Cannabis Marketing: Why Organic Is Best As Usual
Right off the bat, there are several roadblocks on the way to effective cannabis marketing. Don’t let these obstacles make you feel as though you are on a path of dead ends! I actually love this type of market, because it forces you to research and use creative thinking to work around these new developments. Luckily for you, this guide will help kick-start your journey to dispensary marketing and advertising, and do the same for your online business!
What you can’t do/restrictions
Now, I normally balk at being told what I can or cannot do, but in the case of cannabis marketing, it’s important to acknowledge and recognize these restrictions so we can preemptively avoid sinking energy into them.
You can’t use Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/LinkedIn/Pinterest advertising to directly sell cannabis products.
You can’t use Google advertising to sell cannabis products.
You can’t buy bus, train, or other public advertising. (this is according to https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SF-Muni-bans-marijuana-ads-on-buses-trains-12376020.php but I feel that may change eventually)
Summed up, these rules make it nearly impossible to advertise directly to the general public
I don’t know about you, but I hate seeing “can’t” that many times. Screw the rulemakers, I should be able to reach my market to tell them what I want them to know! So, why all these hoop-jumping arbitrary restrictions? Because cannabis is still not legal on a federal level. Yes, it’s ridiculous to me, too. Tobacco and alcohol have exponentially more advertising freedom, and the cannabis industry is stuck fighting just to post a picture on Instagram that won’t get torn down because you accidentally mentioned the wrong thing, or could be misinterpreted as appealing to minors.
On the local level of dispensary advertising and marketing
The restrictions on dispensary advertising are heavy. You basically can’t advertise outside of cannabis industry news sources or private banner companies. This cuts out any ads on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other popular public platform. I am just rehashing the above list, but it’s something I think is important to drill into your head.
As a dispensary, you have a brick and mortar building, which is going to be helpful in the long game. You are not going to be able to show off your cannabis in a window display, but your physical presence will be a boon in the tried and true method of peer marketing. Let’s dive into this niche.
Why dispensary marketing is easier than you think and what to do
The good news is, cannabis users are going to be actively looking for your business. If I am in Colorado or California, I am going to want to find the best dispensaries. Since you can’t outright advertise on a public platform, we are going organic.
This is where local search engine optimization becomes integral to your business. Local SEO is going to be a huge way for dispensaries to get found by potential customers. As of right now, January 2019, there are about 44,000 searches a month for “dispensary near me” in New Jersey alone. On average, Google is saying it gets 100,000 to 1,000,000 searches a month for this term. There are going to be plenty of variations of this keyword going forward. For example:
Pay special attention to that last one. See “michigan”? Prospective customers are going to be switching “michigan” for different states, cities, towns, and counties. The order of words in term will change slightly, such as “dispensaries near denver” or “NJ dispensaries.” All of these options will have different search volumes, so you can capture these markets.
My enthusiasm in local SEO for dispensaries may be biased because I have specialized in local SEO for so long, but that’s because it is a great starting point for organic marketing. Its foundation is built upon solid business practices you should already be doing, like making sure your name, address, and phone number are all correct and added to proper business directories. With these efforts, you get a two birds, one stone situation! You add yourself to niche directories like Weed Maps and Leafly for that initial target market, and in doing so, get even more back-links that can results in Google Map listings.
When being local, think local. Try writing an article for your local newspaper, nextdoor.com, or Facebook groups addressing what they should know about cannabis. This is organic exposure, and some will give you more backlinks to your website. Links from trusted local news sources add greater authority to your site. Try to stay active and answer any questions people in the community may have about the cannabis industry to sow trust at the ground level.
Maintain a blog! I don’t care if you only produce one article a month, it will keep your site fresh. Make it all about your deals for the month or a FAQ for new customers. Write whatever you want, and try to tie it to your local area. If it is Pride weekend, offer an upsell (I like these better than discounts) of a two for one “bud for your buds no matter who you love”. Okay, maybe that’s not your final copy tagline, but get creative! You NEED to think outside the box to draw in new eyes.
Local SEO is of benefit for any new business, but it is going to be a truly essential asset to dispensaries.
