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 Undeniable Importance of Strategic Partnerships in Marketing

When I think about the most powerful and impactful strategic partnerships I’ve been lucky enough to experience, my friend and client Bob Hampe is always near the top of that list.

I’ve been fortunate to have some truly meaningful strategic partnerships in the cannabis industry, but with Bob, our content marketing and content strategy work has long been focused outside of cannabis—where Bob’s company, Actall, specializes in real-time location system (RTLS) technology created to thrive in challenging physical environments, such as mental health facilities.

Bob and his team not only create best-in-class technology like RTLS for hospitals, he’s also the kind of inspiring, progressive, forward-looking CEO we prioritize working with at Grasslands. While Actall’s RTLS technology is used in corrections facilities across the U.S. and Canada, Bob spends considerable time encouraging his partners in this space to, as he wrote recently, “think creatively about the ways we can use technology to reduce recidivism and make the transition ‘back to society’ smoother for formerly incarcerated individuals.”

After knowing each other for a decade-plus of rock shows and music festivals, I’ll always remember a conversation Bob and I had over beers one night, right before Actall signed with Grasslands over two years ago. I opened up to Bob about my drive to be a better, more inclusive, more community-minded CEO—and when he started nodding along, it told me that he too was focused on being a more thoughtful leader. 

Bob at the 2021 Actall-Grasslands Pride Party

“Let’s do some of this together,” Bob told me. And that’s when Bob and I’s friendship turned into an agency-client relationship—as well as a significantly deeper strategic partnership.

Before that night was over, Bob and I agreed that our small businesses should co-host a Pride Party together that June. And less than a few months later, Bob was also dedicating resources to help support the first cohort of our agency’s Diversity-in-Marketing Internship Program.

Bob and I speak the same business languages in our official work together. But we also prioritize the same kinds of extracurricular initiatives outside of our day-to-day dealings.

Take the Pride Party as an example. Bob was already hosting a very special renegade Pride Party in the alley behind his house, which was just off what had been the Denver Pride Parade route in normal, non-pandemic years. He always invited his entire community—including family, friends, neighbors and colleagues—and that’s how I ended up there in June 2020. 

When we first talked about Grasslands  supporting his Pride Party the following summer, it was a no-brainer. Our thinking: We could bring our personal and professional networks together, to build more strategic partnerships among our communities—while also creating something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts. I asked Bob how my team and I could help with the event marketing and production. He asked if we could bring a bunch of breakfast burritos and mimosa-makings and rent some infrastructure to accommodate the larger crowds. 

Of course we were happy to—the larger the crowd we could draw, the greater the number of community connections we could cultivate and the more money we could raise for a good cause. We accepted cash tips at the breakfast bar and raised nearly $500 for The Center on Colfax, the largest LGBTQ+ community center in the Rocky Mountain region. 

Ricardo and Bob at the 2020 Actall Pride Party, which originally inspired their collaboration on another Pride party the following summer

As for Bob and Actall’s support of Grasslands’ Diversity-in-Marketing Internship Program, that collaboration was equally organic. Grasslands’ Chief of Staff Debbie McHugh and I developed and implemented the program out of our Indigenous-owned agency’s commitment to attract, develop and retain diverse, high-potential early-career marcom talent. One day, Bob asked me, “How can I help?”

Debbie and I knew that one day we’d develop a framework that would allow our partners and clients to support our DEI-centered internship program—but before we could develop the opportunity deck and put that out to our community, Bob beat us to the punch. And one week later he’d committed to supporting our internship program in a way that would also benefit his business. The Grasslands marketing and PR interns would each work on a project for Actall. That way, Bob and his team could be hands-on with these young professionals whose work would elevate Actall and its mission. 

The collaboration was a win-win for everyone involved, including our interns, who had the opportunity to be client-facing and present projects on which they had taken the lead—and receive feedback on their work from a client who had a vested interest in their success. Thinking back on this powerful collaboration still gives me goosebumps, especially because it was so successful.

Any business leader understands the immense value of these kinds of strategic partnerships—a content marketing client that turns into a creative collaborator and a like-minded, values-driven sounding board. It’s impossible to assign a value to this kind of strategic partner, especially because these kinds of relationships can last a lifetime. 

2022 will be the second summer of Grasslands’ Diversity-in-Marketing Internship program with a cohort of three spectacular young professionals. I wanted to take a brief moment to shout out to Bob Hampe of Actall and others like him. My colleagues and I are all the better for these relationships, and we look forward to more collabs with Bob and his team, and more opportunities with other visionary leaders and bold brands in our network.

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 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.

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.

What is the Current State of the Cannabis Industry?

