The legal cannabis industry may still be relatively new, but it’s already highly competitive. An influx of C-suite executives are bringing innovative business models from more traditional fields into this space. Cannabis brands are jockeying for a leading position not only in states that have ended prohibition, but with an eye on the national cannabis market. Dispensary shelves are overflowing with new products featuring a wider range of branding than ever before.
So how do you reach prospective customers in a field that’s full of cannabis advertising regulations and is constantly changing, that's flush with “look at me” messaging? The best way to cut through the noise and stand out from the crowd is a smart cannabis marketing strategy that blends proven techniques with deep knowledge of how the industry operates.
How Does Cannabis Marketing Help My Brand?
Whether your brand is focused on cannabis B2B or B2C efforts (perhaps a mix of the two), you need a plan for how to reach your target audiences on key platforms. Having strong knowledge of how different media outlets cover the cannabis industry, and what kinds of stories they look for, can mean the difference between making headlines and languishing at the bottom of search engine rankings.
We call Grasslands a journalism-minded agency because our team collectively has spent decades working within the media industry as writers and reporters as well as marketers and publicists. We truly understand what it’s like on both sides of the news desk, and how to tell powerful, appealing stories that grab the attention of audiences interested in all things cannabis. And we have a few tips to jumpstart your cannabis brand marketing strategy.
1) Establish Credibility for Your Cannabusiness
At Grasslands, everything we do helps our clients build brand equity and customer trust. Trust is important in any industry, but especially in one where federal prohibition limited scientific research and prohibitionist propaganda influenced the public for decades.
Cannabusinesses are battling stigma and working diligently to educate potential customers about the benefit of their products, whether they’re designed for medical or recreational use. That means earning—and keeping—the customer’s trust is paramount for cannabis brands.
Did you know that, according to a 2016 Nielsen study, 82% of consumers seek recommendations from people they know before making purchases? When you build a reputation as a trustworthy brand that is consistent in its products and messaging, something amazing happens: Your customers start to talk about your business.
When enough of them start talking about how your product benefited them, word of mouth becomes one of the most important tools in your marketing strategy. You’ve probably taken part in these kinds of conversations yourself when friends or family start asking questions like “What’s your favorite edible?” or "what's cannabis marketing like in Michigan?"
2) Develop a Strong Cannabis Brand
You’ve heard this simple statement before: “Know thyself.” But Socrates was onto something when he advocated for self-knowledge before all else.
Like any company, cannabusinesses need to develop strong brand values. If you don’t know what your business stands for, it will be that much harder to build trust with your customers.
Think about it—how will you know what to communicate about your products and services if you don’t know your own brand intimately and in detail? It’s best to know who you are and what you stand for so you can shout it loud and proud, instead of letting competitors define you or call dibs on industry tablestakes.
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3) Educate Your Audience With Earned Media
What is earned media? In short, it’s making sure your brand is included in quality news coverage and is considered one of the most reputable and trustworthy sources from which a customer might learn about cannabis.
That might mean providing commentary to journalists looking for industry experts who can speak to particular trends or offer insight into timely news topics. It can look like a reporter profiling your company’s CEO for a feature-length article, or independently selecting a new item from your product line for a holiday gift guide.
If this sounds like it overlaps with public relations, you’re right. The difference between PR and marketing comes down to the audience: PR is primarily media-facing, while marketing is about engaging customers and compelling them to seek out your product or service.
Finding ways to connect with a time-strapped, “seen it all before” reporter or editor requires more finesse in the messaging. That’s where it really helps to have an agency partner that’s fluent in cannabis, who can craft a compelling narrative about your brand and always has one eye and ear open for opportunities to "newsjack" trending stories and leverage them to boost public awareness of your brand.
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4) Make the Most of Owned Media
Unlike earned media, owned media is where you fully control the narrative. Owned media is made up of platforms where your company can say what you want, when you want. There are multiple avenues:
- Your brand’s website, including primary pages and a regularly updated blog
- Your branded social media accounts (there are some caveats for cannabis messaging)
- News releases sent to media outlets
- Newsletters or e-blasts that flow directly into your customers’ inboxes as part of a marketing automation strategy
While many companies put all their focus on their homepage, that’s just one small segment of your owned media kingdom. An informative blog—one that’s carefully built for search engine optimization (SEO)—draws a lot more web traffic than any single home page or landing page can on its own.
A smartly written, well-curated blog is instrumental to a strong content marketing strategy. Not only can individual blog posts help your cannabis SEO strategy by ranking for secondary and long-tail keywords you might not be able to target with just your homepage, they also give you fuel for social media posts.
Broadcasting your fresh blog content on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, using cannabis hashtags and other optimiztion tools, as well as your company newsletter, will keep your brand in followers’ feeds and give your target audience a way to share information about your products and your latest company updates.
5) Boost Your Content Strategy With Paid Media
Paid media is the third element of a strong digital marketing strategy. Sponsored content, affiliate marketing, pay-per-click campaigns, influencer placements and event marketing are just a few ways you can promote your cannabusiness through paid channels.
Paid media shouldn’t be the foundation of your digital marketing strategy—that would get expensive quickly. But strategic campaigns can help your earned and owned media go even further in raising brand awareness, as well as getting you out in front of other brands during competitive seasons like the 4/20 holiday or crowded local and regional markets.