The increasing legalization of cannabis and rising acceptance of its use for medical purposes is causing rapid growth in the U.S. market. In 2022, the U.S. cannabis market size was valued at $13.2 billion and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.2% from 2023 to 2030.
As the market continues to expand, more dispensaries and brands are making their debut. But unlike brand growth in any other industry, since marijuana is illegal at the federal level, it can be difficult for cannabusinesses to properly market themselves due to all of the rules and restrictions.
Luckily, there are still some ways around the marketing restrictions that won’t get you banned or have your account taken down. Here are seven helpful marketing strategies to better your cannabusiness:
Check the Advertising Rules in Your State
Before you start your marketing journey, it is extremely important to check if your state has any advertising rules. According to Eric Robichaud, CEO of Green Goddess Supply, there are often rules about advertising marijuana on a state-by-state basis. Depending on the regulations, you may not be able to advertise in traditional ways, such as on the radio or TV.
“It’s particularly maddening in border towns where one dispensary has a huge billboard on the highway, and then two miles up the road, a dispensary was forced to take down theirs because it’s over the border, and billboards are not allowed in that state. So you have two dispensaries that are a couple miles apart and one can advertise outdoors, and the other can’t. It’s not a level playing field,” Robichaud said.
Andrea A. Golan, Counsel, Vicente LLP, offers some best practices to lower the risk of getting in trouble with your state:
- All cannabis-related companies, even ancillary companies who do not hold a state commercial cannabis license, should strictly comply with all applicable state and local cannabis advertising regulations.
- Avoid advertising to the general public and, where possible, ensure that all recipients of advertisements are registered patients and caregivers or at least 21-years-old. Most states require that advertisers affirm that at least 70% of the audience viewing the advertising or marketing is reasonably expected to be 21+.
- Use a method of age verification when advertising involves direct, individualized communication, such as text messages.
- Ensure all advertising is truthful and appropriately substantiated and does not create a misleading impression. Avoid claims that cannabis or a cannabis product can prevent, treat or cure any disease.
- Ensure that advertising is not made attractive to children — an area of frequent enforcement. This includes, but is not limited to, avoiding the following advertisements: (1) cartoons; (2) likeness to images, characters or phrases popularly used to advertise to children; and (3) imitations of candy packaging or the use of phrases associated with children’s candy products.
- Use models who are, and appear to be, at least 25-years-old. Cannabis advertisers should take note of Juul’s recent and massive multi-state settlement which prohibits depicting anyone under age 35 in any marketing.
- Avoid depicting images of consumption.
- Where applicable, include cannabis license numbers and state-required warning statements.
“The best strategy that I have found for marketing cannabis brands is to collaborate with the non-cannabis businesses within the communities in which your customers are from,” Geoff Ostrove, General Manager, Pharmer’s Market Oregon, powered by 240L Holdings, said. “Organize events with local music venues, partner with restaurants on special dinners, and support local nonprofits. Make your customers feel like supporting your brand means supporting their community.”
Look for events that converge with your demographics, get a branded EZ-Up style tent, and pick your spot. For the cannabis industry, events like reggae concerts or EDC-style events are usually great crossovers, according to Robichaud. The smart brands are not only attending/sponsoring cannabis-specific gatherings, but they are also reaching out at concerts and other non-industry events to gain more traction.
Pro Tip: When attending any event, whether cannabis-specific or not, Golan warns against advertising your products as free or part of a giveaway or BOGO. Always be sure to consult your state laws before activating a game, contest, sweepstakes or similar sales promotion, as any licensed brand can be subject to state prohibitions.
Appear on Podcasts
Michael Mejer, Founder of Green Lane Communication, suggests that cannabis brands contribute their insights and expertise by appearing on podcasts. This can significantly help amplify brand awareness, build trust with an audience and establish credibility.
“Over the years, this has been a powerful workaround for cannabis brands to establish their company narrative, and communicate to the marketplace who they are, what they do, and why they do it,” Mejer said. “Due to the nature of an earned media approach, the likelihood that whatever media coverage is generated, won’t be subject to being taken down or reported as non-compliant (often an obstacle with more traditional advertising and marketing platforms).”
Advertise on Different Cannabis Platforms
There are quite a few cannabis-related platforms where brands can advertise themselves. But keep in mind that each platform still has its rules around what you can and can’t depict. Ostrove suggests these three platforms:
- Leaf Magazine is the cannabis industry’s premier print publication. It is an excellent place for cannabis companies to advertise, and they also have an excellent online magazine as well as a great social media presence.
- Leafly and Weedmaps advertisements help drive customers directly to stores to purchase products.
- Leaflink advertisements help drive retailers to purchase your products.
“In addition to cannabis-specific platforms, cannabis seed brands can also take advantage of platforms that allow targeted advertising,” Sarah Carter, PR Director, Symple Seeds, said. “You can advertise on niche websites and forums related to cannabis or partner with cannabis influencers to promote your brand. You can also invest in targeted display ads or programmatic advertising to reach potential customers online.”
