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Cannabis marketing remains a challenge

Cannabis brands have their hands tied when it comes to marketing, even as the industry gains legitimacy.

3 min read

Marketing Strategy

A man tends to plants at a cannabis farm.

Steven Foster / Unsplash

New Jersey begins recreational sales of cannabis today, a major step for an industry that has been fighting state by state for legitimacy. Yet the industry still faces significant hurdles when it comes to cannabis marketing.

Once dismissed as a West Coast experiment, the legalization of cannabis is fast becoming big business. Legal cannabis is expected to be a $38.2 billion market in North America by 2028.

The cultural shift was notable on Wednesday as brands recognized 4/20, the unofficial stoner holiday. Some brands that made jokes about it in the past struck a more serious chord this time around.

Ben & Jerry’s, which has posted about munchies in the past, took to Twitter to advocate for legalization as a social justice issue around the criminalization of drugs.

“Ever notice how most people making money from legalized cannabis are white, but a disproportionate number of people getting arrested for using cannabis are black? That’s not cool,” the brand tweeted.

Cannabis brands themselves also used the holiday to launch serious initiatives. Edibles brand Wana launched a “Weed Out Hunger” campaign to collect food and donations for anti-hunger organizations.

Marketing options remain limited

When it comes to marketing, cannabis brands face legal limits on how and where they can advertise. Many dispensaries still operate in cash and rely primarily on word-of-mouth advertising and online forums to spread the word about their offerings. They operate in a price-sensitive market that makes it difficult to drive loyalty, but they can’t lean on traditional marketing tactics to address that.

Facebook and Instagram often delete posts with cannabis imagery and deactivate accounts that post it, according to a 2021 Happy Cabbage survey of cannabis brands. One-third of respondents said general customer outreach was their biggest challenge.

The Cannabis Marketing Association, which launched in 2016, is one organization trying to help the industry navigate these challenges by sharing tactics and best practices.

Many of the tried-and-true methods of retail marketing apply to the industry, according to The Wise Marketer. The customer loyalty site recommends cultivating a sense of community around the product, providing reassurance that your brand is compliant with all laws and regulations and focusing on educating customers who might be making this purchase for the first time.

As more states legalize, the space for cannabis brands to participate in public conversation and reach audiences will grow – and so will the marketing opportunity.

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