From Target to THC, Dasheeda Dawson traded her corporate life for the founder of a cannabis company. As a former senior digital marketing executive, Dasheeda launched and managed multi-million dollar brands for Target, Victoria's Secret and Johnson & Johnson. In 2012, Dasheeda's life was turned upside down when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Searching for options, she turned to cannabis. Dasheeda quickly noticed what a profound impact cannabis had on both her and her mother's life. In fact, her mother was able to beat breast cancer. Fast forward to 2016, Dasheeda wanted to move with her mom from Minnesota to Arizona. Her hope was to provide a better quality of life for her mother. So Dasheeda headed to Arizona and began to investigating the process of becoming a medical cannabis patient and owning a cannabis business. Then, suddenly Dasheeda's mom passed away. It was a devastating yet life changing moment. While physically gone, Dasheeda found herself full to the brim with her mother's spirit. It is this energy Dasheeda uses today to forge her path in the cannabis industry. From launching MaryJane Marketing to overcoming her biggest struggles, read Dasheeda's journey.
In the beginning, what inspired you to enter the cannabis industry?
Cannabis became a part of my life more seriously and “more regularly” than the occasional vacation smoke in 2012. My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. I was a thriving senior executive at Target Corp and she lived with me in Minnesota while she underwent aggressive chemotherapy treatment. So when I say cannabis became a part of my life “more regularly” -- I mean as regular as checking the fridge for milk, eggs or bread. After arriving in beautiful Minneapolis in the spring, the frigid temperatures of -15 degrees of winter began to take a toll on my own joints and chronic arthritis. After a reprieve from consuming socially on occasion to ensure I passed my drug test for Target, it really only took one sesh with my mom for me to realize the impact the plant had on my body and my own chronic pain.
I think the challenges of procuring cannabis in a new and unfamiliar city, as an executive for the largest company in the state certainly made me really question my own relationship with the plant. I hated the drama of it all just to get the medicine that worked for myself and my mom. Fast forward to 2015 and frankly, I can admit that I did nothing with my initial activist inclinations around cannabis. Life went on. Mom beat breast cancer and moved back to Atlanta. I moved back to NYC as a Director with Victoria’s Secret. We decided it was time for my mom to move west to join my Aunt Latifah -- mom’s ongoing need for cannabis to manage her pain and the opportunity to be a legal medical marijuana patient in Arizona was certainly a big draw. We all dragged our feet on making those moves and I finally made my first trip to Arizona to “see for myself” in Feb 2016.
Convinced it would be a better place for my mom, I began to investigate the process of becoming a medical marijuana patient and owning a cannabis business. In my mind, this was all for me to set up my mom with the best possible resources and foundation when she moved. Then, suddenly she was gone -- just like that. April 1, 2016 -- so many things changed for me. I lost my mom in my the physical sense. But, I found myself -- full to the brim with her spirit --- and I emerged The WeedHead - a rising cannabis executive, advocate, and patient.
Name one mistake you see cannabis companies making on social media.
Sadly, I can name several. The biggest mistake most cannabis companies are making on social media is incorrect use of or completely lacking the important hashtags. Most brands don’t understand that hashtags aren’t “just for fun” or “just for trend”. Even with very clever copy and a great picture, I still see many posts with no hashtags at all. Without keywords or the right keywords, digital media content rarely finds the target consumers brands desire to reach and hashtags are very important keywords, particularly on Instagram and Twitter.
Piggy-backing commonly used hashtags also help brands build their awareness, but the importance of a ubiquitous, branded hashtag is paramount for supporting brand equity building. Nearly 50% of searches are being conducted on social media and hashtags help users a.) to identify the pages affiliated with a brand, b.) to see cohesive branded content in a library that is easy to navigate and c) to participate and engage with the brand in their own content development. Development of a robust hashtag strategy is key for growth hacking in any industry.
In the same vein, I also think a common mistake is the use of hashtags that glorify the slang and “underground” lifestyle of cannabis. There are the usual suspects (#pot #420 #weed #ganja) and most crawl-bots will flag these automatically for review. Now, of course, these are also some of the largest hashtags which are great for piggybacking. So, I’ve created a few tricks for my clients that allow for them to capitalize on the reach of these mega hashtags without being penalized by the slang while trying to boost.
Any tips for maintaining a work/life balance?
I’m probably the worst person to ask for this. My family thinks I work all the time and perhaps they have legitimate claims at this critical point in my career. My overall philosophy is that I don’t think of work and life on opposite ends that I need to balance. If work is opposite to life, does that mean work is equal to death? Girlfriend, if that’s how you are working, my best tip is to quit! #RealTalk Target, VSD and Fullbeauty really let me do “my thing” in terms of reasonable work-life integration.
I believe working from home at least one day per week is a necessity for any working mom and I fully took advantage of remote work policies (or lack thereof lol). Once my mom passed away, I knew my preference was to be working less from an office and more from my home in an effort to integrate even further. I’m also a homeschooling parent to my 13-year-old son, Jordan. His work plan and 1:1 lessons are much easier to accomplish when I just need to pop in the next room. If you are doing what you love for an industry/product/team that you are passionate about. You are balanced. If you are doing that while pushing along your desired path and seeing the manifestations of your labor, I’d say you are winning.
Why is it important for cannabis businesses to build a brand strategy?
Products sell one day and perhaps don’t sell the next. Brands, on the other hand, have staying power beyond the product, beyond the core category. It’s how Victoria’s Secret piggybacks being “Best in Bras” to become “Best in Sport Bras”, ultimately entering and quickly dominating the rapidly growing activewear category. People put their trust in brands. And in today’s age of social media and “always-on-demand” content, people are actually fully engaging with brands on a weekly and daily basis by their own volition more than ever before. Now, of course, this is all part of the mainstream paradigm and perhaps some of us in cannabis are still naive enough to believe the cannabis industry is somehow protected from the law and power of branding. It’s not -- in fact, I would argue that we are in a race to see which brands will become national and global first.
