before you start advertising your cannabis brand!

before you start advertising your cannabis brand!

Advertising cannabis and CBD brands presents its own unique set of challenges, and we blogged about this some here and here. But if you’re beginning to think about advertising your product/service, let’s talk a bit about what a brand should consider first. Or, put another way, let’s have at least thought about the factors we enumerate below before we agree to spend a penny of your money on advertising. Because spending without checking fundamentals, will yield bad results.

do you know your target audience?

Don’t just do it because your gut tells you to or you read a blog post somewhere about how you should do it (see what I did there…)

In all seriousness, some version of the following conversation happens all too often on first calls with start-up cannabis brands.

Prospect: (Excitedly…) I have this new fantastic cannabis (name or category of product) I want to launch, and I want to advertise… And it should be easy because IT. IS. AWESOME. and EVERYONE will want one.

Us: Great, it sounds fantastic, do you have an idea of what type of advertising, where and to whom? Who are the potential customers (or clients for B2B) you would want to attract?

Prospect: Well, first we want to do Google Ads. And we want to start fast!

Us: How fast?

Prospect: In 2 weeks… Because we want to be out there promoting before [insert major sales holiday happening in 30 days, e.g. 4/20; Black Friday; Labor Day…

Us: …Okay… That might be tight (more like, impossible to execute well, you are late if you’re starting to think about it anything less than 6 months out). Tell us who your target audience is?

Prospect: Oh, our product is for all ages, all genders, 21 to 99! EVERYONE will want one once we launch.

Us: Do you have research about your market to support your assumption?

Prospect: No research, but my gut tells me… (FULL STOP)

If reading this is making you cringe or roll your eyes… good, you are our people, use the rest of this post as a checklist to make sure you have it all in place, and then call us (we are fun to talk to and do know how to do this marketing stuff really well). If you are going “I don’t get it, this seems perfectly reasonable to me”… you are not ready to break that piggy bank just yet, keep reading.

Whether you’re selling candy, cars, software or cannabis, you are doing the same exact thing: meeting a need someone out there has for your product or service.

who is your target audience, really? a cautionary tale…

About a year ago we were approached by a client who said that they wanted to advertise big, really BIG. At the point that client came to us they had already spent north of 6 figures on a video and other advertising, including B2B, and they were not getting the results they wanted. They had tens of thousands of units sitting in a warehouse, and they needed to move them. We suggested research to help them figure why, and who would want to buy their product, and at what price point. They said no, they did not want to spend the $10,000-$15,000 to understand their market. Instead they wanted to spend 6 times as much on advertising, what we call in the industry “spray and pray”. The advertising was targeted overwhelmingly at men, and specifically younger men. But when the postmortem was done on the media push, we found that while 75% of the traffic to the website was indeed men, women had a 27% higher conversion rate than men. Gut fail. Go figure.

What is the lesson here? Gut feelings are notoriously unreliable. Data is real and it matters. There’s research to back this up. Risking your livelihood based on gut without at least some basic data gathering to inform your direction and help you understand who wants what you’re peddling first is irresponsible and plain dumb. Run a small test to validate your gut feeling if you must. But don’t go out there blowing your media budget on a feeling.

what is your target audience’s pain point and how will your product help (yes, this does matter)?

So, you think that your product is the best thing since sliced bread? And your grandma and sister and best friend all agree? Great, are you going to be selling your entire inventory to them? Because if you are not, then you need to first figure out if anyone else agrees with you. A focus group will run you about $5,000 but can save you tens of thousands of misdirected, misspent and wasted advertising dollars. We have seen this happen. Spend $500 on a Survey Monkey survey if you are low on cash but do something. Find and talk to a couple potential customers and have them try your product before you mass produce it and advertise.

what are your goals in the first month, first quarter, first year for your brand or product launch?

