Cannabis is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries. With an increasing number of states in the U.S. and countries around the globe finding themselves further along the path to legalization every year, the opportunities in cannabis do not appear to be showing signs of slowing down.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, this year’s retail marijuana sales in the U.S. are on pace to increase by 40% over last year’s figures. In fact, the United States’ legal cannabis space was estimated at $13.6 billion in 2019, with 340,000 jobs devoted just to the handling of plants. But as the industry continues to bloom, cannabis companies have to get smart about promoting and selling their products and services — or risk getting smoked by the competition.
With the competitiveness of the industry in mind, the stakes are high and marketing efforts in the cannabis industry must be effective. Despite the fact that many consumers remain in awe that they no longer have to meet their “weed guy” in a shady location and can simply walk into a retail store to purchase whatever flower, concentrates, edibles or other products they desire, many cannabis and CBD companies still struggle to successfully market themselves.
Social Media and the FDA: Legal Challenges of Cannabis Marketing
Due to the nature of the fledgling industry, many tried-and-true marketing models simply don’t work for cannabis companies.
Part of that struggle is, of course, tied to the heightened level of regulation the cannabis industry faces. The plant remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I drug, and even in markets where cannabis is legal, disparate rules and regulations at the municipality and state levels govern what marketers in the space can — and cannot — do.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have their own terms and rules about what cannabis businesses, as well as cannabis-related businesses that don’t touch the cannabis plant at all, can say or do. For example, on most social media platforms, cannabis and related businesses can’t create calls to action, show consumption or prices nor can they advertise on social media. If companies are not careful, publishing content and placing ads on these social media platforms could result in ad accounts and pages or profiles being shut down, which requires a significant amount of effort to reactivate.
Additionally, marketing the myriad benefits cannabis delivers to consumers can be a sticky situation since scientific evidence does not necessarily meet the level of rigor many people look for. Despite cannabis’ thousands-year-old history, the inability for most research facilities to get government funding to research the plantcreates challenges in studying the plant — and communicating its benefits.
Most people have their own personalized experience with cannabis, and the effects differ from person to person. If two individuals smoke the same strain, whether for a specific medical condition, a generalized emotional or psychological condition, purely for their own enjoyment or all of the above, the likelihood that they’ll have completely unique experiences is quite high (pun intended).
Despite these challenges, there are many tactics cannabis and cannabis-related businesses can leverage in order to succeed in this constantly growing and changing industry.
Tactics That Work
In order to sell product and drive repeat business, cannabis companies must focus on the complexities of the industry while also trying to build a brand and identity of a company that’s culturally relevant.
One effective technique is embracing the role cannabis plays in people’s lives and how it’s helping people — and being creative with it. Cannabis looks beautiful, it smells unique and has all these characteristics and properties marketers can have fun with.
Another beneficial marketing necessity is educating the canna-curious consumer. In the cannabis space, we often think about our customers in three distinct buckets:
While a lot of companies play hard to the existing active consumer, it’s also important to continue to look outside the box and reach new people where they’re at. Some successful approaches involve educational seminars, where curious folks can learn about how to use and benefit from cannabis products, advertising in outlets that appeal to a different customer base and sponsorship of events outside of the traditional scope.
From musical acts, artists and community organizations to venues, concerts and events — virtual or otherwise — taking advantage of sponsorship opportunities can engrain a cannabis company into the community and create cultural relevance. Even if the opportunity might strike you as something that is not immediately apparent why you’d be involved with it, sponsorship of nontraditional, non-self-serving events supports the community and creates a significant amount of word-of-mouth buzz.
Not only is sponsorship great for brand recognition and, in many cases, wonderful fodder for news articles and editorial opportunities, it also delivers upon the social service aspect that’s critical for cannabis companies, particularly as they enter new markets. Then, when a company is looking to secure a new license, they can showcase what they’ve done to support the community on their application — a great way to strut your stuff.
When the time comes for a canna-curious consumer to weigh their options, the cannabis company that has been out in the community doing service-oriented activities is who they’ve heard about in the news and will likely be their first stop and where they’ll feel most comfortable shopping for the first time. The more cannabis businesses can come out and proactively involve themselves with the community, the more it expands the positive perception of the industry as a whole and raises the bar for the industry to uphold.
At the end of the day, a lot of the tactics and marketing tools in the space are changing rapidly, so the only thing you can really try to keep control of is your brand. If you don’t manage reputation, someone else will manage it for you, and a lot of cannabis companies have had their reputations managed for them with unfortunate results.
In spite of the myriad challenges cannabis and cannabis-related businesses face in the marketing sphere, a number of strategies have proven to be successful in controlling and promoting cannabis brands. In cannabis marketing, it behooves companies to have a more authentic, long-term overarching approach than to focus on more traditional marketing metrics and KPIs. Just remember to be creative, think outside of the box, play the long game and support your community — it will go a long way to controlling, owning and utilizing your brand for the greatest benefit.
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