Marketing for Cannabis, cannabis-derived, and cannabis related products involves all the excitement of a booming industry complicated by federal and state laws. These complexities create interesting challenges for cannabis entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs depending on your state’s political landscape.
First we will have to acknowledge the obstacles marijuana marketers face especially when compared to marketing for other industries and products. By recognizing these obstacles you will know better how to navigate around them.
Second we will look at useful tools and techniques you can use to raise awareness for you and your product
Obstacles to Cannabis Marketing
Despite its lucrative potential the marijuana industry faces issues almost unique to itself within the United States. Even though more states have legalized or are planning to legalize recreational marijuana it is still classified as a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level. This means that it is in the same classification as heroin and LSD. In addition doctors often still cannot prescribe marijuana to alleviate pain and the symptoms of various disorders. Much of the obstacles marijuana marketing face stem from this federal classification.
Digital Commerce Obstacles
Due to the above federal and thus inter-state issues surrounding cannabis most e-commerce and major digital marketing companies are out of reach for the marijuana industry. The most powerful tech companies like Google and Facebook have tight regulations over any and all cannabis-related ads. To give an idea: Facebook is the less strict of the two mentioned but according to its regulations ads depicting the use or sale of prescription, recreational or “illegal” drugs will not be permitted. Breach of these guidelines can mean suspension or even deletion of the offending account.
Google’s terms are simply a total prohibition on ads featuring substances that alter the mental state. At least Facebook permits marijuana businesses to show up on the platform’s search engine. Even then verified businesses cannot advertise on the social media platform. Not even solely CBD and CBD-related companies can advertise.
Marketing can be expensive especially when more cost-effective large-scale digital marketing if off the table. Despite the potential lucrative benefits of the marijuana industry individual dispensaries often find themselves competing with illegal dealers. It is a simple case of the illegal dealers on the streets often being cheaper than the legal dispenser in the store. A still ongoing and sustained illegal economy pulls cash flow from licensed business owners thus imposing financial restraints that in turn make paid advertising costly in comparison to non-cannabis businesses.
Companies selling cannabis products online need to confirm a customer’s age. In order to make that verification they need information including name, date of birth and address. Just as customers need to trust their information will be protected by the company the cannabis company needs to trust the customer information is truthful. If and when customers alter vital documents and information during the purchasing process licensed cannabis dealers can be open to liability risks.
Similar to other substance-based industries the cannabis industry is heavily regulated. More so many would argue. To sell their products online merchants and dispensaries need to have their product subjected to testing. These tests are meant to determine the THC content of the proposed product. Such legal requirements can and have resulted in delays which in turn can mean intractable difficulties for marketing.
In addition to the regulations over THC content there are also local legal issues with which cannabis businesses have to contend. Even in states where cannabis has been legalized the particulars and restrictions governing sale, purchase, use and distribution can vary drastically between cities, districts, and counties. A major example is Washington D.C. where it is legal to use marijuana for recreational purposes but due to a Congressional Mandate it is paradoxically illegal to sell or purchase marijuana. In 2016 recreational marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts but certain towns have placed bans and moratoriums on the substance. Thus there can be complications for intrastate commerce and advertisement. Navigating these potential legal minefields can be time-consuming with serious risks of financial or legal blowback for cannabis merchants.
Demand and Distribution Obstacles
Due to the fluctuating political, legal, and financial landscape cannabis business owners can have difficulties meeting demand and maintaining inventory. Companies also have difficulty maintaining clear and consistent channels by which to distribute their product in a door-to-door fashion. As a result this means cannabis businesses have another constraint in meeting demand.
Tools for Cannabis Marketing.
With these obstacles in mind cannabis business owners and marijuana marketers need to be innovative with their marketing strategies. Due to the rapidly still-changing legal landscape it will also be important for those in the cannabis business to be flexible and adaptive.
Despite the obstacles it faces the marijuana industry is growing alongside the growing legalization of recreational marijuana. This simultaneously means there is an ever increasing network of cannabis-related businesses. These businesses include growers, producers, dispensaries, delivery services, hardware manufacturers and compliance networks that all come together to create a vast interconnected system. This system can provide opportunities through which you can generate marketing activity.
To move beyond the inner industry network use tools like Google Analytics to obtain comprehensive knowledge about your customer base, who they are, and how they learned of your business. From there you can also find out other affinity categories that your customers often interact with. Thus you discover other networks through which to reach more potential customers.
While it is true that some of the biggest social media platforms have strict rules regarding advertising marijuana not all social media apparatuses are as strict. Though they still might require to be careful with their existing rules. Twitter and LinkedIn are some such examples. Instagram permits marketing through visual media like images and videos. Even Facebook messenger can still facilitate customer service.
There are also platforms that are solely focused on cannabis. These platforms provide a direct window to people already interested or at least curious about marijuana. Unlike major mainstream platforms there is a far less likely chance of getting banned. Leafwire is one such platform by which you can network with potential investors and other cannabis-related professionals. Another notable platform is MjLink which boasts 2.5 million users making it a premier place to connect with other marijuana entrepreneurs.
Engage with the cannabis community including personalities and events.
While possibly a sub-category of Social Media Marketing influencers can still be a vital way to reach people. Influencers are anyone who can use social media presence and profile to influence potential buyers by promoting or recommending your product. Part of working with influencers is figuring out who your potential customers follow and listen. You will find research a vital and recurring element of all marketing techniques.
Learn about local events and participate in them. Cannabis trade shows and similar events are another excellent opportunity to network with industry personalities. In particular they are places to find potential sponsors. Sponsorships can help an entrepreneur’s name and brand get out in front of a ready audience willing to give you a listen because your sponsor recommended you. Also look for local community events that will permit your brand’s presence even if they are not cannabis focused. If you have the means you can also try throwing your own events like meetups or a barbecue.
A simple but longstanding marketing technique. You can construct an email list by offering customers incentives following purchases or through calls to action on your website or any other forms of digital marketing you might have. Once you have an email list you can craft a range of emails designed around different occasions, seasons, and strategies.
Search Engine Optimization is perhaps one of the most potentially effective marketing methods even if the results may take months to bear results. Usually this means 6-12 months but there have also been cases of results showing in as few as 6 months.
SEO marketing means creating high quality content to educate, inform, and reach potential customers using targeted keywords that will appear higher in search engine results. Use research to find out what keywords work best for your business and product. You will likely need to perform an SEO audit in order to find out what keywords you are currently using are working and which are not. Perform research into what keywords often place high in searches related to your offered product.
One of the big advantages of SEO Marketing is you will not have to pay extra and ongoing costs for advertising. You will also own the content you create. In addition to increased online visibility, good SEO can translate into higher search engine rankings, higher quality traffic to your website, and increased website to sales conversion. Though keep in mind this also requires high quality content as part of your online presence.
Although more established brands have high ranking for most relevant and high-value keywords you still have a way. Optimize your online marketing and presence by using local keywords.