Too often we see prospects who want us to promote their product but have not thought about much beyond that. It is mindboggling how often entrepreneurs are willing to spend investor money willy-nilly, without a plan. I still get wistfully nostalgic about one of my first clients as a digital marketer who was able to articulate a set of goals for me that made possible, for us both to be successful. I even still remember the figures. She wanted to sell 350 $50 monthly software subscriptions by the end of July, wanted to pay no more than $80 per acquisition (including spend on media and our services), because she knew her lifetime value of a customer was around $1350 on average, so $80 to get a customer would give her an acceptable ROI. And we were having the discussion in February or March. She was estimating based on what she knew about her business from having been at the frontlines with her sales team. We met then exceeded that goal and drove the cost per acquisition down to $25. This company remained a client for the next 5 years, growing their media budget from $2000 to $30,000 per month, and eventually could afford to hire a marketing team, which is what we expected.

The point is, she had a goal, some targets, even if back-of-the-envelope, based in some reality that allowed us to build a plan, estimate a budget to achieve that plan during a known and realistic time frame. Budget, cost per acquisition and time to generate the goal all matter and should be considered before you spend your first advertising dollar.

what is your budget, and is there breathing room in it?

Given how finicky Google is, not to mention Bing, Facebook, Instagram or other “mainstream” advertising platforms, you’ll need to not just have a Plan A for “going out” there, we recommend a Plan B and a Plan C, including cannabis friendly media platforms. And you need to be realistic about media spend and about anticipated timeline and return on investment.

But beyond just the media planning, there’s the reality of competition (yes, they are out there, and they are also advertising) and its impact on your cost per acquisition. If you are competing for attention in a crowded market (for e.g. you are selling top shelf flower), you can expect your cost per acquisition to be generally higher, because you will need to spend more to achieve visibility against the many other brands hoping to catch the eye of a buyer. The cost of acquisition is just a fancy way to express how much money it will cost you to have one customer find you and buy your product. It’s closely related to another concept, ROAS, which is short for Return on Ad Spend. It is a measure of revenue relative to the money spent to generate it. And in the first 3-6 months, with some rare exceptions, and depending on product, possibly for the first full year post launch with a new-to-the-market brand or product, you can expect to be spending more than making on advertising.

You need to have comfortable cash reserves and realistic expectations about what can be achieved, and that also includes how fast you want to achieve it. You cannot expect to achieve a million dollars in sales in 6 months with a $500 monthly media budget. That is what we would call “having a champagne appetite on a beer budget”. Probably not even a $50,000 monthly budget, but it may be doable in 1 year, depending on how well you understand your market.

You also want to set aside some media dollars for testing. Say your research shows that one of your target customers would be a 35-45-year-old suburban woman with a specific income level. You can test that market and make sure it generates results. Develop ads targeting that type of individual, run those ads in a limited geography for a set amount of time, then review results of your test, and if successful, a) consider investing more media dollars and pursue that audience and creative direction, or b) pause and, depending on what you learn through analysis, consider testing another angle, geography or audience. And with testing, we like to use the ABT, always be testing approach. Whether it is messaging, targeting or creative, there’s always opportunity there to do better.

But as one of our team members likes to say, everything is possible given enough time and money… So, go ahead and dream big, but also smart.

is your website ready?

Think of your website as your front office, open 24-7-365. If you have an eCommerce website, it is your digital dispensary. Your home page is like the lobby and receptionist, all-in-one. First impressions matter. And ease of interaction, the user experience visitors have, either on mobile (more than 65% of searches and visits) or desktop or tablet. Offering a good user experience is kind of like having water and coffee in your actual physical store, it’s the digital version of friendly reception. We recommend that any client with an online presence (that’s everyone), but specifically those who plan to sell stuff online, to consider running some basic user testing. All you need is 5-7 users to get feedback that could mean the difference between a sale or a miss. Online shoppers are fickle, they’ve been spoiled by awesome experiences offered by the likes of Amazon and Zappos, and they’ve no patience with wonky forms, cumbersome checkout or anything making them feel uneasy about making a purchase with you. So, test that sales funnel all the way through. It’ll cost you a fraction of what you may lose if you don’t pay attention.

Is your website rich in content, user friendly and optimized for search? Do you have a content strategy intended to regularly generate blogs, articles, and other useful, engaging content? You don’t? So, you want to spend money on paid traffic to your website without considering less expensive organic traffic? Quality content is a smart investment, but it only builds its value over time, and if you are in a hurry, you will not have time to benefit from this effort.

