Marketing isn’t easy for anyone — trying to drum up attention for your business, find the right people to talk to, close deals, and keep customers happy is a moving target no matter what you’re selling.
For cannabis growers, distributors, and marketers, the world is a very different place. As of the end of 2018, there are 10 states with legalized recreational marijuana and another 22 with legalized medical marijuana in some form, but the drug is still illegal on a federal level.
As such, cannabis producers are stuck in a strange gray area of legality. They have trouble finding national banks who will handle their money, so they have to deal mostly with local credit unions. The same marketing channels that are available to other businesses aren’t available to them. And there’s the looming threat that the Justice Department will start to enforce federal law far more strictly and shut the whole industry down.
But cannabis producers need to drum up business just like the rest of us — so how do they do it? How do they fly under the radar while getting their name out there? How do they navigate the restrictions on their industry? Here are a few of the strategies that these companies are using — and how you can take a lesson from them.
Be Careful To Market To The Right People
Cannabis marketers have very strict restrictions on how they can target their marketing. They can’t market to individuals under the age of 21, for whom it’s illegal to purchase their products. They can’t market to out-of-state individuals, where laws might be different. They can’t market at sporting events where more than 30 percent of the audience might be under 21. And so on.
Most industries don’t have the same restrictions, but they would do well to model their marketing efforts in a similar fashion. The old days of putting your product on a TV screen in front of millions of random people or on a billboard in front of thousands of commuters are waning.
Today’s consumers have more content than they can handle — it’s all you can do to get your content in front of them at all. So why waste your hard-earned marketing dollars showing your product to people who simply aren’t interested? It’s easier than ever to build a buyer persona and direct your marketing specifically to that persona — why cast so wide a net if you’re just catching fish you don’t even want?
Focus On your Branding
In the early days, cannabis marketing tended to fall on the immature side of things. Dispensaries carried things called “Reefer’s Cups,” modeled after Reese’s Cups, or sold parody strains with puns on popular fictional characters.
Now, cannabis advertising has grown up. Dispensaries and growers are hiring professional designers and advertisers to spruce up their images. One sushi restaurant in Boulder, CO, even partnered with a local dispensary to create a menu that pairs various sushi rolls with strains of marijuana.
The lesson is clear: branding matters. You can’t afford to be casual with your company’s image. Your brand needs to reflect who you are — not just in its imagery, colors, fonts, and logo — but in what you stand for. Cannabis marketers have had to take a bold stand in undoing the stigma that faces their industry, and they’ve turned a shady back-alley practice into a legitimate multi-billion-dollar industry.
Explore Unconventional Marketing Channels
As it stands, virtually every brand in the world is advertising on social media (especially Facebook) in some form or another. But not cannabis companies.
Technically, dispensaries are allowed to have a Facebook presence. They can receive a gray “verification” badge from Facebook for their page and they can post about their businesses just like anyone else.
But when it comes to promoted posts or advertising, they’re hamstrung by Facebook’s community guidelines, which prohibit posting promoted content that depicts the sale or attempt to purchase cannabis including, but not limited to:
- explicitly mentioning that a product is for sale, trade, or delivery
- asking the audience to buy a product
- listing a product price
- encouraging contact/inquiries about a product
If that sounds incredibly restrictive, you’re right; it is. So cannabis brands have had to be creative.
Luckily, the same restrictions don’t apply to organic growth, lifestyle branding, merchandise, and the other tangential aspects of a company that are just as important as the product itself.
Organic marketing is free, but it isn’t easy. Take a lesson from cannabis companies and lean into organically spreading the word about your products. How do you do that? By going whole-hog into organic marketing — hashtags, groups, SEO, etc. Be a part of a community. Have conversations with your customers and answer questions.
Lean into influencer marketing, too. We’ve written extensively on the value of micro-influencers — they have loyal followings, focused messages, and you won’t break the bank partnering with them. They’re a great way to get your messaging, branding, and ultimately your product in front of the right people.
Ultimately, the cannabis industry is a lesson in flexibility. From the introduction of medical marijuana to the legalization of recreational weed, from the sudden rise in popularity of edibles to the sort-of-legal market in CBD products, growers and their marketers have been dealing with constantly shifting goalposts for nearly a decade.
Compared to them, you have it relatively easy — but that doesn’t mean you can’t be agile. There’s always a new angle, a new strategy, or a new channel to try out. By taking a lesson from the cannabis industry and learning to roll with the punches, you’ll be ready for whatever the marketing world throws at you.