How to Walk the Line With Cannabis Advertising Rules

Learn how to get your brand in front of the right audiences, despite challenging advertising regulations

What is one thing that two-thirds of Americans support (and likely consume), but have never seen or heard traditionally advertised—on TV, radio or most print outlets? If you guessed cannabis, you’re right. 

Even in legal states, the ways that cannabis companies are allowed to advertise their products or services are strictly regulated. 

That certainly presents a challenge for cannabis businesses trying to figure out how to educate consumers about their products and raise brand awareness. But knowledge is power—particularly when it comes to knowing where, when and how cannabis companies can advertise in different markets, without getting into regulatory hot water or wasting resources.

Whatever elements you choose to include in your cannabis marketing plans, know that advertising limits don’t have to be a total bugaboo. Instead, they can inspire your team to be more strategic in connecting with customers who run the gamut from canna-curious to long-time connoisseurs. 

With a solid understanding of cannabis advertising rules, you can craft a marketing strategy that gives you more bounce to the ounce, without ever once putting a picture of bud on a billboard.

What Are Cannabis Advertising Rules? 

The rules for how cannabis companies can advertise vary by state. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Colorado cannabis regulations stipulate: “A Retail Marijuana Business may Advertise in television, radio, a print publication or via the internet only where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be at least the age of 21.” (Massachusetts sets the bar at 85 percent.)
  • In Illinois, you aren’t allowed to show any consumption—from smoking or vaping to popping an edible treat. 
  • Maine marijuana policy, along with several other states, forbids dispensary marketing from including signage or visual advertising within “1,000 feet of the property line of a preexisting public or private school.” 

This skims the surface of the kind of rules that determine how cannabis companies are allowed to get the word out about their products or services. These rules aren’t unlike those applied to other highly regulated industries such as alcohol or tobacco. But there is an additional layer of complication that other industries do not face.

Because cannabis is federally illegal, that means that TV and radio stations beholden to the Federal Communications Commission will most likely refuse ads peddling cannabis, even as you see placements for major liquor and beer brands on prime-time TV. 

So if you aren’t allowed to depict the product or show it being used, or make any overt health or safety claims, and you’re limited in when and where you can advertise on television, radio, the internet and the urban space where your business operates, what’s a cannabis company to do? You get strategic about your marketing efforts. 

Advertising Compliance for Cannabis Brands

Let’s face it—compliance is the name of the game in cannabis. And compliance with advertising regulations is just as important for cannabis brands as following the rules for cultivation, manufacturing and retail. 

Some types of marketing are easier for cannabis brands to navigate than others because there’s less red tape. Content marketing through owned-media channels, for example, provides companies a little more freedom and control over the information they provide and how they communicate their brand values. 

Owned media is only one part of a successful cannabis marketing strategy, however. It’s important to be educated on the advertising regulations in the jurisdictions where you do business and to know exactly what’s necessary to stay in compliance. Advertising regulations at the state and local levels can get very granular, and even certain wording or phrasing in advertising materials can run the risk of fines, having to pull promotional swag, or even the loss of your cannabis license. 

It’s crucial to be fluent in cannabis and to work with partner companies that can say the same—particularly if you’re working with a vendor on marketing and advertising efforts rather than handling them in-house. Having experience in advertising is one thing, but knowing which states might penalize you for making health claims in a blog post is quite another. You need a strong background in both advertising and cannabis to avoid any messaging mishaps.

Alternatives to Traditional Advertising

Cannabis entrepreneurs have always been a creative bunch. For decades they found clever solutions for cultivation and sales before the era of medical and recreational legalization. Now a new generation of cannabis professionals is finding workarounds to reach customers in legal markets despite advertising rules still very much shaped by the War on Drugs.

Just as it’s important to know how to work within the confines of traditional advertising and all its attendant regulations, it’s equally valuable to know when the better opportunity is an alternative advertising channel. Cannabis companies are thinking outside the box and meeting customers where they’re most likely to be hanging out. These days, that meeting place is often online. 

Radio and TV, Meet Podcasts and Vlogging

Just because television, radio and digital advertising are more tightly administered than your company’s website doesn’t take these channels off the table entirely. Or at least, cannabis business owners can find creative workarounds that still produce results. 

Increasingly, cannabis and CBD brands are turning to podcasts instead of terrestrial radio to place audio advertisements. And instead of traditional TV commercials, cannabis brands are turning to other video content, like product reviews and how-tos hosted by vloggers, influencers doing unboxing videos or behind-the-scenes footage that gives consumers a peek at how your company functions.

Advertising Cannabis on Social Media

That said, the digital platforms that host podcasts and video content have their own usage terms and conditions. Social media companies have a notoriously conservative take on cannabis, natural psychedelics and other substances that are illegal at the federal level. 

As a result, the online cannabis community has found creative workarounds to avoid having traffic to their profiles throttled or their accounts shadowbanned or outright suspended on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For example, the hashtag #weed gets flagged by an algorithm but #ouid, #w33d and #st0ner tags or emoji like the tree, broccoli or seedling have less chance of getting negative attention—at least until the bots catch on.

While it’s hard to say for sure where social media platforms will land when cannabis is eventually legalized at the federal level, there may be changes coming sooner than that. Our own Ricardo Baca predicts we’ll start to see a softening of the cannabis-averse guidelines as soon as 2022. Indeed, other big tech companies adjacent to social media such as Apple and Google are starting to loosen their restrictions on cannabis-related apps and paid SEO terms.

Tapping Into Cannabis-Fluent PR

PR, of course, remains a fantastic advertising resource for cannabis brands. Working with cannabis-fluent publicists to reach journalists and consumers through earned media, event marketing and other PR channels is a targeted solution to raising brand awareness. 

One of the major advantages of public relations is that it sidesteps advertising regulations. Instead of exposing your brand message to anyone who drives by a particular highway mile or clicks over to a certain channel at a certain time, you can make deeper connections with potential customers. From trade shows to current-events interviews, thought leadership columns, conference presentations and media releases, PR offers a vast array of opportunities for messaging that can reach a wide audience—but one that’s curated too.

To learn more about Grasslands agency services, contact us anytime.

The History and Evolution of 420 Marketing

4/20 is widely considered the dankest day of the year, when cannabis enthusiasts celebrate coast to coast and the whole world gets a little hazier. As legalization has spread and stigmatization has decreased, the term 420 has grown from a stoner in-joke to a nationally recognized, if still unofficial, holiday. 

And it remains a huge marketing opportunity, not unlike the commercialization of Pride Parades or the proliferation of Presidents Day sales. 

So how did this curious bit of shorthand that for decades has inspired the theft of 420 mile markers and street signs come to encompass decades of cannabis culture? Of all the historical terms linked to cannabis, from the racially-tinged marijuana to the devil’s lettuce, chronic and fire, how did 420 come to be so widely known and instantly recognizable? And how can cannabis brands capitalize on the enduring power of one of the best-known examples of cannabis culture slang? Here’s the scoop on 420 marketing.

The Origins of 420

As the legend goes, it all started in 1971 after school let out one fall afternoon in the Bay Area city of San Rafael, California. A group of friends who called themselves The Waldos shared a toke before heading out to Point Reyes in search of a clandestine weed crop that, according to local rumor, had been planted by a member of the ​​U.S. Coast Guard. The private code they used to remind one another to meet up for the mission at 4:20 p.m. became an inside joke passed back and forth in letters, in the school yearbook and even emblazoned on an art class batik banner. 

After The Waldos graduated, they continued to run in the broader Bay Area social scene of the 1970s, crossing paths with members of the Grateful Dead and their fans while working backstage at various gigs. The 420 joke trickled out of their friend group and into the lingo of the regional scene. In the years since, it took on a life of its own with a wide variety of telephone-game origin stories, like the popular theory that 420 was a law enforcement code for marijuana offenses. Eventually, 420 became baked into cannabis culture far beyond California, even as the larger myth obscured The Waldos’ role in starting what would become the ultimate stoner meme. 

The Power of Modern 420 Branding

Over five decades later, 420 has taken on a life of its own. The shortest of shorthands has gone from a time of day to puff-puff-pass with your buddies to an international holiday on April 20, when cannabis enthusiasts across the planet celebrate their favorite plant. 420 legalization rallies, parties, festivals and smoke-ins pop up every year in cities from San Francisco to Denver to Vancouver to Amsterdam. Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t dim 420’s shine, with many marketing events and community gatherings going online as state health officials discouraged large public gatherings. 

And while 420 fervor certainly hits a crescendo each April, the euphemism extends far beyond the cannabis realm. 

