You can have the best location, the coolest Budtenders, and Willie and Snoop as regular customers. But if you don’t have a dispensary marketing strategy in place to help regular Joes and Mary Janes find your business, it won’t grow like you want it to.
What does a strong marketing strategy for your dispensary look like? Here are four fundamentals that can build your business, and help you avoid costly mistakes down the line.
1. Build Your Identity
Cannabis dispensaries are not all created equal. They run the gamut from classic headshops to slick spaces where you might want to scoop up a new laptop along with that ounce of Yuzu Tangie. Your business probably falls somewhere in between. But do your customers know where you stand? Before you stock the shelves or design a logo, you need to envision a powerful cannabis brand that will stand out from the competition and appeal to your target audience. (More about that below.)
Take a look at your location, your specialties and the customers most likely to walk through the door. Those pillars form the foundation for the mission that drives your dispensary—from your first shop to your future locations.
2. Draw a bullseye around your target audience
Who do you most want to walk through your door? Curious first-time cannabis buyers who aren’t sure what strains they like? Seasoned connoisseurs who want to explore the nuances of cannabis concentrates? Maybe you want to create an inclusive space that feels especially welcoming to BIPOC or GBLTQIA+ shoppers. Or perhaps you’re opening in a market like Florida or Arizona where the demographics skew towards seniors who may need extra information, education and reassurance from their budtenders.
Build your brand with your key customers in mind. Everything from your location, to how you design the retail space, to the way you display inventory, to the brand voice and style will help you target key customers. Think laser beams, not searchlights. Establish clear priorities here, and you won’t have to refocus later.
3. Think local, even online
Brick and mortar businesses need hyperlocal outreach to their customers. If you’re not front and center on a Google Maps search for “dispensaries near me,” you’re not maximizing your target audience. Dial in your digital marketing to the customer next door. Tools like geotagging on social media, locally targeted ads, neighborhood discounts and a robust Google My Business profile will throw out the welcome mat to your core customers.
SEO keywords are another way to market locally, instead of out of town or out of state. You might think of SEO keywords as short, broad terms like “cannabis dispensary,” but those words are as likely to find someone in Thailand as they are in your neighborhood. So harness the power of “long-tail keywords.”
Long-tail keywords use more words to precisely target the answers a search engine delivers. For example, instead of trying to rank for a term like “cannabis dispensary” and competing with businesses all across the country, try a long-tail keyword phrase that speaks to your location, like “cannabis dispensaries in Boston” or “best cannabis dispensary in southern Illinois” or “closest dispensary to the Denver airport.” That will help you top search engine results (also known as SERPs) for the city or neighborhood where you do business, instead of competing in locations where you don’t have a presence. Selling local? SEO local.
4. Study up on rules and regs
You’ve got another local audience: The regulators who are trying to keep everything within your state’s legal guardrails. Make their jobs easier by ensuring that what you post on social media, the claims you make in blogs, and the words you use in web copy are kosher with local regs. That way you won’t get shadowbanned from a platform like Instagram or Facebook, find your Google ads restricted, or have your license revoked for overpromising on health or safety claims.
Find out who got in trouble and why. Chat up the regulators. Become their ally in enforcement by setting a sterling example. You’ll train The Law to look elsewhere—at your competition, perhaps.
Knowing chapter and verse of regulations is especially important for multi-state dispensary operators who have more than one set of rules to follow, and for dispensaries opening in newly legalized states where guidelines may change quickly over time. A new market is more like a jazz band than a symphony orchestra—they’re improvising as they go along. Listen to the music and keep in step.
If you decide to outsource your marketing, partner with an agency that speaks fluent cannabis. A local ad giant with a track record in fast food may know how to sell cheeseburgers, but if they don’t know cannabis compliance, your time and money might lead to a media blackout, or worse.
CONTENT STRATEGIST & COPYWRITER
Meghan O'Dea has honed her skills as a writer and content strategist for over a decade. She cut her teeth writing film and music reviews and a weekly opinion column on the 20-something experience. Early success in personal essay led Meghan to earn a Master's degree in Creative Nonfiction at UT Chattanooga, during which she attended the international MFA program at City University in Hong Kong as a visiting scholar. She has served as a digital editor for Fortune Magazine and Lonely Planet and earned bylines in The Washington Post, Playboy, Bitch magazine, Yoga Journal and Subaru Drive Magazine, amongst others. Meghan began writing cannabis stories for Willamette Week, Nylon and Different Leaf while working in the travel and outdoor media industries in Portland, Oregon. In addition to covering the intersection of travel, hospitality and cannabis, Meghan's work as a travel journalist took her from Los Cabos to Yellowstone, from San Francisco to Jamaica. She has also taught composition and travel writing at the college level and guest lectured on topics such as literary citizenship, urban history and professional development at conferences and universities throughout the United States as well as Madrid, Spain.