Ask Our Experts 3/17/2019: Balancing Social Responsibility with the Bottom Line

By Molly McCann and J.J. McCoy for New Frontier Data


Q: Part of what attracts me to the cannabis industry is its sense of corporate culture, and the opportunity to run a business that does some good even as it does well: What are some examples of promoting both social responsibility and a healthy bottom line?    


A: As you have noticed, many companies demonstrate definite ideas about how they choose to go about their business. Such may include principles regarding everything from diversity and civil rights to employee benefits to ecological sustainability and organic ingredients and ethical networking. Some companies formally establish guidelines for what they consider to be part of a general Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy.


A recent survey by New Frontier Data found that cannabis consumers including millennials, some racial and ethnic minorities, wealthier people, and others among those who spend relatively more on cannabis are more likely to express concern about the sustainability and social responsibility of the brands that provide their cannabis.


Happily, the best CSR policy thus benefits both a company and its profitability while establishing a loyal customer base of conscious consumers – a win/win/win all around. The Financial Times defines a CSR as “a movement aimed at encouraging companies to be more aware of the impact of their business on the rest of society, including their own stakeholders and the environment. CSR is a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social, and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.”


A CSR may include policies to promote diversity and social equality, including gender and LGBTQ rights, to identifying communities and individuals most impacted by the war on drugs, to offering employees options for everything from 401Ks and stock, to health and family insurance, and affordable childcare.


As the chief experience officer (CXO) for Mission Dispensaries’ locations across four states, Leah Heise is keenly aware of the unique challenges facing the cannabis industry in a marketplace. Yet, despite strict regulations about advertising, product display, and even sampling demonstrations which create very difficult challenges for brand differentiation, she recognizes how an active and transparent commitment to conscious consumerism can be a disruptive game-changer.


She believes that the best approach is to stay ahead of the market and build customer loyalty early since customers who are committed to a brand will stay committed to it. “We do all kinds of stuff,” Heise explained. “We sit on all of our local merchant boards and attend all the meetings. We have First Fridays open houses in Catonsville (Md.), and make sure that we are out and engaging in the local community to know that we are here, and we are present.”


She added that “because we are so limited in the way that we can do advertising, outreach is really one of the best ways to get our name out there. Until we can do regular advertising, it is something that every single dispensary should be doing. [Cannabis] is a product that lends itself to a need for education, and that means outreach,” whether holding educational talks, being out in the community to lend a hand in recycling or trash-pickup efforts or otherwise getting involved in the local area.


Ultimately, Heise said, marketers “need to focus on the experience on all levels: How customers find you, how easy it is to access you, to determining your prices, to how they think of you on their way out of the store.”