Overcoming Advertising and Marketing Challenges in the Cannabis Industry
Guest Post by Rob Fess, Director of Marketing at Tradiv
Prior to entering the cannabis industry, I had an arsenal of digital marketing tools at my disposal. Google alone provided a full suite of products – YouTube, AdWords, and Google Display Network, to call out a few favorites. There were Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, a host of other Social Media options, plus retargeting, co-op retargeting, and a range of other cool and interesting ways to find customers online.
In fact, for the first 30 or so minutes of thinking, “I’d really like to work in the cannabis industry,” I started seeing dollar signs. I checked industry keywords, and as far as I could tell, nobody was using my tried-and-true digital tools – I was going to make a killing. But, my intuition kicked in and my dream was spoiled as I realized that there wasn’t a grossly overlooked opportunity, but instead regulations keeping cannabis out of digital marketing.
However, as one opportunity faded, a second opportunity presented itself. If no one in the cannabis industry could use traditional digital marketing tools, then how were they getting in front of customers, and more importantly, were they doing it in the most effective way?
As I began to dig in, I found plenty of advertising options in traditional print (Dope, Culture, Sensi, etc.), a closed ad network (Mantis) where you can use cannabis-related keywords, as well as a smattering of content marketing channels. All were mostly in the B2C (business to consumer) space – dispensaries or branded product manufacturers trying to reach retail customers. I had already landed my cannabis industry dream job at Tradiv, an online wholesale cannabis marketplace, so my focus was on the B2B (business to business) side. Nevertheless, as part of my role with Tradiv, I provide value to our partners by giving them marketing tips and pointers, so my study of cannabis industry marketing allowed me to look at both B2B and B2C.
If you’ve had any experience trying to market your B2C cannabis company, you may have noticed that costs can be all over the place. One outlet might want $15K, but a similar outfit might be looking for $5K for seemingly the same advertising product. There could be a number of reasons for this disparity – not really comparing apples to apples, a new media outlet is offering entry-level pricing, another has delusional pricing.
So, how do you decide where to spend your precious marketing dollars to ensure your business grows and the boss is happy? Let’s focus on two basic areas – Digital Marketing on Content Sites and SEO.
Digital Marketing on Content Sites
There are some great cannabis content sites out there. Some target new consumers – not the old-school stoners that already have preferences, but the newbies who are just now establishing their predilections – providing them with much needed info on the basics of cannabis. For a B2C company, getting in front of those fresh eyes can be a great way to establish your brand.
Look for a couple of channels that can give you some hard numbers on their audience – X unique visitors per month to their website, X subscribers to their email – then get an understanding of who that audience is to see if they line up with your customer. You can usually request this information directly from their website. Check to see if you’re comparing apples to apples – each option is a content website, they use the same type of banner ads to display your product or services, costs are within a reasonable dollar amount of each other. Now it’s time to make a decision. If you really can’t tell one from the other, your decision could be based on who was more responsive to your emails or who wasn’t pressuring you to “sign now”. Pick something and move forward.
When going the digital route, be sure to set up tracking to show attribution and monitor ROI (return on investment). You’ll want to watch to see if you’re bringing in more dollars than you’re spending. The formula you use to tell you if this is successful will depend on your business – what stage it’s in, the lifetime value of an acquired customer and much more. But if you need something to start with, just go with basic business sense – you need to make more than you spend.
SEO and Content Production
Another area that doesn’t always seem like advertising, but results in visits to your website and should ultimately end in sales, is Search Engine Optimization or SEO. That is, making your site attractive to search engines such as Google and Yahoo, so that when someone types in a cannabis-related keyword, your site appears in the organic search engine results pages. We may not be able to buy advertising with Google, but we can work our butts off making sure we’re ranking on the first page of their organic results. The mechanics of SEO are complicated and ever-changing, and thus are often handled by external agencies or in-house experts. But, there are a few things you can try on your own to see if you can bring in a little traffic. If it works, throw more time at it, or invest in a specialist.
The best basic way to approach SEO is by identifying the keywords you want to rank for and creating content around those words, such as videos, blog posts, or articles about your product. Be sure to include those keywords throughout your content – in the headlines, subheads, page titles, image tags – but make it sound natural, not forced. Set a schedule and stick to it – one blog post whenever it happens just isn’t going to cut it. Be consistent and win the race.
Though the cannabis industry may not have access to some of the tried-and-true digital tools used by mainstream marketers, we can draw on the innovative spirit that has guided our industry for decades. We just need to be creative and look for the opportunities that exist in this nascent sector.
About the author:
Rob Fess is the Marketing Director for Tradiv, an online wholesale platform that connects cannabis cultivators and edible/concentrate manufacturers with retailers. Rob graduated from the Defense Language Institute and served in the United States Army, Military Intelligence. He began working in marketing and ecommerce in the late ‘90s as an early employee running the Content, Data and Creative departments for AutoAnything.com (acquired by Auto Zone in 2012), the Director of Ecommerce at LifeProof (acquired by OtterBox in 2013), and served in similar roles at various other startups. Rob sits on the advisory board of AthleteIQ, an online platform for endurance athletes. He is a National Security Education Program Boren Scholarship recipient as well as multiple Ironman triathlon finisher.