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Cannabis Marketing

How To Create an Annual Marketing Plan for Your Cannabis Brand

December 2, 2023

Engineer Success for Your Cannabis Brand with a Strategic Annual Marketing Plan

In the dynamic, rapidly ascendant cannabis industry, you better believe that having a well-crafted marketing plan is critical for success. Whether you're a newcomer or an established multistate operator, a comprehensive marketing plan is a requirement not just for surviving the chaos in this fast-changing game, but for thriving in it. 

Now, I’m not saying you need to completely overhaul your existing marketing strategy every year, especially if what you’ve already got is working. But even the most successful marketing plans need a pulse check once a year at minimum. Particularly in the fast-moving cannabis industry, it’s crucial to make sure your marketing plan strategically aligns with your current business goals and industry status. 

Your Key to Not Burning Out in the Year Ahead

Not to be a downer, but the fact that the cannabis industry gets more competitive every day isn’t exactly breaking news. Most of us understand that these days, cannabis just doesn’t “sell itself” like it used to. As sections of this industry start to look more and more like other established CPG and commodities markets, strong branding and smart marketing will be the difference between success and failure for most companies in this crowded landscape. 

An annual marketing plan is critical for providing structure and direction that ensures your cannabis brand can reach its target audiences effectively. Without a plan, you risk wandering aimlessly, missing valuable opportunities and falling behind your competition.

Consider it like going on a road trip without a map. You're probably going to get lost or waste valuable time and resources. Similarly, without a marketing plan, your cannabis brand may struggle to find its way in a crowded market. 

It’s not uncommon for early-stage businesses to operate without a formal, structured marketing plan. But as companies begin to grow, that sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants marketing puts you at a strategic disadvantage. With the right plan in place, you can navigate the complex landscape of regulations, competition and shifting consumer preferences much more effectively.

So let’s dive into the essential components of an annual marketing plan for your cannabis brand.

Situation Analysis: Understanding the Landscape

The best way to start planning for next year is to take inventory of where you stand now. Begin with market research, assess your current business conditions and review your existing marketing efforts and outcomes. There are lots of ways to approach this, but I’m a fan of the good old-fashioned SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).

Once you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you’ll want to do a competitive analysis to see what your competitors are up to. This way, you’ll be able to focus your efforts on initiatives that stand out in the market. 

Identify Your Goals: Setting the Course for Your Marketing Team

What are the overall business objectives for the year ahead? Make sure you can define clear marketing goals that align with your overall business objectives. It helps to make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART goals). 

Know Your Audience and Understand Your Customers

Your target audience is the North Star of your marketing plan, and your marketing efforts should always be tailored precisely to that audience—and even individuated segments within that audience. Create detailed buyer personas, considering demographics, psychographics and behaviors. 

This may feel a bit repetitive if your business isn’t new or you’re not actively pursuing new markets. But it’s still important to brush up on your target customers and what their wants, needs and consumer pain points are. These things can change from year to year, especially in the quickly evolving cannabis industry, so be sure your target audience details are up to date.

Target Markets: Expanding Your Reach

In the cannabis industry, many companies are actively seeking to expand to the new markets that continue emerging. If this rings true for your brand, do yourself a favor by keeping a close eye on what the marketing looks like in the earliest days of these newly regulated state markets and as they evolve. The more familiar you are with the messaging that resonates with the particular target audiences in those markets, the better positioned you'll be to enter it successfully.

Identify Your Cannabis Brand's Marketing Initiatives 

Now, let's get into the heart of your annual marketing plan—your initiatives. Depending on your business status and goals, these may include brand positioning, pricing strategies, distribution plans, promotional activities, public relations, thought leadership and content development. Create a marketing calendar that outlines when each initiative will be executed, factoring in seasonal trends and important dates

Be ambitious and consider every stage in the buyer's journey when setting your initiatives, but don’t go overboard. It’s important to prioritize the initiatives that will deliver the most meaningful results. If you have the bandwidth for a ton of initiatives, then by all means, include them in your plan. But don’t make the mistake of going after every shiny object you see. Make sure your team is equipped to execute on what matters most to your core goals.

Assess Your Team and Resources

Do you have the people and the know-how you’ll need to execute on your marketing initiatives for the year ahead? Will you need additional training for your team, or might you need to bring in a new full-time employee, contractor or an agency to support your efforts? 

