Cannabis companies and those providing ancillary products and services face many obstacles due to federal illegality. We are all familiar with the challenges of banking, but one impediment perhaps not as widely appreciated outside of the industry or well understood within it is restriction upon advertising and marketing. Many traditional advertising solutions are not available to the cannabis industry because the mainstream media perceives a risk to working with these potential customers and finds it not to be worth the effort. Perhaps even more troublesome are the many rules and regulations within state or local markets.
Looking beyond traditional advertising, many of the most popular social media platforms are not available to cannabis businesses. Instagram has kicked companies off without warning when their following exceeded an undisclosed number. Facebook, Google and Twitter have policies against advertising.
At New Cannabis Ventures, we can relate to this problem, as we were rejected by Facebook when we tried to run an ad that wasn’t about a cannabis product but merely included the word “cannabis”:
Facebook: No ads for you! Next!!!
Companies courting cannabis consumers can’t pursue most traditional advertising avenues. Several television ads in Colorado and Oregon have been pulled at the last minute because the station owners decided against running them. Billboards, newspaper, mainstream magazines and radio are problematic as well. Some companies have temporary success with Google Ads or other types of campaigns, but, for the most part, social media advertising has been difficult. Fortunately, there are several solutions available, many of which are listed in our NCV Network for cannabis products and services.
We have found several apps/websites that focus on the cannabis industry, and we list eight of them under “advertising networks”. Perhaps best known is Leafly, the strain review website owned by Privateer Holdings. Its power is evident in Washington State, where budtenders aren’t permitted to discuss medicinal benefits in recreational stores and instead point their customers to Leafly. There are several “dispensary locators”, which help direct cannabis consumers to specific dispensaries, the best known of which is WeedMaps. The company reportedly booked sales in excess of $30mm last year. WeedMaps CEO Justin Hartfield, who succeeds despite or perhaps due to his “10-20 bowls a day of Hardcore OG concentrates” each day, is set to launch a B2C website to sell ancillary products. A relative newcomer, MassRoots, has already built a community in excess of 500K cannabis-focused members who prefer the semi-anonymous community to more traditional social media. The company, which is publicly-traded, aims to move from the OTC to the NASDAQ.
In addition to the networks, we include in the NCV Network more than two dozen media companies, a group that is growing rapidly and includes physical and online properties as well as audio and video services. These niche offerings allow cannabis companies to get around local advertising restrictions. So, while cannabis companies marketing to consumers do face some challenges, they still have many choices when it comes to advertising.
When it comes to B2B cannabis advertising, there are, unfortunately, fewer options available. For businesses looking to connect with potential partners, customers, service providers, suppliers or investors, the most popular ways include business conferences, joining industry trade groups like the National Cannabis Industry Association, trying to tap into the B2C offerings, or participating in LinkedIn networking groups, like Cannabis Investors & Entrepreneurs, which now has over 2000 members. We have spent a lot of time evaluating some of the online industry directories and find them to be difficult to navigate and laden with outdated or incorrect information.
The lack of cannabis advertising solutions available to businesses seeking to connect with other businesses, along with several other recent developments, motivated us to launch New Cannabis Ventures in September. Our goal is to better connect the industry, focusing on only the most promising cannabis companies and the most influential investors and allowing cannabis companies, ancillary product and service providers and investors to save time while learning about potential business partners. We are encouraged by the efforts many others are making to help address the challenges of promoting one’s cannabis-related company and are quickly discovering steps companies can take to elevate their awareness and expand their network.
One significant change over the past year has been the improvement in business-focused content. While some mainstream print media, like the Denver Post, through its “The Cannabist”, the San Francisco Chronicle, through its “Smell the Truth”, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and the Village Voice, have increased their coverage of the business side of the cannabis industry, we are also seeing some organizations that are doing a great job on seeking out industry leaders and innovators for interviews or articles. Having your company featured as a subject or being included as an attributed source is a way to boost your company’s visibility with other businesses. Publishing a blog is a great way to achieve this, developing your reputation as a thought leader. A great example of this is Canna Law Group, which publishes the Canna Law Blog.
While we have no formal relationships with any content providers, we are encouraged by the efforts of Cashinbis and CannaInsider and incorporate a great deal of their content. Cashinbis started off doing short written interviews that included some first-class graphics and is now doing audio and video interviews, while CannaInsider continues to produce excellent weekly in-depth audio interviews. We think it is very worthwhile for businesses trying to raise their awareness to invest in video content.
What makes content like that provided by Cashinbis and CannaInsider work so well for companies looking to increase their awareness is that the interviews are shared to their targeted audience by email. Additionally, we think that this type of content resonates well with investors contemplating funding companies seeking capital. At New Cannabis Ventures, we have seen the power of video in our “virtual booths”, which are specialized landing pages designed to help promote the sponsor. For instance, the virtual booth for Colorado-based ebbu, which is focused on predictable cannabis products, has experienced an average visit of almost three minutes, mainly because visitors are watching the short videos that we include. We recommend keeping the introductory video under three minutes. While it’s better to have these videos hosted on a third-party site, we encourage companies to host them on their own site as well.
We also think it’s important to include high quality images in any published content about your business. Just say no to stock photos, as these will tell your potential customers, partners, investors or the media that you are either cheap, lazy or unethical. Whether you are publishing your own content to help promote yourself or are being featured by a third-party, include a graphic to help tell your story. Blog posts are helpful, but having them published or linked on a third-party site will allow your content to have even more credibility.
We are seeing many marketing and branding professionals begin to focus on the cannabis industry and include dozens of these firms in the NCV Network. We were pleased to see a small traditional advertising firm help Cresco Labs, a cultivator and processor in Illinois, with its marketing effort. Cresco plants to hand out clever postcards to tens of thousands of participants in the Chicago Marathon next month. While this effort is consumer-focused, cannabis companies will benefit by the growth of marketing and branding firms focused on this industry.
Though businesses in the cannabis industry seeking to connect with other businesses have fewer options than those seeking to connect with consumers, we are pleased with the progress. We expect to see more alternatives to expensive trade show booths or ineffective online networking as the developing B2B cannabis advertising solutions become better appreciated. We have only scratched the surface here, and we look forward to sharing more information about how to overcome this obstacle that makes connecting with businesses and investors in the cannabis industry so difficult. Let us hear your thoughts! You can email us, post to our Facebook page or join the discussion in the LinkedIn Group, Cannabis Investors & Entrepreneurs.