An Estimated $41B in Sales by 2026 Means Navigating This Booming Marketplace Takes Strategy

Table of Contents

From therapeutic medicine, to recreational enjoyment, to self-care and wellness, cannabis has become a hot commodity that is part of a fast-growing, multibillion-dollar industry. With millions of American adults supporting legalization and state after state enacting cannabis reforms, the demand for this special plant is exploding.

Cannabis Industry Data: Let’s Take a Look at the Numbers

Recent reporting from cannabis consumer data firm Brightfield Group (via Statista) shows that recreational sales in the United States are projected to surpass $23 billion next year, and reach more than $41 billion by 2026. Meanwhile, the medical cannabis market is projected to double from its 2019 size and be worth more than $11 billion by 2024. 

These huge numbers mean that, in less than five years, America’s cannabis industry could grow exponentially into an economic powerhouse that shows no sign of slowing down. 

The times are a-changing—quickly. Growing social acceptance of cannabis, coupled with sweeping state-level reforms to laws and regulations, are fueling the booming marketplace. This includes decriminalization and new medical cannabis programs in states that were once staunchly opposed to legalization in any form. Throughout the South and Midwest, new markets are opening to meet the demand of outspoken consumers seeking access to safe, regulated products.

What Makes the Cannabis Marketplace So Different?

Like almost any other American industry, the growth of cannabis is being driven by competition. Countless new companies and brands are hustling to gain a first-mover advantage in this rapidly expanding marketplace by diving in with fresh innovations, products and services. The flood of new entrants into this still-evolving business landscape means companies and brands need a north star for navigating a path to success in a crowded field and earning consumer loyalty. That’s where branding strategy comes in.

What Makes for Powerful Cannabis Branding?

If developing a new product or service is the first step in a company’s growth, branding is the long walk toward understanding what will make consumers really invest in it. Creating meaningful messaging around the personality and values that make a company tick is one of the main ways to earn invaluable brand awareness, engagement and advocacy. This process starts with doing in-depth research into target markets, direct competitors, and, of course, how to get those brand messages in front of the right audiences, without the use of traditional advertising channels.

How Are Cannabis Advertising Rules Shaping Brand Awareness?

Despite winds of change blowing across the nation, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level. This means many national and state-level advertisers, both digital and traditional, do not want to risk drawing attention from the government by promoting cannabis-related products. Without typical advertising channels, marketing and selling cannabis is a real challenge.

Why Is It Important to Stand Out Through Marketing Cannabis?

Due to strict advertising constraints, legitimate cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and retailers are forced to sell their products and services through grassroots methods, including out-of-home displays like cryptic billboards, backpage ads and even hand fliers. The way to supplement these outdated tools and connect with target customers is with agile marketing, rooted in strategy, that can intersect fledgling ventures and hungry consumers.

What Are Cannabis Marketing Services?

The power and reach of exceptional cannabis marketing involves combining individual aspects to inform an overarching strategy, starting with:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Searching Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Content Marketing
  • Email Marketing
  • Branding and Messaging
  • Events and Expos
  • Public Relations
  • Web Design
How Do You Find the Right Cannabis Marketing Team?

If getting your cannabis company to the top of search pages, inboxes, social media feeds and, generally, the eyes of potential customers sounds a bit daunting, it’s time to push forward. By using an agency that is fluent in cannabis, you can gain a crucial advantage in this challenging industry, as well as a reliable compass to give you the right direction in becoming a household name. Are you ready? Reach out today.

What Content Marketing Means for Cannabis Companies

cannabis content marketing

The cannabis market is projected to become a $41.5 billion industry in the United States alone by 2025. Even without legalization at the federal level, it’s already leaving craft beer and other similar product categories in the dust—and legal cannabis is even catching up to the economic scale of more traditional forms of agriculture. 

That’s great news for the industry overall, but it also means there’s more competition in cannabis than ever. If brands want to get ahead, they need to have strong, consistent messaging that’s exactly where potential customers will be looking for guidance on what to buy and why.

Enter content marketing—a powerful category of owned- and paid-media tools that brands can use to distinguish themselves even in a rapidly growing industry. 

Cannabis content marketing services include a combination of strategy and storytelling tactics that reach target audiences through various mediums—informative blogs, shareable video and audio content, inbox connections and more. 

When potent content is coupled with SEO best practices and promotion on social media and paid ad networks, a business of any size gains a competitive edge with an enhanced digital presence that boosts brand awareness and creates meaningful relationships with more customers.

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing can take many different forms, including:

  • Blogs
  • Webcopy
  • How-to guides
  • Feature profiles
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Social media posts
  • White papers
  • Listicles
  • Interviews
  • Infographics
  • Review sites
  • Directories
  • Newsletters

Content marketing is all about sharing your brand’s expertise with your existing audience and reaching potential customers. It might look like setting up a blog on your website, producing vlogs to upload to sites like YouTube or Vimeo, recording podcast episodes, designing infographics, and sharing all of the above in posts on different social media platforms. 