If you have found this article interesting so far, I highly suggest we talk. I would LOVE to work on your dispensary’s search engine optimization, because I believe in the product and what it does for many of its users.
Okay, enough laying down the initial groundwork. Let’s get even more creative with the hottest marketing outlet: social media.
You are screwed! Just kidding, but restrictions are pretty tight on what you can post and advertise.
Let’s go over the current (January 2019) guides:
Let’s put this bluntly (no pun intended, but also...hey!): Facebook’s advertising policies strictly prohibit the promotion of illegal or recreational drugs. You simply cannot promote cannabis on these platforms, even if you are pushing ads for health and education reasons. Sorry, it is that tight.
You can definitely write about the industry, which means you could, for example, repurpose blog posts as Facebook updates. I highly suggest doing so, because users are allowed to seek out this information and Facebook will deliver your content. As a friendly but constant reminder, this content MUST be educational and informative.
There isn’t very clear information on the alternative promotion of CBD. This is a tricky industry, because some products contain THC and some don’t. I won’t get too deep into that because the information is sparse.
I can leave you with this mild respite from Facebook’s restrictions, though:
“Drug and drug related products are prohibited from being advertised on Facebook, as detailed in our ad policies: Advertising Policies
As the ad in question is referencing medical assistance, it has been approved. Should you want to create an ad referencing the use of CBD oil, it will be reviewed by our policy team and you will be advised of the approval or disapproval decision at that time.”
Just like Facebook, it’s a no go on the ads for cannabis according to Twitter’s advertising policies. You are not allowed to promote recreational or herbal drugs, accessories related to them, dispensaries, or depictions of hard drug use (we all know why that last term gets under our skin.)
However, Twitter is a crazy platform. You will see tweets and media posted that you will not see on many other platforms. Use this opportunity to get creative with the imagery in your feed. Despite official policies suggesting otherwise, here you will find all of the cannabis enthusiasts who are open about their use and posting pics and videos to prove it.
Like the others, YouTube’s Community Guidelines say no to ads for cannabis. YouTube is a very interesting platform, because it does allow for content that is educational, documentary, or artistic as long as it is not harmful or dangerous.
Despite its official stance, I know I have seen videos of people straight up smoking weed, so I did a search. “First time smoking weed” videos are pretty popular (and funny). So, this seems to be a loose guideline.
Update: this beautiful video was posted on YouTube shortly after I wrote this article. It is not on the topic of marketing, but it is important to see how companies like MedMen are using social media.
Again, Pinterest’s advertising policies prohibit the promotion, sale, or use of illegal or recreational drugs. However, this platform does allow ads for products like hemp and CBD as long as they don’t contain THC.
This is an ideal place for organic cannabis marketing because you can post artistic and educational content.
You are correct, Snapchat would seem like the most likely place to be able to place ads! Even though they aren’t as clear on their guidelines as some other popular social media sites, Snapchat’s advertising policies still state you can’t have ads about illegal or recreational drugs or paraphernalia.
However, just like Twitter above, let your content free! As long as you aren’t actually promoting illegal activity, cannabis usage and posts about it are allowed and popular.
Following suit, Reddit’s Advertising Policy says it’s a no-no to promote sale or use of recreational drugs. However, as it is still the wild west of social media, you can pretty much post whatever you want about cannabis. The Reddit’s Content Policy doesn’t want content that promotes illegal activities but is not entirely clear on if cannabis falls under this umbrella.
However, when you search for something like “bong companies” you get ads like the one below. It seems to work much like vape devices, where you can only advertise when someone DIRECTLY types in your product. As brands you have in store become more popular, you may be able to advertise for them.
Creative Cannabis Marketing
After reviewing the above policies, it is clear to me that organic marketing is the way to go for the cannabis industry. There are several tried and true tactics to achieve this for your own business.
Create content that evokes emotion (inspiration, love, fear, anticipation), and that will drive action. This is essential to consider when framing your blogs, social media posts, posts in media outlets, and pretty much any image or written word that you put out there.
