How to Nail the Basics of Online Cannabis Marketing 
Ben Hartman
August 4, 2020

Cannabis marketing is difficult and subject to a warren of regulations and restrictions, but one tip is simple and clear as day: get back to the basics. 

“You always have to go back to the basics. Ask what are the goals you are trying to achieve with your media campaign. You need to ask yourself what is the audience that you're after. And what would really determine the success of your campaign?,” Wassim Bahous, CannBe’s Chief Operating Officer said during a webinar held earlier this week. 

Titled “Promoting an Offline Product in the Online Era,” the webinar was held in collaboration with cannabis analytics firm The Arcview Group and was hosted by Bahous and Elana Goldberg, CannBe’s Chief Content Officer. 

The webinar hosted hundreds of attendees and covered four main marketing issues:

  • Metrics to assess your work
  • Differences between paid and organic marketing 
  • The different digital marketing platforms as they relate to cannabis 
  • Copy and creative use cases 

In addition, it looked at the different advertising formats available online (display ads, rich media, video, and native ads), as well as KPIs and the pricing models that guide the advertising decisions of digital marketers.

“To kind of point to the elephant in the room, cannabis marketing and the digital space is very difficult, specifically because of the regulatory and compliance restrictions on the biggest advertising channels. And I think that behooves as marketers is to get really creative,” Goldberg said at the beginning of the webinar. 

When deciding between video ads, display ads, and other ad formats, it is essential for brands to first determine what it is they’re trying to achieve. 

“If your goal is brand awareness, then if you achieved 80% viewability on your campaign then it was potentially extremely successful. But if your goal was to drive users to a certain landing page and within this page you want them to read materials or subscribe to an email then it's quite different,” Bahous said, adding that whichever form of advertising a cannabis brand picks, it must be testable. 

“If it’s not something that you can measure and you can actually test, then you’re potentially wasting your marketing money and not really reaching the goals that you want to reach,” Bahous said. 

The metrics in question can include viewability, which is as straightforward as it sounds: this metric shows how many people were able to actually see your ad. Lifetime Value, LTV, is a bit more complicated. This is a metric that tries to gauge the advertising budget for a particular customer, based on how many times you can create income from the users. 

“I would say that this is the most important metric to always look at and to measure, because this will deem whether your marketing efforts and your marketing budgets are actually effective and are achieving the goals that you're looking for,” Bahous said. 

But as important as paid campaigns are, no brand should overlook the importance of organic marketing, according to Goldberg.

“I think focusing on your organic marketing, as well as building a paid campaign or strategy that works for you, you've got to have both sides of the story there,” Goldberg said, adding that organic marketing is where brands can really let their storyteller side shine. 

“Brand awareness is a place where you can really just kind of let go into the storytelling and tap into those relatable issues or those important issues that need to be raised within the industry.”

Goldberg then highlighted some examples of effective online cannabis marketing campaigns, including Mad Men’s “The New Normal” short film by Spike Jonze which told the story of cannabis in the US from the founding farmers and their hemp crops to the war on drugs and the age of legalization. Goldberg also highlighted a short ad for the “Dart” one-hitter, which put the product front and center, and let it do the heavy lifting. 

“This is showing the product and telling the story of the product. So there's no question. You watch this, you understand exactly how the product works. You see the whole flow and there's a very fast connection - either this is good for me or this isn't good for me,” Goldberg said, adding “when it comes to social advertising, that's kind of the game set match. If you're able to get the users thinking, “Okay, this isn't good for me, but I know who this is good for and I can tag them in the post,” then you're golden.”

Any ad is improved if it has certain attributes, according to Goldberg: It should tell a story, it should feel authentic, it should have a specific audience in mind, and you should be able to test its performance. 

Ultimately though, while marketing can be complicated - especially with cannabis - it’s not impossible to grasp, and you have more tools at your disposal than ever before. 

“What we really try to highlight in this workshop is that marketing is not rocket science, but it is complex. And it has evolved in an amazing way, in terms of technology and the amount of tools that you can actually leverage,” Bahous said, adding that even if you don’t have the experience or the knowledge, you can launch your own successful online cannabis marketing campaign - especially with the help of a professional advertising company like CannBe.

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