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Cannabis Marketing 101: How to Conquer Regulatory Obstacles

Yes, the times they are a-changin’, but cannabis marketing is still an uphill battle with all the regulations and obstacles a “black market” industry faces.

Cannabis companies are not allowed to advertise online like most businesses today. This means no Facebook advertising and no AdWords. In fact, paid digital advertising is generally a “no-go” across the board for cannabis marketing. At least, in the traditional sense.

So, what are the current regulatory barriers for cannabis marketing? Which marketing channels should you invest in to overcome these challenges? And how can you finesse your content and technical strategies to not just ride under the legal radar but also flourish in the marketplace today?

Let’s dig into today’s cannabis marketing challenges and the ‘secret sauce’ to successfully reaching your audiences.

What are the challenges of cannabis marketing?

Legal obstacles.

While the legality of hemp CBD products was clarified with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, many cannabis products are still illegal on the federal level. And as a result, a host of compliance regulations exist for any cannabis-related company today—from local dispensaries and recommending physicians to manufacturers, distributors, and cannabis marketing agencies.

Unfair playing field.

With demand for cannabis higher than ever, new competition is spreading like wildfire every day. Some companies may adhere to cannabis marketing rules and regulations. Others may choose the risk of violating different standards and ignoring warning letters from regulatory bodies, presenting even more challenges to anyone looking to make money in the legal cannabis industry.

Myths and misconceptions.

To make matters worse, misassumptions about cannabis are widespread, primarily because of lingering stigmas attached to the well-known THC cannabinoid that causes a high or ‘stoned’ feeling. But there are more than 100 cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis family of plants, including the highly-sought after non-intoxicating cannabinoid CBD. While they’re both popular and widely used cannabinoids, CBD is very different from THC. What’s more? There are tons of different breeding practices and cannabis-derived products on the market today. And with all of this complexity, rumors and myths about cannabis run rampant.

How can you overcome cannabis marketing challenges?

Instead of sales and/or profitability goals, when marketing your cannabis company or brand it’s best to focus on cannabis education and brand loyalty.

And since traditional paid advertising isn’t permitted for cannabis marketing, it’s essential to invest in new channels and get creative with old ones.

Here are the three overarching themes we’ll dive into to help you overcome today’s cannabis marketing challenges. We’ll cover how to:

  1. Leverage unpaid marketing channels and finesse old approaches.
  2. Understand, segment, and educate your audience.
  3. Build brand awareness and loyalty.

Let’s take a look at some promising cannabis marketing channels to differentiate yourself from the competition, get more eyeballs on your brand, and turn traffic into loyal fans and followers.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Organic social media campaigns
  • Email marketing

Marketing Cannabis Products & Services with SEO

The SEO playground is relatively new for the emerging cannabis industry. And it’s a great way to bypass cannabis marketing restrictions and rank high on search engine result pages (SERPs)…for free.

Because the legal cannabis industry is so new, cannabis terminology is evolving. By analyzing trending keywords and cannabis market research, you can pinpoint how to market your cannabis products and services to gain online exposure—without paying for online advertising.

Beyond producing great content, you should employ an internal linking strategy; meta tags (e.g. SEO title and meta description tags) for search listing pages; short, keyword-rich URLs; a responsive, mobile-friendly website; and fast page load speed are all essential SEO features. Submitting an XML sitemap to Google Search Console and other search engines is also helpful to ensure your website can be crawled and indexed by search engines.

And if you’re a local dispensary or cannabis physician, be sure to optimize for local searches. For example, creating a Google My Business account, using structured data, and referencing local landmarks and directional information can quickly get you on page one of SERPs.

Organic Social Media Cannabis Marketing

While you can’t technically use paid recreational and medical marijuana advertising on social media, that doesn’t mean you can’t do organic promotions.

Incorporating organic social campaigns in your cannabis marketing mix helps to:

  1. Build brand awareness and loyalty.
  2. Increase the odds of getting backlinks to your site for SEO.
  3. Expand and tailor your audience retargeting lists.

Here are some best practices for cannabis marketing, including dispensary marketing, on social media:

  • Follow the platform’s rules for cannabis marketing.
  • Leverage hashtags and groups.
  • Segment your audience within each social media channel.
  • Create a posting schedule for each channel and segment over time.
  • Share educational content, especially videos.
  • Share influencers’ content and get them to advertise for you to broaden your reach.
  • Promote your team, brand, and ‘lifestyle’.

Here’s a quick round-up of how to market cannabis products and/or services on Instagram and Facebook to avoid violations and optimize the user experience.

Tips for Instagram Cannabis Marketing:

  1. Use Instagram stories for mobile-friendly storytelling and brand authenticity.
  2. Include customized 9×16 videos.

Tips for Facebook Cannabis Marketing:

  1. Use Facebook Stories to build originality and trust.
  2. Test different ad copy. For example, putting a hyphen in ‘medical-cannabis’.
  3. Add branded watermarks and/or text overlays on cannabis imagery.

How to Market in Cannabis Industries Using Email

Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing channels for ROI and brand loyalty.

But email marketing for cannabis industry sectors is not as cut and dry as it is for other businesses. If you break an email provider’s cannabis marketing policies, your account could get suspended or even terminated. And this could mean adios to your subscriber list and email history.

Here are some email tactics for cannabis marketing and dispensary advertising:

  • Get written permission to use the email platform from the provider.
  • Since segmentation is critical for cannabis marketing—especially if your audience has different laws and product preferences—segment your lists and then dig into the analytics to continually refine.
  • Deliver educational rather than promotional content.
  • Continuously update and clean your database.

Key Takeaways for Effective Cannabis Marketing

Yes, cannabis marketers face unique challenges but there are strategies you can use to still succeed. Use organic forms of cannabis marketing. Leverage SEO, organic social media, and email marketing. Optimize the channel you’re best at first, then move to the next.

Segment target customers: If you don’t understand your audience, no matter what your cannabis marketing strategy is, you won’t do well. So first learn what makes them tick and why, and then segment your lists and tailor your content.

Educate, don’t sell: Dispel erroneous information and focus on what’s important to your target audience segments to close the cannabis knowledge gap and accomplish your cannabis marketing goals.


About the author

Michael Coleman is the VP of Marketing and Sales at Medical Marijuana, Inc., the first publicly traded cannabis company in the United States. He lives in San Diego, CA.