The Most Effective Cannabis Advertising Tool You're Probably Not Using

August 21, 2018 | Jeffrey Harris

Forget social media. When it comes to communicating with customers and building loyalty, the smartphone is a smart choice.

Just like alcohol and tobacco, the cannabis industry has been restricted when it comes to advertising and marketing. The federal government dictates what -- and how -- brands can advertise, even in states where it’s legal.

This means you’re unlikely to see a targeted, sponsored Facebook ad for your favorite cannabis products. Even blogs, news sites, and influencers have been censored just for talking about the plant and the industry at large. This has encouraged the advent of new channels, as well as a re-thinking of how to build customer loyalty in the modern era.

As the main consumer-facing operators in the space, dispensaries are right there on the front of all the restrictions and regulations imposed on the industry, but they are also finding creative ways around them.

The Social Media Problem

Just like any other small business or big brand, dispensaries create Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook accounts to build a social presence among consumers. But there's a difference. No matter how popular they are or how beautiful their photo feeds, cannabis companies risk their accounts getting shut down and losing all their followers if they so much as post the wrong thing. For example, the "Terms of Service" on Facebook and Instagram state that accounts cannot promote the use or sale of illegal drugs -- and the platforms don’t seem to offer any leeway even if the brand is located in a legal state.

Faced with tight restrictions on all social media platforms, many cannabis brands are learning that it’s ineffective and flat-out irresponsible to put marketing spend into traditional social media channels. Without them, however, there are no easy ways for brands to scale marketing campaigns, track ROI, or analyze audience demographics.

For these brands, the key marketing motive is to transform latent audiences into new customers and then, hopefully, into returning customers. To accomplish this, they use many tools -- some familiar, and some totally unique to the cannabis space.

The Mobile Phone Solution

Smart cannabis retailers know that the key to getting feet in the door is fostering customer loyalty. And the mobile phone is the ultimate digital tool to foster this.

Sending friendly updates, coupons, and product photos via text message is a quick and totally compliant way to push content directly to your customers and stay top-of-mind among a sea of competitors. Plus, companies who use direct SMS services can record responses and re-target campaigns based on their most loyal customers and their unique shopping preferences.

Unlike social platforms, which prohibit paid cannabis media, SMS services allow marketers to track the performance of each text message campaign. Click rates, redemptions, and most importantly, resulting store visits are all vital data points that cannabis companies can’t get anywhere else.

Direct SMS marketing also allows for dispensaries to acquire new customers, even outside the confines of the store environment, via web forms or text-to-join keywords. Dispensaries can easily advertise a call to action for people to send a quick text their sign-up line, engaging customers while collecting their information for future campaigns.

Though it won’t be the most effective form of cannabis marketing, building a basic, bare-minimum presence on the traditional channels is still important. Consumers live on social media, and like to be in direct contact with brands they are interested in. Instagram direct messages are a hotbed of authentic conversations in the cannabis industry, both B2B and consumer.

Chatbots, like those introduced to the Facebook Messenger platform recently, may also hold a lot of promise for cannabis brands. These automated responders provide an instant “personalized” interaction, which is vital in capturing the attention of and educating the cannabis-curious individual. Though your brand may not be allowed to push a Sponsored Facebook Ad, you can be there to answer questions on-demand.

The cannabis industry is under immense regulatory pressure, and that high pressure is creating figurative diamonds in the world of marketing technology. Don’t feel discouraged if your brand is facing obstacles -- simply do what many smart entrepreneurs are doing, get savvy with a smartphone strategy.