Before Ella Alpina was a cannabis entrepreneur,
she had one foot in the industry and the other outside of it. For Ella, cannabis was an integral part of her life. Yet she was also a professional career woman. Ella felt divided. Things changed drastically once she made a life-changing decision. Ella quit her job. In fact, not only did she quit her job, she headed to Central America where she planned on working with two different projects. This was her first exposure to social entrepreneurism: a business model that couples capitalism with social good. One year later, Ella found herself back in the San Francisco Bay area. This time with a newfound love for the innovative business concepts she had witnessed firsthand. These life changing experiences led her to work with startup organizations like The HUB and Project Nuevo Mundo. During this same period, Ella also noticed an increase in stories covering the cannabis industry. An expert in marketing and business – the calling was clear. Ella launched 7 Rays Marketing, a full-service marketing agency to serve the cannabis industry. Today, Ella is grateful to bring her business and marketing expertise to the industry closest to her heart and community.
What was the journey leading up to launching 7 Rays Marketing?
Up until the cannabis industry really started picking up here in California, I was someone with one foot in and one foot out. For me, the cannabis culture is intertwined with music, art, wellness and my community. I’ve always followed the path of higher education and a professional career. The two sides, or two worlds, finally came together for me.
The moment of change for me came when I quit my corporate job and traveled to Central America to work on two different projects. They were my first exposure to Social Entrepreneurism: a business model that couples capitalism with social good.
After a year abroad, I returned to the San Francisco Bay, with a newfound love for the innovative business concepts I witnessed firsthand. The experience led me to work with startup organizations such as The HUB and Project Nuevo Mundo. As I started seeing more and more cannabis industry news stories, the concept of launching a full-service marketing agency for the cannabis niche called to me. Actually, it banged on my door.
Today, I am grateful to bring my business and marketing expertise to the industry closest to my heart and community. Two feet in, finally!
How has cannabis influenced your life?
I think that many people first smoked in jr. high or high school and the goal was to get as high as possible. Today, the goal is much different. It’s about enhancing my life and balancing my mind, body and spirit. Looking back, cannabis was a medicine even then: for coping with and getting through those difficult years. Because of the drug war and associated stigmas, we didn’t recognize it in the same way we do today
Any tips for maintaining a work/life balance?
This is tough for everyone who’s an entrepreneur. Being busy is commendable in society, but I honestly do believe we all work way too hard. One tip to cultivate balance in your life is to set your own business hours. For me, it’s not working on the weekends. It’s ok to leave your work til Monday morning. Take the weekend off and spend it with your loved ones. They miss you! And your business relationships will respect you for establishing boundaries.
What is the biggest challenge you've faced working in the cannabis industry?
It has to be the constant changes to regulations and need to keep track of all the requirements. As a marketing agency that serves clients in many states, we need to be aware of the unique needs of each state.
One thing’s for sure, we are always on our toes. You have to stay ahead of the curve. We closely monitor packaging changes and offerings, as well as new competitors. As an agency, we want to create unique, differentiated design and content for our clients. By keeping a close eye on the players and trends we see, we are able to provide strategic and effective.
Name one habit that has helped you be successful
Lots and lots of self-study. When starting my business, I would sit down each morning to research, read and collect content and influential sites and content. Evernote was my closest confidant during those times. It still is actually. My main prerogative was to understand the ins and outs as best as I could. It comes down to having a passion for what you are doing. Because that’s what drives you to get up each morning and tackle the day.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Helping my clients define their higher purpose that is driving them to do what they do. I love developing brand stories and then creatively extending them to design and content strategy.
Do you prefer to consume before, during, or after your work day?
Typically it’s in the evenings to wind down. However lately I have been experimenting with low dose consumption throughout my workday. Sometimes it can be too much and I need to take a break, but when the dose is right, the stress falls away, tedious work becomes not so bad and my overall mood improves.
I have some great tinctures I take like Herba Buena’s Rock and Roll. I also love to puff on my Alchemy pens throughout the day, which allows me to function at my best, and not get too high, due to the botanicals blend.
What is the number one mistake you see cannabis companies making when it comes to branding?
Focusing heavily on the fact that it’s a cannabis brand. Either in the name (Canna, THC, CBD, Mary Jane, etc) or in the logo, typically symbolized by a cannabis leaf.
Brands need to understand that in a saturated market the most important thing is differentiation. A brand can accomplish that in different ways: through unique product features or production process, through the brand story and purpose, and through business activities, for example, a recycling program of their jars.
A unique name that creates a lasting impression coupled with a distinct logo will help differentiate you from all the canna leaves, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Look at your business processes and positioning and see if you can’t craft a brand story that is personal and inspirational. One that you can tell over and over again.
Name your top 3 marketing tips for cannabis businesses
1. Find your niche’s influencers. Remember to look outside the cannabis industry bubble too.
2. Define your content strategy and mix across all channels. They differ, so be specific.
3. Perform a competitive analysis and review your brand positioning. At the speed we’re moving, you want to get it right the first time.
If you could light up anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
I’d love to light up in Spain; the cannabis culture is booming there and I’d love to experience the European version of our industry.
If you could offer an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Get to know your local canna community. Attend networking events and make friends. That’s what this is all about.