What makes marketing and advertising so difficult for cannabis companies isn’t one particular rule or policy, but a dizzying array of them that vary widely depending on which country, state or province, or municipality that you’re in. Beyond that, the most world’s most ubiquitous advertising platforms, Facebook and Google, have their own policies that can be ambiguous at best and flat-out prohibitive at worst.
Therefore, establishing a brand identity and differentiators is critical to success. With so much competition flooding the space, consumers are looking for the companies that are taking creative risks. You can only see so many photos of greenhouses before you get the picture.
While providing you with a laundry list of the rules, regulations, and restrictions would take an entire book’s worth of space to jot down, what we can do is provide you with a few general guidelines to maximize promotion of your brand while staying compliant.
Keep Your Approach Educational
Regardless of where in the cannabis space your brand is focused, education is crucial in your PR and social media efforts. An educational approach is important for multiple reasons, the first being that consumers crave educational cannabis content. With the industry in its infancy, people who haven’t followed it fervently still have a lot to learn about the plant, how it works, how it can be used as medicine or in a wellness regimen, etc. The other primary benefit of an education-first approach is that it provides a convenient workaround for social media platform rules, which ban the direct marketing of cannabis or cannabis products.
To properly execute on an education-oriented strategy, the trick is to choose a list of topics that you’re an expert on that tie back to your specific business interests. These topics will form the backbone of how people perceive your company and brand. If people feel like they have learned something from you in a particular category, they are more likely to trust your judgement on this topic in the future. It’s critical to have a point of view, demonstrating what makes your insights – and your approach to sharing those insights – special.
Focus on Brand Over Product
As the cannabis marketplace continues to mature and more options emerge in each product category, brands, rather than the products themselves, will become the primary selling point. While the industry may not be at that point just yet, cannabis companies need to get a head start in building their brands for this eventual future. While brand building is a helpful long-term exercise, it also provides immediate benefits in the short term as well. Advertising and marketing restrictions remain in place, but companies that focus on the feeling and themes of their brand(s) rather than directly marketing products can more easily remain compliant.
Think of the industry leaders in other sectors. They have poured endless resources into brand love. When you see the “swoosh” from Nike, you instantly associate it with quality, along with the Apple logo and innovation. Spend your energy there instead of stressing over traditional advertising.
Be Authentic and Open
At this point in the trajectory of the cannabis industry, it is crucial to be seen as a responsible actor. As a brand new, high-upside industry, cannabis has naturally attracted a number of fly-by-night companies who seek to capitalize on industry hype. While some of these companies have become well known, most haven’t been particularly responsible as stewards of the cannabis industry. The signs of these companies are relatively easy to spot: health claims about their products, shady product sourcing, flashy celebrity endorsements, etc.
To establish yourself as a responsible actor among the noise, it is important to remain authentic. That includes avoiding making health claims that haven’t been backed by clinical trials, showcasing the consistency of product experience, lab tests and dosing, and letting your audience behind the scenes to see the people behind the company and how the product is made. With this combination of openness without the hype, you have the chance to separate yourself from the crowd and establish your company as a player with true staying power.
Stay Compliant, But Don’t Stop Trying to Innovate
The need to stay compliant in the face of a dizzying array of rules and regulations may be daunting, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying innovative ways to get in front of your audience. Sometimes that means pushing the envelope to see what you can get away with, while other instances may require you to think outside the box to something that hasn’t been done yet. Finding new ways to share your brand stories and experiences is critical to success. Build your audience, have them come to you for trusted expertise and reward them with a great experience.