The cannabis industry is growing at a staggering rate. While there certainly is plenty of fruit left on the tree for newcomers, competition is fierce. Businesses must take action right away if they want to stand out from the crowd. In fact, entrepreneurs should start marketing their cannabis business before they even launch.
Here’s how to get started.
Identify the target audience
You don’t have to know everything about running a successful business right out of the gate, but you do have to know one thing: your target audience. One of the benefits of working in the cannabis industry is the range of potential customers: professionals, parents, creatives, men, women, seniors, young adults, smokers, non-smokers, and virtually every other adult. Such a large and diverse customer base can be a blessing and a curse, because you must work harder to find your target audience.
Effective cannabis marketing in 2020 requires narrowing your demographic as much as possible. Are you targeting medicinal or recreational users? Younger or older people? Men, women, or both? Is your product CBD, THC, or a combination? A topical? A concentrate? Cannabis equipment? Fertilizer for plants? Who are your customers? What is their daily routine, and how will your product enhance their life?
David Elias, founder and chief executive officer at Lowell Herb Co., found one of the best ways to engage with and identify his base was to host budtender events. He also used non-cannabis channels to identify and build his audience. “We chose to get in front of new audiences and target demographics through sponsorship of non-cannabis events like comedy shows headlined by Joe Rogan, activations at mainstream events like Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, parties at Coachella, and sponsorships at sports tournaments and events,” he said.
While it’s true the narrower your focus, the more precisely you can custom-tailor your marketing, you shouldn’t be afraid to explore new outlets if that means gaining a new demographic. From there, the name of the game is building the new audience and immediately providing value to them.
Build your audience
1. Demonstrate product value: Early on, convince potential consumers your product has value, or they will turn their gaze elsewhere. Why is your product better than the competition? What proprietary recipe or method is used in product development? Write a list of perceived value, including anything and everything that demonstrates honest value to consumers.
2. Organic social media: In this context, organic means “not forced.” Never underestimate your audience; they can detect BS just as well as you can. Your social media feeds should be honest and authentic. Engage in real dialogue with members of your target community. Focus more on letting your social media presence evolve naturally as opposed to hitting daily post numbers. You can market on Quora, Instagram, podcasts, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogs. This includes finding and using the right social media influencers, hosting contests and giveaways, etc. One of the first things I discovered was I could find potential customers and build strategic business relationships by following cannabis industry leaders on Instagram and other social media outlets.
3. Good ol’ PR: We live in a digital age, but you cannot forget about public relations. PR and social media are intertwined, forming a symbiotic relationship that may help you gain exposure and customers. Collaborate with influencers, focus on creating content, and use outlets like online newspapers and podcasts to generate buzz and increase exposure. An effective public relations strategy will help you grow a diverse network of cannabis business owners, product reviewers, journalists, and social media influencers.
One of the marketing channels you may be less familiar with is Quora. Founded in 2009, Quora is a question-and-answer site that uses an upvoting system like Reddit’s to increase credibility. Over the course of its lifetime, Quora’s base has increased dramatically, and the platform now enjoys more than 300 million monthly users.
Follow these five steps to use Quora to expand your target audience:
1. Create a profile: Be honest about your business and experience. List any certifications that make you particularly qualified to answer questions in your field and industry. Be sure to include links to your website, blog, and social media channels.
2. Discuss experiences: After following several topics, return to your profile and list the experience you have in each topic. Then begin answering questions and interacting with other posters. Whenever you answer a question, your name and relevant experience will be listed.
3. Connect: If you click below top questions and subscription options, you can see valuable information including the latest activity on a topic, the top answers, and the follower list. Here, you can find potential customers, business partners, influencers, and network connections.
4. Share content: Using Quora Boards, you can gather questions, answers, and content from other sites onto your Quora profile. This gives you yet another opportunity to provide information to your audience and market your cannabis business at the same time. Link to your blog, website, and social media channels.
5. Answer questions: Answering questions provides an opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in your field. Many successful businesses—including Huffing Post, Time magazine, and Mashable—use Quora to educate and build their audiences. Answer questions to the best of your ability, adding links or tags to other topics or questions as appropriate. Upload images or provide a link to your website or blog if the location contains relevant information. Your focus should be on providing intelligent, correct, and informative answers, not product or service promotion. The quickest way to find yourself ignored is to incorporate a sales pitch.
