As the cannabis industry continues to mature and grow more sophisticated, the level of competition among retailers rises. Cannabis businesses that underestimate this fact may be in for a surprise. Now more than ever, impeccable branding and solid business and marketing plans are vital for market success. Cannabis is so much more than a product—it’s a culture and a lifestyle. Cannabis is also medicine that benefits an untold number of Americans every day, and cannabis jobs put food on the table for a growing number of families.
When you stop to consider the amazing range of benefits cannabis use has for a wide demographic of consumers, it may seem that marketing it should be easy. This is true only to a point. For a successful cannabis company to dominate local sales today, marketing is extremely important. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana doesn’t simply sell itself. Cannabis is legal these days, and consumers have a plethora of choices—and these choices lead to competition. Craft beer makers and microbreweries face a similar situation. A cannabis product or craft beer can be top quality, but without proper marketing, the public will never learn about it or purchase it to appreciate its unique appeal.
A comprehensive cannabis marketing strategy can include a wide range of components. Company and brand image are very important when promoting them to potential customers. To get started with your marketing strategy, let’s examine some of the essential elements to put you on the path to success.
Strongly consider the language you use for branding, products, store signage, and advertisements. Never underestimate the intelligence of your customers; assume they are educated and savvy when it comes to buying products and making decisions. Many of these consumers are passionate about cannabis, so they already know plenty about it.
If you own a cannabis business or work in a cannabis job capacity, you’ve no doubt read or at least seen the better cannabis business publications. Pay attention to the words used in these publications. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the Cannabis Training University and the better cannabis business publications avoid terms like “pot,” “weed,” “reefer,” “stoner,” or “pothead?” It’s no coincidence. These are very conscious decisions the editors and staff make. They want to appeal to an intelligent consumer—not a dimwit. They opt for words like “cannabis” and “marijuana” because that terminology resonates with a more intelligent audience—an audience that has money to spend and wants to learn from a reliable source. This is reason enough to use appropriate language to broaden your business’s appeal.
Don’t Ignore the Local Community
Like businesses in other industries, cannabis companies need to get involved in local causes and community concerns to broaden their exposure and public image. Cannabis companies should do all they can to change cannabis stigmas and inaccurate perceptions about cannabis use—because, unfortunately, both are still common these days. Cannabis companies need to be good neighbors and educators to increase acceptance of the plant. Many people who remain on the fence about cannabis use will come around and learn to accept it if they see the positives relating to its use rather than inaccurate negatives.
Get involved in your community by sponsoring local events or causes. Fortify relationships with neighboring businesses by participating in trash pickup and snow removal. Be friendly, inviting, and transparent. These days, if you’re involved with a cannabis business, you also need to be involved in changing perceptions about cannabis. The two go hand in hand, and proper education and friendly business practices go a long way toward erasing lingering marijuana stigmas of the past.
To effectively market your cannabis businesses, you also must follow every letter of the law. If you are guilty of any infractions, most likely it will be publicized and become public knowledge, which does nothing to grow your business. Businesses that fail to comply with local and state laws will eventually get caught. Even those that make every effort to comply may occasionally experience a code violation, so having a good plan for crisis management is a wise way to plan before an infraction is made and a crisis hits. While crisis management often falls under the umbrella of public relations, marketing and public relations go hand-in-hand and maintain a close relationship.
With the cannabis industries in various states being as regulated as they are today, a periodic review of existing legislation and the details of your business operations is a sound practice. New laws and amendments to existing laws occur all the time, and ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. Compliance is a word everyone working in the cannabis space should know. Failing to comply is bad for business and will make marketing your company much more difficult. People tend to remember negatives more quickly than positives, so having negative press or word of mouth can hurt…a lot.
Seasonal Promotions and Specials
Strategize and build a calendar of weekly specials and seasonal promotions to present to your customers. Offer them special savings opportunities to help ensure they remain repeat customers. For instance, if you focus on promoting infused cookies, bars, and other sweets during the fourth quarter of the year during the holiday season when people are partying and eating candies and sweets more than usual, plan your weekly specials around that product category. Promote infused cakes, brownies, and chocolates one week, and infused bottled coffees and tinctures the next.
Like the holiday season promotion, plan your quarterly promos at times of the year when they make sense. Promote infused frozen fruit bars, ices, and soft drinks during the hot summer months. Promote pre-rolled joints and blunts in the spring when people are once again spending time outdoors. For visual merchandising, create store signage and displays that draw attention to your specials. These types of promos result in impulse buys from customers who came to your store for other items and were enticed by your seasonal offerings.
