Indies, Outsiders, Idealists and Traditionalists. Which Cannabis Consumer Are You?

By Eric Layland

Everybody loves weed! Right?

Living on the West Coast all my life, I’ve found it’s easy to fall into the trap posed by the statement above. It’s the one where we assume the rest of the world is like that in which we live.

Of course, we intrinsically know that’s not the case, but the world as we perceive it becomes our comfort zone and we project our interests and motivations onto others.

To better understand the consumer market, we need to continually ask questions that get to the root of motivation. Who? What? When? Why? Where and How? It’s the answers to these questions that allow us to effectively connect with emotional motivations that drive market decisions.

Why do people enjoy cannabis and what’s the experience they’re seeking? Once we know the answer, we can begin to address the needs of the market in an genuine and authentic way that delivers an enjoyable experience to the customer.

It starts with understanding your market.

About four years ago my firm, Canna Ventures, began exploring the cannabis market in Washington state, where we’re based. Though our team had perceptions about the market, we didn’t truly understand who was in the market. To illuminate our minds to the current state of the cannabis consumer, we initiated a nationwide survey. The outcome was four consumer market segments that differ in their world views of cannabis, desired experiences and motivations.

The Indies

In our first round of research in 2014, a small but vocal segment emerged. At the time Indies, named for their independent approach to life, represented a modest 15 percent of the U.S. market.

In our follow up study that figure had grown to 26 percent. Indies are characterized by strong and open support for recreational cannabis legalization. They’re eager to learn about and sample new brands, product forms, and experiences. It’s no surprise Indies in California represented a larger part of the population — in the neighborhood of 31 percent, and growing.

The Outsiders

Another market segment that consists of cannabis proponents — but with different motivations — are those we call The Outsiders. Their support for brands is less passionate than the Indies. Outsiders are less vocal about cannabis use, but they are interested in and will patronize brands as they emerge. The term Outsiders comes from the worldview that while they tend to have more education, they’ve experienced more life struggles than others. They’re in essence outside the trend-setting Indies and other less canna-friendly segments. As a group, they’ve shrunk from 44 percent in 2014 to 23 percent in 2016, with much of the migration moving toward Indie-like worldviews.  

The Idealists

More than anything, Idealists are advocates for change. The status quo does not suit them, though sometimes they connect to change for the sake of change, not necessarily aligning with a movement. Many Idealists are younger, more educated and in a general sense fall into the millenial age demographic of those born in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. While they do support legalization, their consumption patterns are not particularly that of a high lifetime value consumer. Those Idealists who are cannabis consumers are very likely to brand surf, follow trends, and are less likely to become brand loyalists. Interestingly, as change occured and prohibition ended in more states, the percentage of those with Idealists’ worldviews dropped from 15 percent in 2014 to 10 percent in 2016.


As we stated, this was a national survey not just of cannabis proponents. The segment making up Traditionalists are those who do not support the legalization of cannabis. Yet, that does not mean they are completely against cannabis use. I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, how can that be? Well, at the core of the Traditionalists’ values are maintaining order. Their name in fact represents their desire to keep things as they were — and that includes the black market. As we dove deeper into this segment we found a belief that “things are okay as they are, why change?” In fact we found the population of Traditionalists increased in our follow-up study from 26 percent to 41 percent. What was discovered, not surprisingly, is that change and uncertainty results in anxiety. How do you avoid anxiety? In the views of the Traditionalists, you keep things as they’ve been.

What does it all mean? We’re seeing normalization or mainstreaming of a new market happen before our eyes at near-warp speed in terms of market evolution.

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