Despite all the buzz around weed (no pun intended), the pioneers of the emerging US cannabis industry tend to encounter a fair amount of trouble getting the word out about their businesses. With strict legal regulations and harsh restrictions on major advertising platforms, cannabis marketing is a tough cookie to crack.
If you’re involved in the biz and looking to develop a cannabis marketing plan that will get your customers buzzing, then you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’re going to provide you with some tips to get your social media, organic, email, and in-person marketing efforts rolling — all while navigating the complex restrictions and regulations imposed by advertising companies and the state and federal governments.
So, let’s get this out of the way first: THC products are currently illegal on a federal level in the US. THC is classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the DEA, which means that the agency believes it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
CBD, on the other hand, is a cannabis product that is legalized on the federal level. So, there are no restrictions on selling or promoting it. In this guide, we’re going to be talking primarily about marketing THC-containing products, but we will touch upon CBD products as well.
As far as THC goes, only 11 states have legalized the substance for recreational use, and 22 more have legalized it for medicinal use. That means that in total, there are 33 states that legally allow cannabis to some extent.
Unfortunately, this split between state and federal law has made things anything but easy for business owners in this growing field. The federal government has agreed not to intervene in states that have legalized cannabis, but federal laws prevent businesses from opening a bank account, bringing their product across state lines, and add a whole slew of red tape to practically every endeavour the business may undertake.
Although cannabis is becoming more widely accepted among the population at large, many advertising platforms are still hesitant to allow any cannabis advertising, deeming it too risky — just take a look at this PSA, which wasn’t allowed to air during the Super Bowl because it was considered “inappropriate”:
In other cases, advertising platforms may not allow marijuana advertising simply due to the liability risk — promoting illegal activities like the purchase or sale of cannabis is illegal in itself.
That said, some companies like Facebook are beginning to relax their prohibitions, albeit slowly and carefully. However, even with the most liberal advertising policies, businesses are not allowed to promote the sale of cannabis, provide any prices for cannabis products, ask viewers to inquire about a product, or even to mention that a cannabis product is for sale. To get around this, cannabis businesses must only promote tangentially related products, i.e. cannabis apparel, CBD products, educational seminars, etc. that will bring customers into the store, but don’t specifically promote products that are illegal on a federal level.
Clearly, marijuana marketing can be a real headache.
How to promote your cannabis business on social networks
Thankfully for cannabis business owners, social media advertising restrictions are becoming increasingly lax as ganja makes its way into the mainstream. But remember: promoting anything that’s illegal on any level, whether in an ad or an organic post, is still often a violation of social network policies.
Since promoting the sticky icky can be so tricky, here are some ways to make your brand, well, stick.
Provide valuable, informative, and educational content
Cannabis is a new industry, and its massive growth isn’t driven by the stereotypical High Times-reading, poncho-wearing, dreadlocked tokers that might come to mind when you think of weed. Quite the contrary: as cannabis has become increasingly legalized, more and more “straightlaced” people who didn’t want to break the law before are becoming interested in what the ganja has to offer both as a recreational and medical addition to their lives.
And that means that there’s a lot of people that want to learn more about weed. Whether it’s the differences between strains, its health effects, or even just information about how the industry itself is growing and changing, posting infographics and other educational content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest is a great way to start drumming up interest around your business.
Promote your federally legal CBD products
While the legal status of THC, cannabis’s main active ingredient, is a legal grey area, its non-psychoactive counterpart, CBD, is 100% legal on both a federal and state level across the US. Considering how popular CBD products have become (even Sephora carries CBD skin-care products these days), it’s not unusual for dispensaries to sell CBD along with their THC-containing products.
So, if you’re already selling CBD oils, tinctures, edibles, etc. in your dispensary, try promoting those to get customers in the door and build some brand awareness without getting into the thick of it with social network cannabis regulations. You’ll easily sidestep any red tape while still reaching new prospects.
Remember, many cannabis fans make use of both CBD and THC products, so you’re not alienating any customers by making some CBD-focused posts. However, do be careful that you don’t make all your posts about CBD, as that could give potential customers the impression that you don’t sell THC products.
Advertise community events
Let’s be real: if you’re selling cannabis, you don’t need to convince anyone to buy weed, you just need to let them know that they can find what they’re already looking for at your store. That means that in many ways your goal isn’t to promote your product, but to promote your location. Once your prospects know where to find you, the rest will happen naturally.
Cannabis business SEO
As important as social media marketing is, organic search engine traffic is arguably just as important — if not more. Here are a few tips to get your SEO game in tip-top shape.
Target local keywords
For the most part, the cannabis business is formed by brick and mortar dispensaries. That means that you need to employ different strategies than you would if your business were solely online. Namely, you need to target local search traffic, not just keywords like “cannabis dispensary.”
Instead of focusing solely on broad keywords, try to become the top ranking search result when nearby townspeople search for a local dispensary. For example: there’s no clear top choice if you search “parker colorado dispensary”:
This provides a perfect opportunity for nearby dispensaries to create content that cements themselves as the dispensary servicing the Parker, Colorado area. Look around your region, find those opportunities, and use them to your advantage.
