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When it comes to establishing a digital marketing presence, cannabis companies can’t follow the typical route of mainstream or less regulated industries. In addition to age restrictions, many of the most popular advertising channels are unavailable. Specifically we’re referring to paid search and social ads dominated by Google and Facebook.
Sure, there are tons of cannabis themed websites that cover topics from culture to growing to the business side of things and all are happy to take your money. In fact there are several ad networks that do accept cannabis industry ads using 3rd party data to aid in audience targeting. Still there are fewer options available that can deliver the scale and sophistication of Google and Facebook.
Though we’re a long way from cannabis brands having the same advertising options available, there are digital marketing foundations cannabis companies should pursue. Instead of thinking, “where can I advertise?,” instead think how to connect a brand’s values to an audience with similar inclinations in the digital space.
NOTE: We’re assuming you have a professional looking and developed website which is your starting point. A website is the equivalent of your flagship store or marquee location. Do not skimp on quality design and development. Build for the expected needs of your most valuable audience, not a CEO’s ego or gee-whiz technology. Budget the most you can afford as this is your brand’s public face to your audience, wherever they may be, 24/7/365.
The buzz phrase that’s been ruling the digital marketing circles for at least the last 10+ years is, “content is king.” Think of it this way, the web is like a multi-dimensional interactive encyclopedia of the world’s information (and a lot of garbage too!). People go online seeking to inform or entertain themselves. If you’re not producing content that delivers on these needs and is SEO-friendly for search engines, you’re not likely to find much of an audience.
More and more people are going online to educate themselves about cannabis consumption options, products, strains, and more to improve their experience. The companies that rank high in search engines are those with content that delivers value to users. It’s content that addresses the needs of curious consumers as well as other web properties who link to high value content. Success in developing your online brand requires a content strategy that is integrated and supports your company’s goals and objectives.
Create a Content Marketing plan to guide and structure your efforts. Use content to reinforce your brand values and message within story frameworks. Relate to the challenges your core audience is facing in a confusing and ever changing environment. Consider how content can be shared through social channels and on mobile devices. Lastly, content is not limited to blogging and Instagram posts. Content includes audio, video, interactive elements, images, infographics, user generated content, like reviews, and of course the website itself.
Assuming your website is on par with mainstream conventions for design, navigation, and functionality, the first place to start building your audience is in social media channels. This shouldn’t be news to anyone: start with the essentials of Facebook and Instagram. These platforms offer access to the largest audiences, have the most advanced features, and are supported by many tools to make publishing and community management easier.
Rule one in social media: be interesting! Share content that is relevant to your audience while keeping self-promotion to a minimum. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a ‘Deal of the Day’ or share updates when new inventory arrives, but avoid having every message be promotional. In fact social media allows for brands to explore messaging that may not fit within the context of a website.
Strive to share updates that are interesting and relevant to your audience. We’ve always like the analogy of thinking of social media as a party. Does anyone want to listen to the loudmouth who just brags and talks about themselves? Of course not! Listen first, then engage and share to inform.
The first step in adding mobile to your digital marketing repertoire is to ensure your website is mobile friendly. Ever so often we still run into sites that are not mobile-friendly. There’s really no excuse for not having a site that renders well across devices. For years now Google’s search algorithms have prioritized mobile search over desktops. Cannabis is a consumer packaged good driven by buyer behaviors like those that motivate our choices at grocery stores. When people use their mobile devices they are often doing research to support a purchase decision in the near future.
Where’s the nearest dispensary or recreational store? What are the store hours and do they have my favorite brand in stock? Location, hours and stock are the three most common queries on mobile devices. With WordPress seemingly the content management platform of choice for small and midsize businesses, there’s no excuse for selecting a theme that isn’t mobile friendly. Even all-in-one platforms for hosting and development like Wix, Squarespace, etc. are ready-made for mobile (Note: a website theme in WordPress is a design framework for managing look and feel of the site.) Monitor what your audience is looking for most frequently and make that content most prominent when accessed via a mobile device.
If I could tell you which pages on your website most often led to sales or which cities drove the most visits to the page where your address and phone number is, would you be interested? You better be! Analytics does this and much much more. Unfortunately 9 out 10 websites have only the most basic implementation of Google Analytics. On a dollar to features comparison there is nothing that matches the power of Google Analytics. And it’s FREE! Website analytics allow marketers to gain insights into the onsite behavior of their visitors. What to know how valuable visitors from social media channels are? Analytics will tell you. Curious if mobile users look up your location? It’s in analytics.
The power of digital marketing is in the data that’s generated. Analytics allows marketers to make sense of the data by looking at past visitor behavior trends. And nothing predicts the future like the past. Remember this: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Truer words to live by I’ve not heard. Well, maybe “live free or die” but that’s a topic for another time.
Applying the content-social-mobile-analytics focus to your cannabis brand marketing efforts is a long term strategy. It’s not executed overnight and there are no shortcuts. You need discipline and a steadfast approach that supports your brand position. When executed well you’ll reap the benefits of a growing and loyal audience who’ll sing your praises. If you need help getting started, get in touch with us. We’ll give you a few tips to get you going. If you need more help, let’s talk.