Marketing Tactics for Cannabis Businesses
Cannabis is exploding. Well, the cannabis industry is exploding, that is. Every time you look online there seems to be a new cannabis website or cannabis service popping up. Four years ago, the number of cannabis sites in Canada was well under 1000 (I know, I counted), but as of today, they number in the 1000’s. Everything from growers and processors to distributors and investment guides, to mainstream articles and strain reviews. There is no doubt cannabis is big business.
But marketing these businesses is not like marketing for any other regular business. There are strict guidelines in place, both in the US and Canada, that make marketing your cannabis business almost impossible.
Here we’ve summarized some of the best practices cannabis businesses can follow in order to maximize their opportunity to gain marketshare in this massive, yet still emerging category.
First, we focus on getting more people to your cannabis business’ website, and second, we provide additional ways to convert these visitors to loyal customers including offering alternative payment methods like debit right within your site.
In this article, we have set out to define the different marketing tactics one can use to promote your cannabis business. All these ideas are relevant in Canada, and most rings true south of the border as well. We will try to find the sweet spots that marketers can use to tell the story of their cannabis brands, show pictures of their cannabis products, and generally, get into the minds of the cannabis consumers at large.
The topics we will cover include:
I. The current landscape of the cannabis industry
II. Advertising your brand through your own means
III. Leveraging social networks and advertising networks
IV. Quick wins with online directories
V. SEO strategies for cannabis industry brands
VI. Other miscellaneous strategies to build your brand and capitalize on your current customer base
A quick search on Google Trends will show us that the interest in cannabis has doubled over the past five years. Talk about some serious growth! From all reports, this trend will continue right through 2022 as the cannabis market continues to climb skyward.
Cannabis Advertising Laws
In Canada, cannabis is now legal. Well, sort of. Cannabis, unfortunately, falls into a new category of products where government control is at the maximum. There are compliance and regulations on every part of the industry and that isn’t going to change for a few years for sure. The best thing we as marketers can do is find ways to work with what we have. And that is a product that in many ways sells itself.
In the States, it’s a different story with cannabis being legal in some states and illegal in others. Plus, at the national level, it’s still not federally legal which makes the whole situation very complicated. Above is a current list of where cannabis is legal or illegal in the US.
As you can see from the image above the United States is still sitting on the fence in many jurisdictions. It will be a few years before we see cannabis go legal at the national level, if ever.
So How Do We Market Cannabis?
According to Kantar, cannabis retailers spent an estimated $4.1 million in 2018, a 23% increase over 2017. Yet with all the uncertainty still around cannabis, it makes it very difficult to take on a traditional marketing strategy. Certain techniques are not allowed and others that are maybe stripped right down to nothing. One thing is for sure, the boundaries will be pushed by the risk takers that are out there, and many of them seem to be in the cannabis industry already.
Cannabis Advertising on Google
The cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, but with this diverse and exciting landscape, it’s clear that advertising on Google and Facebook will not be easy.
Even though cannabis is now legal in most of the states and all of Canada, it still is not enough for companies like Google Facebook and Instagram to allow paid ads on their websites. Paid advertising on Google is tricky at best. Google considers all marijuana products as dangerous and will not allow any ad words to contain the word cannabis.
Advertising Cannabis on Facebook
On Facebook, an online dispensary can advertise full blast for several weeks before finally being noticed and having their ad taken down or even having their account suspended. Facebook has stated that it will deny any paid ads that “constitute, facilitate, or promote illegal products services or activities” and that includes cannabis. If your ads get taken down by Google of Facebook, then you might have to look at other options.
How to Bypass Google Advertising Censors
Huge disclaimer here, this isn't necessarily something I'd advise a company to do. However when you are bootstrapped sometimes a company might be willing to test the limits of Google Ads, these tactics could possibly get your account banned so do this at your own risk and take the advice with a grain of salt.
It isn’t impossible to advertise on Google. If you offer other products besides cannabis than Google has several different methods that you can try out. 4 different methods are the search network, the display network, remarketing, and Google shopping ads. Keep in mind that you may get censored at any time. The key, with Google, is to not use overly obvious terms to describe your cannabis goods and services. And one important note to remember is that if your business has the term “Canna” in it, then it’s very unlikely that you will get by the Google sensors
There once was a time where if you knew someone at Google you could get your ad placed without much hassle. But it’s a different time and now AI is doing all the work. It’s almost impossible now to have somebody human at Google look at your ad for approval. And the Google algorithms don’t account for local laws just federal ones when it comes to geotargeting your ads.
So, if you decide you would like to advertise on Google make sure you use the right keywords in your ads. Terms like cannabis, marijuana, weed, pot, will not cut it these days. Even hemp will be censored out by the Google approval team. Instead try to use words like edibles, flowers, roses, and any other terms that are not particularly associated with cannabis.
One trick is to use Google’s keyword planner to do your keyword research. If a cannabis term does not come up in keyword planner then it is most likely banned from Google and Facebook and should be avoided. Just remember that your ad can be taken down at any moment if either platform discovers what is going on.
