The world (of cannabis) is changing!
As more and more states move to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, the opportunities for the industry continue to grow. The industry reaches new heights each year and we have not reached the ceiling yet. 2020 saw a near 50% growth in cannabis sales from 2019. 2021 is no slouch either, and has brought along with-it major wins for legalization across the country. The use of cannabis products is now legal in some form in 34 states, nearly 70% of the US. While legalization across the board is still on the horizon, the future continues to be bright for this industry.
With the continued industry growth that is being seen across the country, we at Conceited Marketing have put together this guide for your benefit to give you a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
As you read through this guide we hope to give you a better picture of the current market as it stands in 2021 so you will leave informed and empowered to grow your brand and reach your company goals in 2021 and beyond.
Marketing Channels and Their Challenges
Marketing is a major part of any successful cannabis brand. You can’t build a business without customers, and you can’t reach your customers without a marketing plan. Reaching your audience where they are at, creating interest in your product, finding new and creative ways to dominate your competition, and building a loyal customer base. These are all challenges that a good marketing partner will help you to overcome.
As important as knowing how to reach your customers, is knowing how to avoid legal problems. The following list will walk through each of 6 marketing avenues and discuss which ones work and which to watch out for.
– OOH (Out-of-House)
Knowing the strengths of each marketing channel and being able to avoid potential pitfalls will give you the marketing edge you need to crush your business growth goals moving forward.
Let’s start things off with the organic marketing channels.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – The Long Game
This is the often-overlooked part of many marketing strategies. Everyone wants to be on page 1 of Google, but most people don’t want to put in the time or energy for this process, or they don’t know where to begin. While there are many steps in the SEO process the most important piece to focus on is content. This is not a full SEO lesson, but we wanted to take the time here to mention the importance of content in your strategy.
Even though there are many brands out there that have already put in the time and energy, that doesn’t mean there are no opportunities. Build your strategy with low-hanging fruit in mind. You’re not out here competing with Amazon, you’re out here competing with other cannabis brands. Keeping the right focus in choosing the right targets will help you create a more successful SEO plan. Don’t expect overnight wins, plan for the long haul. You have to stay in the game to win.
One area of opportunity is local SEO. Ranking for local keywords is much less competitive than trying to rank against national brands.
Along with your focus on local keywords, it is important to optimize your GMB (Google My Business). The local map listing is a great resource for driving traffic to your store location(s)/business. You also want to make sure you are actively acquiring new customer reviews.
SEO Final Thoughts:
This strategy works great for dispensaries. With less competition in the local space, this is a no-brainer marketing choice.
While still a viable strategy for cannabis product wholesalers, the competition will be much higher.
There are few legal pitfalls to worry about in this space, giving you much more freedom in your marketing.
SMM (Social Media Marketing) – Influence Is Everything
Social media is a must for any brand looking to make an impact. No matter the industry, leaving social media out of your marketing strategy is a mistake.
Due to regulations with the cannabis industry, it’s important to focus on the organic side of social media. This means focusing on posts, stories, and influencer marketing. Facebook has very strict policies around paid advertising for cannabis on both Facebook and Instagram. We recommend focusing on the organic side of things. You can utilize various social media platforms for interacting with your audience, posting brand content, and building influencer relationships. You also want to be careful using certain terms such as “marijuana” and “THC”. Both Facebook and Instagram are very strict about the use of these terms. Breaking these terms and conditions can cause account bans/cancellations and is not worth the risk.
Using influencers gives your brand immediate access to large audiences, and allows you to gain immediate trust with their followers. When done properly this can be a very powerful addition to your social media marketing strategy.
SMM Final Thoughts:
While there are more regulations and rules than found in SEO, social media is still a very powerful tool for engaging your audience and building brand awareness.
Dispensaries should absolutely make social media an integral part of their marketing strategy. There is no excuse for not utilizing such an important tool.
Wholesale product distributors will find social media to be a less important part of their marketing strategy.
Now that we covered the organic channels, let’s move to ads.