The 420 advertising campaigns and branding with mainstream products are everywhere: You’ll find it in dank-smelling, hoppy beers like Declaration Brewing’s massive 420 Freedom Pack or Sweetwater’s 420 Extra Pale Ale— not to mention their annual Sweetwater 420 Music Festival. The term is plastered on t-shirts, socks, stickers and water bottles. 420 even made the cover of cookbooks, lifestyle guides and adult coloring books

It’s a term embraced by companies big and small, both in and outside of the cannabis industry. Fast-food restaurants like Carl’s Jr. and snack brands like Totino’s embrace the meme. For a while at least, if you showed your receipt from the Canabliss Dispensary next door at Straight from New York Pizza in Portland, Oregon, they’d give you a slice and a soda for $4.20. Melt Cosmetics put out a 420 makeup palette in smoke sesh-inspired hues, and Arizona-based FourTwenty infused its skincare line with CBD and THC. Vacation rentals on sites like AirBnB, VRBO, and BudandBreakfast.com denote which properties are “420-friendly,” indicating on-site consumption is A-OK. 420 is the name of a canna-tourism group in Denver, a hotel package in Portland; and even a piece of cannabis legislation in California.

Why 420 Branding and Marketing Still Works

So why did 420 take off as a meme in the cannabis space decades before widespread legalization? And why has it endured in the era of big cannabis marketing budgets and a pop culture landscape increasingly driven by rapid-fire microtrends? Understanding why 420 has been such a durable meme is key to understanding what makes for effective 420 product launches. 

Essentially, 420 is a short, instantly recognizable phrase that still has the whiff of a secret or an inside joke. That’s the kind of snappy, larger-than-life tagline that marketers hunt for like prized truffles. The term signifies not just the overall appeal of cannabis, but also the pre-legalization era that evokes nostalgia for a lot of people who partake. Even if you never scarfed down a magic brownie in the parking lot of a Marin County Dead show, it’s hard to put a price on that kind of sentimentality. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the dispensary or happen to see a 420 street address, it always generates a “heh” moment.

420 is also flexible and adaptable, as any durable meme should be. Just look at the sheer variety of companies that have incorporated this catchphrase into their branding. These are just a few of the reasons why the week of April 20 remains one of the best times to launch cannabis products, and the days leading up to it feel a little like Black Friday.

420 Marketing Today

Despite being invented well before the internet went mainstream, 420 was perfectly adaptable perfectly to use as a hashtag and shorthand in the social media era too. It’s not often you find a piece of cultural ephemera that can be folded into new trends in the cannabis industry without losing its old-school flavor. Naturally, marketers still want to tap into that longstanding association. 

420’s decades-long staying power contributes to the meme’s unique ethos as well. Even years after the Waldos first met up at 4:20 p.m., the term still suggests that it’s time to enjoy yourself— the bud equivalent of “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” 420 still powerfully recalls The Waldos’ communal belief in putting a pause on obligations to take some time together and in the social nature of savoring weed

Of course brands of all sorts, whether in the cannabis industry or adjacent to it, would want to make that potent ethos their own. That’s especially true now that legal recreational and medical cannabis are bringing more people together than ever. While cannabis culture might be evolving beyond old stoner stereotypes, 420 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

5 More Key Cannabis Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Brand (Part 2)

Three cannabis marketing professionals are in a conference room, one seated with a laptop at a table and two standing at a white board gesturing at elements of a marketing strategy

In the crowded cannabis space, everyone’s jockeying for brand awareness. But coming out first in the race for customer attention requires some savvy planning. It also requires deep familiarity with regulated cannabis markets and cannabis advertising regulations that impact both digital marketing and offline strategies.

Getting your team aligned on your marketing goals is the first step. Here’s how to start the conversation on your cannabis marketing strategy:

1) Meet Your Target Audience With Market Research

To build trust and get your well-defined brand out there, you first have to reach your target audience. This is a two-fold process.

Meeting your customers where they’re at means dialing in on who exactly fits into your brand’s target audience. These insights happen through quality market research.

It also means knowing where your customers go online and off, so you can make sure your cannabis brand is in the right place at the right time. Cannabis marketing agencies like Grasslands can help you identify and reach your target audiences through earned and owned media channels, advertising and event marketing.

2) Stay Informed on Cannabis Marketing Rules

Because cannabis is such a highly regulated industry, it’s important to ensure the content strategy you’re executing on earned, owned and paid media channels is in line with current state and federal cannabis marketing laws and adheres to marketing policies set forth by private advertising platforms. Cannabis businesses face all sorts of marketing obstacles  that companies in other fields do not—from restrictions on financial transactions to stringent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advertising rules to social media network policies on the promotion of drugs. Don’t waste your time and budget on advertising strategies that you won’t be able to legally execute on or that could lead to the need for crisis management services.

3) Leverage Local and Regional Marketing Opportunities

Dreaming big is important—after all, what business owner doesn’t want their brand to take the biggest market share possible, growing to national or even global proportions? It’s equally important to dream small, though. And by that, we mean that it’s critical for most cannabis businesses to leverage and secure their local markets before attempting to grow on a broader scale.

Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, many cannabusinesses focus first on developing their business strategy and market presence in a single post-prohibition state. That can look like using geo-targeted ads and social media posts, locally-focused SEO keywords, and leveraging regional networks and partnerships.

The power of a solid local and regional presence is another reason to partner with a cannabis marketing agency that has deep ties in your target market and is already well connected with local journalists, media outlets and other cannabusinesses that can help you reach your target audiences.

4) Cultivate Community Through Event Marketing

Digital marketing is integral to any cannabis marketing strategy. But don’t discount the importance of real, live events to bring people together, including potential customers. Whether you’re hosting a mixer or reception at a larger conference like the NoCo Hemp Expo or MjBizCon or a happy hour in your own backyard, event marketing is a great fit for cannabis companies for several reasons.

For one, cannabis products are inherently fun to enjoy with other people. And even if people can’t consume at your event, you know your guests will vibe over their shared interest.

For another, there’s nothing like getting people together in person to generate buzz and word of mouth—a key product of any marketing strategy that is worth its weight in gold (or green). Events are also a great way to build a sense of community. That’s invaluable in and of itself, but particularly so in an industry that is working to change decades of bad press and drug war stigma. Chances are your target audience wants to feel like they’re a part of something. Event marketing is a way for your brand to make that wish come true.

5) Don’t Get Lost in the Weeds

It’s an easy pun to make but an important lesson to remember. You’re bound to find yourself getting deep down in the details of building your business—especially in an industry that’s changing as fast and growing as big as cannabis. But while you’re building your brand’s digital market presence and getting face time with your neighbors offline, don’t forget to have fun.

At the end of the day, marketing cannabis products and services is all about helping people feel their best and connect with one another. Even if your brand tends toward a no-nonsense voice with more buttoned-up messaging,  it’s important to stay in touch with the positive, driving spirit at the heart of the cannabis industry. Maybe that’s just easy for us to say because at Grasslands, we really love what we do. But it will help you stay in touch with the core needs of your customers, too.

Want to learn more? Read our first post in this two part series: Five Key Strategies for Marketing Your Cannabusiness. 

Got a marketing question? Reach out to the Grasslands team anytime.

What the Best Cannabis PR Firms Have Learned About Clio-Winning Marketing Campaigns

Grasslands founder Ricardo Baca stands in the agency office holding the Bronze Clio trophy surrounded by staff members seated in a circle around the room

Who doesn’t love being recognized for hard work? To say we were stoked to win a Clio Award for our agency’s PR campaign for the United States Cannabis Council’s national brand launch is a huge understatement.

Founded in 1959, the Clio Awards showcase the power of marketing in shaping our social consciousness and are a coveted mark of distinction. And since 2019, the Clio program has included a special category for best-in-class cannabis marketing and PR, celebrating the innovative work that’s changing public perception of the industry and legitimizing creators’ dynamic vision in the field.

Bringing home a Clio bronze trophy for USCC’s highly successful 2021 brand launch is the culmination of years of experience learning what makes a Clio Award-winning campaign. The Grasslands team has earned unique insight into what constitutes the kind of boundary-pushing work the Clio jurors look for each year:

Prior to joining Grasslands as our Chief Marketing Officer, Jesse Burns won gold for product design in 2019, the inaugural year of the Clios Cannabis category. The following year, Grasslands CEO Ricardo Baca was invited to serve on the 2020 Clio jury. And one year after that, Baca also contributed voice-acting work to a 2021 Clio-winning episode of Hemp In History produced by The Nug Nation, appearing as the talking-joint narrator.

