AWH's Laurie Blair on the Power of Brand in a Maturing Cannabis Market

How the Walgreens vet is working to overcome stigmas and build consumer preference

Laurie Blair is SVP of marketing at Ascend Wellness Holdings (AWH).

Prior to AWH, Blair was VP of marketing at Walgreens, where she developed and evolved the brand positioning, led omnichannel media and creative strategy, and piloted future consumer offerings of the multi-billion dollar company. Before Walgreens, Blair was an account executive at DDB, the global Omnicom creative agency, leading strategic positioning and creative development for national and regional integrated marketing campaigns.

Laurie was recognized as a "Brand Innovator 40 under 40" in 2017 and an Adweek "Rising Brand Star" in 2018. She holds a bachelor's of business administration, marketing and finance from the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

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

Laurie, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in a suburb outside Detroit and now I live in Chicago. I'm a Midwest girl at heart.

Your current role in the cannabis industry.

I am SVP of marketing for Ascend Wellness Holdings (AWH), a multi-state cannabis operator with a presence in Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey and Michigan. In this role, I spearhead our brand portfolio, retail store brand, loyalty program and digital marketing strategies.

Your earliest cannabis memory. 

One day my dad went out golfing with friends, and when he got home it was clear he had consumed cannabis during the trip. I was in high school at the time, and when he got home I was hanging out cooking with my mom. He came into the kitchen giggling and handed my mom the joint, which made us all laugh hysterically. It was one of those first moments where I realized my parents were actual people with full lives beyond just being my parents—it's a fun and happy memory for me.

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

I'm the type of person whose brain just never stops going. I've used cannabis for relaxation and to help with sleep, particularly since the pandemic started. It's been a real game-changer for me, and I try to shout it from the rooftops to anyone who will listen! 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand. 

Our Ozone brand is a go-to for me. Besides its consistency in quality and experience, Ozone has a broad product range, from vapes to edibles to flower. I'm also a huge fan of any THC/CBD edibles, with Wana and Camino as my current favorites.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

There are plenty of marketing challenges out there—the varying regulations in each micro-market, the lack of go-to tactics like paid social, and so on. Though honestly, I believe the biggest challenge is the continued stigma around cannabis, whether with current consumers being afraid to talk about their cannabis use or potential consumers too intimidated to shop. All that said, a marketer's dream challenge is knowing you have an incredible product and experience—and encouraging consumers to give it a try, knowing they'll fall in love with the brand.

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

I'm fairly new to the industry, and to AWH, so everything is exciting right now! But I'd say now is the time for cannabis brands to significantly invest marketing to build and differentiate brands, and to drive consumer preference. As the industry matures, it will no longer be a game of "If you build it, they will come." Consumers will have choice, and this is where the power of brand love will create winners and losers.  

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

I'm a huge supporter of the Last Prisoner Project. We can't fully celebrate our successes in the cannabis industry while people are still suffering from cannabis criminalization.

A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis. 

My favorite cannabis pairing is anything that helps me wind down in the evening. Chinese food or pizza mixed with The Bachelor or Real Housewives and an edible is my idea of a perfect night in!

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

I'm a big believer that brands need a strong purpose—doing good for business but also good for the world. I also think the best brands don't just exist as a product or service. It's about creating meaningful experiences. So if I wasn't in cannabis, I'd be leading marketing for a brand that fulfills that criteria. But here I am—so let's get to work!

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.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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