For cannabis brands, visibility is key. But cannabis marketing is not without its challenges. From strict restrictions throughout the United States on cannabis advertising to censorship on social media platforms, it can be difficult for companies to know where to emphasize their marketing efforts.
The cannabis industry is still in its infancy and to build brand awareness, operators must do what it takes to stand out from the crowd. Potential customers are ready and willing to hear a brand’s message, but how can companies ensure they’re taking the right steps to spread the word?
Cannabis Now spoke with Rai Cornell, Director of Marketing at Higher Yields Consulting, to learn more about the complicated yet crucial world of cannabis marketing. She shared her insider tips and tricks, and offered expert insight into how cannabis brands can put their best foot forward without breaking the bank.
Think Outside The Box (But Don’t Leave It Behind)
As soon as a product is conceptualized, it’s time to develop branding. This is a crucial moment for companies, especially since standing out in an increasingly crowded market can be difficult.
Cornell recommends looking outside of cannabis to get inspiration to develop strong cannabis logos and other creative assets. Industries like craft beer have become pioneers in branding and offer great inspiration for other nascent markets like cannabis.
“Many cannabis businesses make the mistake of leaning into the obvious cannabis associations like the color green or a green cross, or a pot leaf,” Cornell points out. “There’s too much of that in the market. You have to create something truly new, which can be quite challenging for people who have never created a brand before.”
It’s also vital to avoid cartoon-esque branding or overtly bright colors, since they may be dubbed too close to children’s products. The majority of states with legalized cannabis have bans on advertising to kids, and branding is one thing regulators consider in a subjective way.
And while you want to think outside of the proverbial box with branding, you don’t want to leave it behind completely. Packaging is another important aspect of a brand with 36% of consumers choosing a product based on attractive packaging alone. Regulations around child resistance may make some plans more challenging, but there are ways to make a package pop while meeting requirements and satisfying regulations.
Put Your Target Audience First
Establishing a brand is one thing, but deciding which marketing routes to take is an equally important process. From email marketing to event sponsorship, there are many ways to get in front of potential customers.
So, how does an operator know which path to take?
“One of the biggest mistakes I see businesses make is sitting in their offices asking themselves, ‘What do we want to say to the world?’ But that’s just going to end up with you shouting into a noisy (or worse, empty) room,” Cornell says. “Instead, you have to think about what your target audience wants and needs to think, feel and believe.”
Cornell suggests creating a Venn diagram when deciding on marketing methods. In one circle, write down where your target audience is when they’re most likely to be open to your messaging. This may include platforms like LinkedIn or a conference after-party.
The other circle should contain your realistic abilities and budgets. Maybe you can’t commit to a monthly spend on paid ads, but you are willing to shell out for event sponsorship. See where the two circles meet and focus on those marketing channels for maximum impact. By playing to your target audience’s sensibilities, and meeting them on their level, you’re more likely to find a warm response.
Make Demand Generation a Priority in Your Cannabis Marketing
Marketing is a broad term. It can include a wide range of tactics and strategies, such as introducing your brand to cannabis consumers, engaging in thought leadership and, of course, driving sales.
Demand generation is a component of marketing that focuses on data to help create a need and want for your product or service. It sends potential customers through a funnel, which is nurtured until a sale occurs. It may include pay-per-click ads, paid ads, social media, blog posts or a lead magnet, such as a free e-book in exchange for an email sign up.
A segmented email list should be a part of your demand generation strategy, as it automatically sends targeted messages depending on a person’s place in the customer journey. SMS (text-based) marketing is also a great option, especially for retailers of cannabis products. Cornell recommends cannabis-friendly tools like Klaviyo for B2B brands and SpringBig for consumer-facing and e-commerce brands.
Cornell has seen time and time again how a solid demand gen plan is worth its weight in gold, and often recommends it over traditional advertising.
“We design demand generation strategies for our clients which ensures that you’re building out every stage of your sales funnel, including a fifth and important one that no one ever talks about: retention,” she explains.
“We deploy organic strategies that snowball over time and gain more and more traction for your business the longer they live online, even though you only have to pay for their creation once (as opposed to ads where you have to continuously pour thousands of dollars into them and as soon as you turn the flow of money off, the ROI stops).”
Remember the ABCs of SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) has become more and more important in the world of cannabis marketing. It’s the key to getting your business page to the top of the Google search results, with a perception of valuable information within your domain. Consider it the special sauce to helping potential customers find you.
There are many components of a web page that Google algorithms consider when determining where your content ranks. This includes your perceived authority on a given subject, the quality and originality of the content, and whether other websites link back to you. The way your website is built also matters, and expert developers are an important resource.
There are a variety of tools that can be used to help tweak content for SEO. They include SEM Rush, Moz, and Conductor. While these platforms are useful, Cornell warns that recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt.
“SEO data is not always accurate when researching cannabis-related keywords because a lot of data is pulled directly from Google, which doesn’t allow advertising for certain keywords, which skews or masks much of the data,” she cautions. “Use a combination of tools to get a more accurate understanding of potential and performance.”
Play by the Cannabis Marketing Rules
Everyone knows that the cannabis business is full of rules and regulations. Many of them center around the way you can (and can’t) market your brand. There are many restrictions in place, typically centered on preventing people under the age of 21 from seeing your content (even if you’re not directly offering a recreational cannabis product).
“Advertising is extremely challenging because you have to be careful of language, imagery and placement,” Cornell warns. “If your advertisement could be seen by an audience that is underage, you’re in trouble.”
Social media is also fraught with challenges. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is notorious for censoring cannabis creators. They may even kick you off the platform entirely. This has led to the formation of many creative ways to skirt detection, including the use of emojis instead of words like “cannabis” or avoiding certain hashtags.
Cornell adds that due to the lack of control associated with cannabis advertising, along with the laundry list of regulations, that it may be worth avoiding placed ads altogether. She instead recommends focusing on things like demand generation.
At any rate, it’s important to do your homework and know what the regulations say in the states where you operate. Even ancillary companies may be subject to certain cannabis marketing rules, so always stay up to date in order to prevent hiccups.
Be Creative With Your Cannabis Marketing Budget
In an industry with razor thin margins, decisions around marketing spend can be difficult conversations to have. In a way, you’re taking a risk, hoping to have the most impact. Landing on a number can be a guessing game, but there are hints.
“Marketing budgets are tricky because you almost always have to spend money before you’re making money,” Cornell admits. “There are different levels of marketing budgets, and choosing the right one depends on your current stage of business, your growth goals, and how much you need new business.”
Cornell suggests companies hone in on what they require most in order to grow. For example, if you’re about to launch, focus on top-notch branding, website development and social media content. Follow up with targeted strategies that reach your target audience.
Established brands on the other hand may want to leverage their existing customer base by implementing referral marketing, loyalty programs or social sharing promotions. Finding earned media opportunities are fantastic for any stage, since they’re essentially free advertising.
Either way, it’s essential to have some type of marketing happening at all times—but it doesn’t have to be splashy.
“The misconception is that you have to spend a TON of money on marketing or you have to pour thousands of dollars into ads,” Cornell says. “That’s not true. There are many incredible ways to get a big ROI without spending a ton.”
She recommends working alongside a professional to get the most bang for your buck: “That’s where working with a marketing strategist is crucial and can save you from wasting thousands of dollars and countless hours on strategies that aren’t going to work for your brand or your target audience.”
Cannabis Marketing: A Roller Coaster Ride to Profit
Cannabis marketing can be a challenge, but it pays big dividends. The key is to create compelling strategies that focus on your company’s current needs. Whether preparing to launch or expanding an already loyal fan base, there’s always something to share.