Join us in this exciting episode of the Kaya Cast podcast as we speak with Irfan Bhola, the CEO and founder of The Flower Agency.
Irfan shares his extensive knowledge and experience in digital marketing and breaking traditional norms to build a brand presence, especially in the ever-growing cannabis industry. We delve into what makes a brand stand out, the importance of personalization, and how omnichannel marketing strategies can be used effectively.
Whether you're a mom and pop dispensary, a social equity licensee and even a huge brand like Kiva Gummies, Irfan offers practical tips and insights on how to grow your brand in this increasingly competitive market. Tune in to learn more and get inspired on your own cannabis business journey.
Irfan Bhola has over 15 years of experience as a digital marketer, making him an exceptionally qualified and skilled professional. In order to develop tactics that continuously produce outstanding results, he has continually honed his skills across a range of marketing channels, including search, social media, influencer marketing, programmatic advertising, digital out-of-home, SMS, email, audio, TV, and affiliate marketing.
Irfan has built complete growth and performance marketing campaigns for a wide range of customers throughout his career, including like Spotify, Uber, Grubhub, Expedia, Netflix, P&G, Apple, and eBay. Irfan entered the cannabis market in 2019 by starting The Flower Agency, a custom omni-channel marketing firm that focuses on working with cannabis and psychedelic brands, retailers, advocacy organizations, and ancillary services like MJ Unpacked, Cann, Houseplant, FundCanna, Kiva, Caliva, Grassdoor, and Harborside. In the cannabis market, it has been demonstrated that focusing on client acquisition, engagement, retention, and awareness is quite effective.
Find out more about The Flower Agency at:
Irfan Bhola: We've come across so many mom and pop dispensaries and they are absolutely killing it just because they have a story, right? They're embedded in their communities. People stop by. They love the experience walking into the store. They know what social equity programs they might be involved in, how they're giving back to the community.
Tom Mulhern: Welcome back to the Kaya Cast podcast. I'm your host, Tom Mulhern, and today on the show we have a conversation live from MJ Unpacked in New York City, heart of downtown Midtown with Irfan Bhola, who is the CEO and founder of the Flower Agency. His agency is really on the cutting edge of all things digital marketing.
Working with some of the top brands in cannabis to really help them create an omnichannel digital marketing presence.
And that means just really hitting every single marketing channel, sms, email, social media, influencer marketing, getting their brand out there. That might sound really overwhelming and you might be thinking, how can I do this? And what's great is that Irfan really shared some practical tips for any size cannabis business from, you know, a huge Kiva gummies to a small mom and pop dispensary strategies they can use to help grow their brand.
Irfan Bhola has over 15 years of experience as a digital marketer, making him an exceptionally qualified and skilled professional in order to develop tactics that continuously produce outstanding results. He has continually honed his skills across some range of marketing channels. Irfan has built complete growth and, performance marketing campaigns for a wide range of customers throughout his career, including Spotify, Uber, GrubHub, and others. Irfan entered the cannabis market in 2019 by starting the Flower Agency, a custom omnichannel marketing firm that focuses on working with, cannabis and psychedelic brands retailers, advocacy organizations, and ancillary services.
So Irfan, welcome to the Kaya Cast podcast.
Tell me a bit about your background and how did you end up in cannabis?
Irfan Bhola: I grew up in Pakistan. I moved to the US when I was 18 not knowing what I would do with my life. I've hopped around quite a bit, so New York is the 11 city I've lived in.
I've lived in four countries and hopped around from doing architectural engineering to selling softwares. And I've always been a huge advocate of cannabis. I was like, that kid in college who was kind of breaking all the rules in the fraternity and apartment complexes and, you know, just inviting everyone to smoke a bong with me.
I started studying the cannabis marketing arena back in 2019 and we saw a huge void in the industry when it comes to marketing, given all the restrictions by, you know, Google, Facebook, all the platforms. That was the exciting and interesting part for us. We're like, okay, let's experiment.
What can we do here?
