View from the C-Suite: 48North’s content-driven product strategy

Chief growth officer Kirsten Gauthier used the Latitude content platform to generate awareness and insights for a future product line.

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More than two years after the legalization of cannabis, licensed producers (LP) continue to face many challenges with retail distribution and awareness, says Kirsten Gauthier, now chief growth officer at 48North, though she notes the pandemic has accelerated the development of online channels.

The Toronto-based LP – whose brands include the sustainability-focused 48North, the more accessibly priced Trail Mix, and other brands – has made its own inroads, launching 32 new SKUs since March 2020, which have helped the company reach underserved segments. Later that year, the company also launched “What you up to?,” a product-focused campaign that “ended up being advantageous to us on a brand level,” notes Gauthier.

But of its recent achievements, one stands out as strategically savvy: the launch of Latitude, a next-gen “lifestyle cannabis platform” focused on sexual wellness and beauty, whose initial offering includes bath salts and sex oil.

With origins as a print and digital content platform launched pre-legalization, Latitude was rebranded as LAT last year. Post-rebrand, Gauthier used insights from the platform to launch a Latitude product line – maintaining its awareness as a brand and circumventing some of the age-gated restrictions faced by LPs in Canada. She recently gave strategy the skinny on the platform’s evolution, and where 48North is headed next.

Latitude bath salts

What was the original idea behind Latitude? What were you hoping to accomplish with it pre-legalization? 

In 2017, when we branded 48North, I knew we needed other ancillary brands that were going to ground us and make us feel whole. That’s when we started Latitude. We weren’t even growing cannabis at the time. We had intentions to. We had one small facility in Northern Ontario. But we knew we wanted to be authentic and real. And we knew that brand building took time.

Now fast-forward to the fall of 2020 – the first time we actually launched Latitude products. We let the brand evolve, percolate and live on its own [over all that time]. In the beginning, it was a vehicle to create community and talk about cannabis use with women and break stigma. Because prior to legalization, we struggled to get women to even admit they were smoking.

I put off doing products as long as I could, because I didn’t want it to be perceived as just that – a product strategy. We are [usually] hamstrung with advertising and comms and connecting with the consumer. [But with Latitude], we created a community of women. We used their voice. It was a safe place to tell stories.

Why did you rebrand the platform to LAT last year? 

LAT is an elevated version of Latitude, because we were now post-legalization, so the framework and the perspectives had shifted. The first iteration was a collection of first-person stories about cannabis use. This next iteration is about living with cannabis and living life at a higher frequency – being open to ideas and changes and all sorts of things. It’s far reaching; it falls outside of even just cannabis. It’s about living life differently, your way, or in a more integrated and thoughtful way.

At first, we didn’t really know a lot about [our audience]. We assumed Latitude would be something canna-curious women would be interested in. But we learned that these women are cannabis users that use cannabis in all parts of their lives.

With the regulations, this vehicle for 48North was brilliant in many ways, because it could live outside the gate, whereas everything in cannabis has to live inside the age gate. So, this gave us brand awareness. Even though we couldn’t attach 48North directly to Latitude, the name, the aesthetic, the way it behaved – people who understood the cannabis industry made the association with 48North. And the brand began to grow.

So why return to the original brand name for your product line? 

The decision to bring Latitude into its own product brand means it can’t live outside the gate anymore. It’s like any other cannabis brand now. So we had to develop the LAT brand. And we’ve decided we’re going to keep LAT as a content, community, advocacy platform, so that the two are kind of separate, but together. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to speak out of the gate, so I needed two brands. Visually, they’re recognizable and non-exclusive to each other. But legally, they checked a lot of boxes.

Latitude Sex OilYou’ve launched the Latitude product line with bath salts and a sex oil – two firsts for the legal cannabis space. Why those products, and do plan to expand the assortment?

Some people have been making THC bath salts and giving them away [for a long time]. There’s also a lot of talk around CBD and THC for women’s reproductive issues and menstrual pains. So these products seemed like a no-brainer.

They’re not products that big companies want to make, because they’re not high volume [ones]. But they’re the kind of product that signal what the future of cannabis is going to be, which is a healing ingredient in all sorts of different things. This is really just the beginning. It’s about [taking] a thought leadership position. We have other products in development and we’re hoping to launch two more this year, at least.

Will LAT be used to support all the brands within the 48North family? 

I haven’t thought through that part of the strategy yet.

We’re about to separate all of our brands. We were originally an endorsed-brand company. [For example, our products were branded] as 48North Trail Mix and 48North Apothecanna [a line of topicals created in partnership with the natural cannabis topicals maker], because we wanted to reinforce to the investor community who we were.

We’re now a little older and we have more data and insight, we know a bit more about the core consumer, and we’re now feeling more confident about separating the brands and giving them a life of their own.

So in the next couple of months, that’s what we’re planning to do. Latitude will stand alone, 48North will stand alone, and Trail Mix will stand alone, and they will behave the way they need to behave to be able to satisfy the consumer that they’re talking to.

We’re no longer [going to have] an endorsed-brand strategy. But the way that we execute with each of these brands, you’re still going to feel intuitively that they’re all part of this family.

Why does moving away from an endorsed-brand strategy feel like the right next step for you as a company? 

When we first started, there were no products in market. Legalization hadn’t even occurred. We were marketing to the investors. So the name 48North was actually more important as a [stock] moniker than as a consumer brand. But we knew we needed to build a brand. And as a marketer that was really challenging, because, of course, so much attention was on the corporate brand.

So why am I doing it now? Well, I feel it’s time.

We can it do well by having visual cues and being great on the comms side so that people understand this is our family of brands and that we’re a values-based company. That means our inputs are clean, the way we operate is environmentally [friendly] – there’s a bigger corporate story to tell. But we’re moving into a CPG model now. This is just the beginning of it – let’s not kid ourselves – but it was time to say, ’Okay, let’s really do this.’

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities.