Tokyo Smoke’s direct approach to uncertain regulation

As one of many brands looking to play in the legal cannabis market, the retailer keeps consumers engaged one-to-one.

Felicia1Tokyo Smoke, the growing online cannabis culture retailer and cafe, has been on a mission to change the image of the typical marijuanna user with upscale paraphenalia that targets the affluent. It’s recently bolstered its marketing team to carry that mission forward, but finds itself in a strange period where marketing regulations have yet to be set a mere eight months before recreational consumption becomes legal.

With only a set of proposed regulations from the government currently open for consultation and a countering series of recommendations from Canada’s legal weed producers to serve as guideposts to what might happen next year, the company (like many others in this fledgling industry) is trying to build a brand on shifting sands, waiting to see what will and won’t be legal to say.

Felicia Snyder (pictured), the company’s new VP of strategy and marketing, says the company’s plans currently fall into two phases: pre and post “rec” (short for July 1, 2018, the day recreational marijuana becomes legal).

“We think there are things we can do pre-July that we can’t activate post-July,” she told strategy. Event sponsorship, for example, may be off the table post-rec. Tokyo Smoke has been using its coffee brand to do partnerships with musical and outdoor events such as the recent LCD Soundsystem concert in Toronto and a 6lack gig in the summer. These partnerships remain a part of the branding strategy until the law says otherwise.

“We’re going to thoughtfully use all the tools available to us because they may not be available to us post-July,” she says.

Another question mark: while Ontario has ruled that it will use its LCBO liquor sales infrastructure for recreational cannabis sales exclusively, product marketing guidelines for what appears inside medical dispensaries have yet to be set in stone. That’s a market Tokyo Smoke has begun exploring through a partnership with legal producer Aphria.

Snyder says the brand’s retail environment is its strongest play to build loyalty at the moment, and getting people to walk through the door is “integral” because “we control that entire experience.” Giving people a first-hand experience of its cafe vibe and smoking products can create a pattern of regular visits. That can do a lot to hold customer’s hands through whatever shifts are necessary when regulations kick in.

“We have done a lot to build a community of users who have opted-in to receive age-verified communications, and we still believe having that direct line of communications is important,” Snyder says. “It will be an area we continue to invest in… We can look to bring those consumers from online to offline and into the store.”

Tokyo Smoke won’t disclose the size of its newsletter mailing list, but points to its social audience to demonstrate engagement: 21,000 followers on Instagram and more than 13,000 on Twitter.

Beyond that, the brand is debating what kind of message to take to market as the clock to “rec” ticks down. Should regulations allow it, the team is considering a broad message that focuses more on the market than on the Tokyo Smoke name.

“As we shift into 2018, we definitely looked at broadening our messages to talk to the amazing time ahead in Canada, the opening of the market and what that means for consumers. That will be an important narrative.”