“I’ve always known that the PR and marketing work we produce inside these four walls is best in class and can hang with the work coming from any other agency,” Baca said. “It’s an honor to have that hypothesis tested by the world’s leader in celebrating creativity in marketing and advertising.”

CREATIVE STORYTELLING, THE GRASSLANDS WAY

So what exactly goes into crafting Clio-worthy cannabis PR campaigns? Today’s cannabis brands are looking to push the envelope with their marketing-communications and PR efforts, setting a goal beyond simple brand recognition to create truly innovative campaigns that advance the industry as a whole. 

But winning a Clio means more than producing smart, appealing collateral. It also requires knowing how to create a submission that effectively tells the story of the work your team has done and the impact it made. 

Sean Billisitz, a Brand Storyteller at Grasslands, said planning ahead is key: “Submitting something for the Clio campaigns is as much about the quality of your submission as the quality of the work your submission is telling a story about. You want to show how the work you’re describing was accomplished.” 

So we made a behind-the-scenes video about it. 

Opting to go the extra mile and creating a video for the submission is in fact a winning strategy that taps into the power of rich media storytelling.

THE SECRET SAUCE OF CLIO-WORTHY CANNABIS MARKETING

And what does the Clio jury want from the submissions it receives? 

“The Clios aren’t a popularity contest, and most jurors recognize that this is a tremendous responsibility they are carrying on their shoulders,” Baca said. “A Clio is something that runs in somebody’s obituary when they die. It carries the weight of an Oscar or a Grammy. It’s not art, per se, but it is artful commerce. Everything for the Clios comes down to bold, courageous creativity.”

The submitted presentation has to connect with a jury composed of creative and marketing professionals from many different facets of the industry. The work that goes before them sets the standard for a nascent and growing field. Impactful cannabis marketing must also function as an ambassadorial effort in some way, connecting with the general public across an uneven landscape of differing social norms. 

It’s not just about the work up for an award. It’s also about knowing how to present in such a way that can be metabolized by the public and help them understand where messaging and cannabis culture are at this moment. Baca noted that the year he served as a juror, he wanted to celebrate work that “was something pushing the marketing paradigm forward. Something with a historical perspective. The cannabis narrative is wholly unique because so many people of color were disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. It’s important to not be completely self-centered.”

The bronze Clios trophy sits on the counter at the Grasslands agency office as team members sit in groups participating in a team-building exercise

MAKING THE MOST OF CANNABIS PR

When’s the last time you took a moment to think deeply about your brand’s marketing and PR strategy? If you’re ready to level up your messaging, review past Clio-winning submissions—you’ll be inspired by what the best cannabis PR firms have accomplished in the past three years. Dream about where your brand will be in a year. After all, this is a fast-growing industry built on calculated risks. What moves can you make that feel like a leap, even as you stick the landing?

Also review your past marketing and PR efforts with a Clio submission in mind. Even if you don’t have a campaign that feels like the right fit, revisiting your previous work can be a good thought starter: What collateral would illustrate your progress? Are you documenting the results of your campaigns in ways that enable you to effectively tell the story of what your team accomplished? Do you have the right industry partners in your corner to take your brand messaging further?

“It comes down to having the courage to push through an idea, to push through a campaign, to push through a piece of marketing that is risky but is built around meaningful relationships, built around emotion,” Burns said. “It has to transcend the industry itself and go back to the roots of human connection.”

Cannabis is a nascent industry, and the campaigns marketing professionals are putting out to the world are truly transforming cannabis culture. The Clio Awards organizers recognize this and are facilitating—and providing incentive for—brave work that is defining what cannabis culture will become. 

Whether you craft a Clios submission in-house or work with a marketing firm, it’s invigorating to know that your story is contributing to the evolution of the industry—and that your brand might join the likes of PuffCoCharlotte’s WebMartha Stewart and Veritas in the next class of Clio winners. 

The Ultimate 2022 Cannabis Industry Forecast Roundup

Does it feel like everyone is clairvoyant these days? There’s something about the start of a new year that makes everyone want to grab a crystal ball and peer into the beyond. Your inbox might be as full of prognostications for 2022 as ours has been—in fact, one or two of them might be our own 10 predictions for cannabis marketing trends this year or Ricardo Baca’s forecast for where the cannabis industry is headed. But there’s nothing wrong with a little prophecy and divination between friends, especially when you’re trying to make the best decisions possible for your cannabusiness.

On the other hand—we’re all busy and it can be a little overwhelming (perhaps, even slightly annoying) to be inundated with so many different predictions for the year ahead. That’s why we decided to round up the top trending 2022 cannabis predictions we’ve seen so far. From Cannabis Business Times to CNBC, New Frontier Data to The Seattle Times and more, here are the 10 cannabis industry predictions for 2022 that we’ve seen dominating forecast lists:

1. Federal legalization won’t happen this year.

We know, we know—sad trombone. But despite various bills related to cannabis making their way through Congress in 2021, it’s unlikely full federal legalization will move forward this year. Instead, keep your eye on how the House might attempt to push the SAFE Banking Act forward in 2022. Both new legislation and broader political backing for cannabis across the aisle will be necessary for full legalization to gain momentum and get across the finish line in a few years. (Forbes, Ganjapreneur)

2. Unlicensed legacy cannabis producers will continue to compete with legal businesses.

Regulated markets across the country will continue to compete with the unregulated market. Although expanding numbers of licensed dispensaries opening in places like Los Angeles may start tipping the scales in favor of regulated operators, other markets still face challenges like high taxes, too few stores and sheer force of habit. (Forbes, Los Angeles Times)

3. Public consumption lounges will be in demand as part of a larger experiential trend.

As the pandemic winds down and public life resumes with more confidence, cannabis consumers hungry for novelty and togetherness will be seeking out public consumption lounges and wellness experiences that incorporate both CBD and THC. (Forbes, Los Angeles Times)

Grasslands’ own Ricardo Baca also recently shared some thoughts on the public consumption lounge trend with Rolling Stone.

4. Cannabis research will further expand.

Scientists are finally delving deeper into studies on cannabis and its efficacy for a variety of medical and wellness applications. The DEA is allowing a fresh crop of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers to grow plants for research (up until now there’s been a monopoly on such research granted to the University of Mississippi of all places). It will be interesting to see how this new wealth of findings will impact the FDA’s appraisal of CBD, particularly following California’s October legalization of the cannabinoid in cosmetics, dietary supplements, food and beverages. (Veriheal, The Seattle Times, Leafly)

5. Potency cap campaigns will continue to dog the industry.

Industry opponents will continue to fight for regulations that limit the amount of THC that can be sold in any given cannabis product. If they succeed, it could drive more consumers back to legacy cannabis producers in lieu of neutered regulated marijuana products. (WeedWeek, Grasslands)

6. Republicans cozy up to cannabis.

Federal legalization isn’t likely to push through in 2022, but more and more Republicans will publicly back cannabis, beginning with the midterm elections. That will contribute to the overall momentum from both political parties to end federal prohibition sooner rather than later. (Cannabis Business Times, WeedWeek, Marijuana Times)

7. The hemp market will continue to boom.

Hemp will continue to grow as a sector in its own right, especially as demand for products like Delta8 increases—though this could lead to added scrutiny. (CNBC, New Frontier Data, Forbes, Leafly, Ganjaprenuer, Cannabis Business Times)

8. Weed delivery is here to stay.

Cannabis delivery and e-commerce became very popular during the pandemic. These options will continue to be in demand with consumers and offered by more and more dispensaries, even after the latest COVID wave subsides. (Grasslands, Ganjaprenuer)

9. Prepare for interstate commerce.

There are more adjacent legal states than ever, and it’s creating a huge incentive for states to begin preparing for interstate cannabis markets. States with well-established cannabis markets will begin working together to align cannabis regulations across their borders in preparation for eventual federal reform. (WeedWeek, Marijuana Times)

10. The consolidation surge will continue.

Mergers and acquisitions show no signs of slowing down, ushering in an era of even bigger cannabis companies. (Los Angeles Times, Ganjaprenuer, Cannabis Business Times, FlowerHire, MJBiz Daily, Reuters)

4 Things that Make Dispensary Sales Go “Boom!”

A cannabis dispensary in eastern Oregon has a sign pointing to the entrance and vintage vehicles parked out front. The structure is a log cabin that fits the town's gold rush branding

You can have the best location, the coolest budtenders, and Willie and Snoop as regular customers. But if you don’t have a dispensary marketing strategy in place to help regular Joes and Mary Janes find your business, it won’t grow like you want it to. 

