Finding a brand and a voice is difficult and time-consuming for most new businesses, but for an industry emerging from the shadows, it can be even more tedious. Throw in a bunch of regulatory stipulations, ever-changing industry norms and a bunch of so-called “experts” into the mix, and the advertising side of the cannabis equation has just become even more complicated.
The Great Unknown
Most cannabis companies fall into one of two categories: one, they have plenty of capital and don’t know where to spend it, or, two, they don’t have enough capital on hand and they don’t know that they need it. In that case, even if they had the funds they needed, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
This applies to cannabis marketing and advertising too. The cannabis industry is struggling to brand themselves with very limited options — how does one effectively create a brand or reach target consumers while operating within state and local regulations? When every company must use the same channels, compliant creativity is essential, and difficult for the best of the best. Throw in inventory and distribution limitations, and there’s another challenge that must be overcome for brands looking to advertise.
Part of the great unknown includes data gaps, although the information (or lack thereof) should become robust as the industry develops and matures. There’s an increased demand for data related to the cannabis industry from household brands, including Coca-Cola, Dominos, and McDonald’s, which should effectively move the industry forward.
Legal . . . sort of?
The cannabis industry is rife with red tape. Adding complexity to the mix is that it remains illegal federally, and in the states where cannabis is legal, advertising and marketing are restricted differently. This makes it especially challenging when one company is expanding into multiple state markets.
In Delaware, where medical marijuana is legal (no recreational cannabis legalization yet), businesses cannot advertise in print, via broadcast or by direct customer solicitation. In California, where recreational and medical marijuana are legal, radio, cable, print, and digital ads can only be shown where at least 71.6% of the intended audience is over the age of 21. Colorado has similar rules. Digital platforms like Twitter, Google and Facebook have banned all cannabis ads, which eliminates those options from the table completely.
As a simple workaround, many brands have started advertising on billboards, but if every company is doing that, “billboard fatigue” will soon set in. Billboard advertising also minimizes customer conversion data, which serves to perpetuate the data gap.
Revise and Digitize
Digital marketing direct to consumers is a must. Whether it’s through SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or by creating relevant, entertaining blog posts, or through contributing content to partner sites or web-based publishers, the use of digital marketing efforts (including videos and infographics) can help to reach new audiences and grow a brand.
Use of SEO is an excellent way to reach potential customers by positioning a company at the top of search engine results through the use of keywords. Using links to other trusted sites in digital marketing will also enhance reach, increasing brand awareness. Email marketing for cannabis companies, while one of the oldest digital marketing techniques, remains among the most effective to this day.
Cut the Clutter
The emergence of a new industry means there are hundreds if not thousands of cannabis conferences and hosted events worldwide. While it might be tempting to participate in every event possible, it’s more important to align event attendance and participation with the brand and the company’s goals.
The cluttered landscape also means that randomly handing out business cards and pamphlets is simply not going to cut it. Companies must create experiences for their target audience through various methods — exclusive locations, using brand ambassadors and engaging with event attendees. Building relationships is key, and those that manage to extract some meaningful data about their customers and use that for follow-up contact is priceless. It’s not a one-and-done thing; calibrated contact and meaningful messages are essential for brand building. Events like the Emerald Cup and HempCon are conducive to this strategy.
But it’s not all about reaching customers in the typical sense. Business to Business (B2B) engagement is important, too. In this arena, there are many reputable events that bring the best the industry has to offer into one location, and new events are emerging all the time. New West Summit, MJBizCon, and Cannabis World Conference and Business Expo are excellent options on the B2B side of things.
If networking and data is the name of the game, up-and-coming events like Green Market Summit’s two-day conference is the ticket. The event takes an introspective look at the economic side of cannabis brands. On the same wavelength, consider MJMicro, an invitational networking forum. This event brings together publicly-traded cannabis companies with high-net-worth investors.
The takeaway? Successful companies will constantly align business models and goals with key industry leaders.
Destination: Straight Ahead
As more states legalize cannabis, there will be more and more marketing channels to explore. Success lies in the ability to take advantage of current experiences while also looking to the future, no matter what advertising and marketing strategies are employed.
With the stringent regulations attached to marketing and advertising cannabis, spending marketing dollars wisely with people that know the rules of the game is important. Otherwise, the entire endeavor might play out as an expensive lesson, both in time, money and market share lost to competitors.