Not so long ago in December, before the void of what is “holiday break,” I along with some of my colleagues attended MJBizCon, a conference befitting of the Los Vegas strip. Not perhaps in the traditional sense of Vegas – glitz, glamor, and indulgence. But in a larger than life, I cannot believe this is actually happening right now kind of way.

To bring you up to speed, MJBizCon is where the cannabis industry comes together to learn, network, explore, reward, and get business done. This massive event, and everything that is MJBizCon, brings together the best in the biz (see what I did there?).

Their next event is in June if anyone wants to keep track.

Before we dive into the arsenal of learnings I packed away in my bag of cannabis knowledge, let’s highlight some basics and background. A crucial part of this conversation is the history of this industry, with a particular focus on the fact that minorities and people of color have been disproportionately exploited by the regulations surrounding cannabis and cannabis culture. This uncomfortable fact isn’t something that can be ignored because of its grim history. We need to address this wound so we can move forward in this space.

In the United States, CBD, whether derived from hemp or marijuana plants, is legal on a federal and state-by-state level. THC is not legal federally, but like CBD, it is legal on a state-by-state basis.

Let’s break this down even further to understand what we are talking about when we say CBD and THC. Both CBD and THC are naturally occurring compounds. CBD, or Cannabidiol, is non-psychotropic and has become popular in recent years because of its link to easing a range of ailments. However, these claims have not been validated by the FDA. So, here’s your first takeaway: do not claim your CBD product can ease X ailment, no matter how many customers, case studies, or independent investigations may support that. More on that later.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound that gives people the euphoric high. In more exact terms, it is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Both THC and CBD are commonly added to tinctures, lotions, oils, and edibles like cookies, chocolates, drinks, and gummies.

Now that we’re up to speed on what is what let’s move on to the reason why you’re here.

Social Media Advertising: Working with Restrictions on Social

“It’s not called selling media, it is called social media” – Amy Donohue, Cannabis Social Media Consultant at Get Hybrid Social

When it comes to supporting your brand and furthering the brand’s awareness, don’t count on your favorite social networks to be very CBD friendly. Not quite yet anyway. Unless you are talking about LinkedIn (yes, LinkedIn).

Look to emerging platforms like Twitch and Tiktok.

Quick tips on how to follow your social accounts’ rules:

  • Shadowban testing: Create a search from someone who is not following the brand. If your brand comes up, there is no shadowban
  • Anything that could be seen as bot activity will likely get you shadowbanned
  • Algorithms aren’t as likely to read videos
  • Stay away from pricing (in pics, in copy, etc.)
  • News coverage about your company is another workaround because it is informative instead of salesy
  • Reddit is cannabis friendly! Leverage subreddits for local users
  • Everything you read on the internet is true – case and point, always fact check!

You’re essentially selling something that you cannot sell.

But it isn’t about selling. It is about building a brand, a story, brand values…build it and they will come. Social should never be your only channel or strategy and the same goes for this industry. As Donohue, during a session at MJBizCon, put it, “Use social as a welcome mat for your brand.”

Effective Marketing Strategies: Do’s and Don’ts

“No one likes to be sold to.” – Mariah Martinez, Partner at The M Agency

  • Storytelling – this is a crucial tool for the cannabis market. It creates a connection. Stories sell, facts tell, and education is storytelling
  • Consumption – don’t smoke or consume in your ads. Think laws around tobacco and alcohol
  • Children – don’t ever use children in your ads. Just don’t! Ever. Not even to try to create a “lifestyle” piece
  • Reminder, the age restriction for purchasing THC is 21 years old and while there is no age limit on CBDs, a massive segment of the industry is vaping or smoking-focused
  • Prices or Sales – nope, you cannot sell through social. Not even if you want to promote a flash sale. I mean, you can try, but it won’t be worth it if you get your account shut down
  • Medical claims – while consuming cannabis or CBD can help with headaches, don’t claim that. Stay away from anything that could be regarded as a medical claim
  • The pot leaf – if your brand is already using it as a part of the logo, it could be a rough road. While arguably beautiful and perhaps the most recognizable flora, the cannabis leaf is hard to market on the internet. Many digital and social platforms (cough IG and FB cough) view it as a weed code of arms. There are heavy drug connotations and stigmas they can’t leave in the past.
  • Comments and reviews – don’t ‘like’ them. Don’t endorse or like any comments on your social media or digital channels. Reach out to your customers individually. Otherwise, you could get reprimanded/punished