Loyalty Clubs and Programs
Every cannabis retailer should have a program to promote brand loyalty. The main goal of these programs is to create a strong customer base of repeat buyers. The loyalty programs are similar to what you experience when shopping at a supermarket. Shoppers identify themselves to the checkout cashier with either a card or a phone number and receive discounts programmed into the POS system. When a new customer enters the stores, the check-in receptionist inquires if they are a club member. If the customer is not, he or she is encouraged to sign up to receive a 10% to 12% discount on purchases. Most shoppers are happy to receive the savings. The loyalty program application should require an email address or phone number so customers can remain informed about special offers.
Promotions should reward loyalty program members with greater saving than regular nonmember customers. When nonmembers shop and see the savings they are missing out on, they will most likely want to sign up. Brand loyalty, increased conversion rate, and repeat business result.
Email and Text Marketing
Your loyalty club members provide email addresses or cell phone numbers (for texting) that provide an ideal way to keep them informed about promos and specials. With most Americans hopelessly addicted to their smartphones, weekly text alerts are the manner in which most cannabis companies choose to promote seasonal and loyalty club specials.
Email marketing provides a means of communicating offers in more detail, with appealing photos and graphics to help ensure that loyalty customers will stop in for a shopping visit.
The more times you can convince customers to visit your store, the more likely they will be to keep shopping at that retail location. Once again, brand loyalty is the result.
Social Media and Websites
All retailers should have a website and social media presence to market their businesses—and cannabis retailers should be no different. When potential customers want to find you, they’ll go to the internet. If you’re not there, you may be sending them a message that you’re not worthy of their business.
A website will provide a visual experience that introduces potential customers to the impressive store interior and explains the high quality of its products. Dropdown menus will provide a full description of product categories and available inventory.
A social media presence is another important element of retail marketing. While various social media platforms may be limiting in exactly what various cannabis companies and advertisers can promote, the presence allows for brand and location awareness. Social media also provides a means for companies to communicate with customers in a way other marketing methods do not allow: interactive posting. Becoming engaged in dialogue with customers is a valuable tool. A company’s social media coordinator can smooth the ruffled feathers of a disgruntled shopper through diplomatic communication. Sometimes an explanation of a store’s policies is based on local laws and regulations. Explaining these things to customers in a friendly manner goes a long way toward maintaining a good public image.
No retail marketing strategy is complete without advertising—the most time-tested and traditional form of marketing. Retail advertising is essentially another way to promote special sales and location awareness.
Radio advertising is an especially good method for location awareness. We’ve all heard these ads. After explaining the unique reasons why customers should shop at a given retail store—perhaps through exclusive products or lower price point—providing a location will attract local shoppers who may not be aware of the business. The verbal message usually announces major cross-streets and proximity to landmarks or businesses: “We’re at Fifth and Main Streets, right next to Domino’s Pizza.” As with social media, there will most likely be limits to what you can convey in your radio messages. If you can’t mention specific strains offered for sale, discuss high-quality, low process, and easy access to the business—anything that encourages potential customers to come in for a visit.
Social media advertising is another sure way of introducing people to your business. With social media reaching a truly enormous number of viewers, the visibility factor makes this an attractive option. While local companies serving the residents of their own state will probably opt out of this type of advertising, national cannabis ancillary companies that don’t touch the plant will find it often makes sense. Like other cannabis advertising, social media platforms have guidelines for acceptable ad content.
Print advertising is another means for creating store awareness. Print ads often allow the advertiser to include coupons for customer discounts. Everyone is looking for a good deal, so coupons—although somewhat old school—are still an effective marketing tool. Finding a publication that allows cannabis business advertising can be a challenge, but nearly every community has print weeklies promoting progressive lifestyle, food, entertainment, and culture. These publications are your best bet for reaching your target demographic (for cannabis, the 21 to 35 age group).
Clearly, the manner in which you choose to market your cannabis retail business has a variety of options, and many companies choose to use several or all of them. With the increasingly competitive nature of marijuana sales in an ever-increasing number of states, businesses need to get creative and visible with their advertising and marketing. If you’re a retailer, failing to do so will decrease your competitive standing among other local businesses that market many of the same products. With effective and compelling marketing, customer traffic and sales will increase—two components that guarantee business success!