What does a strong marketing strategy for your dispensary look like? Here are four fundamentals that can build your business, and help you avoid costly mistakes down the line.

1. Build Your Identity

Cannabis dispensaries are not all created equal. They run the gamut from classic headshops to slick spaces where you might want to scoop up a new laptop along with that ounce of Yuzu Tangie. Your business probably falls somewhere in between. But do your customers know where you stand? Before you stock the shelves or design a logo, you need to envision a powerful cannabis brand that will stand out from the competition and appeal to your target audience. (More about that below.)

Take a look at your location, your specialties and the customers most likely to walk through the door. Those pillars form the foundation for the mission that drives your dispensary—from your first shop to your future locations.

2. Draw a bullseye around your target audience

Who do you most want to walk through your door? Curious first-time cannabis buyers who aren’t sure what strains they like? Seasoned connoisseurs who want to explore the nuances of cannabis concentrates? Maybe you want to create an inclusive space that feels especially welcoming to BIPOC or GBLTQIA+ shoppers. Or perhaps you’re opening in a market like Florida or Arizona where the demographics skew towards seniors who may need extra information, education and reassurance from their budtenders. 

Build your brand with your key customers in mind. Everything from your location, to how you design the retail space, to the way you display inventory, to the brand voice and style will help you target key customers. Think laser beams, not searchlights. Establish clear priorities here, and you won’t have to refocus later.

3. Think local, even online

Brick and mortar businesses need hyperlocal outreach to their customers. If you’re not front and center on a Google Maps search for “dispensaries near me,” you’re not maximizing your target audience. Dial in your digital marketing to the customer next door. Tools like geotagging on social media, locally targeted ads, neighborhood discounts and a robust Google My Business profile will throw out the welcome mat to your core customers. 

SEO keywords are another way to market locally, instead of out of town or out of state. You might think of SEO keywords as short, broad terms like “cannabis dispensary,” but those words are as likely to find someone in Thailand as they are in your neighborhood. So harness the power of “long-tail keywords.”

Long-tail keywords use more words to precisely target the answers a search engine delivers. For example, instead of trying to rank for a term like “cannabis dispensary” and competing with businesses all across the country, try a long-tail keyword phrase that speaks to your location, like “cannabis dispensaries in Boston” or “best cannabis dispensary in southern Illinois” or “closest dispensary to the Denver airport.” That will help you top search engine results (also known as SERPs) for the city or neighborhood where you do business, instead of competing in locations where you don’t have a presence. Selling local? SEO local.

4. Study up on dispensary marketing rules and regs

You’ve got another local audience: The regulators who are trying to keep everything within your state’s legal guardrails. Make their jobs easier by ensuring that what you post on social media, the claims you make in blogs, and the words you use in web copy are in line with local regs. That way you won’t get shadowbanned from a platform like Instagram or Facebook, find your Google ads restricted, or have your license revoked for overpromising on health or safety claims. 

Find out who got in trouble and why. Chat up the regulators. Become their ally in enforcement by setting a sterling example. You’ll train The Law to look elsewhere—at your competition, perhaps.

Knowing chapter and verse of advertising regulations is especially important for multi-state dispensary operators who have more than one set of rules to follow, and for dispensaries opening in newly legalized states where guidelines may change quickly over time. A new market is more like a jazz band than a symphony orchestra—they’re improvising as they go along. Listen to the music and keep in step. 

If you decide to outsource your dispensary marketing, partner with an agency that speaks fluent cannabis. A local ad giant with a track record in fast food may know how to sell cheeseburgers, but if they don’t know cannabis compliance, your time and money might lead to a media blackout, or worse.

What is Cannabis Marketing?

A blond woman sits in a midcentury modern chair with a laptop facing a cozy fireplace

Marketing is important for any industry—at a fundamental level, marketing is how you communicate the value your business offers to your customers. But it’s especially important for the cannabis industry, as well as the burgeoning field of legal psychedelics. For one, the cannabis industry is growing rapidly, and the competition gets more fierce every day. For another, there is a greater variety of cannabis products to choose from than ever, from flower to concentrates to edibles and beyond. But the real reason cannabis marketing is so crucial is education.

Marketing doesn’t just mean educating potential customers about the products and services you offer, or your company’s brand values and mission. Those are hugely important pieces of information to communicate, for sure. But marketing also means educating the public about cannabis itself, how it fits into different lifestyles and why this industry is growing so fast despite decades of prohibition and anti-drug rhetoric. 

Think about the numbers. In the years since Colorado and Washington State first opened the door to legal recreational cannabis sales in 2014, over a dozen other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit. However, a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center found that just 18% of U.S. adults said they had used marijuana during the previous year. That means there’s a huge untapped market in the United States—not to mention other countries that have made moves toward medical or recreational legalization. The potential global customer market is huge.

Smart marketing is how cannabis companies can best communicate with potential customers about what products they might want to try. It’s also how cannabis companies can position themselves as trusted authorities who can help new and existing customers sift through the wealth of technical information about different cannabis products, industry regulations and fast-changing legal and legislative policies. 

Types of Cannabis Marketing: Owned Media, Earned Media and Paid Media

In a nutshell, marketing is how your company can help potential customers and partners solve a problem. That problem may be hesitancy to try cannabis, uncertainty over where to begin choosing a product or confusion over which cannabis companies could become powerful business partners. Whatever the actual pain points might be, marketing is how you can communicate the solutions you have to offer. Your marketing strategy is a series of chances to educate people not just about your company and products, but about the industry as a whole and further break down cannabis stigmas. And there are several ways to accomplish that very important work.  

Cannabis marketing, like any other industry, comes in three major forms: owned media, earned media and paid media. They all have their advantages and limitations, and a strong marketing strategy will likely include a blend of all three tailored to your budget, goals and your company’s strengths. But because the cannabis industry is so unique in its legal landscape, growth stage and regulatory environment, it’s important for cannabis brands to be aware of the unique considerations for each type of marketing. 

If you’re curious how to use each of the three pillars of marketing for your cannabis brand, use the table of contents below or just read on.

Table of Contents

Owned Media for Cannabis Brands

Owned media—such as a company’s website and campaigns conducted on its social media, blogs and newsletters—is one of the most reliable types of marketing any company can undertake, but that is especially true for cannabis brands. Unlike earned or paid media, owned media is completely under your control. 

You decide when and how your content is published, what the message is, the format, the design aesthetic and where your intellectual property is hosted online. 

With earned media, the coverage and brand awareness you get is ultimately told through the lens of journalists and reporters. Meanwhile, paid media is limited by advertising regulations that restrict how brands in cannabis and the emerging psychedelics space reach their audiences. So out of the three media pillars, owned media offers your brand the most opportunity to craft the narrative and engage with customers.

It’s not that earned media and paid media aren’t valuable and important parts of any cannabis marketing plan. But owned media is the foundation from which to build your earned and paid media strategies. Ultimately, earned and paid media efforts are more successful when they stem from a strong base of owned media. 

So what does success with owned media look like? It starts with developing a compelling brand identity and creating a content marketing strategy on the platforms you control, all carefully tailored to your business goals and priorities.

Types of Owned Media: Websites, Blogs, Newsletters, Social Media and Gated Content

Three marketers sit working

Websites and Web Copy

The information on your website, aka web copy, is one important component of any content marketing or digital marketing strategy. After all, it’s the foundation of your owned media.

There are a few essentials any good web page should include: You want to explain what your brand is about, what you’re selling and where customers can purchase your products or services. You want to provide contact information, play up your social media channels, create a space for the media mentions you earn, and illuminate your company’s strengths with information about your key staff members and their qualifications, talents and passions as they relate to your cannabusiness.

Why SEO Matters for Cannabusinesses

Quality web copy not only introduces potential customers to your cannabis brand, its values and the products and services you offer, it helps those customers find you in the first place. It’s important for cannabrands to have strong web copy created with search engine optimization (SEO) as the backbone. 

For one, it’s how you can make sure your brand is front and center on SERPs, aka search engine results pages. The goal of SEO for cannabis companies, any any type of business, is to rank on the first page of results that a search engine delivers—after all, think about your own behavior when you’re searching for something online. You don’t often click to the second, third, or even fourth page of results (not many people do). Ideally, you want your brand to be one of the top five results served up by search engines like Google. However, your web copy needs more than just carefully selected keywords to rank well. 

Structure, Snippets, SERPs

Every aspect of your content marketing strategy should provide quality information that answers the kinds of questions your customers are searching for. The web copy should be written in a tone and voice that aligns with your brand values, and the website structured in a way that’s intuitive and easy to navigate for both human beings and the bots search engines use to “crawl” your site and gather data. 