“The top platforms are Leafly and Weedmaps. Those are two of the most respected as far as cannabis platforms go,” Autumn Shelton, CFO of Autumn Brands, said. “Other smaller ones include iHeart Jane and Proper Cannabis. These are also really great platforms.”
Advertise on Social Media
It’s important to use social media to build brand awareness and engage with potential customers. While this can be a great way to spread your brand name around, the rules and regulations differ from platform to platform so much so that it can make your head spin.
Robichaud breaks down each platform down to make it as easy as possible:
- Instagram. This is where you want to be. Your audience is here, the content is more persistent and it’s more conducive to a broadcast medium approach. However, they’re very cannabis UN-friendly. Accounts are shut down or shadow banned constantly, making it hard to navigate around. Avoid using obvious hashtags like #cannabis, #marijuana, #weed, #gangja, etc. and use more inside talk such as #staylifted or #mmemberville. While it can be a hassle, it’s where 100% of your audience lives.
- Facebook. Many of the Instagram approaches also apply to Facebook, but the relevancy of this platform is waning. Facebook is also much harder on cannabis companies than Instagram.
- Twitter. Recently rebranded as “X,” this is the most welcoming platform for cannabis brands. You can directly post just about anything and can hashtag #cannabis directly. You can even advertise on the site. However, Twitter is a lot of work, and probably more than most brands want to deal with.
- LinkedIn. This platform is very cannabis friendly, too, but you probably won’t find your audience here. However, your brand should still have some sort of presence here, particularly if you offer business-to-business and sell to retail stores.
- Threads. While this platform seems shiny and new, there is not enough data to see how well it works for advertising. It is also just as harsh as Instagram on its filtering, so it’s nowhere near as interesting as Twitter would be if done right. If you don’t have a big marketing budget, it’s not worth spending time on Threads.
- Pinterest. If you make products other than cannabis, such as apparel and smoking accessories, it can work.
- TikTok. This platform doesn’t allow cannabis-related ads or content whatsoever, so many brands use TikTok simply to educate consumers on the different benefits that cannabis products can provide. Be aware of making any false claims or promoting specific products.
“Marketing through social media platforms is difficult because we are already in violation of the community guidelines on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok just by being a cannabis brand,” Kyle Webb, VP of Marketing at Timeless, said. “Until cannabis is federally legal, this will be an issue.”
How to Be Successful on Social Media Platforms
If done correctly, utilizing social media can greatly increase brand awareness and bring in new and loyal customers. You just have to make sure you use the correct wording so as to not get banned or have your account shut down.
“It is important to use words like hemp or CBD, instead of cannabis or marijuana. Brands such as Elevate that also carry Delta-8 THC supplements should never use the word ‘Delta-8’ when running an ad, as it will immediately be flagged by the advertising network,” Emil Aghakian, Marketing Manager at Earth Brands LLC and cannabis/brand expert, said.
Aghak also suggests that informational blog posts and honest review articles work best on cannabis consumers. They want to see non-sponsored articles to compare different cannabis or CBD brands before making a purchase, so the best way to make your business stand out is through blogs and reviews.
“When cannabis became legal for recreational use in Maryland, our hands were essentially tied when it came to promoting the new program,” Lisa Schaefer, VP of Marketing at Curio Wellness, said. “So, we instead focused on educational content on social platforms to inform our consumers, both medical and recreational, to legitimize cannabis as a wellness product. This works especially well on Twitter, where promoting cannabis is totally above-board.”
Utilize Press and PR
If done right, this can be the gift that keeps on giving. Word of mouth is still the best way for any brand to get exposure, and PR companies can certainly help you accomplish this. Work with the right people to get your brand’s name in front of the right consumers.
“When it comes to marketing channels, our emphasis is on public relations to ensure that our products and company are highlighted in media outlets that resonate with the cannabis community. The existing advertising limitations have created a strong consumer demand for cannabis-related content. As a result, PR efforts with prominent publications attract considerable attention and lead to significant inquiries. Our approach merges this PR strategy with innovative product development to maximize the impact. This ensures that our offerings are newsworthy and inventive enough to captivate both consumers and the media,” Richard Huang, President of Cloudious9, said.
Partner With Influencers
Influencers and content creators can help dispensaries and cannabis brands reach a wider audience and build trust with potential customers. In fact, many consumers trust recommendations from social media influencers over branded social media content.
Be sure to partner with influencers who align with your brand and whose followers match your customer demographic. Not only will this make your products more relevant to their audience, but it also gives you a greater chance of gaining a sale.
At the end of the day, no matter how troublesome it may be for cannabis brands, there are still plenty of ways to market yourself and gain exposure. You just need to be creative and use the right techniques.