Engage with your target market! Grunt work is the real game here. Be out there. Users tend to forget the “social” part of social media, and instead just use it to blast their content. Imagine walking into a room and just blurting things out, without taking the time to actually talk to others. It doesn’t make sense as a long term strategy.
Team up. Find other similar companies to work with. Yoga studios, massage therapists, breweries, restaurants and bars, any type of local businesses will have followings. Find a way to mutually engage each other’s markets. Actually, you can create a whole list of influencers! Check out my article on building an influencer list here.
Do some goodwill! Host charity events to get coverage, create Snapchat/Instagram/Facebook filters, hold Meetups. Do anything that you can to engage and benefit the community. Building goodwill helps nail your target market.
When it comes to outdoor advertising, we are walking a fine line. Local regulations will determine if you can take out a billboard, so make sure to check in your particular state. According to BillboardsIn, one out of every 50 requests they receive is from a cannabis-related business.
Marijuanaventure.com has summed up the guidelines for billboards nicely:
There are three essential rules you should keep in mind when designing your ‘board if you want your ad to be effective.
KEEP IT SHORT: The average read time for a billboard is 2-5 seconds. Keep your message short. Eight words max.
SELL YOUR BRAND: What’s your differentiator? Speed? Price? Selection? Let the people know what sets you apart from everyone else. That should be the crux of your ad’s design and message.
INCLUDE A CALL TO ACTION: What do you want your customers to do after seeing the ad? If it’s to visit your website, you better include the URL on the billboard. If it’s to visit your shop, you better display your address. Make it easy for them to be able to do the thing you want them to do after seeing your ad.
Of course, you can always go to other extremes. Instagram star Dan Bilzerian used over sexualized billboards to promote his company Ignite.
However, expect blow-back. Women in the industry HATED it, and parents in the surrounding towns pushed for the removal of the billboards.
My suggestion: make your message empowering, empathetic, and direct. Women in lingerie will get attention, but that isn’t what you are selling. If you really want a pretty women in your ads, try using cannabis as the focus of someone with social anxiety approaching her.
FAQs (TL,DR: what’s going on?)
Q: Why did your cannabis social media account get shut down?
A: You are not following the posting policy for that platform. Additionally, you probably already broke those rules a few times.
Q: What would your marketing strategy be in a marijuana business?
A: I would focus on organic marketing, as fully explained in this article. I would mix in paid marketing on cannabis niche specific outlets like Leafly.
Q: Why is marijuana being promoted so much on social media?
A: Social media gives everyone a voice. What you are seeing is people being unapologetically themselves. It isn’t being promoted, so much as it is a popular topic. Based on the algorithm of most social media outlets, it seems like you are interested in the subject.
Q: How to promote a medical marijuana dispensary?
A: Local search engine optimization really is the key here. People are looking for your services, so being there when they are looking is your goal. Your target market is already specifically searching for you!
Q: How to advertise a marijuana business online?
A: Sites in your industry will have this option. Search for sites that offer products or services in your niche, but that aren’t direct competition.
Q: How and where do I advertise my CBD/hemp oil-related products?
A: CBD has a little more lenient rules. Use the command or ctrl + f then search “cbd” in this article for some information. Or, contact me to do some research strictly for you.
Q: What is the best way to advertise CBD products?
A: See the answer above. There is enough in this article to give you a kickstart. However, I will gladly find more information for you if you contact me.
Q: What's the best way to market a cannabis mobile app?
A: Find blogs, influencers (learn how to find them here), or a similar outlet you can team with. You won’t be able to use advertising, so public relations skills are ideal here.
Q: How to profit off of Canada's upcoming marijuana legalization?
A: Start your dispensary SEO as soon as possible. Get in front of the curve and build your authority. If you can solidify yourself in the market early and properly, you have a better chance at succeeding.
Q: How can SEO benefit medical marijuana dispensaries?
A: Terms like “medical dispensary near me” get several searches a month. This means your prospects are either new and want to know their options or don’t like their current dispensary and searching for other sources. Local SEO also includes reputation management. As you get positive reviews on Google, you will be more attractive to your target market.