Cannabis is one smokin’ industry. CBD, hemp, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana are making headlines in all news sectors including politics, finance, health, wellness, cosmetics, and fashion.
While the cannabis industry is one of the hottest industries, marketing cannabis can be quite the buzzkill. This is especially true if you are trying to use Google Ads and social ads such as Facebook or Twitter.
Even the Super Bowl rejected a PSA-type ad promoting the legalization of medical marijuana, deeming it inappropriate and not up to the broadcaster’s standards.
Here’s what you missed.
On the contrary, SXSW 2019 had its first ever cannabis track featuring more than 40 sessions as part of its “cannabusiness track”.
The panels included sustainability, marketing, CBD, the impacts of THC on the aging brain, industry predictions, investment strategies, artist licensing opportunities, and political policy.
There were also podcast tapings and a meet-up for women in the cannabis business, which reportedly has the highest percentage of female executives compared to any other industry.
About the Cannabis Industry
The cannabis industry is one that has experienced its share of ups and downs.
In the U.S. alone, it’s faced an uphill battle with Congress from the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to the “War on Drugs.” But the industry’s history traces back even further.
Merchants and traders in China have been buying, selling, and using cannabis and its multifaceted use for centuries.
While we’ve seen significant triumphs as society and government have shifted toward a (more) supportive environment, there are still major obstacles that the cannabis industry faces to promote and market.
Let’s fast-forward to the digital age.
It’s 2019, and we’re no strangers to the disrupting industries that have catapulted us into a world of instant connection and satisfaction through clicks, playbacks, and tweets.
We’ve seen the benefits for brands that have successfully ridden the waves of the disruption.
Analysts are predicting a $150 billion global cannabis industry, some even saying $500 billion.
So why is this budding industry experiencing digital advertising obstacles where other digital retailers have easily been able to capitalize?
Well, there is still a lot of red tape involved in the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis.
As of 2018, 11 states and the District of Columbia have passed state laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. An additional 21 states have passed various laws allowing limited use of medical cannabis products.
This means that 19 states have still made little-to-no progress leaving online social and advertising platforms like Facebook and Instagram to limit the cannabis-related advertisements.
Finding Organic Reach for Cannabis
Just because there are limits doesn’t mean that the grass isn’t greener on the digital side for cannabis.
While cannabis-related brands may have a hard time passing through the pearly gates of paid advertising, they can still find success trying different marketing strategies using a mix of:
- Organic social media.
- Old school public relations.
- SEO efforts to get the most exposure.
Cannabis Getting Publicity
PR and media relations are a critical strategy for cannabis-related brands. For example, Forbes magazine has an entire cannabis team of reporters covering all aspects of the industry.
Another example is Jilea Hemmings, CEO and founder of Leaf Tyme, who writes for Medium’s Authority Magazine and did a series focused on green rush ancillaries.
She also started The Untold Truth, a weekly podcast sharing lessons on life, business, and health with a niche-focus on cannabis movers and shakers.
“The best tip for promotion is to follow cannabis industry social media pages and attend their monthly local meetings. This is a great way to find potential customers and build strategic marketing alliances,” said Hemmings who also competed in the 2019 SXSW Release it.
Marketing on Instagram
Instagram has opened up new doors for visual merchandising with its latest in-app shopping feature, practically transitioning into a digital mall.
The equivalent of a mannequin in the display window, the Instagram shopping feature on posts and stories have brought the storefront to your customer’s news feed.
The shopping channel in the platform’s Explore feature curates product posts based on the user’s preferences and interests.
All that is left is to promote a post to land directly in a potential customer’s news feed.
Spoiler alert: Most cannabis industry retailers don’t have the same options but can still build an audience organically on Instagram.
Here are some cannabis marketing tips for Instagram:
- Organic: While you can’t set up a paid advertisement if you are in the cannabis industry, you can still focus on organic reach. Focus on establishing a consistent posting schedule using a combination of trending, popular, and branded hashtags.
- Social Customer Service: Brand loyalty is solidified with a positive customer service experience. The same goes for social customer service.
- Have a response and interaction strategy: Have a response in place for different potential customer service situations.
- Influencers/Ambassadors: Work your network. Instagram is a public relations dream come true when it comes to the power it holds for word-of-mouth marketing and user-generated content.
- Find other users and influencers to align with your brand and have them tell their audience about you, for you, to you.
- UGC: Authentic user-generated content is another valuable option to expand your audience reach by generating mentions and branded hashtags. Try things like giveaways or prizes that encourage users to share your brand with their respective audience.
- Stories/Video/Live/IGTV: If content is king, then video is heir to the throne. Instagram gives you multiple options for incorporating video to your Instagram strategy. Make sure to explore different content options for each one.
- Cannabis shows: Big-name online publications such as Cannabiz by Cheddar are targeted shows to feature your brand or expertise in the industry.
Podcasts are another option.