Is your website optimized to be easily found in search engines? Yes, word-of-mouth is great, but most visitors to your website will find you by searching online for your product or your brand. To make sure you show up in those organic search engine results, it is important to follow on page SEO best practices, writing keyword rich title tags, inviting meta descriptions and alt text. A simple audit of your existing website will help identify problems or opportunities for improvement. If you are building a new website, make sure to include SEO best practices into the design and build to maximize the value of your investment. There is a lot to be said about both on page and off page SEO beyond what I touch upon here, but just remember: do this first before you spend money on advertising.

and lastly, how will you measure success?

Peter Drucker is famously quoted as saying “What gets measured gets managed.” There is no consensus on what he may have meant, but analytics geeks like us think he meant data collection to measure performance, so that conclusions can be drawn, lessons learned, and actions taken to improve performance.

Since almost all interaction with your brand will likely happen online, on your website, on the way to your website, or possibly on a call with a representative if you do not have a physical store or office, part of the foundational “before you advertise” actions to take is to at a minimum is to set up Google Analytics (it’s free!) and Google Search Console. Those two tools working together will provide a picture of visitor activities on your website, including what queries people type into search before clicking on your link, how long they stay when they arrive, what they see, where they go, and which way they leave. If you add tracking to your forms, downloadable papers, videos and more, you’ll see a picture emerging of activity of potential customers on your website. Having that information is interesting, it becomes powerful when properly analyzed and turned into actionable insights.

Analytics can show you where visitors get stuck in the check out line. Seeing a lot of abandoned carts? Analytics data can help pinpoint the source of the problem. Setting up, configuring analytics is the #1 foundational activity to undertake before you spend a penny on advertising.

Not sure if you’ve got what it takes just yet? Don’t worry, we specialize in helping companies do the right thing, get the foundational activities taken care of to ensure success in the market. You do all those things, and we can pretty much guarantee that you will see a return on your advertising dollars.



The Bay Area


(206) 420-6121


Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

developing a content playbook for your cannabis business

developing a content playbook for your cannabis business

A content playbook is somewhat like an extended campaign brief, it sets the direction and strategy for the content campaign and it’s designed to serve as a resource for the content team members to reference back to as the campaign is executed. Simply put, the content playbook asks these three questions: What have we achieved already? What do we want to achieve? How will we achieve our goals?

conducting a content performance audit – what have we achieved already?

Conducting a thorough content audit is extremely important in any content development strategy. A content audit takes a closer look at existing content to see what’s working and what needs to be improved. To determine how successful certain content is, you’ll need to make sure you have at the minimum an analytics tool like Google Analytics in place. Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool that gives you a vast amount of insight as to how people get to your site, and what they do once they are there.

To get a fuller sense of what has been achieved requires not only looking at your own content but conducting competitive benchmarking and a gap analysis against your top competitors. Looking at your top competitors can help you identify gaps in your own content, areas needing improvement, as well as opportunities to stand out. We will dive further into this topic in a separate post, but for now, know that it’s important to get the full picture of all your content efforts in order to develop a plan to improve.

setting goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) – what do we want to achieve?

Developing content for the sake of developing content is not a good strategy, goal, or objective. At best it’s a waste of time and resources, at worst it could negatively impact people’s perceptions of your brand. Quality will always beat quantity when it comes to content, and that’s why your strategy needs to consider your overall business goals and objectives, when defining the goals and objectives for your content campaign.

Your website is your digital storefront, defining what you want to achieve through it, first, will help you prioritize your content needs. If your goal is to sell your products online, do you have an online store that functions properly? If your goal is to gather leads from your website, are you effectively gathering all the information you need to make meaningful follow ups? If your goal is to raise awareness of your brand for prospects doing category research, are you showing up in search results for relevant searches?

Whatever your content goals are, selecting relevant key performance indicators, will also help keep your campaign on track, and flag any potential issues. For example, if your goal is to double engaged traffic to the website in 6 months, a couple of relevant Google Analytics’ KPIs would be Time on Page (average time engaging with the content), and Bounce Rate (percentage leaving the site after that page).

structured campaign management – how will we achieve our goals?

