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Marketing Your Cannabis Brand: Part 1

As marketers, we know that every business benefits from effective marketing and advertising. This may be the truest for new businesses. So, let’s start out by saying, CONGRATULATIONS! Starting a new business is a terrifying and exhausting and thrilling time. Kudos to you for taking the leap and believing in yourself enough to get started. You’ve done your research and know that cannabis is one of the hottest industries to join right now. CBD, medical and recreational marijuana and hemp are top headlines in the news, touching almost all other industries: fashion, health, cosmetics…even politics. But learning about all the restrictions that each state has placed on cannabis businesses is enough to harsh anyone’s vibe.

Most advertising channels that help businesses in other industries rapidly scale growth are simply not available to marijuana and marijuana-ancillary businesses. Platforms that currently prohibit the promotion of anything marijuana related include:

  • Facebook (including Instagram)

  • Google (including YouTube)

  • Instagram

  • Retargeting platforms (AdRoll)

Without ads and as more social media platforms are limiting the reach of organic posts, how do you reach and begin growing the audience of consumers your marijuana business aims to attract?

Good news! It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds. For new marketing executives, paid reach is what they’re brought up learning is the way. BUT! For those of us that have lived and breathed marketing for years and are known to spend sleepless nights writing creative plans and rushing out of the shower because inspiration hit JUST THEN, we know the secret. And we’re here to share.

Cannabis brands just need to go back to 2 basics: smokin’ organic content fueling digital and traditional marketing. Yep. We said it. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV still works, despite all the new bloggers using the words “traditional marketing” as if it were on the banned list.

We’re going to start with traditional marketing strategies to help get you started:

Your Website: We’re putting this at the top because your website is your only digital marketing tool that you own. You can link your social media pages to your website, do listings locally and most importantly – Google will pick it up if you build your site with SEO in mind.

Industry-Specific Magazines and Newspapers: Perhaps obvious, but don’t you find that the more obvious the idea, the more often it’s overlooked? These are easy “low-hanging fruit.” They exist because they cater to the demographics of the exact people you’re looking to reach. And we’re willing to bet that if you spent some time thumbing through the latest issues, you will find your competitors running ads. The bonus? Industry-specific mags are in every dispensary waiting room. Unlike newspapers that we subconsciously throw away after a day or two, magazines have a longer shelf life and will stay where they’re placed for months. This gives you the opportunity to place one ad that can live on for much longer than a social ad you are paying for daily.

Tap into Magazines with Similar Audiences: What are your potential consumers doing when they’re not buying or researching cannabis products? Utilize social listening and your engagement strategy to find out. Learning about your audiences’ interests outside of cannabis gives you an opportunity to place ads where consumers might not expect it, such as beer/wine, cigar and targeted health publications.

Online Directories: Undoubtedly, you have heard of Weedmaps and Leafly. These are the two largest, most well-known cannabis directories. While not cheap, they are effective. Each site charges around $500/month, for each of your business’ locations. Both offer premium listing options, but they are VERY pricey and honestly? Not needed. Your basic listing will cover your needs. Both sites also allow you to display products on your own website and have online inventory.

Podcasts: People like to receive content in different ways. While some might prefer blogs, others prefer to listen to what they’re interested in. What we love about podcasts is that you can repurpose them in so many different ways. Quotes can be turned into images, you can look at the analytics of the listeners and begin relationships with them as a lead generating strategy and they are easily reposted and shareable.

Podcasting offer you a few options:

  1. Create your own podcast: while it’s more time consuming and costly, you may want to consider this to grow thought leadership and trust in your business. With your own podcast, you can grow the visibility of your site by posting at the same time each week. This then tells your audience to come back at a specific time weekly to learn more. Added bonus? You’ll be able to invite people you admire or want to work with to be guests and then they will share the podcast with their audience, immediately growing yours!

  2. Be a guest on relevant podcasts: There are health and wellness podcasts and more niche cannabis and CBD-focused podcasts.

Public Relations: If you are able to hire a publicist, we suggest you do so early on. They will help craft your wording and branding and know what people are looking for. Public relations also will help grow trust in your business. Consumer trust is at an all-time low currently and that’s fine! It’s nothing to be scared of. Consumers are turning to friends and trusting THEIR recommendations to learn about brands, rather than simply going straight TO the brand. PR helps you drive your stories by connecting with the right people at the right time. The right publicist will also be able to look at what relevant editors are seeking and find ways to tell a story about your brand that will fit. The benefits of earned media are exponential.

Publicists also minimize risk – they will know what the federal restrictions are when editors ask for product to be shipped, taking one less stress off your plate!

Photo: Aaron Fedor 2019

Events: We’re HUGE fans of experiential events. With ALL the restrictions about advertising, events are a direct way to “advertise” to your target consumers 1:1. Being able to meet these people will help you better understand your current marketplace and find out what people are looking for, have questions about, like or dislike. You can’t beat that kind of direct response! People buy from people they like and relate to. By showing consumers that you are available and open to them in person you will create emotional connections that can result in increased user loyalty.

Photo: Aaron Fedor 2019

Cannabis can’t just be talked about – it has to be experienced. Whether you are looking for small or large events, the main focus “should” be giving consumers or media a firsthand look at WHO you are, what you stand for and what your products are like. Our best suggestion is to use events as a part of your 360-marketing mix for the largest impact. They should never be a “one and done” strategy, as events will generally show a quick spike in sales and traffic and then die down, as people are inundated with events these days. However, with a solid plan, you can extend the life of your events. A great way to do this is to utilize text message marketing.

If current legalization trends continue, one day we will be turning on the TV to see people medicating or smoking with friends. But until then, we want you to feel confident that a restriction on ads is really not so bad.

Part 2 in our Marketing Your Cannabis Brand series will cover Digital Marketing. Stay tuned!

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