Naturally, most people concern themselves with the cannabis-product brands - but, I’m curious about the white spaces -- all the other tangible and viable businesses required to really make this industry a success. The consumer products that help new and reactivated users integrate cannabis into their everyday lifestyle, such as Apothecarry -- a line of luxury organization systems and accessories for the modern smoker. I’m also very focused on identifying strong brands to lead media and content -- this is the education and the stories that need to be told to help rebrand the industry. From Green Flower Media with top notch educational content to The Dank Duchess teaching newbies like myself how to #dablikealady with her premium hash -- these are the types of brands with staying power because of who they reach and the potential to convert naysayers into cannabis evangelists. This is how we will hack into mainstream America.
What has been your biggest struggle working in the cannabis industry?
Sometimes my personal beliefs and business beliefs don’t find the perfect alignment within the cannabis industry. For most of us in the industry, we are all trying to do big things with very limited resources while fighting against a rigged system. The activist in me often struggles with just how rigged the system actually is, especially in light of the scientific evidence that clearly shows cannabis prohibition is bogus. The Brooklyn in me just wants to put all of that on blast which is partially why I launched The WeedHead, a place where I could be authentic about my journey in this industry. The business strategist in me feels like the cannabis community needs to be smarter and more strategic about anti-prohibition efforts --- are business owners or future business owners really reading these Laws and Propositions?
Are we addressing the disparities in minority business ownership? Further, is anyone going to address the big elephant in the room? By big elephant, I mean Big Pharma or Big CPG? The closer we get to federal legalization -- the closer we get to a BIG entrance into the cannabis industry, pun intended. Frankly, we haven’t gotten enough traction or built enough infrastructure ourselves to compete with big industry businesses.
We don’t even have a unified set of standards on cannabis quality or testing, even within the same state. In this regard, we just need to do better and push ourselves more to elevate the consumer’s experience and overall safety. This requires collaborative efforts, across competition but all too often I’ve seen cannabis brands have their heads down laser-focused on their individual efforts.
If you could offer an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Look beyond working with the plant directly. The cannabis industry is quickly getting oversaturated and highly fragmented. Do your research on where the white space opportunities actually exist. I think everyone’s first (and the obvious) inclination is to attempt to enter the industry as a dispensary owner or grower or cannabis-infused product development. However, I would encourage people to look beyond the obvious and find the ancillary niches that are desperately needing elevated competition in the cannabis industry. Companies like MaryJane Marketing help accelerate the growth of the cannabis industry by raising the standards on strategic brand marketing best practices in the industry. I’m sure there are many other “standards” that have yet to be set in this industry --- which means you have an opportunity to create them. Make history making money.
But give back. I can’t judge a person for wanting to get into the industry chasing the “Green rush”. For many of us, including myself, this is definitely about obtaining generational wealth. For those of us “children of the war on drugs” who were lucky enough to “make it”, we have an obligation to hold the torch for those who didn’t -- of which there are millions, disproportionately Black or Hispanic. So, I recommend entrepreneurs become advocates for change not only in the laws surrounding cannabis but in the support of rebuilding communities that have lost the most from the criminalization of a plant that never should have been criminalized to begin with.
For me, it was a no-brainer to join and support the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), the first organization dedicated to creating equal access and economic empowerment for cannabis businesses, their patients and the communities most affected by the war on drugs. There are other groups that have emerged, including Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) for which I am the President of the Southwest region. The best advice is to be an active and authentic advocate to support the change needed in the industry. Support what you believe in! From Cannamoms to Vet support groups, there are many avenues of advocacy all chipping away on the old “Taboo” perceptions. I also love the heart and hustle of my #CannabisCommunity, many of which are people I have met in this first year.
Name the number one mistake you see new cannabis companies make when entering the industry
Not enough respect is given to the cannabis plant and nomenclature. Everyone seems to want to fit right into the core cannabis “underground” market of yesterday and not enough companies trying to set new precedents and best practices. There are definitely not enough of the bigger “legacy” brands focused on marketing to women, the fastest growing legal users. I don’t have to call them out because we already know who they are. The data clearly shows which consumer base is growing the fastest, albeit perhaps not the current majority.
However, also consider that cannabis will, in fact, hack into mainstream, where women make 85% of the household purchase decisions. Moreover, if we tack on top of that the medicinal/health/wellness benefits of the plant -- we now move the purchase decisions to nearly 95%. Most companies are in fact still targeting the younger demographic, largely white male 18-25. This is what I call not reading the tea leaves.
What habits or mindsets have helped you be successful?
Haze yourself because you never know who is watching.
Pride comes before a fall. (Thanks, mom!)
What do you see in the future for marketing in the cannabis industry?
Rebranding the cannabis industry will be a necessary next step. We can’t keep perpetuating the same old stereotypes in our marketing messaging and content. The plant is far more sophisticated than most Americans give it credit for, both as a medicine and as a recreational outlet. From 12-hr transdermal patches like Mary’s Medicinals to champagne distillate infused edibles like Sublime, an-Arizona based brand of elevated cannabis --- we have so much more to offer culturally and educationally beyond the bong and dab dungeons. We need to lead with product innovation to improve dosing and delivery, grounded in a foundation of education for the consumer. If the cannabis industry is “an unorganized truth fighting an organized lie” -- I would argue the future for the cannabis industry is all about getting organized and optimized (quickly).
Name the top 3 skills every cannabis entrepreneur needs