Alternative Ways to Market Cannabis
There are many ways for us to market cannabis still. Here are a few ideas in the realm of social media and cannabis advertising networks.
Instagram has become one of the favourites amongst cannabis advertisers. Their image-based blog site allows advertisers to post lifestyle pictures of people using their cannabis products. Instagram is also a great way to find cannabis influencers and have them market your products through their large volume of subscribers and followers.
Basically, Adistry will post your ads on sites that allow for cannabis advertising. They are held in high regard in the cannabis advertising industry and they allow options for guest posting, newsletter blasts, and have over 170 cannabis websites in their advertising network.
Mantis offers similar advertising options as Adistry, except they also have video advertising. Mantis has a very similar platform and offers Geo-targeted marketing campaigns. You can also do PPC advertising but it’s just more expensive than Google AdWords.
Mantis is a good bet if you are looking for top shelf advertising options although they can be quite expensive compared to traditional Google AdWords.
Leafly is one of the most well-known cannabis websites in the world. With over 10,000,000 visitors per month, they are one of the largest as well. Leafly features awesome content and an online directory with amazing strain descriptions. Leafly is also come up with an icon-based strain identification system that is being used across the cannabis market and seen on several other websites as well. You will find many of the online cannabis stores using Leafly product descriptions as to their own.
If you’ve got big bucks and want to play with the big boys, then Leafly is the place to be.
Although not as well-known as Leafly, 420 Network promotes themselves as an advertising network for alternative lifestyles. They happily use this type of creative wording in their literature to promote themselves.
Weedmaps is fast becoming king of cannabis apps on the market. They’ve been around for several years now and have worked with many of the dispensaries across the USA and Canada to upload their current menus so visitors can place orders right through their app. The head start they’ve had has given them a distinct advantage over the newcomers in the cannabis app market.
One often overlooked website, where you can advertise and market your cannabis products, is Quora. This question-based site allows members to pose questions to the community, and with a simple search for cannabis, you can find dozens of questions relating to products and services that you carry. Keep it discreet when replying but make sure you add your disclosure that you are with the company you are promoting before answering any of the questions on Quora. Failure to do so can get you banned.
I’ve ran experiments with Quora in non cannabis businesses and as I continued to answer questions with a lot of value in each response, I’d start to have people request me to answer the question. It even turned out that Quora was one of my top referral sources according to my Google Analytics for quite a long time. This is definitely a strategy worth trying out.
Google My Business
Make sure you set up Google my business when doing any marketing for cannabis. It should be one of your very first steps and will improve your Google rank search rank and drive traffic to your site.
Big List of Online Directories for Cannabis Marketers
One of the best ways you can market your cannabis company is to get local citations for your business on a page on websites like Yellow Pages, Yelp, 4Square etc. Just make sure that you use the same address phone number and business name as you do on your Google My Business listing. You want to have all the citations showing the same information across the board. It can take some time to do all these local citations but there are companies that can help you with that a software that does it for you too.
Here are some directory’s that are cannabis related and will let you post your business. Domain authority measures the quality of the websites overall reach and quality of website traffic you could get by being mentioned on their site on a scale of 0–100.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
When all else fails you can always count on SEO to drive visitors to your cannabis website. Organic marketing is one of the best tactics any marketer can use when trying to promote a cannabis business. It literally works while you sleep. And the best thing about SEO is that it pays dividends for years to come. The work you do now will reward you with benefits 6 months and 12 months from now. SEO is a long-term marketing strategy that is critical in the arsenal of a cannabis marketer.
A go-to tool I use for all things SEO is ahrefs, its an SEO software that gives me the data and analytics I need to make decisions about keywords, what kind of content to write about, what my competitors are writing about to capture search engine share and much more. Of course you can use any SEO tool like MozPro or SEMRush, but I prefer ahrefs because of it’s robust Youtube channel that shows you how to be an ahrefs power user!
1. Keyword Research
Keyword research is one of the most critical elements when doing SEO work. There are many tools available on the Internet that can help you discover keyword phrases that are low competition with the high volume you can target to rank high on Google.
There are a couple main factors to consider when doing keyword research, take a look at this chart below from ahrefs:
Keyword Difficulty scores on a scale of 0-100 how hard it is to rank for a search term based on the competitiveness and search profile of of the top 10 ranking results. According to ahrefs, the KD is calculated by "taking a weighted average of the number of linking domains to the current top-ranking pages. The result is then plotted on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 (low difficulty to high)."
How can you apply this?
For a relatively new site, you have a pretty good chance of ranking for a keyword with some effort as long as the score is under 25.
- Volume and Clicks
This stat is pretty straight forward, it is the average number of monthly searches for a targeted keyword. Clicks are the number of people clicking on any result in the search query.
How can you apply this?
If you can rank #1 for a search term and the volume is 500 with you capturing 250 of clicks from the search you are getting an extra 250 visits to your site a month.
Clicks Per Search is simply Volume divided by Clicks. The decimal gives you an idea of out of all the monthly searches, how many people end up clicking on a search result.
How can you apply this?
