Digital Marketing Guidelines and Best Practices for Cannabis Businesses

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Digital advertising is a go-to solution with many ad networks and options to choose from. While the top players in display advertising may deter cannabis product marketing due to federal trade restrictions, there are strategies that provide a solution for Main Street digital display. What follows are tactical tools to help you penetrate the market and get your share of voice.

Positioning – Google has donated advertising credits to cannabis-related non-profits in the past, but the official Google policy classifies cannabis as “adult” content and therefore, marketing sales of cannabis or paraphernalia is prohibited for the product suite.

Major social media platforms also prohibit ads marketing marijuana products or accessories such as herb grinders. That means that you can’t promote your posts and they might also disable your company profile page if it doesn’t meet specified guidelines.

Positioning your brand in support of the industry is a great route to take. Promote positive scientific research for example or support pro-cannabis legislation as a work-around. Use an image to share the message and add a watermark, logo, or your account handle (@your_ID_here) to any imagery. This will provide the necessary brand exposure or account recognition to promote your trademark and you can feel good about the educational content that you are sharing.

Engaging audiences can be far more effective than bulk impressions. Consider a more discreet social media presence by posting in private Facebook groups. Even better, tap into your right-brained thinking and get more creative with your content to boost shares. Vine is a great option for product or logo placement in video content if you use the aforementioned positioning strategy to avoid violations.

Targeting

Consider your target audience and then match those qualities to media outlets specifically geared toward your desired demographic.

MassRoots is a marijuana social media app with a strong millennial following, and they offer endorsed posts as well as featured placement of sponsored profiles. The media kit starts at $300 and lists a $5000 media buy with a 2.5 million reach as of October 2015.

HighTimes is a tried and true veteran publisher with print and digital media packages to choose from. Like the HighTimes Cannabis Cup, there are several cannabis events around the country that offer sponsorship opportunities. If you offer medical cannabis, sponsor cancer research fundraisers. Once you sponsor, your logo will potentially be promoted on the event website, emails, and display ads leveraging your brand recognition (and corporate social responsibility).

For more diverse media reach, consider the Mantis ad network. They boast 180 sites on the network as of December 2015 in addition to their flagship site MedicalJane. There is a minimum spend of $1000 monthly, and they have both PPC and CPM plans. 15 second pre-roll video is an exciting new offering currently in beta for 2016.

Search Engine Optimization

For dispensaries, store fronts, or those cannabusinesses with a physical address to promote, SEO can be a quick time investment. Start by registering your business with the relevant directories: Google Maps, WeedMaps, and Leafly.

Next, make sure you incorporate Schema.org markup in your website code for your address. When used properly, this will notify all the search engines of your location, hours, and other types of directory information that your users will want to access easily. Include relevant keywords in your domain name and on other pages of your site.

Add a blog to your digital presence to provide an easy interface for content publishing and be sure to include relevant keywords there as well.

Use Caution

This is a good rule of thumb for social media hyperlinks: any websites you link out to with cannabis content should have an age-restricted gate to exclude minors. Regular recreational (defined as once per week or more) use of cannabis by those 25 and under is tied to cognitive damage and can be dangerous.

State regulations may also limit exposure of marijuana marketing. Colorado digital advertising guidelines for example require that mobile website audiences be 21 or over by a margin of 70% which limits advertising to installed apps. Surprisingly, pop-ups are illegal by the Colorado mandates as well.

The IRS code section 280E restricts business deductions for businesses selling or distributing cannabis. Consult an accountant with knowledge of cannabis industry considerations for your particular business before deducting marketing expenses.

As with any cannabusiness, maintaining legitimacy is key and important to the growth of the industry as whole. You may not have considered the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when building your website, but here’s one more legal issue that you might want to add to your check list. If you are providing medical marijuana or related education, be considerate of your users who may be accessing your site with special tools designed for disabilities. You’ll want to consult an ADA compliance professional for technical details.

Return On Investment – Your success is measurable, measure it. With the high federal taxes in this industry and the possibility that you may not be able to write off your advertising expenses, measuring ROI is of utmost importance. Evaluate your conversion rate, amplification rate, and applause rate periodically then recalibrate as needed.