Zhuzh Up a Stale Cannabis Marketing Strategy


Zhuzh Up a Stale Cannabis Marketing Strategy

February 5, 2021 | Education

We’re all painfully aware that marketing in the cannabis space is a minefield. Add the restrictions of a pandemic on top and general confusion around the product, and it’s easy to hit a wall and struggle to connect with your audience.

As Eleven’s Ryan Ku, wrote in his Muse article:

“…It’s a truly unique, highly individualized and multi-faceted concept whose product experience complexity is dwarfed only by the regulatory and format maze that awaits consumers.”

Fortunately, there are more than enough reasons to feel hopeful. Top Senate Democrats are committing to federal legalization (read what to do when that happens), and the vaccine means that we’re allowed to anticipate a slightly more carefree late summer and autumn. 

Restrictions aside, there is a huge, wide-ranging customer base for cannabis as there is for any other consumable product.

If your marketing strategy feels a bit stale, we explore some traditional branding and content tips to help you shake things up for now, and position yourself for less turbulent times ahead.


Do everything you can to find your niche

It’s good practice in any industry to solidly carve out a niche audience and tightly design a brand experience to their needs, wants and desires, but in an industry built up of small brands as yet undominated by big players, it’s vital.

Ku goes on to say:

“Though it may seem paradoxical, the brands that assemble themselves around a specific consumer mindset or cultural context, niche as they may seem, will break through. Consider this a beacon strategy in which a brand calls out to specific consumers in a noisy, hard-to-decipher marketplace. Once that first wave of loyalists are delighted and ready to evangelize, top-line growth will be much easier to unlock for these brands.”

Support your customers to be brand advocates

One of the biggest barriers to purchase for consumers is lack of education about cannabis. If you have a product that your customer is selling to the consumer, are there ways you could do more to support them to help people understand your brand? You know they can’t make bold medical claims on your behalf, so what can they say? Max Lenderman suggests in, “Cannabis Branding Is a Disaster. Here’s Why

“For wine, we can talk about a claret color, a floral nose, a crisp or mellow palette with notes of fruit, wood and [insert flavor]. What about for cannabis? You can smell it….well, it is piney and skunky….and look at it intently to see the crystals and the hairs. But then what? No one consumes cannabis for how it looks or tastes. People use cannabis to get high. And that high is entirely subjective and, hence, is more experiential than sensorial.”

Instead of simply describing the smell, and whether it’s indica or sativa-dominant, offer them coaching materials on the type of person and situation your brand would suit. Is it for a 30s music lover to listen to vinyl with, a 40s foodie to pair with a long Sunday afternoon dinner, or a 20s yogi trying to find some calm?

Don’t ignore activism and policy issues on cannabis

Consumers across the age spectrum are increasingly asking brands to have a position on topics that are important to them. Cannabis has a painful legacy. Scientists risked their careers to research the plant, and, most egregiously, communities of color are still outsizedly hurt by the imprisonment of people for non-violent cannabis-related crimes. Most cannabis brands do cursory social media posts about policy and activism in the community, but few have the time or resources to really be a voice. What’s most important to your brand? Is it criminal justice reform, is it research funding, is it agriculture practices or environmental racism? Commit to a cause you can believe in and find that you will be rewarded for your authenticity.

Content and Channels

Instead of…building a huge cell-number list and sending mass messages

Text messaging is common in the space because telecommunication networks are slower than social media companies to ban accounts that discuss cannabis (though it definitely does happen). Many people–mostly who work in dispensaries–have figured out that if you send daily deals or a new strain as photo media, the text can’t be detected. But the problem is that text messaging can feel like quite an intrusive channel for your customer, and if you don’t add value in exchange this interruption, you’re likely to get a large number opt-outs, which can blacklist you with your provider anyway.

Try…tailored messaging 

Use a basic CRM system like Hubspot, Monday.com, or Zoho to split your customers into different segments. These segments could have titles like, ‘new customers’, ‘medical license expiring soon’, ‘customers who only buy flower’, ‘customers who have never purchased’, then craft a message that will be genuinely helpful to them. Customers who have never purchased might need support and education, whereas customers who only buy flower will likely only be interested in strains.

Instead of…staying in your space

It makes sense to work on content and experiences with brands in our category, like a chain of retail stores co-marketing a product launch with a vendor, working together at a trade show, or hosting a demo day. But the restrictions that plague your brand are impeding theirs, too, and just because you’re both in the same sector, does not mean your target audiences are the same.

Try…out-of-category brand partnerships/collaborations.

Working with out-of-category brands, like wellness, fashion, or even food means that you can be hyper-specific with the type of person you target, and also leverage an audience that has been built largely unencumbered by marketing regulation. Gossamer, the stylish lifestyle brand for people who ‘also’ smoke weed teamed up with fashion brand Offhours to product a comfy ‘homecoat’. The garment received PR coverage in outlets like Nylon and Refinery 29, and a lot of organic social media attention.

Instead of…purchasing a ton of digital ads

Because we’re shut out of major digital advertising platforms, many of us turn to 420-friendly publications like MJD, High Times, Leafly, and KushClicks as a space for our ads. This will certainly capture the cannabis inducted, but might not capture the canna-curious, who are less likely to be regularly visiting those sites. And the competition for that small number of spaces is high, so negotiating terms can shut out smaller brands.

Try…putting some money into SEO 

SEO is a really effective tool for cannabis companies because it’s scalable and allows companies to exploit the small points of differentiation between themselves and other brands. There are routes for SEO in this sector. One is that you put some resources into an agency or freelancer to support you with link building, keyword research, leveraging content gaps, and Google My Business optimization. The other is that you try to set up traditional Google Ads. Technically, you aren’t supposed to be able to get words like cannabis, weed, or marijuana through the platform, but plenty of dispensaries and DTC brands are finding success.

Contact us today for support finding and reaching your audience with the right message at the right time.


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