As the world celebrates the birth of cannabis culture, today seems like an auspicious moment to share with you the story of our own cannabis baby, writes Cannabiz co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane.  

For the last nine months we’ve been striving to create a new culture of business in Australia – a culture that recognises the credibility, professionalism and sheer determination of the legal cannabis industry. An industry respected and admired by medical professionals, policy makers and patients alike. And we’re proud to say we’re well on our way – here’s what we’ve learned so far.

The cannabis industry is full of passionate people who are happy to help

When you come into a new industry, there’s always a lot to learn. Who are the key players? How does the business ecosystem work? What other information sources are out there? And what do all those technical terms mean?

Without fail, the people we’ve spoken to have gone out of their way to help. While there is undoubtedly competition, and some information is commercially sensitive, there’s a real sense of an industry working together for a common purpose.

Ultimately, everyone we speak to has the best interests of their customers (ie. patients) at heart. And most people are refreshingly free of big egos.

Coming most recently from the media and marketing industry, I can’t tell you what a breath of fresh air that is. 

The industry is growing fast, but it’s still quite small

With patient numbers at a record high, over-the-counter CBD getting the go-ahead from the TGA, a slew of clinical trials scheduled for 2021, and Australian companies announcing big export deals on an almost daily basis, there’s plenty of room for optimism.

And that’s without any moves to legalise recreational use, which FreshLeaf Analytics calculates would turn it into a billion-dollar industry.

The ASX-listed companies are still finding investors and financial institutions willing to back them, and press coverage from even the most conservatively-minded media companies is becoming more positive.

That said, the number of companies in the space remains relatively small, although it’s difficult to get an accurate read on exactly how many people there are making a full-time living from the legal cannabis industry in Australia. 

For our part, we now have 1,342 newsletter subscribers, not bad from a standing start, and almost 12,000 unique users per month.

We’ve sent 38 newsletters, including two breaking news alerts, at an average open rate of 47% and an average click through rate of 36%. Meaning just under half of our subscribers open the newsletter every week and more than a third of those click through to a story on the website.

To give those numbers some context, average open rates tend to fall in the 15-25% range, with click-through rates at around 2.5%.

Those two breaking news alerts generated higher than average open rates, with December 15th’s alert about the TGA down-scheduling CBD at higher-than-expected doses opened by 60% and October 30th’s news that New Zealand had voted No in the cannabis referendum seen by 57.5%.

Our highest traffic day so far (1,178 unique users) was March 25th, 2021, driven by this story.

What does all this tell us? It says we have a highly engaged subscriber base made up of senior business leaders, cannabis advocates, politicians, healthcare professionals and patients.

So, solid progress and it feels like we are talking to the right people at the right time each week. And while the comment thread has been quieter than we hoped, most of the conversation happens on social, especially LinkedIn.

Time to turn Cannabiz into a business

We launched Cannabiz because we are passionate about helping the industry grow, so we took the strategic decision to invest heavily in our journalism. The idea was not simply to tell you something has happened, but to analyse what it means for your business.

This approach has enabled us to break several big stories, and run exclusive, thought-leadership pieces focused on the many challenges facing the industry. Content that can only be found on Cannabiz. 

There are enough sites aggregating news from around the web – we aim to add real value to the Australian cannabis community by going much deeper.

We are happy to invest in our journalism, confident that the business model we are building will see us rewarded for that over time.

Soon we’ll be putting that theory to the test with the launch of a membership model, where we’ll charge a small monthly fee to access in-depth analysis, exclusive news and thought leadership content.

Plus those breaking news alerts that truly have the potential to change your working life for the better.

We are also thinking about events, because while the medicinal cannabis conference space is well-served in Australia – and the Covid-19 pandemic has made global events virtually accessible, at least for the time being – we believe there is still a gap in the market for an event that covers every aspect of running a cannabis company. 

From growing, cultivating and producing, to distribution, sales and marketing, from legal and regulatory issues through to HR and R&D, there’s certainly plenty to sink our teeth into. 

That may be a big, post-vaccine face-to-face experience, a webinar series, or a combination of the two. It’s not a fully formed thought yet, but I’ll post an update as our thinking evolves.

And whatever we do in the event space, Cannabiz members will get exclusive access to unique content as well as heavily discounted entry fees.

Content marketing could be the way forward for the industry

Finally, we’ve been writing (and learning) a lot about marketing in the cannabis space. Clearly, the TGA’s rules around advertising pharmaceutical drugs are complex enough, without the added stigma of promoting a product like cannabis.

But if my reading of the law is correct (and as my colleague Rhys Cohen is always quick to point out, we do not offer legal advice), it is permissible, and important, to provide education and information that is accurate, balanced, compliant and useful to potential customers.

And in an industry that still has lots of explaining to do, that feels like a content marketing opportunity to me. One that will only grow as products get approved for sale in pharmacies.

As professional storytellers and cannabis experts, we’d love to help you with that. 

Forgive the blatant plug, but my co-founder Kim McKay is also the creative brain behind communications agency Klick X. She has spent a career helping her clients meet just the sort of challenges the legal cannabis industry will face in the years ahead.

Thanks to those of you who have read this to the end – in media terms, you now qualify as a ‘highly engaged’ member of our audience. 

And it would be great to get your feedback, so please do drop me a note and let me know how we’re doing so far.

All the best for 4/20 and beyond.

Martin Lane
Co-founder and chief growth officer

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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