PPC (Pay-Per-Click) – The Quick Play
Many industries look to paid advertising on Google as a means to generate quick wins. Unfortunately, Google has very strict policies around marketing cannabis-related products. Similar to Facebook it is against Google’s terms of service to market cannabis products through paid ads. While it would be nice to access the many powerful features of Google ads, it is currently not accessible to the industry.
You may find companies out there talking about advertising hacks they have found for the industry, and while breaking Google’s terms of service is not against the law it’s not worth the headache.
Until cannabis is legal across the US we will likely continue to see a ban on paid advertising for this industry. That doesn’t mean Google ads will never be viable, it just means that for now, it is not a viable option.
PPC Final Thoughts:
At this time, we recommend avoiding Google Ads as a part of your marketing strategy.
Email – Old Faithful
Email marketing is a tried-and-true method for growing your bottom line revenue/sales. There are very few restrictions/regulations around email marketing which makes it a great channel to continue growing your brand. A creative and thoughtful email marketing strategy will have a major impact on your sales. It would be a mistake to write off or neglect this marketing channel.
Focus on creating strong incentives to get your customers to opt-in to your email marketing. An email list provides great opportunities for re-marketing to your customers. Aside from the opt-in/unsubscribe regulations around email, this platform is limitless and provides a playground for your imagination.
Unlike social media where you have to be careful about the types of photos or the terms you use, you are free to market your brand in a way that is both true to your identity and unrestricted. Pictures of people smoking or photos of bongs are free-game on this platform. So, provide your customers with a “toke-en” of appreciation and “puff, puff, pass” away!
Email Final Thoughts:
There are a lot of positive things to be said about email marketing, and whether you are a dispensary or a wholesale product distributor this is an important part of any successful marketing strategy.
SMS (Text Message Marketing) – A Newbie and a Goodie, but Cannabis Brands Beware
It’s 2021! And people are rarely without their phone.
While there is much to appreciate about SMS marketing, 98% message open rates, 90 second average response times, accessibility to your customer, this platform requires great care. SMS marketing in the cannabis industry falls under very strict federal regulations. Violations of these regulations are very costly, so cover yourself and get all your ducks in a row.
Customer consent to receive text messages is very important. Do not make the mistake of soliciting a customer without their express consent!
It’s of utmost importance to ensure your SMS program is compliant under both the TCPA (legal regulations) and the CTIA guidelines (carrier rules on restricted content).
Using a cannabis-industry focused software such as SpringBig, will help you navigate through some of the industry specific challenges around retention marketing.
Don’t let the regulations scare you away from this marketing channel. Yes, there is work to be done, but in the end, it is worth it! Sending text messages to keep current customers informed with receipts of purchase and orders ready for pick up are deemed important to assist in streamlining your business transactions.
SMS final thoughts:
SMS marketing is an invaluable tool to your overall marketing strategy. However, due to the carefully regulated nature of this particular marketing channel, it is important to make the extra effort for safety and compliance. Keep up on the ever evolving regulations from both the TCPA and CTIA.
OOH (Out-of-House) – Up Close and Personal
The last marking channel we’re going to cover is out-of-house marketing. This can cover a variety of different methods from car wraps to billboards to promotional product advertising. It is important to note that each state has its own regulations and rules around the how/where this type of advertising is allowed. Make sure to research your state and local marketing regulations before investing in any of these channels.
Both car wraps and billboards can be effective means of increasing brand awareness. The difficulty with these marketing channels is that it is hard to track their effectiveness. Additional measures can be taken to help with tracking such as custom phone numbers or URLs. While these are not perfect solutions, they do help.
OOH Final Thoughts:
This can be a very powerful marketing channel for dispensaries. However, it is important to understand your local regulations before getting started.
OK! So, Which One Is Better?
This question comes up a lot, and the answer depends on your situation. That might sound like a cop out, but truthfully a new business just breaking onto the scene will not have all the resources available to a well-established brand (active customer base, brand awareness, etc.). Likewise, a cannabis wholesale brand will not want to focus on the same thing as your local dispensary.
No matter your situation, it is important to realize one thing. A successful marketing strategy will not simply rely on one avenue for growth. You may not need/want to do everything, but you should not put all your eggs in one basket. Diversity is the name of the game, the more opportunities your audience has to find you, the more success you will have as a brand.