Flowr's Nicole Wolff on Breaking Down Stigmas, Chasing Data and Building Loyalty in Cannabis

The ex-Molson Coors exec's hopes for a maturing market

Nicole Wolff is brand director of The Flowr Corporation, one of the only cannabis organizations with a truly global footprint—cultivating operations in Canada, Europe and Australia. From the company's headquarters in Toronto, Wolff has been responsible for developing and launching its leading recreational brand, Flowr, in Canada following legalization in 2018. 

Before The Flowr Corporation, Wolff launched and scaled regional and global beer brands over eight years at Molson Coors Canada. She led high-stakes initiatives such as launching the Belgian (Blue) Moon brand in Canada, bringing back the iconic Coors Banquet stubby bottles and managing the Toronto Raptors partnership with Coors Light. Most recently, before leaving Molson Coors to join Flowr, Nicole was leading the above-premium category in the face of significant category headwinds.

Since joining The Flowr Corporation, Wolff has been on a journey to help tear down the stigmas of cannabis use while building Flowr's equity as a premium recreational brand. She is a vocal proponent of date-led creative insights, and brings a research focus to marketing.

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


Nicole, tell us ...

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

Brand director at The Flowr Corporation in Toronto.

Your earliest cannabis memory. 

I was traveling Europe and visited Amsterdam. Naturally we had to fit in a visit to a café, and I made sure to pick up a joint to enjoy as we walked the streets of Amsterdam. There was something about being outside by the canals and enjoying cannabis with the company of friends in a foreign town. While it is crazy to think about how far Canada has come, even compared to Amsterdam, I can't wait to go back someday soon when traveling is a thing again and do it all over with a new appreciation.

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

I feel like the positive impact cannabis has had on me has been more about the ways it has helped many of the people I care about. Whether friends who use it to find balance in their everyday lives from high-stress jobs, or others who have used it for mental or physical health reasons—I've seen so much good come out of cannabis use in its various forms. With cannabis being stigmatized for so long, people have been hiding, research on the plant has been limited, and I believe my role as a brand marketer is to build a brand that supports destigmatizing cannabis. At Flowr, we believe there is nothing to hide, and if we can play a small role in minimizing the stigma, I believe the positive impact that cannabis has on people here in Canada and around the world is just beginning.

A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand. 

That's like asking what my favorite movie or food is. It really depends on my mood and what I'm feeling. Cannabis is no different and the product I reach for depends on mood and intention. For the past few months, our Flowr BC Pink Kush is what I always have on hand. It's strong, with a really consistent THC range, so I can reliably dial in the high I'm after. It's not for the faint of heart, but a few small puffs for me really hits the spot.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today. 

I can't wait for the day that my answer to this question changes—far and away, it's the lack of data. Back in my days working in alcohol, I totally took for granted the years of research, consumer insights and point-of-sale data I had. For cannabis, we're still in the infancy, right at that point of shift between the tensions of "legacy market" buying habits and traditional packaged goods marketing practices. Over here at Flowr, we've taken the the "best data is more data" approach. We use whatever data available to form reasonable, testable hypotheses to help our brand become less reliant on the anecdotal and self-report data that's still the backbone of this space. Call me a quant, but I crave more!

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

The low-hanging fruit doesn't taste as sweet. OK, that sounds intriguing, but it's a pretty cryptic response. Here's what I mean. Although we have a few established players in the space, most of the traction so far has come from early movers who grabbed at the low-hanging fruit of cannabis branding and marketing. The retail shelves are still stocked with cannabis tropes and stoner clichés. But things are changing. Not only is the market maturing, but the consumers are, too. Being able to market to an evolving consumer base will allow all brands, Flowr included, to reach further and build more meaningful affinity and consumer loyalty. I'm really excited to see more brands having something to say other than "We sell cannabis."

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support. 

I saw an article just this week deeming Canada's cannabis legalization a success. While I'd love to share and support that message, there are more than 10,000 reasons why I can't completely agree. That's the conservative number of men and women who are sitting in Canadian prisons who are eligible to have their cannabis convictions pardoned. Since legalization, only a few hundred people have had their crimes pardoned. A few hundred. Of more than 10,000. I vehemently support expungements for non-violent cannabis convictions, and I'm proud of the work that Cannabis Amnesty continues to do, fighting for justice. We can claim success only when we've undone the failures of the past. 

A recent project you're proud of. 

Besides the rebrand of Flowr itself, our current campaign for BC Pink Kush is what I'm most proud of. We've recognized that inconsistencies in cannabis are expected and accepted. That's crazy. If every Coors Banquet beer you drank could have a range of possible alcohol percentages, you'd think twice about that 12-pack. Flowr's BC Pink Kush is high quality and unbelievably consistent, and we realized that the message of consistency being the mark of quality would really stand out in the market. Beyond the messaging, the photography itself is beautiful. It's inspired by Rembrandt still lifes and presents cannabis in a way I haven't seen before. It leaves behind the clichés and tells a story about the art and science of growing premium bud. You can tell I'm proud because I'm printing those photos to hang in my living room. Not sure what could be a clearer sign than that.

Someone else's project you admired recently. 

I get really excited about projects in the cannabis space where cannabis isn't the lead character. There are so many wonderful initiatives in cannabis where it's the hero. While that's great, I think the projects that have the most positive impact on destigmatization are the ones where cannabis is involved, but not the focus. That's because cannabis isn't a major life focus for most users. It's just a part of their story. Recently, I watched Netflix's interview doc Have a Good Trip, which did more to normalize and start meaningful conversations about the use of psychedelics than any other piece of culture I've ever seen. The reason why, in my opinion, is that it shows a wide spectrum of use and a diverse mix of people we respect. I really admire that Donick Cary, the writer and director, approached the topic that way.

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

It's been just a couple of years that cannabis has been legal in Canada. I've technically been in the industry even less than that. So, when I think about the figures who are doing great stuff in this space, it's one thing to look ahead at what's to come. But often, I find myself instead looking back. The road to get us here was long and winding, with incredible setbacks. A name that comes to mind is someone who has been there since the beginning—not only since before I joined the industry, but since before I was born. Keith Stroup founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1970. It's hard to imagine any person who has had greater impact on the destigmatization of cannabis internationally. This year is NORML's 50th anniversary, and I encourage all of you to read the weekly blog posts Mr. Stroup is making, looking back on the journey so far.

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

Summertime means live music to me, whether that be a festival or concert. And live music—of every type, kind and variety—pairs perfectly with cannabis. If it weren't for Covid, you can be sure there'd be a few joints being passed around at country concerts all summer long.

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

Chemistry. Not the lab kind. Or the Breaking Bad kind, officer. At my last role, brand partnerships were a major focus. Sports and music play a huge part in my life, and there's magic when you match the right brand with a lifestyle partnership. That chemistry has always been one of my favorite things to mix up. If I weren't in cannabis, I would be doing that in another industry. But I look forward to the time when cannabis marketing opens up and truly allows brand partnerships to exist.

Higher Calling is our new interview series 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 contact Michael Kauffman.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and founding editor of Muse by Clio. Prior to joining Clio in 2018, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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