The cannabis wave that is washing over the U.S. is finally starting to eschew one of the most egregious stereotypes that the plant is just for men. We know this to be untrue by merely looking at the facts. In 2018 the total number of female cannabis consumers grew by 92 percent. Women currently make up 38 percent of cannabis users, but that is expected to increase to 50 percent by 2022.
The reason why women are turning to cannabis isn’t a big mystery. Like most other cannabis users, women are seeking relief from pain and anxiety and looking for new ways to relax. I’m delighted that more women are joining the cannabis ranks, but I’m also aware that our industry needs to do a much better job of marketing to female users.
Research shows that women are still wary of being judged about their cannabis use. They share concerns of being labeled as a hippies or stoners. They are also still reluctant to set foot in legal stores. Over a quarter of female cannabis users still get their cannabis for free from friends or family. We can help erase this social stigma by addressing the needs of women throughout the industry — from product formulation to marketing to the retail experience.
We can’t demolish overnight these social stigmas that have built up for decades, but women will feel safer discussing cannabis once they see other women doing so. Influential celebrities who are talking about the drug including Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Silverman, Rihanna and Martha Stewart, are leading the way in providing this social proof. Product manufacturers should also be aware that having more brands ‘by women for women’ will get women on the shop floor, as will aligning with brands that women are comfortable with, such as Barneys, Sephora and Ulta.
It’s not just about emboldening women to approach the cannabis counter. Value is also a key concern for women: nearly a third of them say price is the most important factor when choosing a dispensary. The cannabis industry will thus need to embrace competitive pricing strategies that offer customers real value for their dollar.
But getting women through the door of the dispensary is just the first step; companies also need to nail the retail environment and experience. Dispensaries should be created from the ground up to appeal to a cross section of consumers, which means taking into account the needs of women, seniors and new users.
Scientific research shows that men are generally utilitarian shoppers — they’re shopping to get something done, whereas women are more hedonic — they will shop for the sheer pleasure of it. Hence the need for education. Women will want to know as much about the brand and lifestyle attached to a product as they will about the potency. Women aren’t using the stores only as a utilitarian transaction point for flower, pre-rolls, concentrate, edibles and topicals, but as a forum where they browse, ask questions and learn about cannabis.
But packaging needs to be about more than just aesthetics. Don’t be tempted by a ‘pink and shrink’ strategy. It’s patronizing and there are alternatives. Bridget Brennan, one of the world’s leading authorities on marketing to women, puts it best: “When a product is offered in only one color, and that color is pink, it sends the message, we haven’t put any thought into this at all.”
Dispensaries should also give some serious thought to the employees behind the cash register and walking the shop floor. Nikki Furrer explains in her book, “A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis,” how a sexagenarian with hip pain “visibly relaxed” when she came to Furrer’s dispensary and saw a 40-year-old woman in yoga pants and glasses. Furrer says she spent an hour talking with the woman about dosing and different ways to consume cannabis, eventually sending her home with a lollipop and some cream for her hip. The customer reported back that the cannabis helped her sleep through the night.
I love this anecdote because it hammers home the two key ideas marketers need to remember about all cannabis users (females included): personalization and education. Women want to buy and use cannabis on their own terms. They want to shop in safe, comfortable spaces where they can immerse themselves in the complex and nuanced world of cannabis. Retailers who don’t give the necessary attention and understanding to reaching this important demographic will surely be left behind in the green rush.