If both medical and recreational marijuana were legalized across the United States, the U.S. market would dwarf Canada’s almost instantly. California alone, already the fifth largest economy in the world by GDP, is expected to generate as much as $7 billion in annual cannabis sales.
But to get their product to market and reach their customers, cannabis businesses need to invest in marketing. In a political climate still divided over the subject, and with a patchwork of laws blanketing the country, marijuana marketing is a bit of a minefield right now.
For example, at the time of this writing, one California cannabis firm is facing a lawsuit that could threaten its very existence, all because of backlash to their marketing practices.
Beyond the rules and regulations, cannabis businesses need to differentiate themselves based on both their product and their clientele. Their strategies must be air-tight so as not to break the rules, but also hyper-targeted to cut through the noise surrounding the industry.
Medical cannabis marketing and recreational cannabis marketing, although similar, require different strategies. Read on to learn where these two practices intersect, and where they must diverge to be successful.
The History of Medical Marijuana Marketing
Marijuana has long suffered from an image problem. Vast swaths of the population still associate cannabis with crime and the illicit sale of street narcotics. Although attitudes have changed dramatically, there are still plenty of people to convince that cannabis products are in the public’s best interest.
Medical marijuana wasn’t just a breakthrough for the medical community. The industry also served as a forerunner for a sea change in attitudes toward cannabis products, leading the way for more states to accept decriminalization and legalization initiatives.
The first medical marijuana firms attempted to combat the image problem through their advertising. They focused on the real-life benefits of medical marijuana and used depictions of medical patients to garner sympathy from their audience.
Firms are still using this strategy, but they also still face barriers. This was made apparent once again by the following TV advertisement, which CBS denied to air during the 2018 Super Bowl:
Furthermore, firms are making note of how medical marijuana treatments contrast with other, more traditional medicines. One of the clearest examples is the marketing of medical marijuana as a solution to chronic pain, which accounts for over 62% of medical conditions for which patients use medical cannabis.
Medical cannabis firms present their products as one of the clearest solutions to America’s opioid problem, an epidemic which, studies suggest, may have been exacerbated by the pharmaceutical industry and which has claimed over 60,000 lives.
Combined with hard evidence of medical marijuana’s efficacy from reputable sources, medical marijuana firms and the businesses that serve them now have a solid foundation on which to build their marketing campaigns. If they can navigate the regulatory environment and convince hesitant media outlets, they’ll find sympathetic audiences around the country.
Strategies for Medical Marijuana Marketing
In addition to traditional advertising channels, there are plenty of other strategies medical cannabis companies can deploy to reach their customers.
Free digital content is one of the most promising avenues for this industry. The public is hungry for information about medical marijuana. By posting educational content in the form of blog posts, videos, and even proprietary research studies, medical marijuana companies can sway opinions and establish themselves in the marketplace at the same time.
For companies that provide products and services to consumer-facing medical marijuana firms, there as an abundance of opportunity to stand out using cannabis SEO tactics, public relations campaigns, web design, and account-based marketing.
Because the industry is still relatively new, there are only a handful of big players to market to. Those companies that offer accounts the most value will be the ones to harness their business.
Quick wins can be gained through targeted digital advertising. However, ads will come under the scrutiny of publishers and lawmakers. For this reason, medical cannabis companies should prioritize inbound tactics and organic outreach while treading carefully when doing paid advertising.
Recreational Marijuana Marketing
The recreational sector of the cannabis industry must take a different approach to marketing. Instead of appealing to customers’ beliefs in life-saving medicine, they must market their products in the fashion of other lifestyle brands.
In some cases, they may follow in the footsteps of the alcohol and tobacco industry. However, this could be a serious mistake, as these are two of the most mistrusted industries in the world.
Thankfully, there is plenty of room for innovation in the cannabis marketplace. As a new industry, recreational cannabis has an opportunity to use inbound tactics and place itself above traditional advertising.
They’re also looking at a more receptive public than in years past.
In 1969, 84% of the population believed marijuana should remain illegal and only 12% believed it should be legalized. In 2018, attitudes have shifted: 62% believe it should be legalized and 34% believe it should remain illegal.
(Source: Pew Research Center)
Nonetheless, if the public’s palate for medical marijuana marketing is only just emerging, there is even less acceptance of recreational marijuana marketing. To avoid both legal and PR problems, recreational marijuana companies must act responsibly in their marketing and tread carefully around potential landmines.
Strategies for Recreational Marijuana Marketing
Recreational vendors and businesses that serve them can take advantage of many of the same strategies used by the medical cannabis community. These include strategies like the following:
- Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- Web design
- Affiliate marketing
- Digital advertising
The difference is in the approach.
Whereas medical marijuana companies may have more access to marketing channels, recreational marijuana companies are more likely to be shut out of them. To this end, they may have a better ROI by marketing through established affiliate sites and other channels that are associated with their niche industry.
There are plenty of websites out there which are hungry for cannabis content and are ready for pitches. Within these transactions are backlinking and referral opportunities, as well as the chance to establish long-running promotional partnerships.
The key benefit of working with established channels in the marijuana niche is the chance to avoid complicated regulatory issues. For example, it may be easier to place an article about recreational marijuana on a website that is catered to marijuana customers, rather than on a traditional news site or on social media.
Get Help with Your Cannabis Marketing
Regardless, both medical and recreational marijuana companies need guidance to build out their digital strategies and navigate their heavily-regulated marketplace.
If you want to learn how your cannabis company can beat the competition online, sign up for a consultation with ReadyGreen. We’ll do an analysis of your current marketing strategy and help you optimize it for maximum ROI.