Growing Impact's Annie Davis on Cannabis and Motherhood, and the Challenge of Scaling Brands
Annie Davis is a Clio Award-winning business strategist, marketing leader and investor with nearly 20 years of experience building lasting teams and brands for companies spanning consumer packaged goods, renewable energy, natural products and cannabis.
In 2018, she transitioned her career into the legal cannabis industry, where she's led marketing functions for several of California's largest operators: Flow Kana, a leading brand of sungrown flower, and Care By Design, a pioneer in cannabinoid wellness. Through her strategy consultancy, Growing Impact, she has helped numerous cannabis clients across marketing, business development and sales strategy including Cresco Labs, Humble & Fume, CannaCraft, Project CBD, Rebel Spirit, and Loos (acquired by Audacious Brands). As a fund advisor to West Creek Investments and Receptive Capital, Annie also advises and invests in early-stage cannabis companies.
She is a fierce advocate for ESG (environmental, social, governance) and diverse representation in cannabis. Annie serves as a mentor to underrepresented founders through Our Academy and Eaze's Momentum Accelerator, and as an advisor to MJ Unpacked, Crescendo Cannabinoid Sciences, High Confectionary, Garden Society and Cannabis Doing Good.
We spoke with Annie for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Annie, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb just west of Boston. I stayed in New England for college (Yale) and for my MBA (Harvard) before moving to San Francisco in 2007. For the last eight years, I've lived in Petaluma, California (about an hour north of SF, in Sonoma County).
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
I founded my cannabis strategy consultancy, Growing Impact, in 2018, when I was on maternity leave with my second child. I had previously been leading marketing and business development for a manufacturer of compostable food packaging, and I was seeking greater flexibility in my career.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
In 2014, I became pregnant with my first child. Given the federal stranglehold on cannabis research, I was unable to find sufficient data on cannabis use and pregnancy, so I chose to abstain from the plant throughout the gestation period. While this choice made it more difficult to sleep, and manage my anxiety, I knew that I would never forgive myself should my cannabis use impact my unborn child.
When Jackson was born—healthy and full term—in June 2015, I found myself recovering from a C-section, riddled with anxiety that manifested itself in debilitating insomnia. I was wholly unprepared for the postpartum hormones that were coursing through my body, and while my infant began sleeping through the night after eight weeks, I was unable to follow his lead. My mind raced with worries, and when morning came, it was difficult for me to function.
At three months postpartum, after an honest conversation with my OBGYN, I decided to resume cannabis consumption. Taking just a few hits, right before bed, enabled me to finally fall asleep and get the rest that I so sorely needed. I was able to wake up at dawn with my infant, feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. I was able to be the type of new mother I had always envisioned being. For me, motherhood and cannabis go hand-in-hand, both personally and professionally. I am infinitely grateful for this plant and how it has enhanced so many facets of my life.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
For years, I have been trying to reduce my personal consumption of inhalables, but I haven't been able to replicate the full-spectrum effects and fast onset. I've tried so many different types of edibles, beverages and tinctures but never found an optimal replacement for smoking and vaping. But now I have a few great options! I love Garden Society's Wine Country gummies and Proof's High THC tincture. Both are brands that were founded in Sonoma County, and are led by female CEOs. Most importantly, the products deliver amazing and long-lasting effects!
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
A brand is, at its core, a promise to a consumer, offering both functional and emotional benefits. Due to the patchwork of regulatory frameworks across state-legal markets, it is nearly impossible for cannabis marketers to consistently communicate a brand's promise. What we can say about a product, how we label it, how we package it, how it's sold and how it's distributed all differ market-by-market, which presents a huge challenge in terms of scaling marketing efforts across multiple geographies. In an industry that is already resource-constrained and heavily taxed, this makes our jobs as marketers that much harder.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
I am most excited right now about collaboration between brands, and partnerships between established brands and newly licensed operators in emerging markets. Why? Because I believe that a rising tide will lift all boats. At this point in the industry's development, brands and retailers are fighting for the same group of consumers. The more we can grow that pie—bring new consumers into the category—the more value will be created for all. Furthermore, given how tight the cannabis capital markets are today, marketers have to work with slim budgets, so collaboration is key. Pooling resources in order to create more compelling brands and content, and distribute both more broadly, will be critical to the industry's success.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
For the last year, I have served as a founding board member for the Cannabis Media Council, a new trade organization whose mission is to use the power of mainstream media to uplift wholehearted, people-centered advertising campaigns that show positive experiences with cannabis in order to normalize consumption across generations. We strive to be the collective voice in cannabis that, similar to the "Got Milk" campaign, broadens consumer awareness and consideration for this amazing plant. I was compelled to help launch this organization because I believe in the power of collective action, especially given the financial and regulatory constraints of cannabis operators today.
A recent project you're proud of.
I'd have to say it was leading the Flow Kana marketing team to three Clio Awards in 2021, for our Sungrown Challenge campaign that pitted top-shelf sungrown flower from the Emerald Triangle against top-selling indoor flower from L.A. in a blind "smoke off" by 30 influential members of the industry and media. We launched the campaign in May 2021, just as sungrown prices were falling lower than ever before. The goal of the campaign was not to promote our own brand, but rather to call into question why buyers were willing to pay 2x higher prices for cannabis flower cultivated under electricity and not the sun's rays. By highlighting how 60 percent of cannabis experts preferred sungrown, we hoped to shift that narrative.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
At the age of 17, Chris Wilson was charged with a cannabis-related crime, convicted and sentenced to his natural life in prison. Chris turned his life around and is now a successful visual artist, author and social justice warrior. He teamed up with House of Puff, a Latina-led and women-owned cannabis company based in New York City and available nationwide that blends art, social justice and cannabis for a winning formula that is bringing cannabis out of the headshop and into mainstream society. House of Puff's collaboration with Chris Wilson raised awareness about solitary confinement through a collaboration that featured his painting Positive Delusions on the second edition of their artist series rolling papers. Étain Health launched the collection at their flagship Manhattan dispensary. I admire this project because it took a creative approach to engaging consumers in cannabis social justice.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
I have great admiration for Christine De La Rosa, founder & CEO of The People's Group. Christine is a force of nature, and I'm grateful to be in her orbit. After struggling to raise funding for her first cannabis business, The People's Dispensary, she made it her mission to use her learnings and her network to improve access to capital for BIPOC cannabis founders.
The People's Group is planted in the foundation of cannabis culture and its rich diverse history; they use this as their guide for social and equitable investment in cannabis founders and businesses (both new and legacy). The People's Group centers, engages and invests in BIPOC and women-led cannabis/ancillary businesses to bring into balance the abundance of this plant with the people.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
I'd probably be where I was before this, driving revenue for triple bottom line businesses that create value for people and the planet, simultaneously with profit. Or I would be traveling the world with my husband and two young children … which is still a dream for which I hold out hope!