On Brand: Digital budtenders on the rise

By Jackie Bryant
Feb 9, 2021
Courtesy March & Ash

Before the pandemic, many brands considered budtenders among the most effective ways to get the word out about their products. Budtenders routinely shared their views with customers, and the many brands who invested in budtender outreach suggests these salespeople could be a valuable marketing channel. Some brands and dispensaries offer cash and other incentives for budtenders. 

Now that online sales have skyrocketed, companies are moving their marketing efforts into the digital realm. And while DMing, may not create the same sense of intimacy as an in-person interaction with a budtender, it may be just as effective. 


“They know exactly what they want”

We haven’t really noticed a difference or change in what products sell based on in-store purchase or delivery,” says Kayla Bass, the marketing coordinator for Southern California-based dispensary chain March & Ash

While she thinks budtenders can sway with in-person sales, the dispensary chain has significantly built up its online marketing presence. Pre-pandemic, March & Ash’s website mainly functioned as a landing page, encouraging shoppers to come to the store and explore for themselves. 

Nowadays, the dispensary uses its website and social media as a stand-in for the in-store experience. The store pairs topical posts like “A quick guide to concentrates” with multimedia presentations about terpenes, for example, to share information that, typically, would have been communicated by a budtender. 

In October 2020, the company launched an app, which, along with its website, acts as an e-commerce platform for delivery as well as curbside and in-store pickup. Through the app, customers can access almost as much information as they could have found in-store–including top sellers, staff-picked favorites, and special deals. Products can be filtered by a range of criteria, including picks “for beginners,” “cannabis for sleep,” and more.

If customers need a little more help, there’s a live chat box on the website, manned by an on-staff budtender. Customers can “ask a budtender about a product if [they’re] looking for that personalized recommendation,” Bass says. 

The store has found that, particularly for online sales, most people are just looking for a simple way to buy and move on. “Many website visitors are returning customers,” Bass says. “They know exactly what they want.”

A more specialized role

Many dispensaries are also looking for ways to automate and augment the role budtenders once filled. Springbig, an online consumer loyalty and CRM platform, recently announced its acquisition of customer feedback service BudTender. (SpringBig is a Mattio client.)

The move will allow Springbig to access BudTender’s “customizable customer surveys, weekly reports, its AI-powered feedback platform, 24/7 customer support, and track KPIs in real-time through its intuitive dashboard,” says a press release. 

In other words, combining the two platforms will enable dispensaries to collect more information about customers than any budtender ever could. “We certainly see dispensaries increasingly moving to ‘outsource’ aspects of the budtender role,” BudTender CEO Jake Crow said. However, he says using digital surveys to collect customer feedback can also free up budtenders to focus on customer service. 

In 2020, BudTender experienced 800% year-over-year store growth and 1200% year-over-year revenue growth, part of which, the company attributes to Covid. Before the pandemic, Crow says, he detected reluctance by customers to use the platform in Canada, where BudTender is based, “because they were wary of sharing personal information.

Because of social distancing, however, some shoppers who had been reluctant to use delivery services relented. Many for example, signed up for Canada-based online platform Dutchie. Once they had engaged, it became easier to get customers to use other digital marketing platforms such as BudTender, Crow said.

IRL budtenders survive, for now

Still, there may still be a place for traditional budtenders, especially in markets where brick and mortar retail remains the norm. Timothy McDowell, co-founder of Colorado-based extracts wholesaler Marqaha, said that until delivery becomes widespread everywhere, those relationships will remain vital. And, even when delivery does become more commonplace, some customers will still prefer in-person shopping. “Take my parents, for example. They want to talk to a real person,” he said. “Tourists, too. They may not be getting off the plane in Denver looking for Marqaha, but they are definitely looking for the dispensary experience,” 

Overall, however, there seems to be a drift away from the role budtenders served in the early years of legalization. In-person interaction is less necessary for sales, and it never really made sense to task low-wage employees without medical training to recommend products for medical purposes. Moving consumer marketing to the internet might be more than just a survival tactic or a way for pot shops to save money. It rightly forces dispensaries to take more responsibility for consumer marketing.

Jackie Bryant’s marketing column “On Brand” is sponsored by Mattio Communications. Column sponsors don’t influence the subject matter or content of individual stories. 

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