So we decided to come in, started asking the right questions and build strategies around that. Experimented with paid search social, which was no one was doing. And after like some experimentation cracked the code. That's been our focus. It's been a fun industry, man.
Tom Mulhern: Well now you've done digital marketing with huge brands like Spotify and Uber,So how does marketing in cannabis compare to those other industries that you worked in?
Irfan Bhola: We actually look outside of cannabis and see what's transferable. What these innovative companies are doing, who are at the forefront of marketing and
whether that's acquiring new customers, driving sales, collecting email addresses. We looked at how can we make that transferable, but also compliant. So that really helped me like that background to extract all that and bring it to cannabis pretty much.
Tom Mulhern: Well, and that's the hard thing is, making it compliant. So how do you navigate some of those complexities of compliance and regulations with also trying to be creative and get your marketing strategies out there?
Irfan Bhola: A lot of people don't understand there are channels that you can utilize that are fully compliant. So you can have a cannabis ad and Food and Wine and Thrillist now, right? There are 10,000 publishers over connected TV, podcasts, audio display ads allow cannabis.
And I was just doing this panel with a bunch of New York retailers and we just showed them a list of where the cannabis ads are for our clients and they're like, wow. I didn't know that I could do
When we're running like digital out of home billboards in New York City we have to look at their regulations and, you know, what's allowed in New York. it might not be allowed in a different state.
Do your homework before you're jeopardizing someone else's accounts.
Tom Mulhern: What have been some of those really effective channels that you've been able to do marketing in?
We've been experimenting with paid social on Meta and TikTok. And how we're doing it is actually creating a brand presence and resonance rather than selling weed. Creating content that people would enjoy watching, but just kind of hinting towards cannabis rather than explicitly be like, Hey, this is my store.
Irfan Bhola: Go purchase, you know, an eighth for this amount. So that's been very effective as creating a brand loyalty within certain markets.
Another big push we've been doing this year is influencer marketing.
Nano or micro influencers cost like $300 - $400 bucks for a post.
And it's very effective because you have someone vouching for your brand. And then you have exposure without jeopardizing your social media accounts and having someone else advocating for your brand. Those strategies work really well. And then once you do that post, we actually take that post and then run other digital ads with it. So, kind of repurpose that all the time.
Tom Mulhern: What are some of the tactics and strategies that you've seen that really help brands stand out in those markets where it's, you see cannabis on every single corner?
Irfan Bhola: It takes a multiple touch points for a brand to really resonate with a consumer. So that's why when we are looking at marketing, you know, we're like, let's,
connect and engage with your customer over different channels, right? So if you're sending them an sms, an email, they might not open it. They might look at it, but how about like, they're reading an article in food and wine and we put a display ad or, or a lifestyle video within that, and then maybe they go on social and then they see you again.
Subconsciously that customers start recognizing your brand and that's, that's what happens. Like, you know, you're buying shoes or these direct to consumer pants or whatever sweater, I see a lot of ads and I'm like, ah, okay, I might buy this. It might not work for everyone.
And the other thing is you have the bud 🍃 tenders, they can educate people about the brand, connect with them. Do bud 🍃 tender education event activation. So try to connect with your communities. And we've also seen a lot of brands like do really cool events where they're bringing people in, educating them about what the product is, the story behind the product meet the founders, and have like really creative branding.
Tom Mulhern: Now, what about for like a really small retailer or even some of the social equity licenses here in New York what advice would you have for them when it comes to marketing?
Irfan Bhola: Have some sort of a unique proposition right around your around your brand or around your marketing if you don't have the budgets, at least like start. Working on your crm, collect email addresses, see if you can engage with those people.
And that's, you can do it on your own. You know, send them an sms, but those are like some of the basic stuff you can do. And then you can obviously, like have your own social media page up, and a lot of people actually do engage with brands on Instagram and TikTok now. So even if you don't have a social media manager, all you have to do is just like, have your bud tenders kind of post something about it.
Or if you have a new product, just, you know, make sure you're kind of like talking about that. Or even just like pick up your phone and just give someone a journey inside your store. You know, that really helps.
