Gregg Greenberg is the co-founder and co-CEO of Everything But The Plant, a B2B ancillary eCommerce marketplace that sells everything you need to build, run, and grow your cannabis business.
As an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry, you have many options when it comes to the marketing of your brand and product. However, you need to realize there are certain things that just flat out won’t work since cannabis remains prohibited in many places, both on, and offline.
Here are 5 cannabis marketing strategies you should never use to promote your brand.
Advertising on Google and Facebook
Google is a no-go zone for cannabis brands. Their advertising policies don’t permit the advertising of any substances that can interfere with or alter an individual’s consciousness because of recreational needs. In fact, it highlights marijuana as a prime example of such substances.
Similarly, Facebook also doesn't look kindly on cannabis industry advertising. Over the past year, many budding and experienced business owners alike have seen their Facebook pages shut down.
Here are two real-world examples of this occurring:
- Spa Serenity in Wisconsin — Located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, Spa Serenity is owned and operated by Lacey Staffes, who is happy to offer customers a wide selection of CBD products. Unfortunately, when she tried to advertise her CBD goodies on Facebook, the social media giant took swift action and shut her down. Why? Because she included a picture of a marijuana leaf and the word 'CBD.'
- SOHH.com — Felicia Palmer is the founder of one of hip-hop music's oldest websites. She also had her Facebook account shut down because of marijuana marketing tactics. In Palmer's case, she actually paid money to gain exposure for her posts about CBD while she was promoting an online cannabis summit called Cannaramic.
Until cannabis becomes more legally acceptable, advertising on social media giants like Facebook remains a risky endeavor. Facebook prohibits ads on pages that engage in any drug-related content or the sale of recreational drugs. Lastly, it does not permit advertisements of activities that endorse the purchase or use of recreational drugs.
For Facebook, their advertisement policies state that the ads you list on their platform must not endorse, contain, promote sales, or facilitate the use of illegal products or recreational drugs. The ads should also not contain images that hint about cannabis consumption.
Facebook can still be a useful tool for cannabis companies, but one must pay close attention to the rules and guidelines.
Stereotyping your audience
Effective cannabis marketing strategies avoid stereotypes altogether. As cannabis becomes more widely acceptable, it continues to attract people of all ages and backgrounds. Avoid labeling all cannabis enthusiasts as "stoners." This will isolate potential markets, causing your brand and audience to shrink.
Remember, cannabis users are moms relaxing after work, grandpas coping with arthritis pain, and couples looking for excitement. Recognizing the diversity of your target demographic is the first step towards tailoring a structured marketing campaign and connecting with your base.
You need to avoid stereotyping consumers and instead learn about their core values.
Ignoring industry and/or market changes
Look, even if you developed a successful marketing strategy for your cannabis company a week ago, what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Marketing trends, especially digital, change and evolve at a staggering rate. To truly reap the rewards of your efforts, you must be willing to change any aspect of your overall strategy, or if necessary, scrap the entire campaign and start from scratch.
Take a look at the following companies that failed to understand and respond to market changes:
- Xerox — A long time ago, Xerox was actually the first company to build a PC as we know it today (with an operating system and graphical user interface). Unfortunately, the company refused to read the writing on the wall — the world was going digital. As their competitors all eyed the technological leap head, CEO David Kearns thought he knew better — he went all in on hefty copy machines and the rest is history.
- Blockbuster — Like Xerox, Blockbuster failed to read the tea leaves. As computers and the internet evolved, streaming services started chipping away at Blockbuster's revenue. But instead of changing with the market, going digital, and designing more relevant advertising, Blockbuster stagnated. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Netflix appeared, the movie rental giant vanished, and Friday night was never the same again.
- Radioshack — Founded by brothers Theodore and Milton Deutschmann in 1921, Radioshack was once known for providing tech and electronics. But something quirky happened around 2009. In a desperate attempt to seem "cooler," the company rebranded itself as "The Shack." Like Blockbuster and Xerox, Radioshack did not acknowledge emerging market trends, namely the DIY movement. Instead of supplying do-it-your-selfers with all the gizmos and parts needed to create smart doorbells and gadgetry, "The Shack" became a one-stop shop for imported cheap R/C toys, cell phone cases, and other useless junk.
Good marketing depends on how well you can identify and relate to your audience. If you want success promoting marijuana products, you should use cannabis marketing strategies that you can also modify to align with the current needs of your audience.
