MOY 2019: David Bigioni begins on a high note

How one of our Marketers of the Year got consumers in a new category to say "Hi" to Tweed, not weed.


This week, strategy is rolling out our profiles of the 2019 Marketers of the Year. Be sure to check out all of this year’s honourees as the week rolls on, and see who the overall winner is when they are revealed at this year’s AToMiC Awards.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Strategy.

As midnight rolled around on Oct. 17, 2018, David Bigioni was at a Tweed store in St. John’s, Nfld., watching one of Canada’s first-ever legal recreational cannabis sales take place.

“It was an amazing experience,” says the chief commercial officer of Tweed parent company Canopy Growth. “There was such a buzz just being there with the team representing the business and the journey it has been on to get here.”
For Bigioni, that journey began a little more than a year earlier.

He had been VP of sales at Molson Coors for roughly two years when he saw Bruce Linton, CEO of Canopy Growth, speak at a conference in June 2017. Bigioni – who had spent more than seven years in senior marketing roles before moving over to sales at the beer brand – had no intention to move into cannabis. However, seeing Linton talk got him thinking.

“You are creating an industry and marketplace,” Bigioni says. “This is a business that is Canadian and global, that’s recreational and medical, that’s disruptive to so many industries, with a mile-long innovation pipeline. There was just so much opportunity.”

Bigioni joined the licensed cannabis producer as chief marketing officer in August 2017, becoming chief commercial officer a year later as sales functions were added to his remit. At first, he oversaw a team of roughly 20 staff, between brand, events, digital and an in-house creative team. That team numbers almost 350 today.

Part of that growth is because sales and customer care staff now report into Bigioni. But it’s also the result of more than a year of “building capability and capacity” as Canopy Growth positions itself as a leader in the global cannabis industry, he says.

Working with primary agency partner Cossette, as well as digital shop Konrad Group and strategy consultancy Behaviour, Bigioni’s first major task was to grow Canopy Growth’s marketing capabilities and prepare its “hero brand” for a wider market.

“We wanted people asking for Tweed, not weed,” Bigioni says. “This isn’t a category that has traditionally been branded. It has been strain-led. So establishing brands is important to reframe the whole category and what it represents.”
Even in a category as young as recreational cannabis in Canada, branding trends began to emerge by mid-2018.

Most LPs – having built their names in the medical space – created new recreational brands, typically making a lifestyle-inspired one for potential new entrants and another for current enthusiasts. Canopy Growth instead stuck with Tweed as its single lead brand for the rec market, targeting new and experienced consumers alike.

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 5.29.07 PMTo introduce itself to the masses, Tweed launched a campaign during the summer, with OOH postings and digital ads greeting Canadians with a friendly “Hi.” (shown above). The creative directed consumers to Tweed’s website, where they could find answers to FAQs ranging from the difference between THC and CBD to details about legalization. The campaign generated over 190 million impressions, with a 38% lift in brand awareness, a 95% month-over-month increase in site traffic and click-through rates 92% higher than the industry average.

“[Cannabis] is not an image or lifestyle play; that would be in beverage and alcohol,” says Bigioni. “What it is, though, is values and personality. The ‘Hi’ campaign is bringing out the personality and approachability and what the brand stands for in a tangible way.”

Growing seeds of a new weed brand

As one of the first brands in Canada’s legal weed industry, Tweed leans into that history as a company that took over a former Hershey factory in Smiths Falls – a small Ontario town that took a major economic hit when the chocolate company left. By using an approachable brand voice, the Tweed brand embraces “small town values” and having a positive impact on the community.

That approachable, community-focused identity comes through in its actions, too.

When it was still a medical brand, Tweed offered a discount to low-income families to make cannabis more accessible. Earlier this year, it launched the Tweed Collective and “The 4/20 Commitment,” a pledge of $20 million to community-focused causes over four years. And, as legalization got closer, it developed a campaign with Uber and MADD that gave people 101 things to do instead of driving while high. It also began working with private recycling company TerraCycle to develop a program letting consumers return plastic packaging back to Tweed stores.

“Little things like that aren’t about promoting or associating us with a lifestyle, but communicate our values by putting them into action,” Bigioni says. “Being purpose-built and belief-led is a framework I’ve used since I first joined Molson, and that’s what we have in Tweed.”

While Tweed is Canopy Growth’s hero brand, Bigioni’s purview also includes Spectrum for the international medical market and DNA Genetics targeting connoisseurs and those who care about growing practices and winning cannabis competitions. The day before legalization, it re-launched its Leafs By Snoop brand as LBS, with a premium positioning around being “the gold standard” in cannabis and a plan to embrace “diversity and inclusiveness” in its marketing.

Canopy Growth closed its acquisition of Tokyo Smoke parent company Hiku in September, but Bigioni says that brand has its own marketing group that operates “semi-independently,” collaborating and sharing best practices – likening it to the Six Pints craft beer division at Molson Coors.

With the rapid preparations for legalization complete, Bigioni says Canopy Growth is being more purposeful with its marketing investments. The company leaned heavily on partners like Cossette last year to build capacity. Now, Bigioni and his agencies are working to maintain an “entrepreneurial spirit” and ownership of the brand’s voice by finding a balance between in-housing and out-sourcing work. It’s currently building out digital marketing capabilities using Adobe Marketing Cloud, CRM and one-to-one marketing, and is also looking at content creation and event execution.

Bigioni began his career at Unilever, where, as a brand manager, he led innovation strategy, positioning and activations – and he’s looking to foster those skills in cannabis marketing. He admits that marketing training at Canopy Growth was done on an ad hoc basis leading up to legalization, but the plan is to invest in developing best practices as the brand navigates tight regulations.

“This is a business that is creative, and is doing in-house innovation and brand development and creating ecosystems and retail footprints,” Bigioni says. “As we bring in people from different businesses, we need to define ‘our way.’ What’s our philosophy around what extraordinary brands look like? How do we work with agency partners? And how do we define that process?”
Canopy Growth Corporation-Media Advisory - Canopy Growth marks tEducation is still going to be a part of Tweed’s brand, but so is building affinity. And one of the biggest opportunities to do that is through retail. The company is currently looking to open more Tweed stores in provinces where private sale is permitted, including one at its Smiths Falls facility (which is pictured above and is now selling chocolate in prep for the anticipated legalization of cannabis edibles, beverages and extracts in 2019).

“When you think of an industry where media channels are curtailed, having storefronts is already an important differentiator,” he says. “But we’re also trying to normalize a new category using a brand built around community… For us, [retail] also represents the opportunity to show our commitment to community by having a presence that demystifies us, gives us a place to answer questions and give back to the places where we do business.”