Brands Jun 16, 2016

From Print to Products: Dope Wants to Be Marijuana’s First Lifestyle Brand

Dope Magazine initially launched as a print magazine back in 2011.  In an industry where many magazines only emerged in the last few years, Dope has something that many others do not: a unique, identifiable brand.  The magazine’s look, feel, and content is energetic and youthful.  The cover stars, which have recently included Willie Nelson, Bernie Sanders, and Melissa Etheridge, hearken back to marijuana movement’s history while still looking forward to the future of the industry and its brands.  With a diverse readership of 125,000 consumers across 24 states and the District of Columbia, Dope has become a leading industry publication for dispensary workers and cannabis consumers alike.

Now, Dope aims to leverage its marketing know-how and fan following to build the first successful cannabis lifestyle brand.  David Paleschuck, Dope’s Vice President of Licensing and Brand Partnerships, explained, “Dope is in a unique position to extend its brand nationally and internationally, and that’s because we’ve already created the Dope platform: our magazine, our events and now the line up of products.”

A little over a year ago, Dope launched its line of products, which includes the Dopen(TM) vaporizer pen, Dope Oils, and the Dope Pack, a pack of 7 pre-rolled joints.  They rolled out the product line in Washington, and now are moving into Oregon and California with a plan to launch in Colorado and Nevada soon after.  Dope will expand via licensees, or state-licensed companies who agree to manufacture products according to Dope’s standards.  These requirements include using Dope’s formulas, machinery including child-resistant packaging, which must meet national CPSC standards.

In line with its mission of supporting the cannabis industry, Dope co-brands all of its licensed products to bolster that company’s credibility as a Dope-approved producer.  Since Dope Magazine publishes reviews of marijuana products, it’s regarded as an expert in quality – much like a Cigar Aficionado or a Wine Spectator – and offers its “seal of approval” through co-branding.  “We’re promoting the best producers and processors within each state as much as we’re promoting the Dope brand,” Paleschuck explained.

In addition to expanding to new states, Dope is currently building out its line of oils including two levels of THC (85% and 55%); as well as ‘dabbable’ oils called, Dope Dabs.  A flavored oil with low THC content will attract tourists and occasional users, while the dabbable oils will be popular among “heavy hitters”.

“We’re promoting the best producers and processors within each state as much as we’re promoting the Dope brand.”

This strategy of differentiating product lines based on customer preferences will be critical to Dope’s success as it expands to other markets, Paleschuck said.  Though the cannabis industry is unique in that it has a special set of laws governing its cultivation, distribution and sale, it otherwise functions as a typical marketplace where traditional marketing strategies still apply.  “Outside of the legal aspects of cannabis, nothing is unique to cannabis,” he said.  Paleschuck gave me the example of cheeseburgers at McDonald’s: while you’ll get the same burger in their franchises around the world, you might get mustard, ketchup, mayo, or a mix of those on your burger, depending on which state you’re in.  Dope’s products will also have the same standards for quality and might use the same “recipe”, but they will have nuances for different regions and types of customers.

How does Dope determine these nuances in each state?  “It’s a combination of working with the producers and processors who already have a brand designed for that state plus working with retailers, talking to them and finding out what is selling within the state and within their stores,” Paleschuck explained.  While Colorado and Washington have a more playful vibe, Oregon is very focused on sustainability and locally sourced products.  Northern and Southern California are so distinct that Dope actually considers them separate markets. This strategy, Paleschuck believes, will be a key to Dope’s goal of becoming a lifestyle brand in all legal states, as well as abroad.  “If you are going to have a successful brand,” he said, “you need to cater to those nuances.”