A Good Place to Start

  • Use social as a support to your strategy
  • Build a community and interact with your customers
  • Sell a lifestyle, not a product

Strength in marketing channels

  • Email
  • SMS (text)
  • SEO and website optimization (also, you need a website)
  • Audio/podcasts
  • Visual/video (these are less likely to be crawled)
  • Influencers

Leveraging influencers is a great way to get around some of the ad restrictions. Again, don’t have said influencers smoking your product. However, the FCC has come down hard on how influencers can advertise (Fyre Festival anyone?). You need to make sure your influencer(s) are playing by the rules when it comes to ads and letting their followers know that your brand feature is a sponsored post.

Read this carefully…

Corporate social responsibility!

Corporate social responsibility!

Corporate social responsibility!

While this audience is extremely varied (you are really speaking to all walks of life here), many of your customers know and understand where this industry came from. As mentioned before, and as a reminder here, this industry was built because of minorities and people of color who were and still are disproportionately affected by these laws, regulations, and the war on drugs. By not acknowledging this, you’re not only ignoring a critical conversation, but you are doing the industry a disservice. The way we move forward in this space needs to be the tide that raises all ships.

Your consumer is not blind to this issue. Don’t lose them by acting naïve. Use your platform to educate and inform.

What Can Corporations Do?

Glad you asked.

Talk openly about how the system needs to change and where the industry has come from.

Also, give back! How do you show that you care? How can you be responsible? How can you do good in your community? This isn’t exclusive to the cannabis industry. The art of selling is over. Now is the time to usher in authentic connections. Be authentic and transparent. Be human.

There is plenty of room in this industry for everyone!

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Warren Buffet

Major Market Opportunities and Diverse Demographics

  • Wellness
  • Foods
  • Sports

Wellness products that aren’t about ‘intoxication’ are emerging markets. When using CBD in wellness or sports recovery products, treat dis-ease over disease. Carry “all ships rise mentality” into your business objectives. It is beneficial to all of us to show the therapeutic potential and efficacy of CBD products.

Brand values and authenticity, as mentioned before, are vitally important to your overall brand story. Customers are more likely to purchase through a referral recommendation, influencers, family, friends, etc. because you are selling your product as an integral part of a lifestyle.

The breadth of customer profiles range from Cannabis Connoisseur to Bud Basics. Translation one group is people that know about cannabis and use it as a part of their wellness routine and the other is people that simply want to get high. Neither is better than the other and both are your customers (or could be! Product depending of course).

Younger demographics are far more educated in the space. Not so long ago, people were buying weed from their pot dealing friends. And if you had a good dealer, he or she would tell you about the plant; how it was grown, what strain it was, what was used to grow it (organic vs. non-organic), Colorado buds vs. Cali buds…I could go on. Basically, the younger generations are more concerned with what we are putting into our bodies. Education about CBD as a product needs to be a part of your marketing research and storytelling. Education is crucial. This can help destigmatize cannabis.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Customers are curious about CBD & related products and brands need to figure out how to answer their questions.

Back to storytelling as a way to chip away at the stigma. Storytelling normalizes this space and these products. Relate to the experience your customers have with the product. The experience is what you make of it. It isn’t always about getting high.

Restrictions around selling aside, the biggest challenge with this industry is customer acquisition because there is still a heavy stigma.

This stigma is very real, especially with older generations (did someone say baby boomers?). But again, you don’t know what you don’t know, and it can take a fair amount of time to reprogram a narrative that has been force-fed to a generation for most of their adult lives. So, let’s all play nice.

More questions on navigating the selling restrictions around cannabis? Drop us a line, we’d be happy to talk about what you can do to market your brand.