A good marketing approach blends well with current demands. If your marketing strategy is not working, take a look at your competitors. What are they doing? Review the social media pages, blogs, etc., of the cannabis leaders — how do they interact with consumers? You can gain inspiration and insight into marketing strategies by following in the footsteps of the best.
The plan you choose should be authentic as well as transparent. Pay attention to what people are interested in, the mediums they interact on, and the variations they prefer so you can understand their needs and likes. And remember — people respect originality and detest phoniness.
When you’re promoting your cannabis brand, always keep the consumer in mind. What are they going through right now during this pandemic? How does your product fit into their life? Are they buying concentrates? Topicals? Hydroponics?
If you push forward on a path of self-glorification with a "hard sell," your audience will smell your inauthenticity and run for the hills. Put yourself in their shoes — know about their problems, then develop marijuana marketing tactics that detail how you can solve those problems.
Here are three examples of companies who were too focused on selling, rather than thinking about the customer's needs:
- Adidas — In 2017, Adidas was proud to sponsor the 121st Annual Boston Marathon. Given the tragic terrorist attack of 2013 that killed 3 people and injured hundreds of others, you would think the sporting apparel company would understand the need for sensitivity in their marketing approach. Instead, at the conclusion of the race, Adidas sent a mass email that said, "Congratulations on surviving the Boston Marathon!" While the company apologized profusely, this sort of cringeworthy blunder is hard to forget.
- Airbnb — In the same year, as Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas and Louisiana causing severe flooding and displacement, Airbnb released a mass email marketing campaign that flaunted the beauty and availability of "Floating homes, waterfall slides, & more reasons to travel." As expected, the email blast was met with ridicule and anger.
- Dove — Dove wanted so badly to show women that they understood femininity, that they got a little lost on the way. Their "Real Beauty Bottles" marketing campaign released shampoo bottles in six different shapes to show women come in all shapes and sizes. Real beauty breaks the mold was the tagline. Consumers were left either confused or offended. But they definitely were not tempted to buy.
Because today's consumers are smarter than ever, your cannabis marketing tactics must be authentic. You can't expect a shallow sales pitch to get you anywhere when most internet surfers have a 5 second attention span and crave originality. Be honest and have fun with it. Interact with your demographic and focus on showcasing how your product can help your audience work, play, live, and love better.
Steer clear of marketing approaches that don’t bring any tangible results. It's very easy to get locked into a routine that's not working. If your current marketing campaign is not yielding results, stop the engine.
You may need to go back to the drawing board to isolate the problem. Is your demographic too big? Too narrow? Are you on the right social channels? Is your cannabis marketing strategy too complex?What about customer feedback — how is your positive/negative review ratio?
Look at these three companies that continued with a failed premise:
- Nesquik — To engage with customers and create excitement over their product line, Nesquik's marketing team came up with a great idea — create and celebrate National Bunny Ears Day! What? Never heard of it? Neither had anyone else, and that was the problem. The marketing team spent considerable time and resources educating the public about the holiday, and then developed a mobile app that cropped chocolate bunny ears on photos. Despite a lack of interest, the marketing team forged ahead and released their app on September 16th, National Bunny Ears Day. And then, crickets. The lesson to be learned here is to constantly gauge your audience and ask if what you are doing is what they want. If it isn't, stop immediately.
- Adelaide, Australia — The City of Adelaide was determined to redesign its look. The problem? The citizens were not on board. As the city continued to embark on its expensive branding campaign in spite of its audience saying "No, we hate this!," it became immediately obvious that the plan was going to fail. Sure enough, the campaign ended, the citizens were furious, and a new and even more expensive redesign was needed.
- Malaysia Airlines — Tragically, in 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared without a trace. 239 people were presumed dead. Next, Malaysia Airlines released a marketing campaign contest where it asked people to send in their "bucket lists" for a chance to win a prize! The level of insensitivity was appalling, and the brand was quickly blasted on social media.
Look… if your marketing plan for your cannabis company is not yielding results, stop. Don't keep letting the gears turn in anticipation of the day when success finally comes. Sometimes things break, even in marketing. Find the problem and fix it.
Launching a cannabis startup in today's market can be a lucrative and exciting endeavor. Yet in addition to the standard challenges of running a business, marijuana entrepreneurs must also navigate ever-changing social taboos and legal concerns.
By empathizing with your audience, choosing the right social channels, and maintaining a flexible marketing approach, you can promote your business and gain consistent exposure for your brand.