What are the things that are essential to the growth and success of a business? Of course, having a product or service is essential. But advertising and marketing are also key components to the success of any business.
That’s easier said than done for cannabis.
Since the status of cannabis is currently in flux, legislators have placed a slew of restrictions on just how cannabis businesses can market and advertise.
There’s no way to build a national-level cannabis brand given its legality.
As a cannabis startup, you do need local recognition, and advertising and marketing can help you to achieve that goal.
But given all the restrictions, how do you go about advertising? We have some tips to help you navigate the complex web of the dos and don’ts of cannabis advertising and marketing.
Things to Know About Cannabis Marketing
Traditional means of advertising available to most other companies are either strictly limited or unavailable to cannabis businesses.
Laws vary from place to place but print and television marketing are often impossible due to legal restrictions. But these traditional methods may not be the best anyway.
They’re more expensive than the options we’re about to talk about, and there is far more regulation.
Cannabis sellers who want to use traditional marketing have to keep these things in mind:
Don’t market to or around minors. Remember Joe Camel?
If you don’t, that’s because the American Medical Association found that children could identify Joe Camel as well as they could identify Mickey Mouse.
They further alleged that using a cartoon-like character was marketing towards children. In 1997, due to increased pressure from upcoming trials and Congress, the RJ Reynolds Company decided to end the Joe Camel campaign.
Because there are still questions on the impact and safety of cannabis in minors, don’t advertise near or towards anyone under 21.
Whatever you do, don’t infringe or mimic existing brand names or trademarks. Last spring, Hershey’s sued a dispensary. The dispensary was offering edibles that were named “Reefer’s Cups” and “Mr. Dankbar.”
Remember, these established companies have the money and the legal team to go after small, newly established companies. Further, they’ve proven that they’re willing to do so.
Because marketing cannabis legally is so new, it’s a bad idea to assume that you can advertise just following the same restrictions that tobacco and alcohol companies do.
The restrictions may be much stronger. Do your research or hire a business lawyer to explain the current rules for your jurisdiction.
Choosing Your Marketing Channels
If you still want to pursue traditional marketing channels, how can you do it wisely? As it turns out, there are some ways in which you can advertise, if you know where to look.
Utilize alternative newspapers and print outlets. Non-mainstream newspapers and magazines don’t often have the same kind of pressure put upon them by sponsors.
Find some of these publications in your market and look at the advertising costs and opportunities they present.
Take a look at industry-specific publications. These publications are geared towards the customer that you want to attract to your business, so they are a natural choice for advertising opportunities.
Look at contemporary publications. Remember, you want to market towards adults, and adults have interests outside of cannabis. Look into beer, wine, and cigar publications and see about advertising there.
Billboards and bus advertisements are also a valid choice in marketing material. Tons of people drive by billboards and ride buses every day. If you have a bus service in your community, look into advertising inside and on the outside of buses.
Best Marketing and Advertising Strategies
Now that we’ve covered some conventional marketing venues, let’s talk a little about strategies for those venues.
Think about what you want your brand to stand for when considering a marketing or advertising campaign.
Do you want your company to be on the front lines of helping people discover holistic treatments for their ailments? Or do you want to quash the stigma that years of prohibition and “Just Say No” have thrust onto cannabis use?
People will be more likely to support a brand that tries to banish the stereotypes associated with cannabis rather than one that perpetuates them.
Making your brand stand out is key. To do this, you need to know your competition.
Spend some time visiting other dispensaries. See what they have to offer, and you can easily define how to stand out from the local crowd.
Reading periodicals related to your industry and attending industry trade shows can also help you get ideas.
This may sound counterintuitive, but just because your product is cannabis doesn’t mean you’re just competing with other cannabis sellers. As many states move to legalize recreationally, your cannabis is now in direct competition with beer, wine, and spirits.
Skin care and topical ointments and creams are going to be competing with products offered in drug stores, department stores, and big box stores.
Knowing how your products are distinctive from the products offered in those places can give you a leg up on the competition.
Know your customer. In recreational markets, advertising “for everyone” might make it difficult to determine which marketing strategies are the most effective.
However, defining the customer you wish to attract can help you to use effective strategies to zero in on the market you’re wishing to attract.
