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Celeste Miranda and The Cannabis Marketing Lab: the View From Within

They say you don’t know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. When it comes to understanding cannabis patients and the industry, Celeste Miranda, founder of The Cannabis Marketing Lab (TCML), has walked plenty.

Until eight years ago, Miranda worked with marketing clients in traditional industries, such as law firms and the hair salon franchise Supercuts. That all changed when a grow light company contacted her to market its product in a more mainstream way. The lights, which closely replicate sunlight, were used on government submarines. Miranda’s marketing campaign was successful, and cannabis growers started to become interested in using the lights for their grow operations.

“That was what catapulted me into the industry,” she said.

Soon after, cannabis companies began seeking her help with their marketing.

“I could see the forest through the trees on what was going to happen in the cannabis industry,” she said.

Although she was not experienced with cannabis use or the industry until she took on her first client, Miranda quickly learned firsthand about the healing power of the plant. About one week after transitioning her marketing firm’s focus toward cannabis clients, she woke up one morning and couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. After 18 hours in the emergency room, doctors identified four lesions on her brain and three on her spine. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

The condition caused discomfort in her legs at night. “You just want to cut your legs off. It is the worst restless leg syndrome you can have,” she said.

Doctors prescribed several medications to alleviate the spasticity in her legs. “They were giving me so many muscle relaxers that I was just out of it,” Miranda said.

She had never used cannabis in any way, but research led her to believe the herb might be an effective alternative to the pharmaceuticals her doctors were prescribing.

“I got my medical card, and I ordered some infused cough syrup,” Miranda said. She took her first teaspoon of the syrup, and “within 10 or 15 minutes the spasticity completely went away.” She was able to stop taking her other medications.

That’s when she saw another forest through the trees. Two years after being diagnosed with MS, Miranda founded MC4MS, a non-profit dedicated to legalizing cannabis to combat MS. Recently, her neurologist at Stanford Neuroscience Center informed her a research team is moving forward with a study examining the potential for cannabinoids to combat MS. The team wants to work closely with MC4MS for the study.

“They believe that cannabinoids may be able to repair myelin. If that is true, then that is a cure for MS,” Miranda explained.

She still receives Tysabri infusions every month but is “doing well and very active.”

Although Miranda may be close to working with Stanford on groundbreaking research, she still has a company to run and has been doing so for the past eight years . During that time, she has managed to amass quite a list of clients: 51, at present.

TCML has become a one-stop shop for cannabis businesses looking to promote their brands. The agency offers just about every service possible in marketing, including website development, logo design, social media promotion, SEO services, email campaigns, custom packaging, and photography.

“We’ve been doing this for a while,” Miranda said. “There are new cannabis marketing companies every day that I see and hear about. But since we started, we have seen a lot come and go.”

Have some campaigns or strategies worked better than others?

I have several clients in this industry that do not allow us to use the word cannabis or marijuana or images of the leaf in their marketing. We failed with those miserably at first in this market and having those restrictions. That was one of our biggest failures at first. But we have figured it out and have come up with ways around it.

In regards to something that has worked for us, I would say learning the way around the social media roadblocks. It has taken us years to figure out how to do it with so much trial and error and A/B testing. Also, early on, there was a big question about whether or not to use a pot leaf in a logo. A client let me put out products on dispensary shelves both with and without a cannabis leaf in the logo. The one with the leaf sold about three times as much as the ones without.

Do you find any particular social media platform better suited for cannabis marketing? 

Instagram is an excellent platform for business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing. Cannabis growers live on Instagram. If you have a product or service, you want to be on Instagram. Facebook is dead for the cannabis industry. Having a presence on Twitter is not necessary. The other one people miss is LinkedIn. If you have a B-to-B project in cannabis, you should put much of your efforts on LinkedIn. My business would not be what it is without LinkedIn.

What would you say to new companies trying to offer marketing services in the cannabis industry?

I would say to niche down, because the marketing in the cannabis industry has really evolved. Find one thing and do it well. Just do PR and be really good at it. Just do SEO and be really good at SEO. That may be the best way to survive for marketers. 

Do you work with companies from all areas of the cannabis industry such as dispensaries, growers, and labs? 

Yes, we do. We have a diverse portfolio, but I find that our niche is the scientific companies and I try to keep our business within those parameters. If I am going to cherry-pick, then I think that is our sweet spot.

Is there a particular management philosophy to which you adhere?

I try to be flexible. Everything in this industry is changing so quickly. We may have a marketing strategy for a client today that needs to completely change two days from now. It can be the drop of a new law or new regulation or even a new competitor. I also try to be flexible with my team and allow them to be creative. I am only as good as my team, and I allow them to do what they do. Most of the time they do it leaps and bounds better than I ever would.

Speaking of your team, how hard was it to find and hire all those people with different backgrounds?

It is an interesting group. I went to a remote model of working about two or three years ago. I did not want to be stuck hiring for a location. The labor pool is not huge here in Pismo Beach [California]. Now I can hire based on talent. We use Basecamp and stay connected that way. But for that model to work, you have to find people who are both talented and disciplined.

Recreational sales are set to begin sometime this year in Canada, but you are already operating there. How is that going?

We just opened TCML Canada a few months ago. The Canadian market is so different, so I wanted us to position ourselves to be Canadian-specific. With the way things are set up over there, it warrants a different marketing approach. I hired a president of our Canadian company to hire those accounts specifically, and that has worked out well. We are starting to grow that portion of the business as well.


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