Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, marijuana companies face a long list of marketing challenges that businesses in other industries don’t have to think about. The good news is that these advertising obstacles aren’t insurmountable. Creativity and an understanding of what other marijuana businesses are doing can make a significant difference in the returns you get from marketing investments.
The key to successfully marketing a marijuana business is to circumvent the laws that prevent you from promoting your products and services like companies in other industries. What works for companies in other industries won’t work for you, so examine the marketing tactics you’d like to implement first.
With that list in hand, consider how you can shift your thinking. Marijuana businesses can’t advertise through many ad networks, including the two biggest – Google AdWords and Facebook. What can you do instead?
To help you shift your thinking, here are five proven marijuana marketing and advertising ideas that work:
1. Programmatic Ad Buying, Not Google AdWords or Facebook Ads
Most online ad networks, including Google and Facebook, do not allow ads from marijuana-related businesses. That means you can’t use the two biggest ad networks and many other smaller ad networks to get your ads in front of your target audience as they surf the web.
What do you do? Take your business elsewhere.
There are a number of opportunities to display your ads to your target audience using programmatic ad buying. In simplest terms, with programmatic advertising, you use a software (or pay someone to use the software for you) to place bids, display your ads on applicable websites, and optimize their performance. Try Adistry and Mantis which are both marijuana-friendly.
2. Tweets, Not Ads
The most popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and more, don’t allow ads from marijuana-related businesses.
What do you do? Change your strategy.
Rather than investing in ads, focus on publishing useful content. Did you know that tweets from Twitter often rank higher than web pages in some Google searches? By publishing useful tweets, you might see one of your tweets at the top of a search results page where it could get significant exposure. According to Alfred Ng of CNET, this is a marketing tactic that has worked well for Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary in Las Vegas, Nevada.
3. Brand Ambassadors and User-Generated Content, Not Instagram Profiles
Many marijuana-related businesses invest a lot of time and money into building their Instagram, Facebook, and other social media followers only to have their profiles and pages deleted. They’re given no notice that their pages will be deleted, and when they contact the social networks for help, their requests aren’t answered.
What do you do? Pull content rather than pushing it.
Social media isn’t just about publishing your own content, pushing it out to the masses, and hoping people will engage with it and share it. Social media is also about encouraging other people to publish and share content about your brand and business (i.e., pulling content about your brand from other people). You can recruit brand ambassadors among your most loyal customers or hire brand ambassadors who are already influential with your target audience online (i.e., national and global celebrities or “online” celebrities) to create user-generated content about your brand.
In addition, make it easier for all of your customers to publish user-generated content related to your brand and business. For example, encourage people who visit your business to snap a picture of themselves and post it to Instagram, Facebook, and so on. Remind them to mention your business in their posts. You can even set up a special photo area inside your business for this purpose. Make it fun! Again, Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary implements this tactic with great success.
4. 1990s Marketing, Not 2000s Marketing
During the past 15 years or so, social media marketing has been one of the hottest topics, but as mentioned earlier in this article, social media platforms aren’t always welcoming to marijuana-related businesses. In fact, your profiles and pages could be deleted at any time.
What do you do? Learn from the past.
Set up a kiosk at your business asking people to provide their phone numbers and email addresses to be notified about special promotions. Also, capture this information from every customer when they’re making their purchases.
Once you have their email addresses and cell phone numbers, you can invest in text message marketing and email marketing. Keep in mind, email marketing comes with its own set of challenges since most email marketing providers won’t work with or send messages from marijuana-related businesses. Do your homework and make sure you’re following email marketing and text messaging laws and you’re using tools that ensure your messages actually get delivered to the intended recipients.
5. Shareable Experiences, Not Just Transactional
Marijuana businesses are also subjected to a variety of state and local rules related to advertising. For example, you can follow the link to read some of the marijuana advertising laws in California and Washington.
What do you do? Create experiences that people remember and want to talk about.
Rather than simply completing purchase transactions, marijuana businesses have an opportunity to leverage experience marketing by creating shareable moments for consumers. Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary did this by setting up a video booth that records a short animation of each customer and sends it as a GIF file to the person’s email address. That way, even if the consumer doesn’t buy, you’ll offer a fun way to capture their email addresses, which you can use later for email marketing.
Your Next Steps
Even in states where recreational marijuana is legal, there are significant challenges that marijuana businesses have to overcome in order to promote their brands, products, and services. The five opportunities described above can help you invest time and money into tactics that drive returns, but don’t stop there. Until ad networks rewrite their rules or laws change, creativity will win in the marijuana industry.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. She has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.