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Navigating Regulations for Successful Cannabis Marketing

Written by Dino H Carter

As more and more territories around the world are legalizing cannabis in one way or another, the different rules and regulations in every territory make getting in front of customers’ eyeballs a  strenuous task for many cannabis companies all over the world.

Cannabis is not federally legal in the US, in some states it is legal for both recreational and medical consumption, and in other, only for medicinal use. The same goes for Europe where countries have different regulations and tolerance toward cannabis. In Spain for example, cannabis is not legal but yet, one of the biggest conventions in the cannabis industry – Spannabis – is taking place in Barcelona.  

The problem gets worse when it comes to marketing and advertising cannabis products due to dissimilarity in marketing, branding, advertising, and packaging cannabis from one territory to another. Here in California, for example, you can advertise on billboards whereas in Maryland you can’t.

Airing a cannabis-related commercial on any TV station in the world right now is quite a challenge and usually not worth the trouble. Cannabis retailer MedMen created an ad by Oscar-winner Spike Jonez that was played in movie theaters, YouTube and SiriusXM but not on any TV network. Even in Canada, the epitome of legal cannabis, the law is very strict when it comes to cannabis on TV.

But if you think about it, this is 2019, almost 2020, who needs “traditional” media these days?!  According to The Guardian “Young people in Britain have almost entirely abandoned television news broadcasts”.  The internet and social media are playing a huge part in marketing cannabis all over the world. In fact, without social media, we wouldn’t have seen the massive growth of the global cannabis industry

Social media is responsible for the hyper-fast distribution of content, ideas, and products. The problem is that even over the internet and social media, marketing cannabis is not so easy. Last year, YouTube deleted many very successful channels that focused on cannabis. YouTube is a Google company and you can not advertise cannabis on Google. Facebook is another huge outlet that does not allow cannabis advertising. Instagram, a Facebook company,  is shutting down cannabis-related profiles constantly. So no matter how you look at it, marketing cannabis is very hard. 

As a brand strategist and marketing consultant working with clients in the cannabis industry, I’m very familiar with these issues. Let me show you some light points and tactics that will help you see the light at the end of the cannabis marketing tunnel.

The thing is that as much as it is hard to market cannabis on those channels mentioned above, it is 1) possible 2) the regulation on those platforms is the same worldwide, so it is clear what you can and can’t do to promote your cannabis business. So be smart and stay inside the lines.

cannabis marketing

Social media marketing is the way of the future

In addition to these channels, cannabis media channels are booming everywhere, from magazines to online shows, huge blogs, and podcasts. Cannabis POS media is a growing channel as well, where you can advertise your products and services mainly on TV screens in dispensaries. One very beneficial result we got out of the decline of TV as the master of all advertising, is the opportunity to use the advertising budget in a much broader way than when TV was king.

There are many websites you never heard about or heard about but never thought of allocating budget for, that have an abundance of traffic. You can have a successful ad campaign for your cannabis brand using advertising networks on different high traffic websites that are not Google or Facebook, nor cannabis channels. One advertising network such as this is Traffic Roots, located in San Diego, offering ads on websites such as Rolling Stone magazine, and Huff Post, among others. 

What is common to all of the channels, platforms and promotion options mentioned above is that they all cost money. You must pay to play. 

What a lot of new businesses are missing these days, regardless of the industry, is organic, free, content to get exposure, sales, and high-quality, consistent traffic and customers. I’m a huge believer in content and a long-time practitioner of using organic (free) content to grow sales and increase market share. Regardless of obvious SEO benefits (Search Engine Optimization) which are huge, content is king, mainly when it’s free.

When I talk about free content I mean posts and stories on Instagram and Facebook, IGTV and YouTube videos, newsletters, automated emails, Linkedin/Instagram/Facebook/Youtube live and so on. In order to create the right marketing mix for your business, you must utilize the many free options for content marketing.

With the right content, you can not only make sure you’ll have no issues with Google, Facebook, or the rest of the moguls, you can extend your online presence, expose your products and services, and get immediate feedback.

The best way to master the production of good online content is to use “brand thinking”. Good branding is not about a great looking logo, it is about creating a positive emotional bond between your brand and the customers. Here are the three marketing mistakes most businesses do and that you must avoid in order to create successful content that converts to sales and brand awareness:

It’s about trust

cannabis marketing

Brand awareness is extremely important

The most important thing to understand is that in order to create long term business success you must create a trusted relationship and empathy between your business and consumers. For most business owners this means a shift in mindset: stop thinking like a product and start thinking like a person.

Products don’t write blog posts, products don’t post on social media, products don’t publish YouTube videos, humans do. You need to be personal and authentic and not focus on making a sale or create content that constantly promotes your product or service and talks relentlessly about the feature of your product. The more you try to sell, the less you will actually sell.

The context of the content

We all love our products, we know everything about them and have a clear conception as to why consumers should use or buy them. But this is OUR perception, not the customers’. In order to be successful as a brand on social media and to create content that converts, you should think from your target audience’s point of view.

What will make them read your content, click on your posts, open your newsletters, and then get interested enough to make a purchase either on your website or at your physical location?

Be Consistent

The third thing you should keep in mind to master content marketing is to be consistent. Not only post on social media all the time, but to constantly send newsletters, and publish movies to YouTube. You should be consistent with your content’s look & feel as well.

Use the same formats, the same tone of voice, and the same concepts. And remember – when a piece of content performs really well, for instance, a specific post or video, double down and create more content like it. 

Final Thoughts

I’m not a numbers guy, I don’t know about numbers, I know about people, but one thing I learned in more than 20 years in marketing is that the data don’t lie. When you do things right, you get immediate results. I don’t say it is going to be easy, or that you will be a millionaire in less than a month, but I can tell you that regardless of the industry, implementing the RIGHT content strategy for my clients has always been successful. 

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  • Some great tips FOR CBD business in here Dino – in the UK at least advertising on TV isn’t a big issue for CBD brands, we’re even getting ads at peak times on mainstream channels now, as well as digital billboards across the country.

    All great for the industry and awareness. For those brands looking to advertise digitally on UK/EU specific websites, there is Ripe, which is a dedicated CBD and cannabis advertising network we’ve just launched.

    • Thanks Liam.
      As London used to be my home away from home, I’m very excited to see how the UK is growing to be the center of medical cannabis and CBD!

About the author

Dino H Carter

Dino H. Carter is the Founder of D Branding, a Global Branding & Marketing Agency focused on accelerating growth of startups and established companies. With over 20 years of international marketing experience, Dino has worked with MTV, Levi's, National Geographic and more. He is a speaker, podcasts guest, a member of the AMA, and a regular contributor for MG Magazine.
D Branding is based in Los Angeles, CA and services clients worldwide