It’s even better if your web copy does this in such a way that Google will create what’s called a snippet, or a short preview of your web copy that appears on the SERP for a given keyword. That’s a highly competitive level of exposure which signals that search engines think your domain has some serious authority on a subject people are wanting to learn about. Chances are, your target audience will agree.

How blogs boost cannabis marketing

In addition to basic web copy, blogs can be a powerful content marketing tool in many ways. 

Each blog post gives you an opportunity to rank for secondary and long-tail keywords that wouldn’t necessarily align with the intent of the main pages on your site. 

Blogs create opportunities to share news and updates with your loyal followers on social media—and drive them to your site. Every blog also gives you a regular source of new content to share on other content marketing channels like your newsletter. 

Blogs further showcase your industry expertise and demonstrate to Google that your content is fresh. They work to enhance your SEO rankings in other ways too. Here’s how: They can increase the amount of time that your audience spends on your website, which also suggests to search engines that there is a lot of valuable information available that’s helping people answer their questions about a given topic. Blogs are an additional place to showcase other elements of your content marketing strategy like white papers, videos, infographics and more.

The Power of Backlinks

Your brand’s blog creates avenues to partner with other industry experts and allies on guest posts, interviews and cross-promotions, all of which can be a valuable source of backlinks—the network of links that lead from another domain or web address back to your website.

Backlinks hold hidden power: They increase your search engine rankings and lead more potential customers back to your website, because having a lot of quality backlinks can indicate to search engines that your site is a trusted resource with valuable information and lots of authority. That’s an important ingredient of your content marketing strategy that shouldn’t be overlooked—after all, it’s not just keywords that search engines pay attention to these days.

The Benefits of an Editorial Calendar

It’s well worth taking the time to plan out your blog posts months in advance using what journalists and media veterans call an editorial calendar. That way you can make sure big events for your company like product releases, trade shows, marketing events, earned media and thought leadership pieces bylined by company leaders are promoted on your blog at the right time. 

Partnering with a marketing and PR agency that’s fluent in both cannabis and content marketing development and scheduling can help you streamline this process too.

5 Blogging Tips for Cannabis Brands

  1. Do your SEO research. A blog won’t do much for the overall SEO value of your site if you aren’t targeting both keywords that are relevant to your business and keywords and keyword phrases that match the intent of people searching for information that may be related to your brand.
  2. Don’t make it all about marketing. It might sound counterintuitive to suggest you should use an important marketing tool like a blog to not make a case for your products and services whenever possible. But if your blog is one giant sales pitch, readers won’t stay for long. Instead, think of your blog as an opportunity to answer your potential customers’ questions, help readers learn more about your corner of the cannabis industry, and find solutions they didn’t realize they needed.
  3. Do make sure your blog fits into your site architecture. If Google or Bing can’t figure out how all your blog posts relate to the other pages on your site, it might hurt your rankings. And if readers can’t easily navigate through your blog posts, they’ll be missing out on valuable information you worked hard to prepare.
  4. Know your voice. Just like with any other marketing effort, a blog should sound like your brand. Whether your tone is formal or casual, playful or authoritative, consistency goes a long way to convey authenticity.
  5. Include internal links. Backlinks aren’t the only kind of links that help boost a blog post’s value. Internal links to related posts on your site, when used correctly, can strengthen the overall SEO value of your blog and keep customers engaged on your site for longer.
A laptop sits balanced on the arm of a leather sofa with a round velvet pillow in the background. On the screen of the laptop is the Grasslands Newsletter

Newsletters

Newsletters are having a moment right now. While they’ve been around since long before the internet and the advent of digital marketing, newsletters are going through a bit of renaissance because they feel intimate and personal in a way other types of content marketing do not. 

They don’t require a lot of SEO legwork to get clicks. And newsletters don’t have the same restrictions many social media platforms do concerning content about substances like legalized cannabis and psychedelics. In a newsletter, cannabis companies can say what they want about their products and services without worrying about it negatively impacting their performance through the platform’s algorithm.

Why Newsletters Are Hot Right Now

Readers like being able to curate the information that hits their inboxes and directly support the content creators whose work they enjoy. These days, many journalists and thought leaders are turning to newsletters, too, as a way to directly profit from their work without going through traditional third-party publishers like magazines, websites and op-ed sections.

Services like Mailchimp and Substack make it easy to put together good-looking newsletters that blend written copy with on-brand visual elements. That’s definitely important in making sure your newsletter gets read by recipients, and that your audience clicks through to your website, social media, or promotional information. But these types of newsletter services also simplify adherence to marketing regulations so your email list can grow instead of getting flagged as spam.

Marketing Regulations for Newsletters

Laws concerning electronic marketing are strict about only allowing companies to email people who have actively consented to contact via email. Companies need to not only store a record of that consent, they need to keep track of other details, such as which kinds of information the consumer consented to receive. 

For example, a customer might agree to receive emails with shipping updates from an online order, but refuse an offer of a newsletter subscription or promotional emails. Newsletter management platforms make it easy to track and organize that data as you grow your email list, and tailor certain types of newsletter content to different segments of your audience.

In other words, newsletters give publishers control over their message and how it’s conveyed, while also giving readers control over who has access to their inbox. Because everyone gets what they want, it reduces the barrier between brands and their audiences. That adds up to greater trust and more marketing clout. That can make a big difference as more Americans consider cannabis—after all, industry sales grew by 67% nationwide in 2020 alone, according to data from Flowhub

White Papers, Ebooks and Gated Media

Another important tool in any cannabis content marketing strategy is gated content like white papers, ebooks, video courses and other resources you can make available in exchange for a reader’s email address. 

While blogs and social media posts both help to build authority and reach new audiences, gated owned media can move potential customers further down the marketing funnel toward a purchase or becoming a client. 

Think of your website or social media profiles as an introduction between two strangers or casual acquaintances. Getting someone to sign up for more in-depth content is like those strangers meeting up again for a cup of coffee and a longer conversation. That means you need to offer greater value in exchange for a greater ask.  If a reader is willing to give you access to their inbox, download a long ebook or subscribe to a video series or webinar learning course, you need to be ready to deliver well-researched, original content. 

This is your chance to share expertise on a deeper level and help readers solve a problem. So be sure to cite your sources and include up-to-date statistics, helpful visual elements like graphs, charts and illustrations—and make that content available through a thoughtful distribution plan. 

Gated media will only be as successful as the value you provide, but the rewards can be huge. In fact, the Content Marketing Institute found that 63% of B2B companies found white papers to be one of the most effective pieces of owned media they used to find new clients and retain existing ones.

Gated Media for Cannabis Marketing

There are a few considerations to figure out before you dive headlong into gated media, however. 

Digging down into the substance of what you do and what your company offers is a great opportunity to stand out from your competitors when you’re trying to make an impression on B2B clients. But it doesn’t always make sense for B2C marketing strategies, when your potential customer typically doesn’t need such high-level information to make a purchasing decision. 

Another factor is how robust your sales department might be. Gated content is often favored by sales teams because it gives them access to the contact information they need to build relationships and close deals. But if sales aren’t a major component of your cannabis business or you’re primarily looking to build up your email list to promote other aspects of your content marketing strategy through newsletters, it might not be worth the extra time and attention that quality gated content can take to develop.

How Gated Media Helps Build Trust

Last but not least, this is the cannabis industry. And that means content marketing strategy needs to be calibrated a little bit differently than you might in other business sectors. Because cannabis is so highly regulated, so fast-changing, and still pushing back against stigma from decades of prohibition, it’s a field where trust matters even more than in more traditional business dealings.

Gated media is a great opportunity to earn your audience’s trust by making small commitments and exchanges as customers warm up to the possibility of a bigger financial or business commitment. It’s also a chance to cut through a lot of spin and slick web copy from your competitors and offer more substantive proof of your authority and ability to meet your clients’ needs.

Social Media and Cannabis

Social media has completely changed the way the world works, from the personal to the political, from the recreational to the commercial. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat and TikTok have given brands unprecedented access to different audiences. They’ve also inspired those audiences to interact with brands in more personal and creative ways. 

According to data from social media scheduling platform SproutSocial, 91% of consumers who follow a brand on social media will also visit the brand’s website, 89% will make a purchase and 85% will make a coveted word-of-mouth recommendation.

