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Budding Prospects: Defining Opportunity Segments for the Cannabis Market

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MRI data is used in the majority of media and marketing plans in the US. Its Survey of the American Consumer® represents the gold standard in traditional planning and consumer insights. As part of the Survey, MRI conducts over 24,000 in-person, in-home interviews each year in both English and Spanish, capturing an unequaled range of information on US consumers’ media use, buying habits, lifestyles, and attitudes.

Inspired by a client request, MRI’s National Cannabis Study is the first to capture the full spectrum of cannabis use – recreational, medical, and products in between – across the US. The findings are imported into MRI’s top-quality consumer dataset for deep profiling purposes and true nationwide universe estimates. MRI also collaborates with Miner & Co Studio – leading researchers in the world of cannabis since 2014 – to provide thought leadership and ethnographies that bring the findings to life.



For those of us who work inside the “Cannabis Beltway” – the zone of people and places where marijuana has become a business almost like any other – it may be easy to forget that four-fifths of Americans are not cannabis consumers. Businesses tend to focus on the customers they already have and often struggle to understand the many potential buyers who, for sometimes complex reasons, opt out of their products.

With its just-launched National Cannabis Study, MRI has stepped in to provide a more balanced perspective on cannabis and the US population – consumers, abstainers, and everything in between. Melded with MRI’s rich profile data from its Survey of the American Consumer®, the National Cannabis Study segments the full US population into six core groups, based on attitudes towards cannabis and cannabis users, as well as lifestyle preferences. The groups are Marijuana Mavens, Cannabis Campaigners, Cannabis Cheerleaders, Cannabis Critics, Reefer Resisters, and Weed Worriers.

Non-consumers make up a huge proportion of US adults. We found that Cheerleaders — people who strongly support legalization but are actually not users themselves – account for roughly one-third of the population. Only one in ten Americans are both cannabis consumers and advocates, while almost half of US adults are either against marijuana or concerned about its potential effects.

The important thing is to see opportunity not just in cannabis’s proven supporters and users – a relatively small group – but also in those who simply need the right product or message to see the benefits for them. How can you understand your best (budding?) prospects and give them just what they are looking for?

Cheerleaders represent an opportunity segment of roughly 87 million open-minded, liberal people – something that should instantly grab the attention of cannabis marketers. We know that they tend to be in late middle age (median = 48) and live in higher-income households; they are also slightly more likely to be women.

As we look to develop the right products and messages for this group, we will want to understand what percent are employed (and therefore may have some disposable income to spend on cannabis), and whether they are more likely to live in states where marijuana is legal in some form. And to know where to reach them, we would explore their media and content use in-depth: Are they cord cutters? Where do they get their news or entertainment? How do they feel about advertising?

Another important opportunity segment is Cannabis Campaigners; while all are firm believers in legalizing marijuana, only half currently consume cannabis. With the segment as a whole representing 8% of the population, that means the non-consuming Campaigners account for some 10 million people. Holy smokes!

This group is more likely to be African-American or Hispanic and tends to be slightly younger than the Cheerleaders. To leverage their passion for cannabis, we would pursue many of the same questions – discovering who they are, what media they rely on, and how to win their engagement and trust.

We can see that focusing on non-consumers of cannabis will be indispensable to growing the US marketplace; but companies cannot do this effectively with half-baked data. Numbers on a PowerPoint slide or in an algorithm have no value if they cannot be trusted. That is why data quality is a huge issue in marketing today – and the cannabis industry cannot afford to “wing it” in this area.

With our National Cannabis Study, MRI is providing gold-standard data to inform a potentially gold-plated industry. To take its growth to the next level, the cannabis marketplace needs a serious approach to growth, and understanding non-consumers as well as loyal buyers will be a part of that. We will continue to share our insights with you here as this remarkable industry truly takes off!

Michael Panebianco is Vice President of Sales for MRI, a division of GfK.


Michael PanebiancoMichael Panebianco

Michael Panebianco

Michael Panebianco is currently Vice President Agency and Advertiser sales for MRI and the lead on the recently released cannabis study. With over 20 years of media and consumer market research sales experience, Michael brings a unique passion to developing innovative solutions that provide beneficial insights to his clients. Prior to MRI, he has held media positions with Comcast, Nassau Broadcasting, and Arbitron. He is a proud alumni of Monmouth University. Michael can be reached at 212-884-9238 or [email protected]

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