Tom Mulhern: And to be honest, we've come across so many mom and pop dispensaries and they are absolutely killing it just because they have a story, right? They're embedded in their communities. People stop by. They love the experience walking into the store. They know what social equity programs they might be involved in, how they're giving back to the community.
Irfan Bhola: As you see the cannabis industry kind of evolving and changing, how do you see digital marketing kind of playing into that, and how is the flower agency kind of leading the role in that change?
It's more and more about personalization.
Right. Like, I don't have kids, I don't want diaper ads. You know, but I would like an ad for a product I purchased and I would like to see my options. Personalization trend, that's becoming more of a norm these days. And you know, just kind of understanding your audience persona through that really does help.
And you know, as things progress, like even like, you know now, Twitter, Facebook, Google, they're like loosening their restrictions around cannabis. So you will have more and more platforms available.
What we are doing is experimentation. We love experimenting and we want to kind of like go to our clients and tell them, Hey, this is new, this is exciting, this is what we recently did.
Let's try this out together. Rather than just kind of like a one channel approach, spray and pray.
I love that experimentation and like trying new ideas. Do you have like a specific story of one of those experiments that really just like, worked so well that you were, you were even surprised how amazing it went?
Most recently, like was paid social on Meta and TikTok, and our experimentation was is for a retailer and obviously we put everything under our agency account so that their account doesn't get shut down.
But we're like, okay, let's work with like really engaging content.Let's like not have any mention of weed. Let's use the term grass and, you know, have these characters talk about their experiences on like, you know, what they do on grass and they make it funny and people are engaging with it, but then they see the logo and a bag sitting there of the company.
So all of a sudden, like we started seeing so many people just like engaging with that content asking, and they, they knew exactly what it was. You know, it was kind of like a wink and a nod so that experimentation went really well. That's the way into paid social.
And then now there are a couple of things in the works where we're started working with major record labels.
So we have a new opportunity coming up with the new Anderson .Paak and A$AP Rocky and Free Nationals video for one of our brands to place products. So that's another way of experimentation for us.
Tom Mulhern: Well, I have one more question. What is one tip that you would have for a dispensary owner to help them grow their business?
Irfan Bhola: Create a brand that will resonate with your target audience. So really create that voice, you know, and, try to differentiate yourself. Like subconsciously how human brain works is, whatever is the first thing that attracts when you walk in a room, right? And if that's your logo or that's your design, or even like someone walks into the store and that's an experience that will stay with you. Don't half-ass your in-store experience.
That's a great tip. I mean, just going that extra mile, like not even just in your marketing, just in your business will go a long way. So how can people, Will connect with you if they wanna find out more about the flower agency, what you've done, what's the best way to connect?
Shoot me an email. I check my emails on over the weekends. I check my emails on vacation. It's my first name, email@example.com. You can go on our website, theflower.agency. There's a form. Fill that out. We respond within 24 hours.
Tom Mulhern: Irfan thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast. I know you've got your whole bunch of speaking engagements during this weekend, so I really appreciate our time.
Irfan Bhola: Thank you for having me. This has been great.
Tom Mulhern: One of my favorite things about that conversation was that Irfan is working with some of the biggest brands, not just in cannabis, but just in general.
But what I loved was the fact that he gave strategies for giant brands to really excel in the market as well as smaller brands.
And to be honest, most brands in this industry, or smaller brands that are bootstrapped, that are just trying to make it through. And so taking some of the strategies that have helped these giant brands grow and succeed and using them in your dispensary. Your cultivation facility, your cannabis brand is really gonna help you stand out from your competition.
I'm so thankful for this time to talk. He went from speaking on one panel to speaking on another panel right after our conversation. And you know, the fact that he gave us some time to really unpack those strategies was awesome. Thanks again for listening to the Kaya Cast Podcast.
You know, we love connecting. I've had an amazing time connecting with past guests, people that have listened to the podcast, people that are listening to the podcast right now, and continue to subscribe and share because this is our community, these are our people.