Allison Disney of Receptor Brands on Cannabis as a Team Sport

Helping visionary entrepreneurs earn the right to customer attention

Allison Disney is a founding partner of Receptor Brands, an agency custom-built for cannabis, helping the industry overcome obstacles and meet the growing expectations of consumers. With a passion for understanding why people do what they do, Allison partners with ambitious founders and brand builders to design experiences that move their business forward.

She also serves on the National Cannabis Industry Association's Marketing and Advertising Committee, the Board of Directors for the Center for Disability & Elder Law, and is a member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

Allison received her MBA from the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University, a B.A. in advertising from Michigan State, and a certificate in marketing from the International Advertising Association. Allison is based in Chicago, where she is proud to be a part of the growing Midwest cannabis community.

We spoke with Allison for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space. 


Allison tell us ...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was raised in southwest Michigan and have lived in Chicago for the past 16 years, with the exception of 18 months spent in London with my husband and daughter.

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I am a founding partner and CEO of Receptor Brands, a strategic marketing agency focused on crafting unique brand stories that help cannabis retailers, wholesalers and ancillary businesses scale. We're headquartered in Chicago but are a proud "work from wherever" company with employees residing throughout the country.

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Cannabis changed the trajectory of my professional career in the best way possible. After spending years working in large-scale agencies on global portfolios, I found myself getting further and further away from the craft and the creative product. I've had the privilege of working with advertising's most brilliant minds and talented craftspeople, but the cannabis industry has inspired me in ways that I wasn't expecting. Winning in cannabis is a team sport. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to work alongside smart, resilient and visionary entrepreneurs. I find myself deeply vested in the success of our clients' businesses because I appreciate the incredible risks they've taken, and must continue to take, in order to create this industry.

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

It's too difficult to choose one favorite, but right now I'm enjoying Surp Café by Spring Lake, a drink enhancer that pairs well with tea or soda, and Mindy's Lush Black Cherry gummies; they taste great and are perfectly dosed with 5mg THC and 5mg CBD.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

The struggle for customer attention should be a top concern for every marketer. I often hear "Cannabis will sell itself" from people unfamiliar with the many well-developed brands in the category. Headset recently reported that an average of 34 percent of products contribute 80 percent of total sales across markets. That means the majority of SKUs are sitting on shelves in dispensary storerooms. The hard work of brand building doesn't stop with business-to-business sales and distribution, even if you are vertically integrated. Consumers need convincing before putting a product into their shopping cart.

We consumers are an impatient people, and our attention spans have never been shorter. Earlier this year, the Coalition on Innovative Media and Measurement shared that more than half of all mobile users leave a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Mainstream and cannabis marketers alike are increasingly forced to consider what it takes to capture the fleeting attention of consumers deluged by competing brand messages encountered throughout the day.

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

I'm excited to see what happens in cannabis hospitality and travel. There's always been an aspect of community and sociability to cannabis, and creating destinations and safe spaces for people to consume together creates an entirely new segment of the regulated category where brands can engage with consumers in interesting ways.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

Receptor Brands proudly serves on several National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) committees and is closely involved with their Michigan chapter, the MiCIA. The NCIA provides its members with an opportunity to inform policy impacting the industry, such as the Safe Banking Act, while also creating a community of licensed operators and service providers that bridges market boundaries.

A recent project you're proud of.

We've really enjoyed collaborating with Sunnyside to identify and engage local artists with their dispensaries whose work can explore the intersection of cannabis and wellness. Anthony Lewellen, Alloyius McIlwaine and others have helped create the kinds of inviting environments that are engaging for experienced users and novice consumers alike.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I was impressed by Kiva's creative use of social media to launch their Lost Farm edibles line. The campaign proved that you can use social media platforms in a compliant way, if you're willing to think about the channel first and execute in an unexpected way.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

I've taken a lot of inspiration from Nancy Whiteman as a business leader and as an evangelist for the power of brands in cannabis. Wana was one of the first multi-state brands I encountered in Michigan after legalization, and I remember thinking how it immediately changed the edibles shelf. Everything from the brand to the flavor selection, the dosage, unit count and price point signaled a thoughtful product experience and readiness to scale. Whiteman's success, and the announcement of Canopy Growth's acquisition of Wana, is not a big surprise if you've followed the company's journey since its founding in 2010.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

I'd let more of my nerd flag fly—you might find me working as a full-time marketing scientist. Personally, I love to observe people and study their behavior, and data provides an endless stream of clues about what they really need and want. 

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

Profile picture for user Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a contributor to Muse by Clio.

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