Venture capitalists are showing serious interest in the cannabis industry, and for good reason. The majority of Americans support legalization. New York, New Mexico, Virginia, and Connecticut all recently legalized recreational use. New Jersey just opened its first recreational dispensary this month. And on this year’s 4/20, dispensaries boasted the biggest single-day sales profit the industry has reaped over the last four years.
While the cannabis industry is rapidly expanding, it is still an exceedingly complex market that requires strategic navigation. Like any product available for purchase, cannabis must be marketed. Complicated legal status and advertising restrictions pose serious marketing challenges for businesses in the cannabis industry. With the right tools, strategy, and intentions, businesses can turn these challenges into opportunities. Gaining a competitive edge in the digital marketing space will give cannabis businesses an even bigger advantage as the industry continues to expand and standardize.
Marketing Challenges in an Evolving Cannabis Landscape
Not only is the legalization of cannabis moving forward on an unprecedented scale, the variety of hemp and cannabis products on the market is also expanding at an incredible rate. Because legalization takes place at the state level, cannabis companies must carefully establish their marketing strategies in adherence to various regional regulations.
The virtual world, which became even more significant in the wake of the pandemic, imposes overwhelming complexities for businesses marketing their cannabis products. Dominant online platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have stringent limitations on paid cannabis ads. If your company is active on Instagram, you may have encountered a warning stating that “your content has violated Instagram community guidelines,” or you may have been locked out of the social media platform entirely.
These types of struggles are extremely common for cannabis companies, and while the federal status of the plant contributes to these restrictions, cultural stigma plays a big role in these platforms’ aversion to cannabis marketing. Overcoming the stigma will take time, but thoughtful marketing can help deconstruct misconceptions and expand factual common knowledge.
Successful marketing campaigns require ad personalization, the delivery of optimal customer service, and calculated audience segmentation. In general, marketers struggle to maximize their performance across channels and adapt to changing circumstances. For those in the newly legal cannabis industry, these challenges are further exasperated. Online marketing regulations prevent many cannabis companies from implementing paid ads.
How to Measure Marketing Success
An expertly designed marketing plan is essential, but without the ability to gauge its efficacy, it loses significant value. According to a recent study conducted by Oracle, extremely profitable marketing organizations measure their success by analyzing sales and revenue attributed to marketing, customer lifetime value, and cost per lead. These organizations view customer data and email marketing platforms as invaluable tools in business.
The stigma around cannabis also makes it difficult for companies in the industry to obtain accurate third-party cookie data. KPIs like social media impressions, email open rates, repeat purchases, and conversion rates help businesses make up for lost cookie data. To accurately interpret your company’s ROI, it is vital to track a wide variety of online marketing activities. Automated tools like Lighthouse can help businesses audit their online presence for performance, accessibility, SEO, and much more.
In July 2023, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will universally implement an exciting and improved tool for measuring online performance. Instead of its current session-based model, GA4 will operate from an event-based model that processes each user interaction as a standalone event. GA4’s homepage report will provide real-time reports, user snapshots, and life cycle reporting. This will allow marketers to more accurately perform cross-platform analysis and predict user behavior. Businesses that want to stay ahead of the competition are moving to GA4 well ahead of 2023 to begin capturing as much new data as possible.
5 Digital Marketing Trends in Cannabis
Agility, adaptability, and consistent innovation are hallmarks of marketing organizations. The most successful marketing campaigns prioritize exceptional customer experiences and personalized service. For cannabis businesses, this involves paying attention to their customers’ attitudes about the plant, understanding their purpose for consuming, and building a trustworthy reputation with the larger community.
1. Messaging around wellness
While cannabis remains a Schedule I substance under federal law, the FDA has approved some THC and CBD medications for people with conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, and HIV. Globally, the medicinal use of cannabis is extremely popular and supported by numerous national governments. Americans are often skeptical of recreational cannabis, but they are much more inclined to support its medicinal use.
The wellness industry as a whole is worth about $1.5 trillion, and consumers continuously demonstrate their willingness to invest in their health. The therapeutic use of CBD has gained so much popularity that you can now find an array of CBD products at drugstore chains like Walgreens. The government’s stance on medical cannabis is also much more favorable than it is toward recreational consumption. Less than half the nation has legalized recreational adult-use cannabis, but the majority of U.S. states have legalized medicinal use.
