East Coast Cannabis Veteran Bill Hewson joins Outspoke as CSO

6/11/2020

Bill Hewson is joining Outspoke as the new Chief Strategy Officer. The east coast industry veteran brings 30 years of enterprise experience to the team as well as a distinctive perspective on cannabis and media communications that informs his maverick approach towards embracing the unconventional demands of the field. In the spirit of welcoming Bill to Outspoke, we wanted to sit down with him to talk about his roots in the industry, technology, social equity, and so much more.

You have a background in running a marketing and strategy agency. What made you want to transition into focusing on cannabis? Has the field demanded anything unique?

I started investigating the cannabis market for three reasons. First, I’m a natural risk taker and a super curious individual. The greenfield opportunity that the emerging cannabis economy offered hit my curiosity bullseye when I first got into it in 2013. The fact that it was, and remains federally illegal piqued my interest further and my initial research proved how backwards our government and society has approached cannabis as a whole.

Second, as an economics major in college, I’ve always been fascinated by the growth of new economies. I started in digital marketing, for instance in 1996 when it was still merely a fledgling field and that turned out pretty well.

Third, the traditional marketing agency landscape has been changed forever in the past 20 years, and it felt like the right time to make a change and focus on helping an entire business segment emerge, rather than just promoting existing products and services segments. The fact that I truly believe in the power of cannabis and cannabis decriminalization to help society is a nice bonus for me as well!

Can you talk a bit about working in cannabis out of the New England area? How does the market differ?

New England is nothing like the west coast markets in my experience. When I started out investigating the world of cannabis in 2013, I focused on Los Angeles that at the time had nearly 1000 dispensaries operating at various levels of legitimacy – literally the wild west. New England, with its puritcanincal roots and systematized bureaucracy, makes for a much different environment, both in terms of regulations and culture.

Unlike other commercial fields, the cannabis industry has been essentially barred from partaking in many conventional marketing practices. How can businesses keep ahead under these circumstances?

Yes, both Google, Facebook and the FCC (TV & Radio for instance) have passed up on most cannabis-related ad revenue for the time being. Operators don’t have access to the most useful retail activation and branding marketing tools available to traditional brands presents a huge gap in a cannabis company’s marketing toolkit.

In the meantime, making full use of the tools that are available is essential, including leveraging PR, CRM, and earned social media reach as widely as possible; not to mention, enabling the best shopping experience possible. Messaging placement and creativity is most important to any operator in the cannabis space. Ultimately, marketing done well helps the consumer as much as the marketer.

As a board member and now acting Chief Strategy Officer for Outspoke, you have firsthand experience with knowing how technology could impact the cannabis industry. Can you go into this?

In my role acting as the marketing and strategy director for a fully vertically integrated cannabis company in Massachusetts, I experienced first hand how technology can help drive impact in business management and marketing for cannabis operators. The biggest challenge I see is one of operator readiness for the sophisticated tools that are emerging, as well as the immaturity – in terms of both user experience and technical scalability – of some software that’s being designed. The winners will be those who cut through the complexity of the data and offer helpful tools and insights that really grow business, and do so at scale.

Continuing on this – as empowering underrepresented applicants via social equity becomes an increasingly central issue in the cannabis industry, how can other sub-sectors (like technology) support this agenda? Where do you see your work falling into this?

Especially given today’s social reality and this history of cannabis in our country, the cannabis industry must help accelerate opportunities for the least empowered groups entering this market. Technology can be at the leading edge of this shift, particularly due to its low barriers for entry for tech developers and potential to provide a toolset that can’t see wealth or race of users. One thing cannabis technology efforts must also be aware of is implicit biases in machine learning that inadvertently maintain the societal status quo, give advantages to one group over another, and do not consider the lack of access to broadband that many economically-limited communities suffer from.

What change are you hoping to contribute to in the U.S. cannabis industry?

My biggest personal goal for my contributions to the cannabis industry is to apply my 30-plus years of enterprise level success deploying web-based technology to help companies and consumers connect and offer each other equal value. I’m already taking great pleasure over the impact my insights and experience has had on a variety of cannabis companies I’ve engaged with, and I hope to continue to add value to the cannabis economy for years to come.

Lastly, anything else you’d like to add?

Just that Outspoke and Outcrowd Group have given me a great lens into the enterprise software solutions landscape that tells me that all my initial reasons for getting into this sector were valid. I can’t wait to continue making an impact here.

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