A great marketer should be comfortable working with diverse clients in a variety of new and exciting industries. For startup-savvy marketing pros, there is likely no market as captivating or challenging as the cannabis industry.

In the few short years since states (such as Colorado) have legalized adult-use cannabis, mainstream perception of the market has changed dramatically. Cannabis has grown from a fringe industry to a multibillion-dollar business that attracts the likes of high-powered CEOs and Wall Street investors. Experts predict that legal cannabis sales will be upward of $57 billion annually by 2030.

The most important thing to remember about marketing in the industry is that cannabis is federally illegal (for now). Due to disjointed state-by-state regulations, a lack of banking and financing, and ad restrictions, it’s tough to launch a new cannabis brand. Marketing your brand from launch to loyalty is an even steeper challenge.

Marketing Cannabis Products

Whether you’re a dispensary manager or marketing professional, compliance is always front and center in the cannabis industry. Each U.S. state has unique regulations concerning how you can brand, package, market, and sell cannabis products — a true challenge for any marketer.

Learning compliance restrictions in your state is essential when developing your traditional marketing strategy. For example, you must be sure that your packaging doesn’t include cartoon images or anything that might appeal to children. Similarly, many U.S. states don’t allow cannabis companies to advertise on billboards in public spaces. Marketers in the cannabis industry must be creative and adaptable to gain traction in traditional marketing venues.

Digital marketers also face challenges in the cannabis industry. Because cannabis isn’t federally legal in the United States yet, most paid advertising avenues are closed to cannabis, including Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And although cannabis brands can create company pages on channels such as Facebook and Instagram, they cannot utilize paid ads on these platforms. Though you might not be able to rely on many common marketing standards, ambitious content marketers can still attract a huge organic following with top-notch content.

Branding In a Cannabis Business

It’s incredible to see just how quickly branding has become vital in the cannabis industry. In the early days of the market, products were only differentiated by strain names such as “Blue Dream” or “Purple Haze.” Today, nearly 30% of cannabis users say that branding and packaging are extremely important when selecting cannabis products.

A big reason cannabis is growing so popular in the U.S. is due to increased goods manufacturing practices (known as GMP) and sophisticated branding. In fact, recent data shows that 52 million adults in the U.S. will consume cannabis at least once in 2022.

With countless edible, vape, topical, and wax products sold at dispensaries today, more curious shoppers are walking to retail cannabis shops. In turn, sophisticated brands appeal to people through aesthetics that make the cannabis shopping experience feel familiar and exciting.

Brand Strategy in a Cannabis Business

The first step in a successful brand strategy is understanding your consumer. Start by developing customer personas so that your marketing team has a clear vision of what motivates your target customers.

In cannabis, an important thing to consider is whether you are marketing to medical or recreational customers. Consider the age of your target audience and their experience with cannabis. For example, a 60-year-old customer who uses cannabis for pain management will be attracted to different products and marketing than a recreational customer in their 20s.

In the next phase of brand strategy, you should develop a brand story that encompasses your strategic vision as a company and your brand values. Tell your customers what parts of the industry you’re passionate about, and let them get to know your brand.

Your brand story should include essential components such as:

  • Your mission statement
  • Your brand’s tagline
  • Copy that matches your brand’s desired tone of voice
  • Any logos or brand positioning
  • A competitor analysis

With your unique messaging in place, you can create marketing avenues that entice people to learn more and start building a relationship with your brand. Using traditional and digital marketing tools, potential avenues could include brand swag at your local dispensary and an engaging web presence.

Wondering how to get started?

The Cannabis Buyer’s Journey

With your brand strategy and marketing compliance protocols in place, you can begin engaging customers with your cannabis marketing funnel.

1. Awareness

As seen with any business, building brand awareness is critical in the cannabis space. Importantly, understanding your consumers and where they go for information is key to developing brand awareness for cannabis products.

Especially in a niche industry such as cannabis, working with a skilled PR agency can help get your brand in front of influential publications such as MJBizDailymg Magazine, and Cannabis Culture. Developing a solid organic following on social media avenues is also essential, especially if PR isn’t in the budget yet. The more consumers know your brand, the more familiar they’ll become and the more they’ll trust and buy.

2. Consideration

So, consumers have seen you on social media, and their friends have told them good things — they’re now aware of your cannabis brand but unsure if it’s the best fit for them. At this point in the journey, it’s critical to ensure your brand is highly visible and accessible online.

Consumers today often go to the internet first when deciding if a product is right for them, so your web presence should help them learn more about what you offer and where they can find you. During the consideration phase, tools such as data analytics and solid search engine optimization (or SEO) practices can go a long way in helping you better understand consumer behavior, target niche audiences, and be easily findable.

3. Conversion

For cannabis brands, the conversion phase occurs when someone purchases one of your products at a dispensary. Because there’s a lot of competition at dispensaries, you should ensure that your brand has a notable and unique presence within the retail setting. One option is to put together attractive displays for dispensary partners that make your products stand out.

Another great idea is to develop relationships with budtenders so that they recommend your brand to customers. To this end, brand education and marketing materials can go a long way to ensure budtenders make solid referrals. A good recommendation goes far in cannabis.

4. Loyalty and Advocacy

As with any other business, the goal of a cannabis brand is not just to sell a single item to each customer. Instead, you want to create repeat customers who advocate for your brand to others. Luckily, there are tons of fun ways you can implement customer loyalty programs in cannabis.

Some cannabis brands start ambassador programs where their most influential customers advocate on behalf of the company in return for special offers or brand partnerships. In other instances, loyalty programs offer discounts via special email blasts or gift-with-purchase programs. You can also utilize email marketing to keep people connected to your brand at all times.

Although cannabis marketing isn’t easy, it’s impossible to deny the opportunities in this budding industry. By doing your homework on branding and marketing, you can launch a profitable and sustainable cannabis company. As you learn more about the cannabis space and try new things, you could help develop new marketing best practices in the industry that could impact the space for years.

From state restrictions to brand strategy to digital marketing campaigns, cannabis marketers must account for a constantly evolving industry every step of the way. But with challenges come opportunities, and nowhere is this statement truer than with cannabis today.

Kim Lawton

Kim Lawton is the founder and CEO of Enthuse Marketing Group, a woman-owned small business based in New York City. Kim has 25 years of proven experiential operations and marketing experience spanning branded consumer products, and she has cross-functional expertise in both creative development and marketing campaign activation, measurement, and management.

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