Sep 11, 2018 / in Comms Best Practices / by Kayla Matthews

It may seem like marketers have it easy when promoting products for the legal cannabis industry. However, a more in-depth look reveals the pressing challenges facing the rapidly growing sector.

Projections indicate that the cannabis industry could be worth more than $63.5 billion by 2024. But for cannabis brands to take advantage of the resulting profits, they must overcome four challenges.

1. Getting Featured in a Mainstream Publication

Plenty of trade publications about cannabis exist, and they’re all ready to cover newsworthy happenings about growing facilities, new types of marijuana for sale, specialty products and more. But it’s time for the cannabis industry to move beyond those niche publications and get mentioned in mainstream outlets.

Any industry that hasn’t yet reached widespread appeal could face that challenge, and it’s often a difficult one to overcome. Those working in the legal marijuana industry encounter negative stigmas that develop due to a lack of knowledge. However, those views can occur in any frequently misunderstood industry.

Cannabis brands are finding success by getting positioned as educators and earning the trust of members of the target market. When they achieve greater credibility with the help of cannabis-specific PR agencies, it’s easier for established and familiar media brands to realize those companies are worth covering in their publications.

2. Differences in Legal Status Between States

California is the world’s biggest marijuana market, and Colorado is another place people typically associate with legal cannabis. Marketers who advertise the substance realize they must stay abreast of the legislation that dictates whether people in certain areas can use marijuana for medical purposes, recreationally or not at all.

Even when other industries don’t face such rigid restrictions, they can still follow the lead of the cannabis industry and perform careful research that tells them which areas of the country — or the world — are the best places to spread the word about what they offer.

2018 is a year when cannabis is getting legalized through both state legislation and ballot initiatives. When brands stay in the know regarding what’s happening state to state, they’ll be poised to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.

3. Restrictions on Advertising Channels

The U.S. federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance, like heroin. However, a national poll from Quinnipiac University found 76 percent of respondents supported reducing that classification.

Despite that result, the Schedule I designation for marijuana remains in place, meaning advertisers face significant limitations for how and where they can advertise. Radio is off-limits, and direct mail advertising largely is too, since marketers cannot depend on ads that promote buying, selling or receiving marijuana.

The Innovation Agency is an advertising agency that made its first cannabis-related ad in 2017. It promoted a cannabis oil vaporizer and ran on TV during the late-night hours. The spot cost $12,000 to air for a month but didn’t increase traffic levels to the cannabis brand’s website during that time. Perhaps that’s because restrictions dictated the ad couldn’t mention the product’s name or discuss its purpose. Instead, the advertisement featured vague statements such as “Discover Passion.”

Getting around those restrictions requires cannabis marketers to try creative advertising avenues that any brand might benefit from. WeedMaps, a cannabis tech company, sponsors surfers in California, while other brands plan trade show appearances and dispensary pop-up events, plus give out generous amounts of branded swag.

4. Evolving Opinions About Cannabis in a Crowded Marketplace

Due to the rising popularity of the cannabis market, people who promote products in it work hard to differentiate brands and their products in an increasingly crowded space. Some companies avoid slang words associated with the stoner culture, such as “weed” and “pot,” believing that “cannabis” is a word with more appeal to the public.

One cannabis-centric ad agency called Cannabrand often focuses on lifestyle images, such as those with people camping and hiking. They think such a tactic supports how people currently feel about cannabis because they relate to the activities they see presented in the ads. Other brands don’t sell cannabis to smoke but choose to highlight products that contain the substance instead.

A survey carried out in October 2017 by the Pew Research Center about marijuana legalization shows that 61 percent of Americans support making marijuana use legal and that such a line of thought is especially prevalent among millennials. Those statistics are promising, but they challenge marketers to devise ways to reach out to target audiences without making individuals think of some of the negative associations connected with cannabis.

Some brands position cannabis as a luxury product. Analysts also advocate for designing unique cannabis company logos that don’t contain marijuana leaves or green crosses and may not even feature the color green at all.

Marketers from all industries know how crucial it is for their clients’ brands to stand out. Some could follow examples of cannabis companies that are gaining traction by breaking the mold.

Overcoming Challenges Requires Out-of-the-Box Thinking

The tricky elements of cannabis marketing outlined here could affect other industries too.

In any case, marketing professionals who show the ability and willingness to go against the grain and promote products in unconventional ways while potentially getting guidance from experienced PR firms will likely get positive results.


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About Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews writes about branding and digital marketing for websites like Convince and Convert, The Daily Muse and VICE. You can learn more about Kayla and her brands here.