Social media provides numerous channels through which you can share your blogs and newsletters, benefit from word of mouth, get exposure to new markets and dip a toe in hot trends and national conversations. Some marketing experts, however, don’t think social platforms technically qualify as a type of owned media because you are subject to the terms of agreement and content guidelines issued by those third-party companies. 

Advertising Regulations for Cannabusinesses

Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, many social media platforms ban cannabis-related content, even if the intent isn’t illicit-market sales. While some platforms like Twitter allow ads from cannabis companies that are targeted to legal markets (within Canada, for example) most of the other major social companies have complex blockers that complicate posting cannabis content, even within legal states or without paid promotions behind posts. 

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok don’t allow photos or video of products like vaporizers or bongs in action, for example—much to the chagrin of manufacturers and dispensaries. Run afoul of the capricious content guidelines and it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve invested in a particular social media platform. The AI algorithms behind the scenes could choose to quietly “shadowban” your account, which means you might not appear in your followers’ feeds or among the hashtags you’ve used. 

That doesn’t mean social media isn’t worth investing in, of course—but it does make a case for how social media qualifies less as owned media than other types of content marketing. It also makes a case for how important it is for cannabis companies to approach social media a little differently than brands in other industries might, and to stay up to date on the latest tweaks to social platforms’ algorithms and policies.

Cannabis Influencer Marketing

If you want evidence that cannabis companies still have a lot to gain on social media, look no further than a new generation of cannabis influencers touting a green lifestyle on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and other platforms. There are hundreds of successful cannabis influencers who have cultivated large followings with product reviews and posts that show how cannabis can be integrated into a fun, aesthetic and aspirational lifestyle. 

These cannabis influencers are busting old stoner stereotypes and whittling away at stigma in real time, and they’re doing it despite social media algorithms. These content producers wouldn’t be on social media if there weren’t thousands of cannabis consumers who want to connect with the weed community all across the country and are clicking the follow and like buttons on influencers’ accounts. Your brand can benefit from those good vibes, too, if you’re smart about your strategy. 

Here are a few key social media tips for cannabis brands to keep top of mind:

5 Social Media Tips for Cannabis Businesses

  1. Different social media platforms require different strategies. What performs well on Facebook might flop on Twitter. Ideal posting times vary from algorithm to algorithm. Different demographics prefer different platforms. Don’t try a one-size-fits-all approach to cannabis social media.
  2. Play to your strengths. If your brand doesn’t have a lot of visual assets, for example, you may not want to invest a lot of time and effort into an ultra-aesthetic platform like Instagram.
  3. Create a social media calendar. Planning what you’ll post ahead of time and coordinating your social media content with the rest of your content marketing editorial calendar will give you a sense of when it’s most effective to schedule a guest post or try a new product promotion to fill a gap.
  4. Have clear goals and values. Know why you’re getting on a particular social media platform and what you hope to accomplish there before you invest in getting a profile set up and growing your audience. Companies focused on B2B marketing may get a lot more mileage out of networking on LinkedIn, for example, while a dispensary has better luck going viral with a video of their budtenders trying a trendy new dance on TikTok.
  5. Take social media seriously. It used to be the case that social media was an afterthought handed off to entry-level employees and interns. But people of every age are on social media, and using it smartly requires more than just being “very online.” Take the time to polish your social media copy, to build relationships and promote your other digital marketing content with finesse. 

Earned Media and the Cannabis Industry

Earned media is everywhere you look, you just might not know that’s what it’s called. 

When journalists report on a company’s IPO going public, quote a CEO on the latest industry trends, review a hot new vaporizer or cover local news like a neighborhood dispensary expanding, that’s media coverage earned by a cannabis company through its quality of service, PR and marketing efforts, and word of mouth.

You can think of earned media as the center of a Venn diagram where marketing and public relations overlap. A company might get coverage in their hometown paper because there’s a journalist on the business beat who reported on the founder’s latest accomplishment. Or a cannabusiness might find themselves in a national business journal because an editor received a compelling news release penned by the company’s publicist.

Earned Media and Word of Mouth

Another name for earned media is “word of mouth,” that elusive but extra-potent buzz that is one of the best things that can happen to a brand. With this type of earned media, a customer might review your product or service on a site like Yelp or YouTube. They might write a post about your services to a friend on Twitter, or tag a photo of themselves at your storefront or office on Instagram. Another business might quote a post from your blog and reference it on their own website with a backlink to yours. 

You can’t pay for this kind of publicity, but earned media is some of the most effective coverage you can get. According to HubSpot Research, 57% of people in the U.S. trust what they hear from friends and family the most when they discover a new product. That’s great news in an industry where cannabis sales data platform BDSA found that 30% of existing cannabis customers nationwide shopped for products more frequently in 2020, and market penetration is up to nearly 50% in well-established state markets. 

So how do you tap into this powerful communication vein? There are plenty of ways to earn media placements, but here are a few tips to streamline the process:

5 Ways Cannabis Brands Can Earn More Media Placements

  1. Utilize public relations. PR is a great way to position your brand so you’re more likely to earn media exposure. A good publicist will help get your brand in front of journalists, editors, lifestyle and cannabis influencers and social media followers who might be interested in sharing what your business is all about. Some examples of what that might look like including sending out news releases about a dispensary opening, placing products in gift guides throughout the year, or making sure a thought leader’s book is reviewed on widely read sites.
  2. Network online and off. The more you invest in your local cannabis community, the more you’ll earn the trust of prospective customers and start generating word-of-mouth referrals. From building relationships with the media to connecting with allies in your local cannabis industry, you can never have too many friends.
  3. Develop thought leadership. One byproduct of success in thought leadership is more opportunities for earned media placements. Speaking at B2B conferences, networking luncheons and community gatherings is a natural way to be included in press coverage about such events. Well-crafted thought leadership pieces lend themselves to being cited by a reporter, and also opens opportunities for the author to be the subject of an interview, profile or feature, or invited to pen an op-ed or commentary piece.
  4. Demonstrate expertise. Thought leadership isn’t the only way to gain potential clients’ trust or become regarded as an authority. Your brand can demonstrate expertise through concisely written web copy, content marketing like blogs and podcasts, and even more technical white papers and ebooks. Those may be shared by other brands on their websites or social platforms, jumpstart online conversations in forums and comment sections, or be quoted in articles by the media. 
  5. Tell a great story. It doesn’t matter what you accomplish or how great your products are if you can’t turn those wins into compelling stories people want to share. Every brand has the potential to inspire all sorts of narratives. Knowing what makes a powerful cannabis brand, celebrating the team that drives your success, and seeing where you fit into the larger cannabis industry are all ways to start discovering the stories just waiting to be told about your business. 
Best Content Marketing Practices 2021

Paid Media for Cannabis Businesses

Paid media may have a smaller role to play in your overall marketing strategy than owned and earned media, but it’s still important to approach these opportunities strategically. That’s due to the fact that paid media, already fraught with marketing regulations for any business, has extra compliance challenges and restrictions for cannabis businesses.

Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, there are limitations on any kind of electronic ad or sponsored post that might be seen by minors. Many social media sites ban content that seems to be promoting the sale of cannabis products directly to the consumer. And social media algorithms are often calibrated against cannabrands’ favor. 

One of the many benefits of paid media, however, is the ability to target ads to different segments of your audience and different demographics of potential customers. That level of granularity means you really need to know your brand values and have conducted strong market research. It also means, however, that you need to be very familiar with the guidelines for cannabis advertising and CBD advertising in the particular states or localities where you do business.

Why Cannabis Businesses Should Invest in Paid Media Marketing

That doesn’t mean cannabis brands can’t reap the many advantages of paid media, however. It just means you need to know the right way to go about it. Finding a creative solution to the paid media problem can be a huge boon for cannabis brands, particularly because many cannabusinesses eschew paid media because of its complexities for the industry. The ones that do pursue paid advertising stand out considerably, with less competition from other cannabis companies.

One way to reap the benefits of paid advertising with fewer regulatory hangups is to go straight to publications and forums dedicated to covering the cannabis industry. Placing an ad in venues like Leafly, High Times and NW Leaf, Leafwire or Eaze doesn’t guarantee return on investment, but it does mean you go in knowing their audiences are receptive and that cannabis brands are welcome. 

But that doesn’t mean you should discount more traditional forms of paid advertising, particularly those free from FCC regulations. Billboards and other types of signage, for example, are one possibility. Or you can get creative about newer possibilities like advertising on podcasts—a method that skirts restrictions for similar ads on broadcast radio networks. Event marketing is another tool which overlaps with some types of paid advertising and has the added bonus of contributing to a sense of community. 

