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.
With the right marketing strategy, you can accelerate your cannabis company’s growth and build a loyal customer base. However, if your brand or marketing approach comes across as contrived or disingenuous, it could blow up in your face. And if you try to expand your marketing strategy too quickly with multiple advertising channels, you could jeopardize everything.
So, what are the best marketing strategies for cannabis startups right now?
As an experienced marketing professional, I have learned that to increase the chances of launching a successful business, you need to:
1. How to talk to your audience
2. Focus your efforts
3. Create value for the customer
4. Use low-cost marketing
5. Fix something if it’s broken
How to talk to your audience
Because it takes time to build a relevant audience, it’s important to start marketing your cannabis startup before you officially launch. Once you identify your target demographic, you can tailor your marketing strategy based on their needs, likes, and dislikes.
Right now, during the COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever that you build your relevant audience based on two key factors:
1. Empathy — We are living in unprecedented times and COVID-19 has affected all of us. Do not use unsympathetic marjuana marketing tactics. Be up front about what’s going on and how your company is responding. It’s important to empathize with your audience (pandemic or not) and recognize that they comprise a diverse social and economic group.
2. Authenticity — To that same point, it is important that you are genuine, transparent, and conversational. Engage with your audience on a human level. Find out where your competition is, and talk to your prospects where your competition isn’t.
Building your relevant audience is the key to sales. But the process can’t be forced.
Your audience needs to grow organically. This means you need to show empathy now, during the COVID-19 crisis and after. It can be little things, like sending out an email assuring customers that your business is coping with the crisis and following CDC guidelines.
This is exactly what retailers such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue are doing right now:
The point is that you cannot blindly sell to your audience when there are major events, tragedies, etc. At the bare minimum, you need to acknowledge such situations. Preferably, you should provide a thought-out and understanding response that shows your audience you care about their needs.
Next, you’ll want to concentrate on delivering content and media to a limited number of marketing channels to ensure quality control.
Focus your efforts
Marketing strategies for cannabis startups can be deployed on a number of different social channels. In today’s world, there are many marketing channels available. Ideally, you want to take advantage of as many, if not all, of these networks to promote your brand. But that comes in time. Don’t try to do everything at once, or you risk biting off more than you can chew.
Instead, limit yourself to two or three channels. Focus on doing a few things that will have the biggest impact.
Depending on your specific product and targeted audience, you will want an active presence on two or three of these platforms:
Instagram — Start by signing up or logging in with Facebook. Instagram is best used as a mobile platform so download the app via the App Store or Google Play Store. Since the platform will shutdown any attempt at selling cannabis, try to make the account educational and fun. Remember to search for your audience through relevant hashtags, and like and follow posts/users linked to your product. And don’t be afraid to look at who’s following and engaging with the industry leaders. Post content regularly that is relevant to your industry and audience, but sell nothing, and show no media of cannabis consumption or you risk having your account shut down.
Cannabis social networks — Consider joining a cannabis social network such as Massroots, Grasscity, or Weedlife. These channels are great for meeting new industry leaders, gaining exposure, and learning about consumers, competitors, and novel marketing ideas for your cannabis company.
Facebook — While there are serious restrictions when it comes to cannabis marketing on Facebook, you can connect with your base by creating educational content. Articles that educate your base about cannabis, how it’s used, its benefits, etc, can increase exposure.
LinkedIn — LinkedIn is more welcoming of cannabis culture and a great place to post content, network, and gain exposure. To get started, consider posting an educational article for your audience on LinkedIn:
Click ‘write an article’ at the top of your homepage.
Click ‘headline’ to change the title of your article.
Next, click the ‘write here’ box to add your content.
Lastly, click the ‘publish’ button in the upper right.
YouTube — You need to check with YouTube’s ever-changing policy regarding the specifics of exactly what you can and cannot promote on your channel. However, you are generally safe as long as you post educational content.
Pinterest — Pinterest does not allow any content that involves the promotion, sale, or use of illegal or recreational drugs. This does not include the promotion of hemp and CBD-only byproducts of cannabis that have no THC. The platform also allows content that is educational or artistic.
