The Complicated Business Of Advertising And Marketing In Cannabis

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By Aaron Silverman, President of MediaJel.

New companies tend to cultivate similarly. Build a winning team and culture. Plan and establish your vision of success – but maintain flexibility. Structure an advisory board or shadow cabinet full of successful professionals, both inside and outside your industry. Stay lean and nimble, but hungry. Think like a customer. Find a problem, hire a solution.

Any start-up business can be riddled with challenges. Launching a start-up business in an undeveloped industry can be nearly impossible. The cannabis industry is one of those spaces. Applications that could assist in getting your company off the ground simply don’t exist. Anticipating solutions for problems that have yet to arise can be arduous at best.

Days are filled with grueling work and endless hours, makeshift solutions to new problems and thinking of ideas that put you yet another step ahead of the competition. Ultimately, advertising comes into play. Without proper marketing and advertising strategies, progress will stall. In the cannabis industry, advertising has become one of the bigger challenges facing businesses. Cannabis is a highly restricted and exceedingly regulated industry, and as a result, brands must align themselves with experts who can help to navigate marketing tactics with stealth precision.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

It is paramount for businesses to understand the resources and components needed to survive in this complicated space. Many companies don’t have enough capital and don’t recognize why they need it or how to apply it, while others have huge infusion of capital and may not understand exactly where to allocate it. Couple this with the restrictions that have been put in place pertaining to how a company can express their brand via creative and messaging, and options become increasingly limited. How can a company operating in a very tenuous space reach their target consumer? Not having enough channels to share your brand messaging is frustrating enough, but not being able to reach much of your target audience can be devastating to a brand.

Navigating the cannabis advertising landscape.

Sometimes it is hard to see the green through all the red tape. Cannabis remains federally illegal and advertising restrictions vary by state. Limited access to inventory, creative restrictions and distribution limitations are just a few of the challenges faced by brands looking to advertise.

Platforms like Twitter Inc (NYSE: TWTR), Google and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ: FB) have banned all ads for the plant. In California, for example, radio, cable, print, and digital ads can only be shown where at least 71.6% of the audience is expected to be over the age of 21. Colorado maintains similar rules. However, in Delaware, no person may advertise medical cannabis sales in print, broadcast, or by paid in-person solicitation of customers.

As a result, many brands have taken to advertising on billboards. This is currently a preferred method, but there will soon come a time when consumers experience billboard fatigue and begin tuning out. Another big drawback to billboard advertising is the lack of ability to track customer conversions.

This begs to ask, how can brands cut through the noise of competitors and create meaningful campaigns to project to their target consumer?

  1. Find your voice. What is your “why”? Make sure that you have a story to tell and that you are telling that story through the proper channels to reach the intended audience.
  2. Be creative. Find the appropriate channels for your brand. Publishers are becoming increasingly open to running cannabis ads both in print and online. Align yourself with an advertising and marketing company well-versed in the cannabis space, adept at utilizing data and technology solutions to help boost your brand recognition.
  3. Be selective. Use good, clean data to make sound decisions. Try creative solutions like geo-targeting and making use of data analytics to gain deep perspective on your marketing campaigns and their effectiveness.
  4. Be realistic. Create realistic expectations and allot adequate marketing budgets to achieve expectations around sales and other KPI’s. Understand that there is an entire journey and process that you must endure to get to the heart of your brand.
  5. Stay humble and remain focused. Stay resolute in promoting yourself and your brand. Don’t waste time, energy and money on “taking out competition”. Use your efforts and resources to elevate your brand and proliferate your story. There is tremendous opportunity in the cannabis space coupled with few true competitors. Focus on yourself.

Digital marketing is a must.

Digital marketing includes all web-based or electronic communication stemming from the brand, reaching directly to the intended consumer. The creation of blog posts, contributed content to partner sites or web-based publishers, compelling videos and engaging infographics will all help to grow your brand while touching new audiences.

SEO (search engine optimization) is another critical tactic intended to position your company at the top of the search engine crawlers. By using keywords to rank your webpages, your brand will rise to the top on Google search platform and other search engines. Providing links to other reputable sites within your copy will help to further increase your authority.

Cutting through the conference clutter.

There are hundreds of cannabis conferences and events being hosted around the world. While it is important to actively participate in these events, it is equally critical to understand which will be best-suited for your brand and goals.

It will never be enough to simply set up a 10×10 booth at a show and hand out business cards. As the industry has evolved, so must our marketing strategies. Creating a memorable experience for your target is invaluable. Place your brand in a premiere location, employ brand ambassadors, and generate meaningful engagement with those around you throughout the event. Follow-up is key as well. Reach out to those you engaged with during the event, give a subtle reminder as to where or how you met, and initiate conversation for moving forward.

If your brand is looking to engage with consumers, consider staging an activation at events like Emerald Cup or HempCon. For B2B engagement, there are countless reputable events that consistently draw the best and the brightest in the space. New West Summit, MJBizCon, and Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo are all good options when looking to generate business while digging deeper into specific verticals.

Pay keen attention to up-and-coming events, like Green Market Summit. The two-day conference will take an introspective look into the economics of cannabis brands. MJMicro is an invitational networking forum that joins publicly traded cannabis companies with next-level, high-net-worth investors.

Benzinga’s Cannabis Capital Conference heads to Detroit on Aug. 15 — Click here to learn more!

Continually position yourself and your brand amongst key leaders in the space, always keeping in line with your business model and goals.

Where are we now, and where are we going?

There are many effective marketing channels for cannabis brands to explore in this moment in time. It remains equally important, however, to not only capitalize on those experiences, but to keep looking ahead.

A year from now we will see a much higher level of understanding and much of the frustrations surrounding advertising and marketing in the industry should be alleviated. While we may not get to a freely open place in terms of where we want to be with digital advertising, at least potential partners will be open to the discussion. We are witnessing increased appetite for data related to the cannabis industry from household brands like Dominos, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s. This is highly encouraging and should serve to move the industry forward.

Regardless of what marketing strategies you plan to adopt, make certain you are working with people who know what they are doing. It can be a very expensive lesson to learn, in terms of time and money lost, if you enter partnerships without a full understanding of the journey.

Photo by Javier Hasse. Metal work by Caos y Fortuna.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

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