5 Ways Cannabis Brands Can Win With Gift Guides

5 ways cannabis brands can win with gift guides

With all the holiday news and journalists’ vacation schedules, the end of the year can be a tough time for cannabis brands to earn media coverage. But there’s one way brands can cut through the noise to make sure they get in front of readers right when holiday shopping hits a fever pitch—cannabis gift guides.

Why Gift Guides are Great for Cannabis Brands

Gift guides have become a huge resource for harried shoppers looking for everything from children’s toys to the latest tech upgrades. But they’re an especially good fit for cannabis brands for a number of reasons. Gift guides are an excellent way to get CBD or THC products into publications that don’t normally cover cannabis. For example, fashion and beauty magazines are increasingly likely to include a relaxing CBD bath bomb or infused lotion in their product roundups. 

Another reason cannabis brands can benefit from gift guides is that the format is ideal for earning trust and educating consumers. Shoppers are especially receptive to well-written, well-curated picks from reporters and editors at publications they already trust for the latest news and trends. A cannabis gift guide in a well-loved magazine feels less like an advertisement and more like word-of-mouth reviews from a familiar friend. 

That reduced barrier is particularly important for helping cannabis-curious shoppers see how a specific product might fit into their recipient’s lifestyle. Cannabis gift guides can be a great education tool for those who don’t yet know what their favorite strains are or who aren’t familiar with the latest trends and product innovations in the cannabis space. Best of all, that information can be tailored to a publication’s tried-and-true audience, helping you get in front of just the right segment of your target market.

Cannabis Gift Guides Keep Giving All Year Long

Cannabis brands stand to win with gift guides not just during the winter holidays, but throughout the year. From New Year’s to 4/20, and Father’s Day to “birthday presents for her,” gift guides always provide a reliable hook for journalists. Whether you’re touting THC-infused chocolates for Valentine’s Day or the best vape pens for outdoor enthusiasts, gift guides solve a problem for shoppers throughout the year who need a little help making a purchase.

Crafting quality gift guide content, however, is easier said than done. Phone in your content with copy-and-pasted product descriptions and muddled goals and your pitch can easily end up in some editor’s slush pile. But if you want your products to make a splash, try these five tips for cannabis brands creating great gift guides.

Five Cannabis Gift Guide Tips

  1. Dial in your demographics. Gift guides aren’t one-size fits all. Knowing exactly which audience you’re targeting will help journalists know where your product fits and how to tell your product’s story. Relate the recommended gift to the specific needs of your target customer and help explain how your product would fit in their lifestyle. From stocking stuffers for budget shoppers to luxe splurges for cannabis connoisseurs, your job is to show how your product solves the problem of picking the perfect gift. 
  1. Capitalize on good copy. Putting extra effort into the writing quality on your gift guide will do more than impress journalists–it will help save them time and effort. Tailoring your product descriptions to the audience, theme and publication you’re pitching helps the journalist see where your brand fits into the larger narrative they’re crafting. For example, product descriptions for ebb’s THC-infused dissolvable powder typically mention how useful the brand’s mixes are for workout recovery. That’s a strong message any time of year, but going the extra mile to relate those benefits back to the wellness goals many adopt after the holidays makes it crystal clear why ebb is a better fit for a holiday gift guide than other products.
  1. Partner up, give back and go exclusive. Another way to add value for the customer and help publications tell compelling brand stories is to partner with businesses or organizations in other industries to offer smartly curated gift boxes, altruistic incentives or limited edition products. For example, Veritas Fine Cannabis partnered with Icelantic again this year on a select number of Nomad 105 skis featuring a design by Denver-based artist and performance painter Morgan Mandala—a collaboration that has as much appeal for outdoor journalists as for those on the cannabis beat, and which celebrates the wide-ranging interests of Veritas’ target market.
  1. Plan and pitch early. By the time you’re hearing holiday jingles on the radio, you’re already late to the gift guide game. Your pitches need to be planned well ahead of time to get traction. Print publications, particularly the big household names, plan their editorial calendars and holiday coverage months in advance—usually around the time you’re counting down to summer vacation. Gift guides should be part of your year-round PR and marketing efforts. That’s not only to make sure your holiday pitches are received when editors are planning their end-of-year campaigns, but also to stay ahead of all the other opportunities each quarter.
  2. Activate affiliate networks. Affiliate marketing is getting bigger and bigger, and understanding the role affiliate networks play in today’s digital publishing landscape is crucial to getting more mileage out of your gift guides. Some publications prioritize products available on just one or two affiliate platforms—Heavy.com, for example, covers cannabis products regularly, but rarely shares items that aren’t available on Amazon. Doing your due diligence can increase your chances of getting plum placements in product recommendation articles.

Having good relationships with journalists at your target publications also goes a long way towards ensuring your cannabis gift guide pitches get successfully placed. That’s where agencies like Grasslands can help. We specialize in building strong media relationships that are crucial to securing coverage for clients. Want to learn how Grasslands can supercharge your earned media strategy? Let’s talk!

10 Predictions for Cannabis Marketing Trends and Industry Evolution in 2022

A woman with a dark manicure holds a crystal ball as if using it to look into the future, with lights blown out in bokeh behind her

Attending MJBizCon is always an inspiration—there are so many fantastic people to meet (shout out to The Grasslands Party!) and exciting businesses shaking up the cannabis industry. But another key reason we attend is the chance to gain valuable on-the-ground insights into cannabis marketing trends and cannabis industry evolution for the year to come, whether in emerging markets like New Jersey or Virginia or well-established medical and recreational landscapes like Oregon and Colorado.

Based on what we saw at MJBizCon 2021 and our broader industry observations this year, we’ve compiled some predictions for where the cannabis industry, and the larger regulated substances space, is headed in 2022. And we’ve identified how these coming shifts may shape cannabis marketing trends in areas such as product positioning and new customer conversion strategies, and how the cannabis industry may evolve across segments like finance, technology and more next year. 

Curious about what’s next for cannabis? Gaze into our crystal bong—here are Grasslands’ 10 predictions for 2022.

  1. Bud will get more branded. In years past, you’d likely go to a dispensary and watch as your trusty budtender pulled some sticky flower from a glass canister with chopsticks—and you might check the receipt to see which cultivator made your favorite strain. But in 2022 and beyond, there will be no missing who made that particular Wedding Cake cross or Kush Mints you’re enjoying. 

    Instead, the branded cannabis trend will continue to take hold with companies branding specific strains and pre-packaging bud, concentrates and other cannabis products for B2B and B2C channels. That way, there’s no chance for customers to miss the maker behind their favorite goodies.

  2. Terpenes will be even more relevant. In 2022, we’ll see even less of the Sativa vs Indica dichotomy that’s dominated consumer understanding of cannabis effects. Instead, we’ll continue to see an even greater emphasis on the experiential impacts of terpenes, and more consumer education about the different properties and effects that various terpene profiles offer. That in turn gives cannabis marketers an opportunity to deepen their messaging about different strains – particularly proprietary, branded varietals – and truly differentiate between types of bud at a more granular level. As customers become more terpene-savvy, it’ll be a chance for cannabis marketers to capitalize on that in depth knowledge and loyalty to different terp profiles.

  1. Cannabis will continue to piggyback on wellness. The wellness market is measured in trillions, not billions, of dollars. So it’s not terribly surprising to see cannabis brands leveraging messaging around wellness and personal optimization (much like supplement manufacturers do) to reach new potential customers. Because consumers are fairly well versed with the language and ethos of the supplement industry, cannabis companies can use that familiar shorthand to introduce their products and tout their benefits. It will become more and more common to see cannabrands educating canna-curious customers how everything from tinctures to salves to concentrates can be incorporated into their workouts, wellness and self-improvement routines.


  2. Minor cannabinoids will take the spotlight. THC still gets the lion’s share of the attention—particularly when consumers want to make sure they get plenty of bang for the buck. But in 2022, we’ll see consumers’ growing interest in minor cannabinoids that have been hanging out in THC’s shadow, like THCV, THC-A, and CBG. Cannabis brands can meet that curiosity with effect-based marketing that helps consumers find the exact cannabis experience they’re looking for.

    Factor in other cannabis compounds like Delta 8 and Delta 10, and consumers are starting to pay more attention to more than just THC in their favorite cannabis products. That also provides an entry point for consumers looking for cannabinoids that can help them meet their wellness goals, rather than (or in addition to!) a strong high.


  3. Cannabis financing will expand marketing segments. As Mike Regan noted at this year’s MJBizFinance Forum, a “blank check bonanza” has put an end to the cannabis funding drought for many. As the industry inches closer to federal legalization, investors are growing more confident and are pouring money into cannabrands, using some of the same tools they’d use to float more traditional business concepts.

