana’s CBD product offerings. 

Wana Wellness, our CBD brand, actually launched a year and a half ago. We have used CBD in ratios with THC in our cannabis products for several years, but we just launched our line of pure CBD direct-to-consumer products. We used the same science and understanding of the cannabinoids to create a gummy on that side, using broad spectrum CBD. We also came out with a line of tinctures about nine months ago, designed to be an effective delivery method for the medicine in our Sleep product, Rest product, and Daily Restore product. 

What does the future of this industry look like? 

Right now, there is not a singular national cannabis brand. There is an opportunity for brands to think about becoming multi-state. Although Wana is in many states and Canada, we still need to launch each of our products individually in each market. We have different packaging in each market based on the regulations. It is hard to create a truly cohesive, national brand. That is the next phase of cannabis.

The future of cannabis is really appealing to new consumers – consumers who are currently canna-curious or even consumers who aren’t considering cannabis right now. To understand that there is a whole world of different uses and cannabis products that can have a lot of benefit, that is the real opportunity for us as an industry. We want to be able to educate and reach those consumers who are not currently consuming, and there is unlimited potential there. 

The part of marketing which I am most excited about is the opportunity to expand well beyond where we are today. Legalization will also make a big difference, because if cannabis becomes federally legalized or decriminalized, then a lot of bigger brands and companies will propel this industry forward. 

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