Cannabis Marketing Strategies: How Top Growth Marketers are Crushing it (Despite the PPC ban)


While marijuana is well on it’s road to nation-wide legalization, it’s still impossible to advertise cannabis on Facebook or Google ads. This means marijuana marketing strategies need to be creative. Check out the cannabis marketing caswe studies of 6 x leading growth marketers.

The cannabis industry is exploding.

Just check out these insane stats:

  • In 2018, legal cannabis sales in the U.S. amounted to nearly $10 billion
  • The global legal marijuana market is forecasted to balloon to $146.4 billion by end of 2025
  • Roughly 18% of Americans aged 18 to 29 use marijuana
  • Marijuana jobs growth to average 21% a year through 2022

With cannabis legalization sweeping over North America like a wildfire and full legalization already in Canada, we’re in green frenzy.

Cannabis and performance marketing

Yet despite the overwhelming empirical evidence proving the medical benefits of cannabis and the state level legalizations, the federal government’s got its own opinion made up.

Marijuana is still technically as evil as heroin according to the federal governments’ drug classification.

So sorry performance marketers, Facebook and Google Ads are still off-limits.

But have no fear, if you’re looking to market your cannabis startup, there are plenty of other avenues you can experiment with!

This blog post is special as we’ve reached out to 8 high-growth cannabis startups and asked the following question:

How can you effectively employ digital marketing around cannabis and cannabis products? What strategies have you used to broaden channels in marketing in spite of current restrictions on social media?

Growth advice from top cannabis brands

Dutchie

What Jon Kunkel, content manager at Dutchie, had to say

With the current restrictions surrounding digital marketing in the cannabis space, content marketing and SEO optimization have proven to be invaluable digital marketing tools due to their ability to organically drive traffic. Direct marketing through email and SMS campaigns has also proven to be effective, however, restrictions surrounding SMS protocol in the US makes it increasingly difficult to reach users.

Digital advertising giants such as Google and Facebook are missing out on a fortune in ad revenue from a $10B industry that is dying to spend money on PPC and PPI marketing.

Jon Kunkel, content manager at Dutchie

Takeaways, key points, thoughts:

  • Cannabis remains illegal in various states in America and in different parts of the world, hence the challenges and restrictions in marketing, especially in digital space.
  • However,content marketing and SEO optimization were proven to be invaluable tools in digital marketing due to their ability to drive traffic organically, as well as direct marketing through email and SMS campaigns. Though it’s important to note that SMS campaigns also have restrictions due to SMS protocol in the US, making it more difficult to reach users.
  • The Cannabis industry is determined to spend money on pay-per-click and pay-per-impression types of marketing but because of restrictions, the industry can’t take its shot on digital advertising giants such as Google and Facebook. 

Field.la

What Timeka Drew, marketing and compliance at Field.la, had to say:

In cannabis, word of mouth continues to reign supreme. Social media strategies that amplify the organic experiences of customers, employees and real-life ambassadors with the brand are key to increasing brand awareness and trust.

Empowering different posting demographics by continuing to engage them with unique or time-sensitive products, special promotions and events keeps interaction fresh and informative. Marketing professionals should make sure there is enough to talk about regarding what the brand is doing and where it is going without forcing a conversation with people who are not interested or who are not searching for information about cannabis products.

 

In cannabis, word of mouth continues to reign supreme. Social media strategies that amplify the organic experiences of customers, employees and real-life ambassadors with the brand are key to increasing brand awareness and trust.

Timeka Drew, marketing and compliance at Field.la

Another way to increase engagement around a cannabis brand is to focus on what the brand is doing outside of the world of products – is the brand directly serving the community or giving a portion of profits to a non-profit organization? It is important to lean into the fact that a cannabis company is like any other company during this time of normalization – force consumers to think about all of the positive aspects of the cannabis industry, even if they do not consume and never plan to.

Creating an image of the industry that is well-rounded and focused on health, wellness and community investment as much as recreation will open more hearts and minds, fostering a culture of acceptance.

