For many operators in the industry struggling to survive, marketing has become all but an afterthought.
It’s easy to play the blame game here: illicit markets, over-regulation, burdensome taxes, small teams, and an economic downturn—yikes!
While the industry sorts out these growing pains, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if operators could find ways to grow their customer base and sell more products.
This is where overlooked opportunities and low-hanging fruit in cannabis marketing come into play.
What do outside marketers have to say about cannabis marketing? What advice and insights can industry stakeholders glean from the pros who are crushing it in other industries?
Expanding your market reach
One of the biggest pitfalls in cannabis marketing is believing the product will sell itself, or that the prime target demographic is everyone who smokes flower. These are big mistakes if you want to develop a business model that drives revenue in 2023.
For every person who knows your brand, there are countless people who have no idea you exist.
“Whatever you’re trying to sell, there are a lot of different companies, and it gets confusing,” said Scott Floyd, a senior marketing executive who’s worked with some of the world’s top brands over the past 25 years, including Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, and T-Mobile.
“There’s certainly a lot of room for these cannabis companies to try and make a name for themselves or become a little more well known,” Floyd said, adding that the storytelling doesn’t quite seem to be there.
“What’s the story and the positioning that you can craft that is going to destigmatize cannabis and make it seem more enjoyable for people who don’t use it?” Floyd asked—listing several alcohol companies like Absolut and Miller Lite that have succeeded in making their products viewed as acceptable even among non-drinkers.
“I don’t know that cannabis has cracked that code,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve found that common ground or common story between people who use it or celebrate it versus people who don’t.”
Patience Ramsey—an award-winning executive and entrepreneur who works at the intersection of mainstream brand, tech, sports, and entertainment—also sees a big opportunity for cannabis marketers who can figure out how to reach new target audiences.
“I’m assuming everyone’s looking for opportunities for growth…and that comes with trying to break down the barriers to make it less intimidating and more approachable,” Ramsey said. “Someone on the fringe could be a huge potential customer and could also be an advocate for your brand if they better understood it.”
Marketing on a slim budget
One of the biggest misconceptions about marketing is that you need a sizable budget to see any real return on investment.
But Floyd is quick to nip that notion in the bud.
“Some of our more successful campaigns have been pretty low-frills budget, just super creative ideas, generating a ton of earned media around a cultural moment,” he said. “Whether that’s Memorial Day or Labor Day and barbecues, or football or something around music or whatever, just finding moments where we can generate a lot of organic conversation and then finding creative ways to insert ourselves.”
According to Floyd, even bigger brands like Pepsi often have smaller marketing budgets than you’d think, centered on scrappy, earned media campaigns.
“Sometimes it’s about making fun of our competitors or just trying to pump up something we’re doing for the NFL season, or preparing food, whether it’s pizza or hot dogs,” he said.
A lot of consumers actually resonate more with lo-fi, down-and-dirty content versus highly polished, glossy, huge production content, Ramsey said.
“For the right marketer, who has a knack for creativity, I think TikTok is the place to win, right? Anyone that gets stuck in the cannabis rabbit hole on TikTok should know about your brand,” she said. “On a slim budget, you could put out 100 pieces of content, put a little media behind it, see what sticks, and then go deeper in that direction.”
Email marketing and segmenting your audience
Did you know that email marketing, on average, generates $42 for every $1 spent? A 4,200% return on investment is nothing to sneeze at.
We could do a whole master class on email marketing: list building, marketing funnels, cart abandonment emails, cold emails, etc.
No matter how simple or complex you want to keep your email strategy, segmentation is one of the most crucial components, allowing you to organize and communicate with your customers based on specific preferences or demographics.
“Segmenting is how you personalize offers for your audience, and a lot of cannabis brands aren’t doing it, which is bizarre,” said Steve Nolan, who runs two marketing agencies, including WUNDERWORX for the cannabis industry.
“The lack of segmenting translates to a lot of lost opportunities for these cannabis brands,” said Nolan.
Marketing during economic recessions
In times of economic uncertainty, the marketing budget is typically one of the first things businesses cut. This goes for cannabis and almost every other industry.
In any industry, cutting the marketing budget is like saying, “the economy sucks right now, so we’re going to compromise our entire business model.” It’s ironic and even absurd when you think about it.
But it’s not uncommon for companies to nuke their entire marketing department or reduce it to one person—just when they need it most, noted content manager and strategist Jessica McKeil.
“When everyone else is shutting down their marketing efforts, this is your time to shine,” said McKeil. “For example, if everyone is cutting their SEO budget, you can dominate your local SEO.”
The marketing budget usually gets cut first when companies don’t understand marketing,” Nolan added. “As a result, recessions are a great time for companies to double down on their marketing because there’s less clutter out there, less noise.”