Create your own or pitch to be a guest. If your cannabis brand is in the health and wellness spectrum look at podcasts such as Wellness Mama, The Skinny Confidential, and The Mission Daily. There are also cannabis-focused podcasts such as Potcast, Green Rush Ventures, and Cannabis Health Radio.
Can’t commit to a weekly podcast? Don’t feel bad, you are not alone.
In addition to gaining podcast publicity from being a guest on a show, there are abbreviated alternatives with lead generating strategies to convert listeners into customers.
“I like to recommend seasonal podcasts,” said Nicole Holland, podcast expert who helps her clients launch profitable podcasts in eight weeks or less.
Seasonal podcasts allow brands to focus on niches or special subjects in a series of podcasts versus a continuous weekly podcast.
In an industry that is much like the wild west, cannabis brands can use podcasts as a means to educate their audience with expert sources as guests.
Social PR Secret: Offer different options for different levels of influencers and brand ambassadors. Smaller Instagram influencers may agree to branded posts in exchange for products or promotions, while larger, more recognizable influencers may require a monetary fee.
Marketing on Facebook
Facebook allows brands to create a shopping experience for their users within their profile.
Business pages are given the option of a shopping template that will enable you to link your ecommerce site to Facebook, allowing users to shop under the shopping tab and within each post.
You can create collections of products based on style or price-point, and even run ads on individual posts and videos.
Cannabis industry products have a hard time on Facebook. Seriously.
If you search the terms “cannabis” or “marijuana,” you won’t find any photos in the results. They have a strict policy on the promotion or the sale or use of drugs or drug-related products.
Below are ways to market cannabis on Facebook:
- Organic: Business pages related to the cannabis industry don’t have the options for paid advertisements like other businesses. That said, organic reach is possible.
- Chatbot/Messenger: Using a chatbot or having a messenger response strategy in place will ensure that the users have a positive customer service experience. High response time is a driving factor in consumer purchase decisions.
- Keep your audience updated with exclusive deals and offers using Facebook Messenger. Check out platforms such as Mobile Monkey to get started for free.
- Video/Live/Stories: Facebook has not ignored the power of video content. It allows you to use the platform to incorporate different styles/lengths of video content.
- Host a weekly Facebook Live Q+A or themed show: This is an effective way to generate free publicity and clear up some of the confusion related to the cannabis industry and your brand. It’s also a strategic way to get the attention of traditional media looking for cannabis expert point of views.
Social PR Secret: Create a Call to Action (CTA) on your cannabis Facebook page that prompts the user to provide their contact information and email address. Then, create an email marketing campaign to follow up and offer product information.
Marketing on Twitter
The biggest perks Twitter offers for commerce-driven brands is the use of promoted and retarget posts and its UX built to track trending events and topics.
Try the following cannabis marketing tips for Twitter:
- Organic: Once again, with strict guidelines to paid promotions, brands are learning and reaping the third-party credibility benefits of organic promotion and outreach.
- Hashtags: Known for making and breaking trending hashtags, Twitter is a media-friendly place to break into audience conversations with the use of hashtags.
- Media Relations: Twitter has become a source of news for users, but has also become a source of information for the media.
Social PR Secret: Create a Twitter list to include journalists who specifically cover the Cannabis industry.
Marketing on Pinterest
As a platform that functions as a social network, shopping network, and search engine all at once, it’s no wonder the platform has been attracting businesses and brands looking to increase sales and build brand awareness.
The platform is Shopify-friendly and allows promoted pins with a few exceptions.
Here are some tips to market cannabis on Pinterest.
- Paid Promotion: Pinterest is a little more strict in terms of promotions of cannabis industry products, but does not allow the promotion of any products that contain THC – not even a trace.
- Go Organic: The safest bet is to focus on organic growth with consistent posts and user-generated content.
- Visuals: Invest in Pinnable visuals to gain referring traffic.
Marketing on LinkedIn
- Paid Promotion: LinkedIn has the same ad restrictions as the rest.
- Go Organic: A company LinkedIn Page can serve as a platform to curate and report on company news and industry news. A LinkedIn profile can be even more valuable with the PR power to syndicate long-form content and articles to your connections.
- Visuals: Be sure to use video and strong visuals, thumb-stoppers that will grab the attention of your audience looking to indulge in Cannabis flavored information.
Marketing on Cannabis Websites/Blogs
- Paid Promotion: Google Ads most likely not available unless you can crack the code and risk the penalties.
- Optimize: Make sure your website is optimized like a pro. Do not skimp on this part in order to show up in the SERPs. People are searching for cannabis more than ever.
- Visuals: Embed videos and optimize images.
The digital advertising restrictions for the cannabis industry are just a bump in the road and by no means hinder the possibilities of a successful social PR strategy.
We are in an era where consumer trust is at an all-time low. Customers are turning to friends, reviews, and third-party credibility to learn about brands.
Now is the time for PR to capitalize and make the perfect pitch for cannabis brand success. There’s no better time to invest in media outreach.
You know the obstacles and how to navigate them. Put your organic strategy into action!
Screenshot taken by author, March 2019