It’s nearly 2023, and by now, almost everyone you know is well-versed in digital communication and socialization platforms – be it video conferencing, social media, or the related.
And as ‘Metaverse’ becomes an increasingly common part of our cultural lexicon, Highsman is planting its flag in the virtual reality landscape by creating Highsman House.
Highsman House is a community-focused virtual consumption lounge that features a dispensary and merchandise shop, a full-sized football field, a swimming pool, games, and more. The platform is accessible through Oculus or a computer and was designed in partnership with Rocket City, a technology company focused on Metaverse and NFT experiences.
The purpose of Highsman House, according to Highsman Chief Marketing Officer Lane Radbill, is to utilize modern technology to foster a cannabis community while educating consumers and building brand awareness. Visitors are even welcome to participate in virtual smoke sessions with other community members, including Highsman Founder and President Ricky Williams and other company executives.
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Highsman, which launched operations in 2021, started building its Highsman House at the beginning of this year and hosted its first virtual community event, a Monday Night Football watch party, in September.
“The first conversation is very surface level. They’re like, ‘Holy shit, I’m talking to Ricky Williams,’” Radbill says. “And then the second time they come back, they come back with [specific] questions and you see it start to happen; the curiosity is being fostered. That’s a long road of education, but it seems to be working.”
Picture this: You virtually arrive at Highsman House and are greeted with your choice of cannabis consumption, be it a joint, blunt or bong. From there, you can visit the dispensary bar to learn more about and interact with Highsman products; engage in virtual smoke sessions with other community members; participate in community games or competitions, such as cornhole or football; or simply just hang out and enjoy the community aspect from the comfort of your own home.
“I was in there for the Cowboys game a couple of weeks ago, and you walk in and there’s big screen TVs and you can even pick up a joint,” Williams says. “I was out on my patio, and I had a real joint in my hand, and [as] I was watching the game, I’m looking around with my Oculus and I’m in a lounge [with] people around talking, and it was trippy. I really couldn’t tell that I wasn’t actually in the lounge. We’re moving to create that [experience] in the three-dimensional world, but to have it in the Meta where people in their own home can experience our brand and what we’re putting out into the world is exciting.”
Radbill says the Highsman House allows the company to create consistent experiences for consumers in adult-use and/or medical markets.
For example, Highsman debuted its brand in Pennsylvania, a medical-only cannabis state, earlier this fall. While the Pennsylvania market offers new opportunities for Highsman, it also creates new challenges for the company to market itself and educate consumers.
“Pennsylvania being our only medical state right now that we’re operating in, from a marketing perspective, it’s much more difficult,” Radbill says. “There’s a lot more red tape with our direct-to-consumer or B2C (business to consumer) marketing assets [and] the way we speak about the brand. Even when doing activations at dispensaries, you have to do them outside in the parking lot; you can’t have anybody inside the dispensary. … So, what are we going to do? Ask people to get bundled up and stand in a parking lot underneath a popup tent and say, ‘Yeah, this is the Highsman experience,’?”
As a solution, the Highsman House provides a “dream space,” Radbill says, for Highsman to circumvent each state’s varying regulations and duplicate brand experiences across markets.
But even then, challenges persist.
Properly educating cannabis consumers, both new and experienced, is a continuous pursuit, and Radbill says industry terms such as “cannabinoids” and “terpenes” can often be confusing jargon for consumers.
Highsman, by utilizing the Highsman House, is able to simplify the cannabis education process by leaning into its athlete-inspired brand story, according to Radbill.
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“If you’re trying to go after the masses, that messaging is often too heavy for them,” Radbill says. “What does resonate is if it’s good enough for professional athletes, it’s probably good enough for me. … If we can get people to buy into Highsman, whether it’s for the community, the products, the lifestyle, [etc], that’s the beginning of that education process.”
As part of that virtual educational experience, Highsman House visitors can interact with Highsman products to learn more about cannabis’s unique properties, including THC percentage, cannabinoid content, terpene levels, and more.
“It’s a tool to help educate cannabis consumers,” Radbill says. “An example of that is to have more 3D renders of our flower, for example, that you could come in and you could grab it and you can zoom in on it [and] see the trichomes. You can click a trichome and an infographic will pop up and it’ll give you more information about what’s going on there.”
Radbill adds that Highsman is working towards providing a direct-to-consumer platform where consumers can interact with Highsman products in the Metaverse before purchasing them in reality.
Beyond educating just consumers, Radbill says Highsman House can also serve as a teaching tool for budtenders and industry stakeholders to learn about cannabis and Highsman products, specifically.
“Our vision is to have that evolve into being a training environment for budtenders and for salespeople,” Radbill says. “I’ve seen this recently with surgeon training for doctors, where they can take the human body and they can study anatomy and they can remove organs, and then they can see what happens. And I thought, why not do that with marijuana?”
Furthermore, Radbill emphasizes the importance of touch and feel – even if just virtually – when it comes to educating both consumers and budtenders about cannabis.
“I remember being a kid, you pick up everything and you taste it, and you play with it, and that’s how you learn,” Radbill says. “As adults, we’re children with marijuana. If you take time to play with it, I think that relationship is made stronger, and then your curiosity develops and then you start realizing this isn’t all about THC percentage, this is also about terpenes, and terpenes are cool because I had this experience with it and I can feel that.”
Walking the Walk
The Highsman House also helps Highsman distinguish itself from other cannabis brands, particularly celebrity or athlete brands in the space, according to Radbill.
“Lots of brands that call themselves a ‘lifestyle brand’ talk about community a lot,” Radbill says. “Basically, we’re doing what we’re saying we’re doing when it comes to community building, and that’s where I think we set ourselves apart. We’re not creating these superficial platforms to get followers and put junk up there. This is all about being able to have conversations and touch people.”
When building Highsman House, Radbill says the company took note of similar technology platforms that allow for direct access to celebrities, such as Cameo, and implemented accessibility and transparency as defining elements of Highsman House and the Highsman brand as a whole.
In addition to Highsman House, the company regularly conducts meet-and-greets with Williams in dispensaries across the country and hosts weekly hangouts on Discord, a voice, video and text social messaging platform, to further connect with the industry.
“We’re a celebrity cannabis brand, but our founder, Ricky Williams, is not your typical celebrity. He is as authentic as it gets, he is as OG as it gets, and he’s been preaching about [cannabis] prior to its popularity,” Radbill says. “Ricky would much rather spend his time on these Discords, in the Metaverse, or in person talking to budtenders and customers than he would be in front of 50,000 to 100,000 people all clapping for him. It’s about that small, grassroots, one-on-one interaction that people don’t believe they’re ever going to get.”
And given that cannabis is a social elixir of sorts, it only makes sense that Highsman House has an open-door policy.
“It’s about the people,” Radbill says. “So yeah, we built this house, but it’s no good unless the people are there. It’s no fun unless the people are there, and it keeps growing because every time we have one, more people come. And when they come in there, we’re not preaching the brand. We’re not trying to sell things in there. Yeah, you can do that if you want, but it’s not about that.”
New visitors are always welcome, and those interested in virtually visiting the Highsman House can learn more at Highsman’s website or via the company’s social media. The company’s most recent event was a Nov. 7 Monday Night Football watch party, but rest assured that more virtual experiences from Highsman are on the way.
“We’re building a community with Highsman House, so please bring your authentic self, energy, positive vibes and idealism,” Williams says. “Through the Metaverse, we continue driving societal evolution forward while having fun and making new friends.”
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