Thoughts & Insights

Cannabis Marketing: The Challenges Brands Face

Achieving growth and building a following in any new industry can be tough, especially when its product used to be illegal.

September 18, 2018 · 4 MIN READ

Achieving growth and building a following in any new industry can be tough. When that new industry used to be illegal and continues to carry a stigma like marijuana does (even when rebranded as “cannabis”), it becomes all the more challenging. However, with continued signs that the cannabis industry is gaining acceptance despite regulations and other challenges, it is an important topic to begin addressing in discussions and brainstorming sessions.

The Grass Really is Greener

At the start of 2018, California and other states allowed the cannabis industry to expand legally as a legitimate business. According to Statista, “the Cannabis Industry 2017 Annual Report stated that sales of medical and recreational marijuana are going to start taking off this year. Sales of medical and recreational marijuana are going to reach $4.75 and $6 billion this year respectively. By 2023, both forms of the drug will be higher than $20 billion before hitting $24 billion in 2025.”

To provide an even larger picture of the opportunity, The Motley Fool gathered some startling statistics about the cannabis industry. For example, “legal weed sales in Colorado have more than doubled from $699 million in 2014, the first year of recreational marijuana sales in the state, to $1.49 billion as of 2017, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.” Plus, the Factbook puts the U.S. cannabis market at $52.5 billion.

Then, there are the boosts to the economy through job creation. The same article noted, “As of today, an estimated 125,000 to 160,000 people are employed within the cannabis industry. By 2022, Factbook predicts that figure could soar to roughly 340,000 jobs. Assuming the current peak estimate of 160,000, this works out to a job growth of 21% per year through 2022. By comparison, the healthcare industry is only expected to see job growth of approximately 2% per year through 2022.”

An Opportunity That Could Go Up in a Puff of Smoke

With such incredible opportunity to lift state and national economies, it’s hard to imagine that there are so many legal and political issues stifling cannabis industry growth.

Primarily, regulatory issues and strict standards restrict how cannabis businesses can market their brands. In some states, cannabis businesses must disclose all intellectual property licensing deals. Also, cannabis advertising is not allowed near schools or where children spend time. That means no television, radio, vehicle, or print advertising. These businesses cannot use mascots. Other laws related to marketing severely limit how a cannabis business can publicize itself. For example, there are very specific marijuana advertising rules in the state of California.

Addressing the Challenges Standing in the Way of Cannabis Growth

Other industries such as alcohol, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, and gambling have faced similar challenges and overcome them. The same is possible for the cannabis industry. It just means getting back to basic marketing tools and being more about the creative approach.

This means opting for traditional print advertising in publications and direct mail for the cannabis industry. Digital marketing is also still possible, such as creating blogs that educate and inform audiences about the benefits of cannabis, which will help to build brands and break down stigmas. Like other industries, this can enhance brand trust and differentiate the growing number of brands in the cannabis industry.

Using social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube will be a wise choice, as long as the content sticks to educational focus. New digital ad networks have also emerged as players in the space, including Mantis and Adistry. Additionally, SEO strategies and email marketing are two digital tools that can help with cannabis marketing efforts.

Though somewhat limited, there are still options when it comes to marketing cannabis brands. Yes, finding and honing the best approach will take time and evolve along with the industry itself. But despite the barriers created by regulation and stigma, this emerging market has undeniable potential—and based on predictions, will surely be worth the effort.

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