    In 2022, we’ll continue to see more Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPAC) and venture capital funds get involved in the cannabis space, and we’ll see cannabis founders grow savvier about raising capital in both newly approved and maturing markets. That in turn will mean cannabis marketing departments will be messaging not just B2B or B2C, but also B2I and digging deeper into market segments. 


  1. Cannabis will grow increasingly global. This trend was already readily apparent at MJBizCon 2021, with many participants coming from various countries outside of North America, such as Argentina, Germany and Paraguay. Expect to see the biggest national enterprises in the US start to jockey for positions in a future global market and to start setting up for the kind of importing and exporting already taking place in other countries. As more and more cannabis companies reach a global scale and achieve international recognition, we’ll see further discourse about what a truly international approach to cannabis branding and marketing might look like.


  2. Extraction technology will advance concentrate marketing. Expect to see increased efforts to make extraction safer, more efficient and more sustainable, along the lines of what companies like Boulder Creek Technologies are already pioneering. Techniques like vapor static extraction will only become more prolific as consumers become more educated about concentrates and industry scale increases. But as technology leaps forward and consumer education deepens, more doors open for cannabis marketers to reach segments that prefer solventless extraction or are already receptive to wellness messaging. As extraction improves, so do storytelling opportunities.


  3. Cannabis will fully embrace the Internet of Things. We expect to see a growing number of consumption tools and cannabis products harnessing data and fresh tech to refine and evolve the cannabis experience. From QR codes on product packaging to vape pens that can be routinely updated by developers, cannabis tech is going to get smarter and smarter, just as all our other household devices have in recent years.

    Not only that, marketers will get access to the data that the IoT provides. Consumption devices will be sources of insight into how people are enjoying cannabis and what effects they are experiencing. That data boom will in turn power the next wave of cannabis marketing and allow brands to reach that ever-elusive Segment of One.


  4. Consumption lounges will heat up. Consumption lounges were a big topic at MJBizCon this year, and they’ve been getting a lot of media attention and inquiry lately. As more people become comfortable with cannabis, and cannabis tourism continues to grow, so too will the demand for consumption lounges. Expect to see shifts in legislation that allow for adult-only public spaces that cater to the cannabis crowd—which will give marketers a whole new branding arena to compete in, much the way beverage brands market themselves in bars. Consumption lounges will not only be another venue in which to connect with customers, they’ll also open up untold possibilities for experiential marketing, a segment primed to become even bigger post-pandemic as consumers return to public life with an insatiable craving for novelty.


  5. Psilocybin companies will make a grand entrance. Cannabis hasn’t yet been legalized at the federal level, but already several states are inviting a new substance to enter the chat. More psilocybin companies than ever made their presence known at MJBizCon 2021, and are already aligning themselves with wellness messaging like cannabis has.

    It remains to be seen what exactly psilocybin clinics or dispensaries would look like or how various state regulations might permit or prevent their integration into existing cannabis retail infrastructure. That said, the psilocybin market is only going to continue growing as psychedelics edge their way into the regulated landscape. And when psilocybin has its breakthrough moment in the industry, it’s a chance for psychedelics marketers to learn from what has and hasn’t worked with cannabis since medical and recreational messaging began to take shape.

5 Fundamentals of Cannabis Content Strategy

Quality content marketing is essential in today’s digital landscape. That’s especially true for businesses in a highly-regulated industry that’s rapidly evolving. Cannabis professionals can build a strong content strategy to not only reach their target audiences, but help educate curious consumers, challenge decades of anti-drug rhetoric, and shape a new era of cannabis culture.

When done well, a cannabis-fluent content strategy can provide a lot of bang for the proverbial buck. But understanding the value of cannabis content marketing and knowing where to get started are two different things. That’s why we have five tips for building a winning strategy and navigating the unique challenges facing cannabis companies eager to broadcast their brand messaging.

1. EAT the competition 

An effective cannabis content strategy starts with capitalizing on useful, compelling content that conveys expertise, authority and trustworthiness—otherwise known as EAT. Whether you’re writing a blog or posting to social media, make sure what you’re sharing is informative and answers the kinds of questions your target audience might have with authentic, factual information. Not only will that resonate with readers, but it will also help boost your search engine optimization (SEO) value. EAT is especially valuable for cannabis companies looking to educate the public and reduce stigma, too.

2. Stay on top of SEO

Speaking of SEO, it’s incredibly important to use the right search term keywords on your web copy, blogs and other owned digital content. From the snappy headline to the meta description, and the H2 headers to the last paragraph, Google is able to crawl and index every element of your website to identify its value to readers and categorize the information you’re providing. 

SERPS and Snippets

SEO best practices are crucial to making sure your content shows up high in search engine results pages (SERPS)—the results a search engine like Google or Firefox serves up when someone keys in a query. It’s so much the better if you can structure your content in a way that Google pulls some of the copy into a feature called “snippets.” Snippets are a brief preview of the content on your page that Google showcases in a box at the top of the SERPs. They are typically positioned as an answer to the kind of question a searcher might be asking. This can be especially relevant for people who are interacting with Google from a mobile device or using voice search rather than typing.

Another benefit of optimizing your content for search engines is the ability to help search audiences in a particular geographic location or region find your business. Ranking high for a general term like “cannabis” is a much bigger challenge than ranking for a more specific term like “Portland cannabis dispensary.” Those dialed-in, multi-word keywords—called long-tail keywords—are increasingly important for helping searchers find brick-and-mortar businesses in a particular metro area, or to find cannabis business services tailored to a particular state’s regulatory structure.

3. Know your cannabis advertising rules

Like every other aspect of the cannabis industry, marketing and advertising are highly regulated. Because cannabis is currently still illegal at the federal level, many national advertisers and advertising platforms aren’t willing to promote THC products. The same can be said of most state-level ad networks, even where medical and/or recreational cannabis is legal. That’s one thing for B2B marketing efforts, but it’s quite another for B2C.

Many plant-touching businesses and ancillary businesses in the cannabis space are limited in how they can use marketing channels. From TV ads to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, there are a lot of limits on where cannabis businesses can share product information and what information they can show. 

Knowing the most up-to-date advertising rules for social media platforms is also key to getting the word out about your company without getting shadowbanned—that’s when a platform like Instagram doesn’t outright delete an account but does use its algorithm to bottleneck the visibility of your posts.

4. Include alternative marketing channels in your cannabis content strategy 

Cannabrands have to work a little harder at marketing to compensate for advertising platforms that are out of reach due to regulations. But if you get creative, you can reach new audiences through alternative routes. Podcasts, for example, are becoming a popular vehicle for cannabis brands to advertise because the same restrictions that apply to radio networks overseen by the FFCC simply don’t apply to podcasts. Event marketing is due for a big boom starting in 2022 on the heels of the COVID vaccine, too.

Sure, television, radio, Facebook and Google Ads are a little tricky for cannabis brands. But there are a lot of channels where cannabis content marketing and advertising is absolutely welcome, and while they might not have the sheer global scale of the biggest platforms, they do have certain advantages. For example, third-party directories geared towards cannabis brands are already tailored directly towards your industry.

Other canna-friendly marketing venues can be found on your brand’s owned media platforms as well as third-party sites. Google My Business directory listings give companies space to list their products in addition to logistical details like addresses and hours of operation. Review sites like Yelp, Leafly and Weedmaps also provide opportunities to engage with existing customers through short-form digital content. And email marketing efforts like newsletters are guaranteed to hit the inboxes of your target audience.

5. Position yourself for good PR

Public relations for cannabis brands is a whole rich subject in and of itself, but it often goes hand-in-hand with a broader cannabis marketing plan. A strong PR strategy can not only leverage your marketing efforts and help them go further, it can also get your message into spaces that owned content can’t always reach. 

Earned, paid and native media, for example, are different types of placements for your brand to appear in a variety of publications, from cannabis-industry-specific outlets like Ganjaprenuer to national outlets like Fortune Magazine, Rolling Stone or The Washington Post. A press release about your company’s latest product launch might reach potential customers who haven’t found your blog yet or signed up for your newsletter. 

Thought leadership, too, can take your marketing strategy further. This type of content development is fantastic for establishing EAT, from op-eds in well-read publications to television appearances or speaking events. Positioning members of your company’s leadership team as industry experts not only contributes to the enhanced legitimacy of cannabis by boosting public perception of the industry, it also presents a chance to reinforce the messaging at the heart of your marketing strategy while leading new audiences back to your owned content channels.