Smart cannabis brands are capitalizing on wellness culture by highlighting the medicinal benefits of the plant. Whether it’s pain management or mental health, consumers are more likely to take interest in cannabis when they learn how it improves their overall well-being.
2. Niche products for niche consumers
Today’s dispensaries and stores are filled with an incredible variety of cannabis products, and we will surely continue to see novel commodities line the shelves. Consumers both want and need different ways to consume cannabis. Cannabis connoisseurs are eager to try innovative products, like live resin edibles, new hybrid strains, and electric vaporizers. The holistic health community has an insatiable desire for CBD products in all its forms. And new cannabis consumers are intrigued by the opportunity to experience the plant without smoking flower or getting uncomfortably high. According to recent data from New Frontier, more than half of cannabis consumers reported being eager to try a new cannabis product once they learned about it.
There is no shortage of consumer categories primed for specific niche cannabis products, and all have the potential to be extremely lucrative. To develop a high-quality marketing strategy, brands must have a clear understanding of their product appeal, as well as the consumer groups they should target in their campaigns. As the industry evolves, staying in tune with your consumers’ evolving interests is key.
3. Mobile marketing
Over 85 percent of Americans own a smartphone and spend an average of five hours per day on mobile apps. From a marketing perspective, these statistics speak for themselves. Mobile-friendly content is a must; marketing strategies should place an emphasis on advertising and community-building via social media platforms. SMS marketing platforms are another great way to reach people with personalized and accessible content. Not only does mobile marketing allow your business to reach more people, it gives you the opportunity to learn about your customers.
Text message surveys, paid ads on Instagram, and live-streamed videos all offer interactive mobile-friendly opportunities. These are effective digital marketing tools that build rapport with consumers and pack the most punch when used collectively. People are looking at their phones throughout the entire day, but they are using many different apps. If your business only engages via email and doesn’t have a social media presence, consumers are only accessing your marketing content through one channel. While you don’t want to bombard consumers with content, it’s helpful to show up in different spaces in different capacities.
The quality of your mobile content is also paramount to your marketing campaign. Consumers expect to see professional content with aesthetic appeal. If your company can afford it, it is always worth it to hire people who specialize in digital marketing. Not only can a professional digital marketing team turn out beautiful work, but they can also manage the constant need for new online content. For businesses looking to expand and successfully innovate, mobile marketing should be viewed as a full-time job.
When you peruse the websites of cannabis brands, many will claim they offer the “best” of a certain product. Customers are attuned to this marketing tactic, and many will not be swayed by the claim. It is much more effective to focus on the story of your brand and authentic examples of the advantages consumers gain from your products. Consumers connect with brands that feel personal, human, and socially conscious.
Building a strong public narrative is not a direct selling tactic, but it builds vital brand loyalty and demonstrates key values. Storytelling is also a powerful tool for destigmatization. Developing trustworthy narratives helps shape a cannabis-friendly culture and informs new regulations that enable sustainable business growth. Someone who is completely foreign to the cannabis community may be swayed so strongly by a compelling story that they begin exploring your company’s products.
There are numerous ways to practice storytelling both in-person and online. Hosting events where people can learn about the power of cannabis, the specific benefits your products offer, and the intention behind your business is a great way to build face-to-face relationships. Online, there are unlimited ways to share relevant stories. Your company can start a blog, share a video series on social media, feature testimonies from happy customers, and so much more.
Effective storytelling must be accompanied by thoughtful education, and when it is executed correctly, storytelling acts as a form of education. When you tell the story of your brand, it is important to incorporate the evidence and reasoning for its existence. Centering education in your marketing campaigns may seem counterintuitive, but it works. As the cannabis industry continues to expand and new types of cannabis products hit the shelves, more people will be searching for factual information about the plant.
If your company offers legitimate and helpful information about cannabis, consumers will be more inclined to purchase your products. Successful executives and business leaders often develop reputations as experts in their respective fields. This concept is known as thought leadership. In the cannabis industry, regulations and standards are complex. Developing a reputation as a trusted expert will allow your business to play a larger role in the standardization of the cannabis industry and reap long-term customer loyalty.