Once the overall strategy is determined via content audits and goals setting, the specific tactics to execute that strategy should also be captured in the content playbook. This includes defined target personas, an editorial calendar, and workflow processes.

Target personas can be developed through consumer research, it’s important that these personas are fact-based. In the content playbook we dive deeper into the target personas, identifying their motivations and needs, so that we can make sure we are developing content for them first and foremost.

The editorial calendar is really the meat of the plan. It will lay out the frequency of posts, their topics, target keywords, due dates, and statuses. The editorial calendar is perhaps the only page in the playbook that will be regularly updated, as the campaign progresses.

Finally, making sure the workflow processes for developing new content are clearly defined can be incredibly helpful going forward, so that no matter who the individual writer or web developer is, there is a clear process the entire team can follow.

don’t lose momentum – how can we keep it going?

We’ve seen incredible returns on even our most modest content campaigns. However, most content campaigns don’t see major improvements until six or more months in, so it’s important to not give up and remember that consistent effort on a clarified strategy can yield major results!




The Bay Area


(206) 420-6121


Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

focus groups for cannabis brands

focus groups for cannabis brands

In order to effectively market to your target audience, it’s vital you first learn all that you can about what they think of your product or service. Their motivations, their reservations, their concerns, etc. We’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is through focus groups.

what are focus groups?

A focus group usually refers to a group of 10 or fewer volunteers brought together to discuss a particular product or idea. A moderator will ask them a series of questions or give them a product to try, after which they freely share their opinions, ideas and reactions. All responses are viewed and studied to measure the likely reaction of the larger market population. Focus groups are usually tools used by the advertising industry to measure the potential impact of a new product.

how to select focus group participants

Selecting volunteers to participate in the focus groups is extremely important. They should represent different personas within your target audience, which can be identified through a variety of consumer research methods. While conducting consumer research, we highly recommend that you not only gather demographic data about your target audience, but psychographic data as well, so you can better understand what truly motivates your target audience. It will also help you segment responses from the focus group participants, and allow you to advertise to them more effectively in the future.

benefits of focus groups

Immediate Feedback – A focus group is a useful method that can be used to measure the reaction of customers to your new product or company strategies. Focus groups usually provide immediate ideas for the improvement of particular products or concepts.

Audience Needs – They also help identify the product requirements of the end-user as well as other needs not addressed by the company and its competitors.

Competitive Landscape – In addition, focus groups provide insights on the current position of your competitors in the mind of the customer, as well as measuring the reaction of customers to a product’s design, packaging, price and message.

Time-Saver – The condensed nature of a focus group makes it possible for your business to solicit a quantity of opinions and feedback on multiple aspects of a product without the time intensive process of individually soliciting interviews. Time saved in the research phase of product development is key in rapidly evolving industries, particularly if a comprehensive focus group allows you to expedite a product’s journey to the marketplace.

focus group pitfalls to avoid

Making sure you are conducting a focus group in the proper way is vital to the information gathering process. How the questions are phrased are as important as the questions themselves. If you have a weak moderator or an unstructured session it could yield unhelpful or even incorrect insights. Anecdotal stories from friends or family are fine, but an effective focus group is designed to inform your strategic planning going forward, with real data and insight from volunteers in your target audience.

Contact us to learn more about flash focus groups and cannabis consumer research.



The Bay Area


(206) 420-6121


Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

color palettes from classic stoner films

color palettes from classic stoner films

Color Palettes from Famous Stoner Films

Color is incredibly important for any brand. As many others have pointed out, a large percentage of cannabis brands are developing brands using the same design schemes and color palettes. So we collected color palettes from some of the most famous stoner movies of all time to help cannabis brands start thinking outside the box when it comes to color.

cheech & chong’s up in smoke


This bold and bright color palette would be great for a cannabis lifestyle brand that emphasizes the experiential benefits of cannabis experiences. 

fast times at ridgemont high


This color palette is a nice throwback to the late 70’s and early 80’s retro-style, perfect for a cannabis brand that wants to appeal to an older demographic that may have previously consumed cannabis, and may be interested in trying it again.

bill & ted’s excellent adventure


This color palette has several different shades of blue and subdued reds, it could be perfect for a brand that’s going for a surfer/beach vibe.

dazed and confused


This inviting color palette has a good mix of mellow colors that would be great for a cannabis brand or products that emphasize relaxation.