If you see that a majority of people searching a term are clicking, it's safe to assume they are intent on finding a result instead of abandoning the query.
Return Rate is a relative value that indicates how often the same person searches for a given keyword over a 30‐day period. Since it's a relative value, it doesn’t show the exact number of repeated searches and should be used when comparing keywords against each other
Content is King. We have heard this repeatedly, but it is as true today as it was 10 years ago. Google ranks websites based on the fulfillment of user intent. So, make sure your content does exactly that.
If you take into consideration some of the stats from keyword research you can find what the quick wins are in your industry and write a content piece about it. It's the intersection of high search volume, clicks, but low keyword difficulty is what you're looking for. I call this “low hanging fruit” I detail this strategy a lot more in my post about The Vortex Method, but getting familiar with SEO is in your best interest as a cannabis industry business owner. Inbound traffic is a lot less restricting than other methods of driving traffic to your website.
On-site SEO contains many different tactics, and these tactics are should be followed if you want to receive favourable treatment when Google starts to index your pages.
Here is a small checklist of things to consider:
- Structure of your website
- Page Load Speed
- Optimization of your content to rank for featured snippets aka: the #0 position on Google
- Titles of the post, short urls, use of H1 text for important keywords
- Make sure your title matches exactly what the audience expects to see in your post
- Engage the readers from the first sentence to minimize page bounces
If you do a Google search for each of these aspects and the phrase on page SEO, you'll find plenty of resources to implement for best practices. Also if you are on Wordpress, plugins like Yoast SEO help address a variety of on page SEO factors by suggesting edits as you write your post.
4. Embed a Google Map
Embed a Google map is a great way of increasing SEO juice with Google. It’s a simple tactic that works so use it.
Marijuana images are a great way to get traffic to your site. Make sure you add alt tags to your photos on your site and tie them in with your SEO efforts.
6. Marijuana Logos
Make your cannabis logo stand out. Simple is the best design. Try to stay away from the pot leaf and green is what is being suggested by top marketers.
7. Off-Site SEO
Offsite SEO basically means one thing, more backlinks. Try to spread your article across the Internet and as many places as possible and get as many shares as possible from as many people as possible in order to get authority backlinks to your posts. This will bring in traffic and increase conversions and is a great way to market your cannabis business. I also detail many tactics for linkbuilding in the Vortex Method post on our blog, but you can hear really similar advice by checking out ahrefs and backlinko Youtube channels for the phrase linkbuilding as well.
8. Website Design
In the end, it all comes down to your website. Make sure your website loads fast has fantastic images, has good UX and uses Google Analytics and Google search console to track visitor engagement.
Being visible in the community is another great way for these companies to get more exposure. Joining local parades, farmers markets, and sponsoring events is a fantastic way to connect locally, and generate goodwill press on TV, newspaper, magazine and more, not to mention the opportunity to speak directly with the community of people you serve.
For many companies, issuing press releases is a great way to let the public know about new information about their company. For publicly traded companies, this is mandatory and is a great way to inform current and potential investors of any comings and potential investors of any comings and goings at your company.
Two Critical Things to Remember When Marketing Cannabis
There are two key things you need to remember when marketing cannabis. The first is that you should never try to attract children with your advertising. This is a huge no-no and might get you fined or even thrown in jail. The second is trademark infringement. With all the companies using the words BUD, or 420 in their name it’s essential for your company to pick a unique name for its products or services. Failure to do so might mean wasting all your marketing money on a product that can never go to market. Never mind the lawsuit that will surely follow you if your name is too close to another already established company.
Converting More Visitors to Customers
As we've detailed plenty of strategies on how to attract awareness, it's also important to consider how easy it is for website visitors to make purchases on your website. With a difficult to use, slow website without a lot of functionality or convenience. Much of these efforts will likely go to waste.
Is your business offering convenient ways to complete a purchase?
Research compiled by Ample Organics found that 24% of Canadians are worried about using their credit cards to buy cannabis or related products online. Even more recently and specifically in New Brunswick, statistics showed an even smaller 16% actually used their credit card to purchase cannabis.
What happens if you aren't offering all forms of debit at checkout? You're going to miss out on a bunch of opportunities to capture revenue for your business as 73% of all shopping carts get abandoned across the internet.
A handful of new companies including Smartpay by Curexe are offering ecommerce companies like those in the cannabis space an opportunity accept online debit including Visa and the other smaller debit cards that hundreds of thousands of shoppers prefer to use to checkout. Smartpay by Curexe also offers etransfers as a pay method right on a merchant site which dramatically decreases cart abandonment and increases loyalty by those concerned about privacy or using/owning credit cards.
Add online debit to your store
As you can see Cannabis LPs in Canada, cannabis industry related brands, and cannabis stores in the United States all have unique challenges when it comes to marketing their product online. It's clearly not the same as marketing a traditional ecommerce product due to all the regulations surrounding cannabis, you will have to think outside the box. Hopefully this article gave you some ideas that you can implement.
Well, there you have it. A comprehensive guide to marketing cannabis in the year 2019.