Interview with Nicola Thomson: From Brand Management in the Alcohol Industry to the Cannabis Industry

Interview with Nicola Thomson: From Brand Management in the Alcohol Industry to the Cannabis Industry

In this interview, we speak with Nicola Thomson, Brand Manager at Weed Me Inc.

Nicola takes us through her journey into marketing and her transition from the beverage/alcohol industry to the cannabis industry.

As a leader, Nicola describes how she inspires and motivates her team to work towards achieving the company’s goals and objectives.

This interview is full of insights into the dynamic and growing cannabis industry and the transferable skills from other sectors that can be invaluable.

Let’s dive in!

​​Can you tell us about your marketing journey?

My marketing journey began in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 as a temp at the most prominent beverage/alcohol company.

Under the guidance of the Division Director, who soon became the Managing Director, I followed him and worked with and for him as his Executive Assistant.

Having had over 15 years in the industry, he piqued my interest in learning and doing more. I craved more for and from myself.

At that time, I was completing my first Master’s degree, and I felt like I wanted to expand my horizons and seek more responsibility. So, he gave me my first opportunity to manage one brand (while working as his assistant simultaneously) as a trial.

That started a fire within me for marketing as that brand became the catalyst for my marketing career, as I was highly successful in that role. From there, I changed positions and companies over time, but my hunger and passion for the industry grew more and more.

My last position as Senior Brand Manager before immigrating to Canada was undoubtedly the most challenging. I started at the company smack dab during the Covid-19 pandemic, managing brands that were not considered essentials.

It was very challenging, but with determination and focus, my success in the role solidified my capabilities. Within my tenure, we achieved the highest sales figure the company had ever seen with the brand over its 25-year history.

When I moved to Canada, I wanted to continue in Brand Management. Still, at the time I was pregnant, and exactly 7 months after being in Canada, I began working at Weed Me Inc. as the opportunity in the cannabis industry presented itself mere weeks after my second son was born.

To date, I’ve learned so much about the plant and industry and a lot about myself, and I’m grateful for where I’ve come from but extremely excited about where this journey will take me.

What drew you to the cannabis industry? How did you transition from the beverage/alcohol industry to this space?

The cannabis industry has always been this taboo industry in Trinidad and Tobago, up until recently. Cannabis remained an illegal substance. It is now decriminalized but not legal in Trinidad and Tobago.

The skills I garnered over the years of brand management in the beverage/alcohol industry managing international brands were completely transferable to the cannabis industry, except for the guidelines that must be adhered to by all licensed producers here in Canada.

That part is what I would say has been most challenging for me, but the team I have surrounding me, starting with my direct report at Weed Me, has made this transition smoother than anticipated.

More so, going into a role, managing brands acquired from another LP, and rebuilding with the goal of success in the industry, that platform has been essential for me, having had no previous experience in the cannabis industry.

What skills have you had to learn or adapt to succeed in the cannabis industry?

The skills that I value the most from my previous industries would be my extreme ability to multi-task successfully, my meticulous nature in assessing and seeing when something is off, and my unending desire to learn and take on constructive criticism because the industry as a whole is very dynamic and growing.

Those LPs that can adapt most quickly to change will be most successful. So I wouldn’t say that I’ve had to adapt skills in my current role.

Instead, my mindset had to be adjusted from working with long-established brands at companies that have existed for over 30 years. Contrast it to Weed Me – The company was born due to legalization in Canada, which is not an easy task by no stretch of the imagination.

How do you inspire and motivate your team to work towards achieving the company’s goals and objectives?

As a leader, I strive to inspire and motivate my team, not by dictating but by example.

I allow everyone to tap into their skill sets with the understanding that we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Operating in that manner allows everyone’s best self to shine through.

I genuinely believe that working as a team rather than in silos creates more opportunities for collaboration and enables the group to succeed as a whole rather than shining a spotlight on one person or department.

Nicola Thomson on teamwork

Can you describe a particularly challenging project you’ve worked on in your career?

I would say that managing the portfolio I did at my previous company during the pandemic was highly challenging, given the same classification as a luxury commodity when the world’s population focused their consumption on essentials.

Additionally, the global supply chain issues posed challenges creating stock-out situations, yet there was this expectation to deliver results regardless.

Managing these challenges forced me to rely more on critical thinking and strategic planning for plans A, B, and C simultaneously as businesses operated in very uncertain times.

Despite the challenges, failure was not an option, so I simply had to innovate and create opportunities for success.

What trends do you see in the cannabis industry in the next few years?

The only way for me to comfortably answer this question is by saying that the cannabis industry is very young compared to other more established industries.

Adapting new operational processes and distinguishing one LP’s products over another by focusing on quality flowers and preferred formats by budtenders and the retail landscape.

Can you walk us through your approach to brand strategy?

Given the very nature of the cannabis industry and the limitations placed on operating LPs, especially when it comes to marketing (as compared to other sectors), there are lots of DOs and DON’Ts.

Therefore, brand strategy must be aligned with these limitations/guidelines and then operate within that space.

At Weed Me, the collaborative nature of all parties is priceless: You could speak to the CEO or COO, or any of the directors at any point and throw out ideas to come up with a solution that is not only aligned with the company’s values and goals but also stays within operating guidelines.

Nicola Thomson all collaborative nature at WeedMe

What is the most important quality for a successful marketer to possess?

For a marketer to succeed, the company that hires them must first trust their ability to do the job and give them space to do just that.

As marketers, we are creatives to varying degrees. As creatives, we crave safe spaces to express that creativity. The marketer cannot produce at their best whenever that is stifled, and their output will be sub-par at best.

Micromanagement of a creative is a no-no if one genuinely wishes them to explore and be most productive. Guidance and mentorship are welcomed, but the key ingredient to a marketer’s success is the autonomy to execute. You will see them shine their brightest in such positions.

How do you measure the success of your marketing campaigns?

In this digital age, it’s super important to utilize data analytics from various social media platforms to measure the success of a marketing campaign/initiative.

If there is positive engagement with the information put out, you can expect to see a positive impact on the bottom line and vice versa.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but that’s a start. Then there’s the feedback/reviews/testimonials posted about the product/service/company, and while there will always be some criticism, it means that there are gaps that can be closed.

Finally, what advice do you have for professionals transitioning into a new industry or role?

My advice would be to take the leap. Trust in yourself and your abilities, and stretch yourself. Everything you want or desire exists beyond your comfort zone.

The key is to have confidence in your ability to do regardless of the challenges that will be faced. The challenges are there to push you so that you explore your own capabilities and, to be honest. There’s no feeling more exhilarating than knowing “I did it!”

Leveraging skills and experiences is a relatively straightforward process so long as the foundation from which they were developed is sound and stable. Once you know and understand what the skill is in and of itself, the application becomes effortless.

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