This smooth color palette is one of our favorites! A perfect mix of colors for a cannabis brand that offers products with varying ratios of THC:CBD.

the big lebowski


The Lebowski color palette is a subdued color palette with mostly warm colors, it would probably best fit a medical cannabis brand.

half baked


This bright color palette is all over the place, probably best for an informational cannabis brand, like a news site, where a wide range of colors is needed to represent several different content types and categories.

dude, where’s my car?


This earth tone color palette is great for a cannabis brand that wants to incorporate a more sustainable/environmentally friendly look and feel to their brand.

soul plane


The Soul Plane color palette includes some very vibrant purples, probably best used for cannabis brands and product lines of non-edible products like lotions and balms.

harold & kumar go to white castle


This color palette is comprised mostly of colors on the cooler side of the wheel and would probably best be used for a CBD product line.

grandma’s boy


The Grandma’s Boy color palette is the darkest of the bunch, probably best used for a cannabis product line of edibles like cookies, caramels, and brownies.

pineapple express


This color palette is comprised entirely of earth tones, perfect for a brand that wants to emphasize a commitment to nature and sustainability.

color is subjective, that’s where research comes in.

A strong color palette conveys what your business does, makes sense to your target audience, and helps you stand out from the competition. And so, it’s important to select a color palette that not only appeals to you as the business owner, but a color palette you know appeals to your target audience as well. All of this information can be ascertained via consumer research and focus groups.



The Bay Area


(206) 420-6121


Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed

canadian cannabis consumer motivations – a closer look

canadian cannabis consumer motivations – a closer look

It’s a little early to tell if October 17th will become a national holiday in Canada, but it’s still a day for celebration. As we congratulate Canada as the first industrialized nation to legalize cannabis as they did a year ago, we want to share some of our insights on what motivates cannabis consumers north of the 49th parallel.

consumer segments: us vs. canada

Similar to the groundbreaking studies we’ve done on the US market to identify market segments, the Canadians surveyed fell into the same four segments. And like our first US study in 2014, Canadians primarily fell into two of the segments: Outsiders (28%) and Traditionalists (38%). In 2014 the US market Outsiders comprised 44% and Traditionalists 26% of the surveyed respondents. Outsiders tend to generally agree with legalization and consume cannabis, but they are much more conservative in how they express themselves and communicate about cannabis. We’ve seen over time that as legalization becomes mainstreamed, individuals in the segment tend to drift towards the Indie segment.

us vs. canada consumer segment breakdowns:

A broad stroke characterization of the Canadian market would be they’re “practical.” Canadian adult consumers who responded to the survey have embraced cannabis as a practical move. In essence, it was the time to do it. Whereas in the US legalization was viewed as a social shift driven by urban progressives in Western states. This is supported by the data point that 34% fewer Idealists make up the Canadian market. Idealists are a segment that favors progressive change for the sake of it.

Where we see the most significant variance between US and Canadian markets is in those segments most embracing and supportive of legalization. Indies and Idealists are change proponents. In the US these segments represent 52% of the surveyed population and 34% in Canada. We expect that in future surveys the percentage of Canadian Indies and Idealists will move towards the 50% mark as the population is more comfortable speaking out in support of legalization.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Traditionalists. As a refresher, the Traditionalists segment is resistant to change. While most do not favor legalization nor the use of cannabis, there is a small percentage that does consume. Our interpretation is that the black market was, and will continue to be a preferred commercial channel for some cannabis consumers.

the canadian medical cannabis consumer

Statistics Canada released interesting information indicating about half of all consumers do so for non-medical reasons only. And those who do consume for medical reasons are more likely to consume daily.