So why should cannabis companies take note? Content marketing can do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to educating customers about cannabis consumption and the wide array of products and services available today. That’s important in a field where, according to data from FlowHub, just 12% of Americans are active cannabis users, although 68% support legalization at the federal level. That means there are millions of Americans who are interested in trying cannabis, but haven’t yet connected to a particular brand, product or form of consumption.

Content marketing is a powerful tool to reach those potential customers—and to help change public perception of cannabis from one distorted by the propaganda of the War On Drugs to one informed by the latest scientific and market research. As more and more cannabis companies use content to inform and inspire, it contributes to a culture shift that increases legitimacy for the whole industry.

Good content marketing isn’t about promoting yourself the way you might with a traditional advertisement, however. Instead, it’s part of a robust digital marketing strategy that positions your brand as a trusted resource. You don’t just provide cannabis products or B2B tools for cannabis businesses—you also have the information that potential customers or clients need to make a decision or solve a problem. 

Think of content marketing as an additional service you provide to your customers, one which helps them understand why they should trust your brand above your competitors. This is your opportunity to demonstrate not only the level of expertise that went into the products and services you offer, but also how well you understand your customer’s pain points and goals.

How to Build Your Cannabis Content Marketing Strategy

So where can cannabis brands get started with content marketing? There are boundless possibilities, but here are three top tips for building a content marketing strategy that grows your business and bolsters long-term success.

Develop a Strong Brand Voice

Consistency is as important to content marketing as it is to building a relationship with your target market. Identifying your brand voice and the tone with which you would like to communicate to customers across all channels is a key part of establishing the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness to which customers respond. 

In other words, how do you want to sound online? B2B-focused brands might want to have a more formal and reserved tone than B2C brands, which might benefit from a tone that’s more conversational and playful but still authentic and knowledgeable. For example, customers interested in health and self-care have come to expect a certain reassuring, positive, upbeat voice frequently found in the wellness industry.

Carrying that voice and tone from your blog to social media channels to podcasts and news releases helps customers know what to expect wherever they might find you, and helps strengthen your brand. That’s just another way that content marketing can help reinforce the image you want to project. That’s the voice of a powerful cannabis brand.

Keep Strategy on Track With an Editorial Calendar

Ultimately, content marketing is as buildable as a construction blueprint. Each individual piece of content serves multiple purposes. Just one blog post is enough to parlay into your first newsletter. Positive customer feedback on a review site can become fodder for a social media post. A well-written news release could become a future podcast episode. A how-to guide could eventually become the script for a vlog series on sites like YouTube or Vimeo. 

The key to successful content marketing is the strategy for how each piece is layered and interconnected to maximize attention. For that, you need an editorial calendar like those used by journalists in newsrooms and magazine offices. Plan ahead at least a quarter at a time and line out when it’s advantageous to release various pieces of content—for a product launch, that could include a blog post targeting a new SEO keyword, a newsletter teasing to the exciting development, a market research-based white paper published in time for a major industry networking event or investor meeting. 

Once you have those timely pieces of content mapped out, you can start to see where more content marketing efforts can fill into a regular cadence that keeps customers and clients coming back to your digital platforms again and again for fresh updates and expertise.

Set Reasonable Goals and KPIs

You might have a general sense of what you’d like to get out of your content marketing strategy, like a higher profile for your brand. But until you pinpoint specific objectives for how your content marketing strategy will help achieve primary goals, you might be wasting a lot of time and energy. Instead, set realistic key performance indicators (KPIs) to chart your progress for long-term projects, catch what’s not working early and make sure your efforts stay aligned when priorities change.

For example, if you want to improve your SEO rankings, you might set a KPI to track and improve your brand’s Average Position of Unbranded Terms—that is, how well you perform on search engines for keywords that aren’t the name of your business but are relevant to what you do. Or if your goal is to generate new sales leads, you might set KPIs that show how website visitors are moving from the top to the middle of your marketing funnel by tracking the number of organic visitors who come to your site as compared to the number of new signups for your newsletter or gated content. 

Taking a data-driven approach to content marketing can help you see what’s working—or not— so you can make the most efficient use of your time and resources. It can also help determine which types of content marketing to focus on at any given time, and capitalize on unforeseen opportunities as your business grows and you get to know your audience better. 

Want more ideas for how you can develop a cannabis-fluent content marketing strategy? Get an insider’s perspective on the Grasslands blog, including a deep dive on Different Types of Media (Owned, Earned and Paid) and 10 Predictions for Cannabis Industry Evolution in 2022