Most cannabis businesses know the importance of having good quality online content. Your website is your digital storefront. In many cases, it’s your customer’s first (or only) introduction to your brand. Good content is important not only for getting the right customers to your site, but also crucial for getting them to stick around long enough to make a purchase.
As the cannabis industry continues to be one of the fastest consumer markets, the tactics used by niche companies and startups are becoming more main-stream, legitimized and professional. That doesn’t, however, mean that the scary tactics of old have disappeared. In fact, some have become so predominant in a constantly growing culture, that one has to wonder if the cannabis community is doing its due diligence to foster a safe and healthy community.
Since it’s almost Halloween, it’s only fitting that we take a look at the most dangerous and, honestly, scariest marketing tactics some cannabis companies are choosing to use, and explain why you should stay away from using them as well.
Once upon a time, not really that long ago, commerce was relatively simple: you made a product and, hopefully, people bought it and you made money. Consumers based their purchase on product utility: did they need it and would they use it? They certainly didn’t give much thought about the company in terms of what it stood for, who was running it, what its religious or political beliefs were, or whether it shared the same values they had. They understood that companies were in business to make and sell products, and people either bought it or didn’t.
It was simple, really.
That’s how it was for decades.
Then, along came the Internet and everything changed.
I consider myself a relatively new cannabis user. Other than the small number of times I was exposed to marijuana in college or high school, I’m a “newbie”; less than informed about strains and THC levels and everything in between. I’m a married, middle class professional mother of three, rediscovering this new world of cannabis as both a patient and a consumer.
In its simplest terms, marketing is the communication bridge between your target audience and your brand. So once you’ve taken the critical first step and nailed down what you stand for as a brand, you then need to determine how you want to engage with your target market.
When it comes to establishing a digital marketing presence, companies in the cannabis industry can’t follow the typical route. Many if not most advertising channels are unavailable to reach a broad market. Sure, there are tons of cannabis themed websites that cover topics from culture to growing to the business side of things and all are happy to take your money. Far fewer are able to deliver the sophistication of mainstream online advertising networks and platforms. For sure, things are evolving but we’re a long way from the digital cannabis space being on par with the mainstream. That being the case digital cannabis marketers need to think differently. Building visibility and connecting with your audience requires a dose of S.M.A.C. That’s short for Social, Mobile, Analytics and Content.
Every Brand Tells a Story
This rings true not only intuitively – it feels right – but has been corroborated from the extensive consumer research I’ve done over the years. People constantly look for cues from your product, packaging and messaging that tells them your brand story. They want or even need to know what your brand story is so they can understand on an gut level if you fit with their sense of themselves, or if you don’t. And they purchase accordingly.
There is a myriad of negative stereotypes many of those in mainstream culture use to describe marijuana consumers. The truth is, there is no one type of person who smokes or eats or vapes marijuana. Marijuana consumers are an extremely diverse group of people, which can make finding the target audience for your particular marijuana product, that much more difficult.
Like liquor before it, marijuana marketing has many restrictions. It took the Washington State Liquor Control Board quite a while to finalize the rules for 502 implementation and part of that was figuring out just how far marijuana businesses could go in selling their wares to an eager public. Now that the state has begun distributing licenses and businesses get rolling, let’s take a look at some of the basic and some of the more obscure elements of advertising for retail marijuana.
Marijuana users and advertising to them has existed as an open secret for a very long time, but that hasn’t stopped it evolving into a force which will continue to change. In the past year, the appearance of the first cable-broadcasted marijuana commercial and the first New York Times ad for marijuana have brought a larger conversation about the history and future of marijuana advertising.
A Medicinal History
Medical marijuana led the charge of legalization in America and it also provided most of the early forms of advertisements. Before the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made possession illegal, doctors, pharmacists and merchants touted the medicinal properties of pot in every form available. From matchbooks to in-store standing displays, distributors sold cannabis based on its pain relief and calming affects.