The Future of Cannabis Marketing: What’s Data Got to Do With It?

No other industry—outside of tech—began with such an abundance of, and requirement for, data. Every legal market requires some form of statewide traceability. If the tracking software worked perfectly, every single cannabis product bought by consumers could be tracked all the way back to its seed form. That is an incredible amount of data. Yet despite this, much of the data generally is unusable when it comes to marketing.

In terms of marketing, data becomes exponentially more valuable as you trace the full buying cycle and understand the attribution data. This means you can attribute where users were exposed to your brand and what steps they took leading up to purchasing your product. This attribution data allows for sales funnels to be created. If a consumer first sees an influencer’s post, then goes to their blog, then to your website, and then subscribes to your newsletter before finally buying a product, you can track their buying cycle fairly cleanly and attribute their purchase accordingly.

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But three major issues plague the cannabis industry regarding purchase cycle tracking: 1) digital purchases are not allowed, 2) the industry is almost exclusively cash-only, and 3) premier advertising channels do not allow cannabis advertisements. Without ability to track the final purchasing step, and without Google and Facebook allowing paid advertisements, an industry with so much required data still provides little for actionable execution on traditional digital marketing platforms.

Data services in the cannabis industry already are bringing in serious cash, and we expect that to rapidly accelerate. Since so many programs and methods from other industries cannot translate into this space, expect loyalty programs, smoking experience apps, and third-party data providers to continue to grow at pace with the industry.

Eager to adopt
Despite a plethora of marketing challenges, a redeeming quality is shared almost unanimously throughout the industry: Cannabis entrepreneurs are eager and willing to adopt new techniques, technologies, and tactics to find an advantage.

The most obvious adoption is a new style of naming and logo. As the industry grows, canna-based names and pot-leaf logos are being replaced by more modern techniques. This can and will need to continue for companies to stand out with their branding and marketing efforts. You never expect to see alcohol or tobacco companies named “Alco-light” for beer or “Tobacerette” for cigarettes.

Don’t be surprised to SEE augmented reality and virtual reality finding an early home in the cannabis market.

Cannabis brands, and C-suite members in general, are willing to take risks and try new technologies that may give them an edge in the market. Extraction equipment, automated joint rolling, software tracking, and more are introduced and screened by potential customers every day. This willingness to adopt translates into marketing, with cannabis leading the way out of desire and necessity to attempt new marketing models. Cannabis companies consistently are working with cannabis-based web review services, new ad networks aimed at niche websites, lead targeting, and customer-relationship-management software created exclusively for the complexities of the cannabis industry. Don’t be surprised to find another adopting industry make a big push into cannabis as well: Augmented reality and virtual reality may just find an early home in the cannabis market.

Of all the adoptions occurring and yet to come, I expect experiential marketing to be one of the most impactful. Cannabis is an interactive consumable, and brands are best served to create experiences in which customers can take part. Think smoking lounges at conferences and events, pop-up displays and budtender tours in dispensaries, and kiosks and interactive experiences at on-site locations. As we rapidly move toward federal legalization, cannabis soon will be purchased at everyday stores: pharmacies, convenience stores; in some states perhaps even grocery stores. Creating engaging and memorable experiences for consumers at a brick-and-mortar store—or perhaps just wearing virtual reality goggles at home—will be one of the most impactful methods of marketing over the next decade.

Make it count
More than in most industries, cannabis marketing is truly about making your impressions count. Getting consumers to see your brand can be difficult and expensive all by itself, so when they do see your brand, make sure your company is memorable.

Great packaging, great websites, and overall great branding are the most impactful methods, as they are the most commonly seen aspects of your brand. Potential customers will be creating a mental story of who you are every time they are exposed to any aspect of your brand, so make sure the story is well-crafted and cohesive.

These are simply the basics to making a lasting impression, however. Don’t be afraid to give things to your customers, and don’t be afraid to ask in return. Promotional and swag-bag items are forever in style and soon will be a standard and regulated method of letting customers try your cannabis products. Capitalize on these opportunities and give customers reasons to remember you as well as ways to stay in touch. Ask for consumers to follow you on social media, offer educational materials, and give away items they’ll carry farther than the nearest trashcan.

At a recent conference, we decided to announce our new services through handheld five-inch by seven-inch cards. On one side we announced what we would offer, but on the other side, the side we displayed from our booth, we featured an incredibly high-quality image from our local cannabis photographer. Some postcards had flower shots, some had grow rooms, etc. Our goal was that nobody wants to pick up an informational graphic with just our new services, but they do want beautiful, high-quality cannabis photography. When we combined the two, we had something that ideally created a memorable impression and will still be on our customers’ office fridge or post board when the need for our services arises.

Don’t be afraid to ask for customers’ info, ask them to download an app, or visit a website. All of these are great methods to keep them around and make sure your marketing dollars weren’t spent on a one-time exposure. Instead, you create a way to keep the conversation flowing and, ideally, move the discussion to a free-to-use platform like Instagram where you no longer pay for them to be exposed.

When in doubt, capture their email. I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t know what you need, you need their email and you can sort the rest out later.

The rise of new advertising
Advertising is an ever-adapting and -adjusting industry. What started as boardroom meetings driven by a gut feeling now utilizes sophisticated hardware and software to track and engage consumers. The world of marketing constantly is changing, and cannabis marketing will be won by companies that think outside the box. With so many regulations and restrictions, creativity truly is the only effective tactic in the space.

Influencers already are a big trend for cannabis companies, but expect this to get more granular. Since most targeted digital marketing is unavailable from Google, Facebook, and Instagram, marketers must go to the next best thing: micro-influencers, or influencers with a smaller but more focused group of followers, and they will be vital. In many ways, this is advanced targeting. If you find influencers with between 500 and 5,000 followers with solid engagement from the market you serve, congratulations! You now have a targeted digital campaign.

Similarly, you can expect to see cannabis marketing in non-digital ways more than in traditional industries. As mentioned earlier, experiential marketing will be vital. Sponsorships at local bars, music festivals, and even progressive farmers markets will become more commonplace. They are great options to expose consumers to your brand and let them build an emotional attachment to your products and services.

Expect education to be one of the best cannabis marketing avenues. Due to the product’s federally illegal status, plenty of information gaps exist out there among the mass market, and consumers like to be knowledgeable. A great way to reach consumers online and offline is to offer trusted, reliable, and interesting information about your products, their effects, and the industry as a whole.

With these experiences and educational demands, you will find plenty of ancillary businesses hoping to fill the gap. Loyalty programs and educational apps already are becoming a big trend. Both help specify target audiences for companies to capture. If a consumer is collecting points or learning what strain is best for the upcoming camping trip this weekend, they obviously are interested in cannabis. While you used to be able to reach cannabis consumers only through one or two of the original cannabis publications and magazines, the new channels will dramatically help each company reach its precise target demographic.  ­



Headshot of Kirk Grogan of Wick and MortarKirk Grogan oversees operations at Wick & Mortar, a cannabis branding and marketing agency. Prior to joining the cannabis industry and founding several hardware companies designed to improve the vaping and extraction market, he consulted with numerous Fortune 100 companies regarding business-to-business and business-to-consumer digital sales strategies. Grogan specializes in optimizing and refining automated sales growth and is an experienced public speaker.

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