Exposure on Quora, like everywhere else, should occur organically. However, if you have time, you may want to further focus your marketing efforts by optimizing your answers for search engines.
Search engine optimization is an important part of cannabis marketing in 2020. The problem with deploying an SEO strategy is it will require more than a few keywords or phrases to be effective. For maximum exposure, you need a blog, social media presence, Facebook business page (even though cannabis companies have a hard time on Facebook), Google business profile (for indexing purposes), redirects, a high-quality website, reviews, and listings in business directories, all of which are time-consuming endeavors, especially for a pre-launch. Further, you want to track and analyze everything—every shred of data—about who is clicking your links, accounts, products, posts, etc. Remember, data paints a picture that can help you refocus your marketing efforts to increase your chances of converting surfers into sales.
You also may want to make sure your brand is mobile-accessible, and you may want to develop a mobile app for further engagement with customers.
The cannabis market is booming, and it’s easy to see why. With so many products—including CBD, topicals, edibles, concentrates, dabbing equipment, oils, etc.—and the softening of attitudes and laws about marijuana across the nation, it’s a great time to go green.
But you need more than PR, social media, and a top-notch SEO strategy to rise above the competition; you must make a human connection. Even before you launch, you should be thinking about how to connect with your audience on a human level. The best way to do that is through storytelling.
What is your brand? What does it represent? How can you tell your story? Some storytelling tactics you may want to consider using include:
- Viral media: Depending on the type of product you sell or will sell, there may be an opportunity to create a meme, viral video, TikTok post, or trending hashtag that conveys the myth behind your brand.
- Logo design: Creative logo design can go a long way in conveying a certain emotion and story. The right logo design can start m arketing your cannabis business for you before the ink is even dry. Take KFC for example: The logo of the Colonel serving chicken is meant to make consumers think of authentic, home-cooked Southern meals with just a glance.
- Create a “secret recipe”: If your product uses a proprietary ingredient list, you may want to flaunt it as a “secret recipe” to increase mystery and excitement surrounding your yet-to-be-released product (consider KFC again). Lowell Herb Co., for example, promoted limited-edition packs and bespoke holiday packs as part of a successful marketing campaign.
If you can find a way to connect to your target audience, you are more likely to gain a loyal customer base. Whatever methods you choose, utilize storytelling to make a genuine human connection.
Now that we have discussed a few of the basic steps involved in marketing your cannabis business, let’s take a look at some companies that regularly use pre-launch marketing successfully. For example, Apple is one of the most consistent users of the strategy. The company hypes the launch of each new iPhone, iPad, etc., months before the product appears on the market.
Here are three other examples of companies that used pre-launch marketing to benefit their businesses.
- Workweek is an app that helps businesses organize and manage tasks together. Yet before the app officially launched, the company used social media and PR to create excitement about the brand. Instead of unveiling too many features or details, they released an infographic with an email signup that explained subscribers would be notified when the beta was open to the public.
- Mint originally was a financial app that used the power of blogging to propel itself forward, ultimately being sold to Intuit TurboTax. The creators used content marketing early to secure search engine ranking. They wrote about personal finance tips, created instructional videos and infographics, and hired a staff to generate quality content to increase exposure and excitement.
- Think marketing your cannabis business before launch is overly aggressive? The video game industry is notorious for hyping the release of titles months, even years, before they debut. CD Projekt, the main developer behind the game Cyberpunk 2077, engages in pre-launch tactics by releasing screenshots and nuggets of info about the game on its site and social media channels. The result? Gamers are foaming at the mouth for the game’s November release.
These are only a few of the many businesses that use pre-launch marketing to hype their products or brand. For more examples, stop and look around. Check out your Instagram feed. Turn on the TV. Pre-launch marketing is used effectively by some of the most successful companies in the world.
Building an audience before you launch will ensure your company is built on a solid foundation and create anticipation for your products and brand. By combining a strong social media presence, SEO plan, and PR strategy with intelligent storytelling, you will have increased demand for your product right out of the starting gate. The rest is up to you.
Gregg Greenberg is co-founder and co-chief executive officer at Everything But The Plant, a business-to-business ecommerce marketplace that sells growers, extractors, retailers, professional businesses, home operations, and everyone in between what they need to build, run, and grow a cannabis business.