Dustin Iannotti is the Co-Founder of Artisans on Fire, @artisansonfire. Artisans on Fire is a full-service marketing agency in Las Vegas that specializes in working with grey-market industries like cannabis, hunting, online casino gaming, daily fantasy sports, and more.
They specialize in packaging, branding, social media marketing, photography, and video production to help companies strengthen their brand identity and raise consumer awareness.
Read the full interview below and learn about Dustin and his company, Artisans on Fire. Aside from that, Dustin shares important information on how cannabis businesses can market their products and services with limited channels.
Ganjly: What about the cannabis industry was most attractive to you as a career marketer?
Dustin Iannotti: My business partner John and I began our careers in marketing/sales together at a company over 11 years ago. The company represented professional poker players, and through this company, we got our first taste of what it was like to operate in what we now affectionately refer to as a “grey market industry.” This company worked with online casino gaming operators, and much like cannabis, online gaming faced a lot of differing opinions from outside political figures and scrutiny from state regulators. We both spent the better part of ten years learning the ins and outs of how to operate and market brands effectively, while still staying in compliance and keeping our brand partners out of trouble. After doing it for so long and learning the hard way, we got pretty good at it.
Fast forward to 2015, after working at different startups for a few years in different parts of the world, we both found ourselves back in Las Vegas. It was then that we decided to start our own company doing the same thing we did for other companies for a long time. When thinking through what types of clients we wanted to work with, we realized that the cannabis market was emerging and we were already huge supporters of cannabis as both a medicine and a consumer product.
We both respect and appreciate the idea of growing an industry from nothing. The cannabis industry as a branding opportunity is a completely blank canvas. That is both a huge opportunity and a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders as a creative branding agency. That’s also what makes it so much fun. We now have the opportunity to grow brands from the ground up and help create the cannabis industry’s version of Whole Foods, Coca Cola, Vans, Lululemon, etc. and that is equal parts addicting and terrifying, which keeps us excited and hungry everyday we come to work.
Ganjly: Do you work with primarily with licensed cannabis companies or marijuana ancillary businesses?
Dustin Iannotti: We work primarily with cannabis product brands, dispensaries and cultivations doing everything from photography, social media, video production, SEO, graphic and packaging design, brand identity and general retail marketing for our clients. We are open to working with ancillary businesses and have done so on various projects, but we mostly work with brands, stores and grow operations.
Ganjly: What is one commonly overlooked aspect that cannabis companies can address to improve their marketing presence?
Dustin Iannotti: Legal cannabis as a consumer category is brand new to most customers. That means that cannabis companies should be utilizing every touchpoint with their potential customers as an opportunity to both tell their brand story and to educate them and help them evolve from a novice one-time customer to a more frequent customer. Take subscription boxes like Wine Awesomeness for example. They target novice wannabe wine connoisseurs. Everyone wants to say they know the difference between good and great wine. When Wine Awesomeness or other subscription boxes geared towards novice customers send out their products, they include cards that contain info on what to pair the wine with, the music to listen to while enjoying it, how it should typically make you feel and what weather to enjoy it with.
The same should be done with all cannabis packaging. Each cannabis package design is an opportunity to tell a brand story. How long did it take for the grower to perfect this strain? Why does cannabis matter to this brand and why should it matter to me? On the flip side, because most customers are new, brands should focus on education.
What if I’m a newbie, could this ruin my night if a take too many hits? And how much is too many hits? Should I clean my house after or plan on sitting down and focusing on one spot on the wall for hours? Why don’t more brands treat their packaging and their inserts inside of them as a storytelling medium? This overlooked aspect could be the difference between a consumer not only coming back and staying loyal to you, but the entire cannabis consumer product line as a whole. We have a responsibility through good marketing and storytelling to welcome these new users to help foster industry growth.
Ganjly: How does Artisans on Fire stay ahead of the cannabis advertising bans in states that have decided to restrict the market, and on popular advertising platforms that have rejected cannabis ads?
Dustin Iannotti: The landscape of innovative cannabis marketing changes seemingly weekly in certain states as regulators grow their knowledge base around the industry as a whole. This obviously creates a wide array of marketing challenges. It also forces creativity.
We stay ahead by constantly staying updated on those state laws through client legal teams and our own consultants/advisors, while also deploying A/B test campaigns to determine any changes in T&Cs for some of the larger ad platforms as an almost daily exercise. If digital advertising is going to exist in your bag of tricks for cannabis clients, you need to try and always be the first to land on a winning and legally acceptable combination of placements where it counts. It also helps to have spent years doing this for a similar market in online gaming prior to getting into cannabis.
Ganjly: Where do you see Artisans on Fire in 5 years?
Dustin Iannotti: Artisans on Fire is planning on branching out into the industry in the same way you see musicians, athletes and other tastemakers branch out in their respective fields. If we do what we say we are going to do for cannabis brands (so far so good), the next logical step would be for us to create our own line of cannabis products with a trusted client partner. Then we can really put our money where our mouth is.
Ganjly: What traditional offline marketing activities do you advise a cannabis business do?
Dustin Iannotti: I like seeing smart brand integrations like co-sponsoring an event with Lyft to promote responsible driving and safe-use cannabis. I think pushing the envelope on installations outside of dispensaries and giving people something to remember about their brand are the types of things I see moving the needle and making people grow their loyalty towards certain brands. This is the generation of short attention spans and in marketing the generation of “wow me” where traditional marketing is no longer enough. Experiential marketing is what we are increasingly drawn to now.
Thank you so much Dustin for the valuable information and for taking the time to do the interview. To know more about Dustin and his company, Artisans on Fire, go to ArtisansOnFire.com.