1. It’s not just about getting “high” any more. Need states and desired benefits dictate selection and consumers are looking for more targeted and manageable effects.
2. Cannabis is becoming a much more regular part of the consumers' lifestyle, and the market is responding with products that meet these needs.
3. Although cannabis is used to address need states similar to alcohol (e.g., relaxation, mood enhancement), it is not widely regarded as a replacement for alcohol.
4. Consumption habits have diversified considerably to include alternative forms to smoking such as edibles and vaping.
5. Brand is still not a primary driver, representing opportunity for growth in brand strategy.
It’s no secret that the world of legalized adult-use and medical cannabis has exploded over the last several years. 9 states have legalized adult use cannabis and 29 states have provisions for medical use. As societal attitudes are becoming more accepting of cannabis usage and the landscape of users becoming more diverse, we are seeing rapid evolution in what consumers are looking for and swift innovation as businesses and brands adapt to win in the market. Spectacle recently conducted a survey among users of legal cannabis in four states to better understand what drives changes in behavior and how brands are responding.
Cannasseur: a discerning buyer of cannabis products, often searching for specific, unique, and interesting experiences from their cannabis purchases
Today’s consumers have access to a much more sophisticated set of options when selecting cannabis… and they expect to get exactly what they are looking for. Much like the prohibition days when access trumped all else, before legalized cannabis users were at the mercy of what they could find. Today’s cannaseur is looking for products that suit their mood or needs and deliver the targeted effects and experiences they are looking for … whether it’s relaxation, mood enhancement or acute symptom relief. Our study found that experience enhancement (mood enhancement, stress relief) and social reasons (anxiety reduction, to be sociable) were the top drivers of usage, among 55% and 46% of users respectively.
In today’s market, producers have the understanding and expertise to produce strains with desired effects and modulate the levels of THC and CBD in the products they sell. Innovators in the space are recognizing this need and responding with shorthand product naming, packaging, and brand experiences that make it easy to find the effects they’re looking for. Candescent, a cannabis cultivator, has responded to this trend by eliminating strain names for their products and names their product lines according to the effects they produce. Stress filled day? Turn to Calm #102. Looking to take the edge off at your next dinner party? Give Connect #402 a try.
One of the most striking things we found was that for the majority of users, cannabis was not a particularly social occasion. 69% of respondents reported using cannabis alone and about one in three report usage in an intimate social setting (e.g., with a partner or small group of friends). This suggests that despite legalization, some users may still be avoiding a social stigma associated with cannabis use. This can also be explained by the fact that despite it being legal to purchase and consume cannabis, it is not legal to consume in public. Opportunity exists to increase usage and overall consumption by innovating cannabis products that make consumers more comfortable consuming products in large-group or social settings.
There’s been a ton of buzz about legal cannabis impacting the alcohol industry. Interestingly, our study found that only 17.7% of respondents reported using cannabis as “a substitute for alcohol” which suggests that cannabis serves different needs than alcohol, either used independently or alongside of alcohol. We are however, beginning to see a rise in alcoholic beverages that infuse cannabis into their products.
What may surprise some is the importance of safety and obtaining the desired effects to today’s cannabis user. Finding products that are safe to use was a top desire among respondents. Today’s products are cultivated to be more potent, but the majority of users aren’t looking to get “High A.F.”. Just the opposite, they’re looking to stay on top of the effects rather than being along for the ride. This suggests a whole new cohort is exploring cannabis separate from those consuming 5 or 10 years ago.
Regulation requires manufacturers to report the levels of THC and CBD present in each product, but leaders in the space are going further to help consumers navigate how much to use through easily-understood packaging, smart experiences, and brand trust.
As cannabis is gaining traction with a broader set of users across demographics, most users don’t want to be associated with the conventional stereotypes surrounding cannabis use. In essence, cannabis can be a part of one’s lifestyle, but it does not define one’s lifestyle. For this reason, they are seeking products that can be used with discretion.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing consumption methods are evolving quickly. Half of all respondents reported using edibles as a preferred method of consumption and 32% have turned to “vaping” as a more convenient, discrete, and “cleaner” way to consume.
Innovators like PAX Labs understand this, developing well engineered and design-forward vaporizers that can slip away into a pocket or purse and could easily be mistaken for a USB stick.
Alchemy Food Co., a Denver-based edible brand, saw the consumer shift towards cleaner ingredients and lifestyle-based eating in food and created cannabis treats made from vegan, gluten-free, real-food ingredients.
Despite all these changes, respondents do not appear to place a high importance on brand when selecting cannabis products today. Don’t expect that to continue, however. As the cannabis market matures, fierce competition will ultimately result in a market consolidation and just like any other commodity, there will be winners and losers. Brands that connect with the unique needs of consumers, fit within their lifestyle, and deliver a superior experience will thrive. Those that don’t won’t survive. As legal use cannabis spreads geographically and into new consumer segments, expect big investment to follow. Building a compelling brand now will set early movers up for a sustainable position in the market.
The world of legalized Cannabis is quickly shifting from wild-west to big business. Look for the market to reflect that as product innovation and brand play an even more prominent role in driving future behavior.
To learn more about the study and cannabis consumer trends
contact Spectacle Strategy at firstname.lastname@example.org