Muskoka Grown tells stories about passionate locals

Why the licensed cannabis producer went with a branded content play to introduce and differentiate its brand.

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Muskoka Grown is entering a highly competitive category, but it hopes that telling stories about the people who contribute to the region it calls home will help set it apart in the minds of consumers.

The licensed cannabis producer has launched a branded content push that tells the stories of Muskoka locals, as well as their businesses and crafts that contribute to the community and culture of Ontario’s cottage country region. The people spotlighted so far include Stéphane Aubin & David Clemmer, who left city life in Toronto to open the Northridge Inn, as well as local yogi Ashley Boone. All of the stories also feature photography by fashion photographer Andrew Soule.

The stories are being shared on a dedicated section of Muskoka Grown’s website, while the photography and excerpts of the stories are being shared in a monthly newsletter and on the licensed producer’s Instagram feed.

The company, located about 200 kilometres north of Toronto in Bracebridge, Ont., has been working with agencies Republic and Stack Creative on its website and branded content push.

The Cannabis Act contains many provisions around how companies in the cannabis industry can and cannot market their brands and products, leaving most producers to focus entirely on direct channels and age-gated online platforms for their marketing. That includes the branded content push from Muskoka Grown – which lives behind an age gate on its website – but Andrea Grand, director of marketing at the company, says the stories and approach it is using to tell them are a good fit for the brand all the same.

“We are community focused and taking a really local approach to everything we do,” says Grand. “That’s what’s driving us forward, and when you look at the region, craftsmanship and quality is coming out of it all the time.”

On top of trying to reflect the region in which it is based, Grand describes Muskoka Grown’s brand positioning as being focused on craft and premium products, taking a “small batch” approach to cultivation that is common among other, smaller companies that tend to pursue more storytelling focused marketing on digital and social platforms.

“Positive community impact is deeply rooted in Muskoka Grown, and that’s not just creating positive economic impact,” Grand says. “We also intend to protect the place we are calling home. We wanted to tell stories of people from the community, especially those that are making a positive impact, because they felt like a fit with what we are trying to do.”

While Muskoka Grown was given its cultivation license earlier this year, it is still in process of obtaining its sales license. Once it is permitted to actually sell its products to consumers, Grand says, the company will shift to product-focused marketing, though those efforts will still be focused on its community. But until then, Grand says the goal is to drive awareness and differentiation for Muskoka Grown, something that is especially important as it enters a new, yet highly competitive, product category.

“Living in Muskoka and the fact that we love our community are going to be informing the product development,” she says, adding that the company hires local and uses local materials whenever possible. “A lot of people feel the same way about Muskoka and will appreciate products that come out of that approach.”