Takeaways, key points, thoughts:

  • Word of mouth has been the most effective strategy in cannabis. Social media strategies amplify organic experiences of customers, employees, and real-life ambassadors to increase brand awareness and trust.
  • It’s important for marketing professionals to create relevant and informative content because content is key to reach and engage more people, even those who aren’t interested, those who aren’t searching for cannabis products, and those who don’t consume or never plan to.
  • In order to foster a culture of acceptance, marketing professionals shall create an image of the industry that is well-rounded and focused on health, wellness, and community investment as much as recreation. Content shall go beyond the world of products and must showcase all of the positive aspects of the cannabis industry.

Ionization Labs

What Alex Andrawes, CEO – IonizationLabs, had to say:

Trust and community have been the staple backbone of this industry due to its history. This is particularly important with the current path of decriminalization and commercialization.  Direct communications through either email or attending the various cannabis/marijuana industry shows and conferences have been the most effective means of sharing information and as such business relationship building and opportunity.  

There are a few larger networks that have been developed to allow for industry commerce including but not limited to The Growers Network, CannabizMedia,  CannaSOS, and a few others who have created a safe and effective business market platform that has been created specifically with Cannabis/Marijuana commerce in mind. This stems from the creative culture that is at the core of the cannabis/ marijuana industry.

 The old saying. “Necessity is the Mother of all invention” holds true as this burgeoning industry has moved forward utilizing digital media by creating their own platforms that are not reliant and restricted by other platforms, and specifically for those who have opted to not allow for marketing of this industry. 

Alex Andrawes, CEO - IonizationLabs

Takeaways, key points, thoughts:            

  • Trust and community have been the staple backbone in the cannabis industry, especially with the current path of decriminalization and commercialization.
  • In order to effectively share information and build business relationships, industry players continue to explore and maximize direct communications such as emails and attending various cannabis industry shows and conferences.
  • The industry’s creative culture led to the development of larger networks such as The Growers Network, CannabizMedia, CannaSOS, which helped to create a safe and effective platform for cannabis commerce.
  • The cannabis industry has utilized digital media and created its own platforms that continue to rise above various challenges in marketing restrictions and prohibitions.

flowhub

What Anne Fleshman, VP of marketing at Flowhub, had to say:

In every industry, effective marketing requires strategy. Because cannabis marketers are limited on many mainstream social media and digital advertising channels, all of us need to be creative and invest in building organic revenue streams.

Reducing reliance on paid marketing can be a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to reduce customer acquisition costs and increase profitability. While pouring money into a paid ad campaign can be a quick and easy way to reach your target audience, it’s not a sustainable or scalable way to grow in the long run.

Anne Fleshman, VP marketing at Flowhub

Instead, take the time to listen your customers, understand their needs, and dedicate your marketing strategy to providing solutions to problems at every stage of the customer journey. Earn trust by consistently offering helpful, relevant, and valuable content across the channels they’re already using—whether that’s Google search, email, SMS, video, social networks, online forums or other digital mediums—and then optimize conversion rates with automation and frictionless purchasing experiences.

Takeaways, key points, thoughts:

  • Cannabis marketing is limited on various mainstream social media and digital advertising that’s why it’s a challenge for marketers to be creative and invest in building organic revenue streams. After all, effective marketing requires strategy, in whatever industry you belong to.
  • Paid ad campaign can be a quicker and easier way to reach your target audience but it’s not a sustainable way to grow in the long run.
  • Instead of relying heavily on paid marketing, it is suggested to take more time in listening to your customers and understand their needs. Earn trust by dedicating your marketing strategy in providing solutions to the problems of their customer journey.
  • It is best to consistently offer helpful, relevant, and valuable content across the channels they’re already using, and then optimize conversion rates with automation and frictionless purchasing experiences. 

Prestodoctor

What Robert N. Tankson, III, co-founder of  www.prestodoctor.com, had to say:

Cannabis is one of the most limiting industries when it comes to digital marketing as large advertizering companies like Google and Facebook categorize it as illegal or illicit drugs.

While we at PrestoDoctor offer an anncliary service in the indusry, we are still subject to this same restriction. In fact, our account is marked by Facebook and ad attempts are not allow, Instagram (also owned by Facebook) has shut down our first account just as we hit 20K followers.