Blogging — The best cannabis marketing plan includes a blog. Creating a blog is a great way to connect directly with your audience. Whole Foods has one of the most successful company blogs on the internet. With an expansive and informative archive of blogs that range in topics from the health benefits of olive oil to the best vegan cheese for your next wine party, it’s easy to see why. Your blog can also cover a range of topics, but they should be related to your product/brand/audience. Be passionate and make your blog informative. Become the authority on a subject, no matter how niche, and you will gain followers and grow an audience. You can get started by visiting one of these blog creation tools: WordPress, Wix, Squarespace.
By limiting yourself to a few of these channels, you can avoid the consumer detested practice of overselling. Remember, people connect with authenticity, so be genuine, clear, and candid.
Marketing strategies for cannabis startups should be simple and effective. Restricting your marketing efforts to two or three channels will also help your brand. Focus on doing a few things really well instead of dabbling in many areas and your company will evolve and grow naturally with your product’s respective community .
Create value for the customer
Never forget your number one focus: the customer. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Would you buy your product? Is your product worth the price you’re asking? Is there a real or perceived value to the customer?
Focus on the audience and how they consume content – how would you want to be communicated to? Depending on the type of cannabis product you are selling — concentrate, oil, topical, edible, gear, grow lights, packaging, etc. — your angle may vary based on the buying stage.
For example, someone who is learning about your product may want and expect different things than someone who is actively trying your product.
Remember, to create value you need to talk to your customers. When I was first starting, I saw customers as unapproachable creatures. But eventually I learned the best way to understand my audience was to talk directly to them.
In fact, if you start talking to customers you will find that most people are actually willing to tell you what they like and don’t like as long as you are genuine. This means that your target audience is more accessible than you think and therefore also more susceptible to free and/or low cost marijuana marketing tactics.
Use low-cost marketing
You do not need a huge bankroll to launch a marketing campaign. By using social media communities on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, you can advertise your product and brand for little or no cost. But remember, cannabis is still not widely accepted in every state and on every platform. This means you will need to check local laws, get creative and use outdoor, or non-traditional marketing.
In 2015, Airbnb harnessed the power and affordability of social media to launch a highly successful low-cost marketing campaign. spreading the hashtag, #OneLessStranger, the company encouraged its community to engage in random acts of kindness for others, and share a video or photo of the act with the hashtag.
Another great marketing idea for your cannabis company that can help you gain exposure and customer interaction is answering questions on Quora. Start by visiting Quora.com and creating a profile. Next, follow topics that are related to your business. You can begin answering questions immediately, but be sure to answer truthfully.
According to Tristan Louis, CEO of Keepskor and writer at TNL.net:
“The secret of building your reputation on Quora is to answer questions in which you have a deep level of knowledge. Your own company is obviously a thing in which you have expertise and that’s where you could start. You should then look at the area your company focuses on and provide answers to questions related to that area. Remember that Quora is not about self-promotion but about providing the best answer to a specific question. The way you build your business with Quora is by helping the Quora community. Its members will eventually notice you and, hopefully, start using your services.”
Lastly, ask your customers to spread the word if they are happy. You might think that this kind of old-fashioned marketing is useless. On the contrary, word-of-mouth remains a highly effective marketing strategy.
If it’s broke, fix it!
You need to stop and review your efforts.
Ask yourself, Am I using the best cannabis marketing plan?
Too many businesses become complacent and methodically employ the same tactics day after day.
Remember to regularly re-evaluate your strategies. Start by asking the following questions:
Why are we doing this?
How is this helping our business?
If we didn’t do this, what else could we do?
A perfect example of a company that realized something was wrong and did something about it is Best Buy. In 2012, the writing was on the wall. Things were not looking good. But Best Buy, did something remarkable — they adapted. They focused on the connection their GeekSquad had with customers, and expanded to an In-Home Advisor Service for theater, computer, media, etc. Additionally, they released a marketing campaign that highlighted their price-matching flexibility.
Marketing strategies for cannabis startups must be cost-effective — otherwise they become unnecessary and wasteful. When you’re just starting out, it’s vital that your marketing campaign be targeted and successful. If your current marketing strategy fails to yield steady followers or sales conversions, you need to re-assess and refocus.
Your company’s marketing strategy should be malleable — able to flex and change with what is best for promoting your product and brand.
As you market your cannabis startup, remember to be yourself, engage with your base, and have empathy. Through careful planning and focused marketing, you can promote your business, generate excitement, and hopefully, earn life-long customers.
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