Viewing our findings through the lens of the StatsCan data, we concluded the following:

        • Regular or near daily consumption is likely related to the use of cannabis as a medication or as an effort to manage and alleviate symptoms.
        • Accessing cannabis by way of newly established legal channels is more common among medical consumers than adult use consumers.
        • The StatsCan report also noted that just 26% of adult use consumers obtained cannabis from legally authorized retailers versus 86% for approved medical consumers.

Our conclusion: medical users value quality and safety in their products. Thus it’s not surprising for them to be more law abiding and trusting of legal channels.

When asking Canadian consumers if they intend to buy cannabis for medical use, we received the following breakdown of responses.

What we have learned from our US research is that for Indies, Outsiders and Idealists, the “YES” column numbers are going to get larger. As cannabis mainstreams in Canada individuals will be more comfortable sharing their cannabis intentions.

The data indicates that about 60% of medical cannabis buyers will buy at least once per month. And about 25% will buy on a near weekly basis. Our initial take on this buying frequency is tied to purchase limits, higher consumption volumes among medical patients and possibly influenced by pay periods.

what motivates canadian consumers to buy?

Our past research has found that the vast majority of medical cannabis consumers do so to alleviate symptoms associated with chronic pain, sleeplessness and anxiety/depression. These findings are consistent in both the US and Canada. Additionally for the US population, our studies have revealed more therapeutic consumption of cannabis occurs in adult use states than in medical legal states.

Current limited availability of form factors other than flower and concentrates limits growth in new consumer groups. Particularly those who by preference or physical ability cannot consume by smoking cannabis in flower form.

As a result of the flower and concentrates being the dominant form factor of products in Canada (though that’s ending soon), younger males tend to be the primary consumer group for adult use cannabis. They tend to be those most familiar with cannabis and have disposable incomes available for procuring cannabis products.

interest in edibles

Canada’s legal framework delayed allowance of edibles into the market approximately one year. That year buffer ends October 17, 2019, when edibles will be allowed into Canadian retail stores.

So what edible products are most widely sought?

Though both Canadian and US markets are still in their very early days, we believe in time edibles will become the product form of choice. Flower starts strong in legal markets but loses favor while edibles gain prominence. We have not defined why this is the case, our calculated assessment is that smoking in general has become less socially acceptable. Discretion and portability is also a driver of consumer interest in non-combustible forms of cannabis.

brand and product development

When considering the development of new brands or products, there’s little distinction in the minds of consumers about medical and adult use cannabis brands. As in the US, most frequent answers to questions about the differences between medical and adult use brands are “There is none” or “I don’t know/have no idea.”

Canadian consumers are more aware of the issues of potency and ingredients. The level of THC, higher for medical, was mentioned by Canadian consumers more than twice as often as US consumers. There’s also an awareness of cannabidiol (CBD) that’s twice that in the US. The US has since passed legislation triggering an onslaught of CBD headlines.

It’s safe to say the next round of research CBD will benefit from a lot more consumer awareness.

Of interest to marketers is another theme that is consistent in the US. That being, when asked what steps could a brand take to appeal to more people, the vast majority of respondents (34%) stated they “don’t know.” The second most mentioned tactic was lower pricing (11%) but the third highest response was advertising. This is a signal to cannabis brand marketers that brands driven by a marketing strategy with strong that visibility and awareness objectives is likely to pay off in increased consumer demand.

The Canadian market, much like the legal states in the US, is very immature. There is a great deal of consumer interest but developing a true national brand is a longer term proposition that will require a significant deal of consumer maturing and education. Brands that deliver on consumer expectations are in a better position to have long term success. Thus the big question becomes, “what do consumers expect from a cannabis brand?” and we’ll present those insights in future posts.

In summary, while there are differences, our initial insights into the Canadian consumer indicates more than a few similarities. Where the real differences exist is in the implementation of legal frameworks to govern the emerging cannabis market. Time will tell if Canada’s experiment in practicality on a national level, or the US’s patchwork approach, yields bigger wins for consumers and their respective tax dollar loving, but generally cannabis hating, governing bodies.



The Bay Area


(206) 420-6121


Mon - Fri : 8am–6pm PST

Sat - Sun: Closed