Build up a social media platform
No, you didn’t just scroll up and start rereading the last section — as it turns out, content that’s shared on social media can actually boost your search ranking across the board. Because of this, building out your social media presence can actually help your SEO efforts and vice versa — there’s a synergistic relationship between the two that is definitely worth investing in.
Pinterest is one of the best platforms to work with as far as SEO is concerned as lots of the content shared on Pinterest links to blog posts. Pins count as backlinks, so repins and shares can really bolster your SEO ranking while building a stronger presence on social at the same time.
Basically, you kill two birds with one stone.
Don’t be afraid to get technical
How your site loads and how its code is structured will affect its SEO ranking, and that’s no different whether your site is cannabis related or not.
Since 2010, site load speeds have affected how Google ranks sites, so it’s important to make sure your site loads in a snap. This can take some technical know-how, but learning how to do it yourself or hiring a contractor to do it for you is well worth the effort or expense.
In addition to optimizing your site’s load time, make sure it’s mobile ready, create an XML sitemap to make sure its crawlable, and use schema markup to give Google better context as to how to index your site. These topics are all a bit too deep to get into in this article, but doing some Googling should give you some insight into how to get started with these advanced techniques.
Cannabis email marketing
When it comes to cannabis, email is one of its safe havens since the channel isn’t beholden to any one private company’s regulations or restrictions. As long as your promotions fall within a reasonable interpretation of the law, you can do as you please. Here’s a few ways to make the most of your cannabis email marketing efforts.
Collaborate with other brands
Competition is good for business, but oftentimes collaboration is even better. There are lots of brands that have some overlap in their customer base without being direct competitors. Reaching out to these brands and collaborating on an email campaign, i.e. placing your content in their emails and vice versa, can be a great way to expand your reach by hitching a ride on an already established email list.
Communities from Ampjar is one of the easiest ways to get started with collaborative email campaigns. There’s already a burgeoning community of cannabis businesses using the platform, so it’s easy to connect with like-minded brands and design a campaign that propels both of your businesses forward.
Make use of transactional emails
Successful email marketing isn’t just about sending large email blasts every week or so. These days, if you want to get noticed, it’s important to personalize your emails to ensure they’re relevant and end up being read.
Using transactional emails is one of the best ways to do this. Unlike traditional marketing emails, transactional emails are automated emails that are triggered when a specific action or interaction occurs on your site. For example, if a customer abandons their cart, you can automate an email that reminds them to check out.
But you can take this one step further than simply sending out abandoned cart reminders. If a customer is spending time checking out a section of your site about using cannabis for pain relief, you can trigger an email that informs them of the best strains for pain relief and gives them a coupon for those strains. Once you’ve got them in the store, you can upsell them and further establish your relationship with them.
Segment your list
Going off our last point, the key to getting your emails opened and read is relevancy, so don’t send the same emails en masse to all your subscribers. Instead, break up your list into chunks based on actions, purchase history, or interests.
For example: break your email list into groups of customers that have expressed interest in THC products and CBD products, or both. Alternatively, make different segments for medical and recreational customers. Again, the key here is relevancy, and taking these small steps will ensure that your subscribers are only receiving content that’s valuable to them, which makes it less likely they’ll unsubscribe — or worse: mark your emails as spam.
Luckily, modern-day in-person marijuana marketing doesn’t mean standing around on a corner inconspicuously asking passersby whether they’re looking to buy some weed. Here are some great ways to market your cannabis business in today’s market paradigm.
Host tours and other in-store events
Although marijuana is becoming increasingly mainstream, dispensaries are still something of a novelty for many people in the US. Given how popular cannabis tourism has become, offering tours of your grow sites and dispensaries is a killer way to get people to come into your store without feeling pressured to buy something.
What’s more: there are a lot of people who really like cannabis, and offering them the opportunity to stand in the middle of hundreds of cannabis plants on a grow site is a chance most connoisseurs simply will not pass up.
Keep up with emerging sales tech like cashless ATM’s
Word of mouth is the best advertising you can get, and there are few ways to ensure that your customers will return and spread the word like making your checkout process quick and easy. Due to federal regulations, cannabis is a cash only business right now, which is a huge annoyance to those who want to pay for their purchases with cards. However, there are some stores that are leading the pack with cashless ATM’s, making the transaction process much easier for their customers.
A cashless ATM is a tool that allows customers to pay with card without the business needing to deal with cannabis banking regulations. In short, a cashless ATM works just like a regular one does: a customer inserts their card and requests a certain withdrawal amount. However, instead of receiving cash, they receive a voucher that is then redeemed right in the dispensary, making for a much easier purchasing process that is practically indistinguishable from paying with a card straight out.
While this isn’t a marketing technique in itself, making sure you have these conveniences available will ensure that your customers recommend you to their friends as the “dispensary that takes card.” Having that kind of reputation is worth an arm and a leg.
In the end, marketing a cannabis business has its quirks, but many of the same marketing principles that work for other businesses still apply. It takes a little bit of ingenuity to circumvent the red tape, but with the help of this guide, you should be well on your way to green bliss — in more ways than one.
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