Are You Actually Prepared to Market Cannabis?

It’s 2019, the thought of your mom smoking a joint isn’t totally crazy. 

The cannabis industry is booming and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Within the last five years, the purchasing and use of cannabis has grown by 25% according to Forbes, leading the industry to reach revenue of $10 billion in 2018. The cannabis market is expected to triple in size within the next four years according to the Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics report. 

Currently, recreational use of marijuana is legal in 10 states while sanctioned medicinal is legal in 33. As more research supports the benefits of cannabis, more states are adapting to the societal changes and pushing for its legality.  

One of the most well-known and largest cannabis companies, Canopy Growth Corporation (previously Tweed), made a deal with New York company Acreage Holdings. This deal ensures that Canopy will acquire Acreage when cannabis is legalized in the United States. The future of cannabis is now. 

Some familiar brands are getting on board with this movement. Constellation Brands placed $4 billion dollars into Canadian marijuana producer Canopy Growth back in August 2018. This multi-billion-dollar firm, known for internationally marketing and producing beer, wine, and spirits (such as Corona) broke records; making this investment the largest EVER in cannabis. This shows the shift in perception of cannabis. It places it in a similar category as beer, wine, and spirits, rather than a schedule I drug. Heineken Beer also created a cannabis-only beverage in California. Ordering a CBD/THC infused drink in bars all over the country isn’t far off. 

Preparation for the launch is crucial, and looking at Canada as a model isn’t a bad idea; as they legalized recreational marijuana in summer of 2018. It is important to note that cannabis isn’t blaring on neon signs or in beautifully arranged storefronts in Canada. Marketing it is by no way bright, prevalent or bold. Don’t expect to see an instagrammable wall outside any dispensaries there. 

There are some serious barriers if you are a cannabis branding agency. Strict laws exist on packaging as well as marketing and advertising. Packaging must be plain and stick to a certain color palette, to avoid any promotion to any children. However, product packaging variation in U.S. states where cannabis is legal is prominent. Bright colors and fun names run the industry, making the products easily recognizable. 

Advertising promoted content on sites such as Google or Facebook is hard to navigate, even in places where cannabis is fully legal. Just recently, Facebook allowed topical hemp products to be advertised. Although ads cannot feature ingestible CBD products, they can bring them to landing pages where those products are. Historically, Facebook has been very conservative with its policy around any form of cannabis; CBD and hemp included. This change is paving the way, as policies will likely continue to allow more freedom going forward. 

The Farm Bill, passed in December of 2018, made CBD federally legal in the United States. These hemp products must have less than .03 THC to be considered legal. While this clearly is a law with limitations, it also opened up doors for many brands and gave a push in the right direction. Get ready, Cannabis Marketing is around the corner. 

So, what should cannabis companies do while stuck in this limbo? Certain states have legality, other ones don’t, yet every state has strict and confusing restrictions. 

  1. Creating a cohesive brand is key. Give your brand a recognizable look; make a brand differentiation strategy and create a tone that sets you apart from the competition. Although advertising is currently tricky, having a brand with a strong universal theme will help consumers find you on shelf or behind the bar. 
  1. Appear legitimate and produce high-quality content. “Marijuana” carries a negative connotation for many people. They hear things about cannabis and have a predisposed picture in their heads. Imagine if they saw Marijuana Marketing content that was artistic, well thought out, and perfectly planned. This will not only create a tone of professionalism for your brand, but also help shift the overall feelings of cannabis. 
  1. Because of this existing stigma, be prepared to educate. The complexity of cannabis stretches beyond the new consumer’s knowledge. There will be a learning process in which strains, THC content levels, and usage are necessary to explain for both customers and the general public. Creating clear, informative content will put your brand in a thought leader position. 
  1. Driving consumers to your website using SEO keywords can be extremely beneficial. Create blogs on topics that the consumer wants to read about relating to the topic using key SEO terms. Find people who are interested and familiarize them with your brand. Be the expert. It is much easier to advertise to those who are already interested in the topic. Those people will be actively searching the topic, and it is up to brands to provide them with accurate and viable information. 
  1. Understand the consumers. Find out what terms are bringing them to your site. What are the top performing landing pages? Figure out the intent of the audience and surpass their expectations. Convert first time viewers into returning customers with engaging content. This is where analytics are huge. It is important to understand what is working and keep moving forward in that direction. 

If you’re entering into the cannabis business, now is the time to connect with audiences. Brands need to boost awareness, engagement, and trust as soon as possible. The industry is expanding fast and ensuring your brand has a place in the market must be done now. Do not fall behind, get ahead of the game and prepare for the launch.