In 2001, medical marijuana became legal in Canada. People dealing with cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, hepatitis, arthritis, anxiety, stress, depression, pain, and many more serious, long-term ailments had the choice of one more treatment option.
Now more than 18 years later, medical, social, and government personnel have gained a wealth of experience creating regulations and generating in-market data about the health benefits and drawbacks of cannabis.
With that information in his back pocket, Justin Trudeau ran his 2015 campaign for Prime Minister of Canada on a platform that included legal personal use of cannabis. The Trudeau government prepared the Cannabis Act in early 2017 which was well received by 63% of Canadians. And, on October 17, 2018, cannabis was legalized for personal use in Canada to huge acclaim as you can see in the Google Trends chart. Cannabis instantly became the definition of marketing white space in Canada.
A blank canvas rarely happens in marketing. Typically, marketing white space refers to gaps in the marketplace where:
- the needs of one segment of consumers are not being met. Though many products may exist, compete for share of wallet, and serve the needs of various target groups, they might not serve the needs of THAT target group. Perhaps there isn’t a sandwich for vegans or the new homes aren’t accessible for people who have mobility issues.
- there are gaps in a product line. For example, even if there are many flavours of tea, an orange flavored option might be missing.
- there is little to no competition. Perhaps one brand of grass seed perfected the production and logistical requirements, weeding out all the competitive brands.
However, in the case of cannabis, the white space was the result of legislation that required that corner of the marketplace to be left completely bare. Suddenly, the white space was available for the taking to whomever could innovate and market most effectively.
In most cases of white space innovation, there is some precedent for the marketing team to work with. In the first three scenarios, marketers could learn which marketing tactics and strategies had failed or succeeded from other brands, SKUs, companies, and similar categories and selectively choose the ones that would be more likely to succeed for them.
However, cannabis had no competitive brands, SKUs, other companies, or even similar categories to learn from in Canada. When it comes to white space, we must be blunt. Cannabis took the cake. Or the brownie.
So how can brands effectively market white space products when there are few to no precedents for comparison? Let’s hash it out.
- Ignore your existing business model. Most companies have templated processes for every aspect of their business including product development, marketing, manufacturing, logistics, customer relations, and more. When working towards white space innovation, cast aside your preconceived notions of things ought to work and how they’ve always worked. These pre-existing templates often hinder innovative ideas and prevent the creation of positive solutions.
- Know what you’re selling: Marketing cannabis isn’t as simple as proclaiming to people in Canada that you finally have a long-awaited product for sale. Just as Four Seasons and Lexus sell status and luxury, cannabis companies must identify whether they are selling marijuana, socializing with friends, life enhancers, relaxation, experimentation, or something else. Once their brand mission has been identified, they will be able to unlock the difference the brand will make in consumers’ lives, align their culture among cross-functional teams, and have clarity and alignment to a view of the future.
- Know your audience: The fact that recreational cannabis is now legal for every adult in Canada does not mean that the target audience is every adult in Canada. Some adults are against the product for personal moral reasons. Others don’t want to risk potential side effects. Some are curious to try it just for fun, and still others are desperate to use it in their attempts to ease the pain of debilitating ailments. Good marketers will recognize there could be many, very different segments within the population, and that they need to identify and understand the unique attributes of the segments they intend to target.
- Know what you do well: As with any product or service, being successful comes back to knowing what you do well and focusing your energy there. Four Seasons focuses on and excels with luxury hospitality, not budget overnight stays. Golf Town focuses on and excels with products for golfers, not athletes. And Adidas focuses on and excels with athletic shoes, clothing and accessories, not hockey skates. Identify what you do well and focus there.
Converting white space to successful innovation is a dope process. When you’re ready to find our white space, we’d love to help.
Ready to learn more? Download the Sklar Wilton Plan on a Page for a template that will help you bring together all elements of the marketing plan on one page – from who to win with all the way through to measuring success. Or, learn how we helped Molson Coors better understand consumer segments and develop a winning portfolio strategy with sustainable growth.
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