A Baby Boomer might not respond to the same kind of advertising a Gen X-er, and a Millennial marketing campaign might need a further adjustment to your strategy.
Finally, you want to know your goals. Cannabis is becoming a multi-million-dollar business with some fierce competition. Defining your goals will keep you focused and will set future benchmarks for success.
If mainstream marketing venues prove too difficult or expensive to navigate, then you might want to consider a digital approach. Digital advertising often is a little less expensive than print or other marketing options and can reach a larger audience.
Cannabis-specific websites and communities present an ideal, customer-focused arena to advertise.
Get familiar with the IAB. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has established standards for digital ad placement. This not only governs where the ad is placed on a site but also the ad’s dimensions. Knowing their guidelines can allow you to build a scalable campaign to be displayed on multiple digital advertising spaces.
Use digital content. “Content is king” is especially true in the cannabis industry.
Newbies and those curious are often going to research cannabis and cannabis use on the web before stepping into a dispensary. Creating blog posts, infographics, videos, and other compelling media for your website is a viable engagement strategy.
People will share and view your content, putting your brand in front of more eyes than other advertising methods.
Don’t forget SEO practices. SEO stands for search engine optimization and, in short, this determines which results display in a web search.
Keyword optimization is crucial here. If you don’t have the knowledge yourself, consider engaging an advertising agency who is familiar with SEO and knows which keywords are best to get your page ranking high in searches.
Get your customer’s data. This will help you to build communication with your intended audience.
More than that, some of the best marketing strategies include special offers, sales, and promotions, and one way to let your customers know about these events and offers is through text messaging or emails.
Social Media Marketing
Not to be confused with digital marketing, social media marketing is also a crucial element to getting your brand out there.
While it is an aspect of digital marketing, the power of social media warrants its own special advertising and marketing strategies.
Keep in mind that many social media platforms prohibit paid advertising of cannabis due to the drug’s Schedule I status. Organic tactics are up for grabs but may require some creative use.
This social media giant offers plenty of opportunity for non-paid marketing and advertising.
Add to it that it integrates with other social media platforms, and it becomes apparent why any marketing campaign needs to include this platform.
Facebook can serve as a miniature version of your website. Creating a Facebook group for your business can allow you to post content, images, news updates, and anything else relevant you might consider for your audience.
Offering real-time messaging 140 characters at a time, you can also share videos and images.
Posting deals, articles, and questions to your customers can get them engaged. Answering questions can get you even more attention. That’s how Gary Vaynerchuk built his wine empire.
Popular among the cannabis community, Instagram is image-driven. Share images of your products, from your cannabis strains to your vape pens and dry herb vaporizers.
Make sure that the images reflect your brand and are something that will resonate with the cannabis industry.
Video content is more popular than print content. You can create videos offering reviews, explanations, and insights into the cannabis industry.
If you don’t have the cash flow to establish video for right now, at least snag your brand name’s YouTube channel so that it’s available when you’re ready to make that leap.
However, you’ll want to be mindful of YouTube’s advertising policies. If you break their rules, you could get kicked off of both YouTube and Google.
This social media platform is especially popular among females, so if they are included in your target audience, Pinterest is an ideal platform.
Pinterest also has appeal to a wide range of generations, from Baby Boomers to Gen-X-ers, to Millennials.
You can pin products, images, and other relevant content such as recipes which will appeal to Pinterest users.
When utilizing social media, it is tempting to use the same kind of language and tone as you would your personal page.
However, keep in mind that these things are a direct reflection of your business. Don’t come off as too casual or improper, but you don’t want to sound too serious or robotic, either.
Most importantly, engage with your audience when they reach out to you. This creates a positive association that you are listening to your customers.
Remember, your responses to customer concerns and criticisms will be available for all to see, so maintaining an empathetic and prompt response is necessary.
Marketing your cannabis business is a crucial component of your success. Thankfully, you have advertising opportunities with a vast number of platforms.
You can still successfully advertise without getting blocked by the law.
Choose those which fit into your budget and will most effectively engage your target audience.
Doing so will help to ensure that your brand is out there for both the local community and the world to see.
With a strong brand, you can sell your products and gain some of the massive profit potential in this newly-legalized industry.