There are ways to get ads approved on Google but they don’t last very long as they are reported and/or caught by the ads teams. Even when trigger words like cannabis, marijuana, and weed are avoided and replaced with terms like 420, pot and herb ads are eventually taken down.

Robert N. Tankson, III, co-founder of www.prestodoctor.com

As a result, we implemented the following digital marketing tactics:

  • Creating new Facebook pages per each state we operate in
  • only post non-flower and paraphanellia pictures on Instagram advertize on cannabis friendly ad networks
  • established a referral marketing program which is one of our most successful sources of traffic bringing in 30% of our patients
  • posting consistent and relevant content on our company blog to help with SEO/SEM
  • and lastly, cross-promoting content
  • seeking free or paid for features in various publications to help with SEO/SEM.

Takeaways, key points, thoughts:

  • Advertising giants Google and Facebook categorize cannabis as an illegal drug. Given this and other restrictions, cannabis is among the most limiting industries when it comes to digital marketing.
  • In fact, PrestoDoctor’s account is marked by Facebook. Ad attempts are prohibited and Instagram took down their account just as they hit 20k followers. Ads that avoid trigger words and, instead, use safer terms such as 420, pot and herb are also eventually taken down.
  • In order to address these limiting concerns, PrestoDoctor implemented digital marketing tactics that include: (1) creating new Facebook pages in each state where they operate; (2) post non-flower pictures on Instagram and advertise on cannabis-friendly ad networks; (3) establish a referral marketing program; (4) post consistent and relevant content on their company blog; (5) cross promoting content.

HelloMD

What Lisa Park, VP of Content at HelloMD, had to say:

Social-media influencer marketing is probably the most effective method that’s available. Because of the federal illegal status of cannabis here in the US, you know, a lot of media are off limits, so you have to get a little bit creative. 

We launched our social media influencer campaign last fall and have well over a hundred influencers at this point who create both stories and traditional posts. This is in exchange for gift boxes that we create here around specific themes. The overall goal for this program is branding, for both our own brand and our partners’ brands. 

Another thing that’s driving conversions is our referral program. Influencers share a unique code with their followers and if the follower uses it as a first-time user to our site, they get $20 off and the influencer gets $20. 

Another thing that’s driving conversions is our referral program. Influencers share a unique code with their followers and if the follower uses it as a first-time user to our site, they get $20 off and the influencer gets $20. We call it the 20 “4” 20 program.

Lisa Park, VP of Content at HelloMD

We’ve also recently launched a live stream event through our social media platforms in partnership with various brands. We’re doing giveaways through our live stream, where we give away a state of the art vaporizer called the Hanu Stone that looks like a stone and is aesthetically pleasing. The giveaway made people pretty excited. We’re probably going to be running these live streams once every other week, hopefully ramping up to every week to really help boost brand visibility and drive traffic to the site. 

Takeaways, key points, thoughts:

  • Because of federal guidelines on cannabis, brands like HelloMD need to be creative about their marketing.
  • Influencer marketing has been largely successful primarily in the health and wellness arena, with more women influencers than men. The influencer program’s goals are to increase brand awareness, evangelizing + normalizing use and driving conversion by attaching a referral program. Currently, there are about 100 cannabis and hemp CBD influencers.
  • Other strategies include doing giveaways and livestreams to help increase brand visibility and drive conversion.

Trying to grow your cannabis startup?

I think we can all learn something from these cannabis marketers, I sure did!

Despite not being able to leverage performance marketing, these marketers were able to rapidly scale growth efforts by thinking outside of the box and maintaining a high tempo of experimentation.

Not being able to leverage PPC forced these brands to focus on the fundamentals.

  • Are we delivering an exceptional service/product?
  • Are we gathering social proof and amplifying it?
  • Are we creating awesome content at top, middle, and bottom of the funnel and repurposing it intelligently to maximize our ROI?
  • Are we building virality into our product with referral programs? 

We’re currently recruiting growth mentors with experience in the cannabis industry.

So if you’ve got a cannabis startup you’re trying to get off the ground make sure to get in touch!

We’re adding new growth mentors to the platform weekly!