If you do need to bring in additional support, consider what your specific situation requires and weigh the pros and cons of your various options. If you just need a bit more support on, say, graphic design, a contractor might make the most sense. If you need a lot of support in an area like copywriting, and you have the budget and bandwidth for a new full-time employee, it might be worth investing in a staff writer who is familiar with the cannabis industry.

If you're looking to quickly achieve your publicity goals, you need assistance with marketing initiatives but don't necessarily want to hire a new full-time employee, or you'd benefit from more meaningful strategic support, an agency like Grasslands that specializes in cannabis marketing and public relations might be just the ticket. Not to get too high on the Grasslands horse, but one of the most valuable assets we bring to every engagement is our team's unique combination of cannabis fluency and marketing expertise.

Monitoring and Reporting

Establish a system for regularly reporting on the status and outcomes of your marketing efforts. These reporting mechanisms will keep your stakeholders informed about progress and empower you to make timely adjustments. Be sure the team members doing your reporting understand how to do things like set up conversion goals in Google Analytics and how to analyze your metrics effectively.

Legal and Compliance Considerations

In the cannabis industry, navigating regulations is essential. Ensure that your marketing activities comply with relevant laws, regulations and cannabis advertising restrictions, including industry-specific standards. It’s also not a bad idea to refresh your team on what those rules and regulations are on an annual basis.

Determine Your Marketing Budget

Create a budget for every marketing move you’re planning, including your expected costs and ROI projections. Efficiently handling your budget helps guarantee that you'll have the firepower you need to achieve your objectives like a champ.

Identify the Best Marketing Channels to Reach Your Audience

Consider the channels you'll use to educate customers, generate leads and build brand recognition. These may include websites, cannabis trade publications and national media outlets, social media networks, awards and thought leadership speaking engagements. Specify the purpose of each channel and the metrics for measuring success.

Review and Refine Your Marketing Technology Mix

Evaluate the technology stack you'll be using in the year ahead to achieve your goals. This may include marketing CRM, email marketing software, marketing automation tools, blogging platforms, advertising management software, social media management software and more. How well are your current tools serving you? Is it worth the time and effort it will take to switch your software? It might be, but it’s important to weigh those pros and cons.

Creating Your Cannabis Brand’s Annual Marketing Strategy

Once you’ve done all the hard leg work, it’s time to put pen to paper and craft your marketing plan. It can be helpful to start with an executive summary that offers a concise overview of the entire marketing plan for the year ahead, including key objectives, strategies and expected outcomes. From there, the 7 Ps offer a solid planning framework to build on.

  • Product: Define your offerings (products and / or services) and how they will effectively solve the challenges identified in your buyer persona profiles. What distinguishes these products from others in the market and gives them a competitive edge?

  • Price: Outline your pricing strategy for these products. Be sure your pricing is both competitive and aligned with your customers' budgetary considerations.

  • Promotion: Outline the methods and channels you’ll use for marketing and creating awareness of your products or services. Most of your marketing efforts—including advertising campaigns, social media marketing, content marketing, email marketing and public relations efforts—will fall into this bucket. Describe the value added by your content in promoting these products. Take a holistic approach and make sure you're accounting for every stage in the customer journey.

  • People: Identify the key individuals or teams within your marketing department who will play pivotal roles in executing your marketing strategy. Provide insights into the specific contributions each team or individual will make to ensure the success of your marketing strategy. Ask yourself, do you have everyone you need in-house to execute your plan, or will you need outside help? Assembling the right team to carry out your marketing initiatives is crucial.

  • Process: Explain how the delivery of these products to your customers will be managed. If it involves an ongoing service, elaborate on the support mechanisms in place to ensure customers' success with the product. Depending on your organizational structure, this may be an area where you'll need your operations team to weigh in.

  • Physical Evidence: Specify the touchpoints where customers will interact with your product, whether through physical displays or other means. If your product is intangible, clarify how customers can establish tangible evidence of their interactions with your business.

Remember that your annual marketing plan is not a set-and-forget type of thing. This should be a dynamic, living document that can be adjusted and tweaked as circumstances change throughout the year for your cannabis brand. Regularly reviewing and adapting the plan based on performance and market changes is crucial.

And if this all feels a bit overwhelming, or you’re not entirely sure how to carry out on an effective marketing plan, don’t worry—our cannabis marketing and PR experts at Grasslands are always here to help you create and execute on a marketing plan that positions your brand for success in the year ahead. Want to learn more about how Grasslands can supercharge your cannabis brand through innovative marketing and PR tactics? Reach out today and let’s talk!